Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Interview with Debut Author Jason Walcutt

Another great interview today- this one with debut author Jason Walcutt, whose new book Gaia Hunted, is now available.

Let's find out more about him and his work.

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. I had just moved to Salem, MA, which is a pretty funky city. The place is surging with great energy. In a lot of ways, it's almost a mecca for alternative beliefs and spiritual practices, and I knew I wanted to harness some of those ideas in a book.

At the same time, I had finished writing an international thriller, and I wanted to write something that contained a similar plot structure. I love addictive, page-turning thrillers. Books like Marathon Man by William Goldman and Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett are some of my favorites.

I've always enjoyed genre bending stories and novels, so I thought it would be interesting to blend these two elements: International thriller with elements of fantasy.

From this point, the next stage of the idea was inspired partly by a movie and a television show. The move was Stargate, a Sci-Fi film that came out in the 90s. There are a lot of fascinating ideas presented in both the movie and subsequent television show, but the idea that most attracted me was that of the false god. In the universe of Stargate, the Egyptian pyramids were actually built by aliens who presented themselves as gods to humans. I was drawn to the concept of religions and deities actually being something completely different than that which originally presented.

The television show is Joss Whedon's Dollhouse—a Sci-Fi show about a woman's path to self-awareness as her memory and personality are constantly erased and reprogrammed. I loved the idea of a person being able to access previously unattainable knowledge and skills. This is summed up perfectly in the movie The Matrix when Neo famously claims, “I know Kung Fu.”

From these divergent points, I weaved my idea together. As is common for me, I brainstormed the idea over a two week period—although it had probably been simmering on the back burner of my mind for a far longer period.

Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. I do a lot of outlining prior to writing. Only once, on my first novel, did I write by the seat of my pants (ie no outlining). What I produced was a dystopian novel with a plot similar to Xenophon's Anabasis, but it combined Furries and mix martial arts fighting. Needless to say, it was a hot mess which will never see the light of day.

Nowadays, I outline the entire novel. I usually write out a few paragraphs for each chapter that include the characters involved, the primary conflict in the scene, and important details that need to be included. When I get stuck on a particularly challenging chapter, I'll often extensively outline it.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. There are quite few in the book, but I'll focus on two in particular.

The big theme is the idea how a weak person can become strong. The story is about Mattie, who is a young, depressed woman filled with self-doubt. It's about her discovering truths within her that eventually transform her into an enlightened, confident and powerful individual.

Another theme is the push and pull between male and female energy—so called, Ying and Yang in eastern philosophy. In GAIA HUNTED, I create a world which is divided between two groups of gods—Mother Goddesses and Father Gods. Mother Goddesses identify with love, compassion and empathy. While Father Gods represent intellect, logic and justice. The conflict between these two groups is at heart of the entire novel. 

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. The primary purpose of this book is entertainment and to enjoy a good story. I do think it is possible to change our mental, physical and emotional outlooks. We unfortunately live in a world where so much of our reality is tunnel vision. Although social media has some good qualities, it unfortunately exacerbates feelings of loneliness and isolation. If this book helps a person view their life and existence differently and in a more positive light, then I think that is more important than any number of book sales I could possibly achieve.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. A lot of long hours and hard work! But in particular, a good book for me is a fine balance between an unpredictable plot and fascinating characters. Throw in great dialogue and a vivid setting, and I think you have a best seller.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. There are many but here are some of my favorite authors and why I love them.

JK Rowling: For her ability to create believable fantasy worlds and characters that are easy to love.
Neil Gaiman: The type of writer who always keeps you guessing.
Steven King: A true master of the art—who effortlessly combines amazing plots, characters and intriguing ideas.
Margaret Atwood: A great author I love for her ability to create timeless classics that still resonate today.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. We are all protagonists in our own stories, and I think that's one of the powerful things about storytelling. We place ourselves—whether we realize it or not—into a story, and we project the story of our own life onto characters. In some ways, we know and understand fictional characters better than our family and best friends. The heroes and myths that we create in our world are shaped just as much by real people as fictional ones. That's powerful. A story takes a mirror and microscope to our own lives; it illuminates parts of us that we've never thought about.

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. My main goal right now is being the best possible father to my daughter. Needless to say, the time I've had for writing post-child is significantly less than what it used to be, but my goal for the next ten years is to put out at least one novel per year.

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. For me, re-writing is the true art of the craft. My first draft of a novel is always a pile of garbage burying gems. Re-writing for me is about digging out those gems and polishing them until they sparkle. To give you an example, on my computer, I have 17 drafts of Gaia Hunted. Now, not all of them were full-on re-writes, but each draft represents a significant amount of time and energy I committed to editing and improving the novel.

When the book is done, I just know it. It's a gut feeling. It's gotten to the point where if I add or remove anything else, it's just going to make it worse. Lastly, I'm typically very proud of it.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. I have great editors. I use a mix of family, friends, professional writers and editors who read early drafts. From friends and family, I'm generally looking for their overall impressions—do they like the characters, story and ideas? From writers, I look for feedback about craft. For example, does this conflict make sense? Or is this character necessary? From professional editors, I'm looking for the nitty-gritty—spelling, grammar, punctuation and structural mistakes.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. Depends on what they are looking for, but I've always believed in creating community in the writing world, and it's one of my favorite things about being a writer. For a time, I was the community outreach director on the board of Mystery Writers of America, New England Chapter, and the thing I loved most was connecting different writing community and exchanging ideas. I would advise to go out and meet some other writers. Typically, they're pretty interesting people.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. Actually, the audio book is going to be available for sale soon. I was really lucky. The voice actor, Emily Frongillo, with whom I worked was incredible. She's so good that whenever I read over parts of my novel, I hear Emily's voice.

Seeing GAIA HUNTED as a movie would certainly be a dream come true! All the storytelling mediums are unique and special in their own way. I honestly don't know how it would it alter the novel seeing it as a movie, but I sure as heck want to see.

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. My big goal is to finish editing the sequel of GAIA HUNTED and start writing the third book in the trilogy.

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. Despite not being a native speaker, I have only spoken Spanish with my daughter since she was two months old. Conversations around the dinner table have been getting interesting lately.

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?

A. I would like to express how thankful I am to friends, family, readers and other writers for being so supportive of GAIA HUNTED! Many thanks!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mystery Panel at A Freethinker's Corner bookstore

We traveled to the wilds of Dover, New Hampshire, to take part in a Sisters in Crime "Making a Mystery" panel at A Freethinker's Corner bookstore, a cool Indie shop that's still pretty new, and as we found out, a big supporter of local authors.

Good to see another local shop that encourages the community to spend their dollars on local good things.

Inside has a lot of fun stuff to check out.

Even work from local artists!

So we set up our book displays and got ready.

And then fun time, where we took suggestions for various elements to start building a mystery. 
Have to say, it was like a good thing. Of course when you've got pros like these on the panel, you're going to get something spectacular.
To see an interview with Toni, click here
To see an interview with Connie, click here

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Dracut Library Author Event

They held a local author fair at the Dracut Library, and I went to support a couple of writers there.
Thanks to all who made this happen, for a good event to support our hard-working local authors!

Fiction, non-fiction and even poetry were well-represented by the authors who came.

Nanci Hill from the library staff was emcee, introducing each author for a short reading.

A good crowd for a gloomy Saturday. 

 Writing star David Daniel gives his few minutes.

And here he is with a few of his publications

One of my fellow Mystery Writers of America, Mike Johnson, gets a book to a fan.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Interview with Author Gabriel Valjan

Hello, Campers- today we have an interview with author Gabriel Valjan, who you'll find interesting.
I read one of his books and really liked it, and I'm picky.  He's got a new one out, The Naming Game, and you can pick it up now.

He's also the author The Company Files and the Roma Series with Winter Goose Publishing. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including several Level Best anthologies. Gabriel is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and lives in Boston’s South End, where he enjoys the local restaurants.

Let's find out more...

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. Years before I’d drafted the novel, I read journalist Griffin Fariello’s Red Scare, where I was horrified at the overwhelming pressure within American society to conform to a rigid, undeviating and bland set of rules and opinions. For a country founded on certain liberties, it was unsettling to read how careers and reputations were irretrievably broken and destroyed in the midst of McCarthy’s hunt for Communists. I became intrigued by how Hollywood studios found creative ways to get films written and produced. Money had to be made, and The Naming Game explores how the studios did just that.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. Friendship. History. Writing.

Friendship. I wasn’t aware of it at first, but the theme of friendship is threaded throughout all my books. Whether it is Bianca and her friends in the Roma Series, or Walker and Jack and Leslie in The Company Files, I place my characters in difficult situations, often where they have to rely on their wits and trust each other.

History. An undercurrent throughout The Company Files series is the rivalry between the CIA and the FBI. Company Files Book 1. The Good Man takes place in 1948 Vienna, and 2. The Naming Game begins in Los Angeles, in 1951. The National Security Act, signed by Truman, created the CIA in 1947. The CIA is an international intelligence-gathering organization that reports to the Director of National Intelligence, who reports to the President and the Cabinet. The Department of Justice governs the FBI, and its Director reports to the Attorney General, thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt’s design. I make it clear in The Naming Game that J. Edgar Hoover wanted to control both domestic and international spheres of law enforcement.

Writing. In The Naming Game, I seed the idea that Walker is slowly realizing his true vocation, which may or may not put him in conflict with his superior and employer, Jack Marshall and the CIA. At Jack’s behest, Walker has gone undercover as a screenwriter at a major Hollywood studio. Walker is not the most confident person, but I want to develop his character and a long arc that he’s a writer. There is a long history of writers who have been spies, or gathered intelligence for their countries.
Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

I’ve tried to create stories about difficult decisions without imposing any one interpretation. I’d like for my readers to reach their own conclusions. The Naming Game serves up issues that are relevant today; issues such as Censorship; Conformity; Blind allegiance to authority; Race and Gender roles. We may have technology, think ourselves as modern and advanced, but it’s important that we know our history. It may sound like clever marketing, but I’ve called The Company Files series ‘historical noir’ for a reason.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. The answer varies from author to reader, and vice versa. People read for a variety of reasons: escapism, to discover ‘other,’ just to name a few. Some readers desire comfort, the familiar checklist of genre expectations, while others search for a character they love to hate: the antihero, or some dislikeable but yet admirable character. A reader may like Watson more than Holmes. I prefer Moriarty to both. To paraphrase John Gardner, good writing sustains a Lie for a long time.

Art is about artifice. We the reader know that what we are reading is fiction and, in the hands of a good writer, we suspend disbelief and subscribe to all aspects of the reality in an artificial creation. While I enjoy conflict and action, the occasional sex and violence in my literary diet, I’ve grown to appreciate subtle implications and nuances in a conversation or in an interaction between characters in a scene. There’s a certain elegance to suggestion and ambiguity. I think, for example, this is why the sense of unease works so well in Kafka and Stephen King. You can’t describe it, but it’s there and, more importantly, it works.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. Almost all writers of crime fiction cite Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as influences. I’m no different. I can’t deny Chandler’s influence, but not for a reason as obvious as his creation of Marlowe the cynical PI. Like Chandler, I started out writing poetry so the habit of describing the unseen relationships between people, situations, and things in a creative turn of phrase are a feature of my writing. Unlike Chandler, I don’t overdo the similes, and I’ve learned to curb the description without affecting the story. Like Hammett, I prefer a spare and minimalistic style.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. I think several of my answers so far have hinted that I try to encourage readers to think beyond the surface of the story and hash out their own conclusions.

Q. Any other goals you’ve set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. It’s important to me as a writer to grow and challenge myself. I want readers to know me for more than crime fiction, whether it’s contemporary (the Roma Series) or historical (The Company Files). I’ve received attention for my short stories, appearing in several Level Best anthologies, with the Fish Prize in Ireland (finalist in 2010 and shortlisted in 2017 and 2018), the Bridport Prize in England (shortlisted in 2017), and an Honorable Mention in the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest (2018).

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. I think I can answer this question by tracing the creation of The Company Files. I completed the initial draft of 1. The Good Man in April 2009, and 2. The Naming Game in 2011. The Good Man took longer to write because work at the time ate up my free time, and then I had several close calls with agents and one publisher who bailed at the last minute, which put The Good Man in purgatory. In the end, revisions to TGM involved line editing and adding two scenes: one to deepen the relationship between Walker and Leslie, and the other to provide depth to Tania’s character. The Naming Game is about as close as I’ve ever gotten to a minimum of revisions. I took a chisel to the novel every few months over the years, but I’ve never had the need to alter the plot. I added and subtracted sentences and fretted over others before I finally had to let it all go. My editor at Winter Goose, Joey McMahon, asked for an extra scene around Jack Warner. I wrote it and we were done. 

I’m considered prolific—however that is defined. I can draft a 200-300-page novel within four to six weeks, but I do spend a longer amount of time revisiting and revising it. Writer’s block has never been an issue for me. Insecurity about the idea and the quality of my expression are another matter. The longest I’ve spent on a novel is six years; it’s the first in a trilogy, set in the-Gilded Age, and I’m shopping that (the first book) with agents now.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?
A. I work with four editors, but allow me to explain. With all my books, I have my friend Dean Hunt doing the first round of copyedits and general edits, looking for his input on character development and plotting. Dean has also helped me with languages where they’ve cropped up in my writing: Italian (the Roma Series), German and Russian (The Good Man) and Spanish (a novella I wrote for a recent contest). With the Roma Series, I’ve been fortunate to have the input from what I call a ‘cultural editor.’ Claudio Ferrara, in addition to being a native speaker of Italian, is a linguist, a translator, and possesses an encyclopedic knowledgeable of Italian and European history. With his help, I’ve avoided the clich├ęs and pitfalls of an American writing about Italian culture. Last but not least, Dave King, author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers with Renni Browne, has helped me with line-editing, a type of editing that’s difficult for me to explain, but Dave has that special gift for ‘flow’ and sensing what works and what doesn’t.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. I may sound prosaic saying this, but don’t give up. Hone your craft and find your Voice, which is unique to you and your relationship to language. Read widely, read what you enjoy, read outside your experience (diverse writers, foreign literature in translation), and appreciate another writer’s influence but be yourself. Take chances and don’t subscribe to formula. There’s an audience out there for you. Write to learn something about yourself. If I had to say one thing that is critical, set aside your ego. Be humble and be grateful. Success—whatever that means to you— is subjective and often a crap shoot. There will always be someone better than you but there will be only one You.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. Funny that you asked this question, but The Naming Game advanced to the quarterfinalist round in the Screen Craft Most Cinematic Book Contest. I entered the contest on a lark, though I believe all good books offer something visual to the reader. What I mean is a reader can visualize the action or conversation on the page in their mental auditorium, inside their heads. It goes back to the lie made real, as John Gardner described it in The Art of Fiction. While I’ve read my dialogue aloud as part of the writing process, I have no idea how The Naming Game or any of my other books would sound as audiobooks. I think audiobooks are another artistic endeavor altogether.

Q. What’s the next step in your writing world?

A. I’m writing the third novel of a series set in Shanghai, in the Thirties. In my down-time, I’m doing research on an Alt-History novel.

Q. Tell us some fun facts about yourself.

A. Fun facts…I can throw, and write well with both hands (yes, cursive).

English was not my first language, so I’m self-conscious about my grammar and how I pronounce words. A gun to my head and I can’t spell ‘rhythm’ without confusing Spell-check.

Also, I’m hearing-impaired and wear hearing aids, though I’ve been told they are hardly noticeable. Being hard of hearing has made me reliant on observation and reading lips. For years, people assumed I was arrogant or stuck-up because I was a) quiet or b) didn’t answer them, only to realize that I was neither. If I didn’t answer them, it was because I didn’t hear them. I can’t, for instance, hear anything behind me.

Another quick fact about me is that I can’t talk for very long because only one of my vocal cords works, and my voice becomes gravelly when I talk for too long. Think of the actor Jason Beghe (Voight on Chicago PD). I sound like him.

I’ve worked as an applications engineer, as an RN, and I’ve competed in several triathlons.

Q. Any other information you’d like to impart?
A. I’m a regular attendee at conferences, such as Bouchercon, New England Crime Bake, and Malice Domestic, so please say hi if you see me.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Signing at Indie Bookstore Day

Today was Indie Bookstore Day, so I went to sign books at our favorite local Indie bookstore, the New England Mobile Book Fair

They do a great job of enticing authors and book buyers with snacks, discounts, prizes, and entertainment (the mimosas were delicious- thank you, Mayre!). Today featured a scavenger hunt, with free books as prizes.

So I set up and got ready for the buyers.

With me today was terrific writer Adam Abramowitz, whose debut book, Bosstown, was a hit, and now he's got a second one out, A Town Called Malice, that's sure to be as good (or better).  He was fresh off his recent interview with local station WGBH.

They had a special Trolley tour to area bookshops, and I hear that two loads of passengers sold out the tickets. Great idea, and we enjoyed seeing so many book buyers flock in.

So a great time selling some books to new fans, and Adam had some locals that dropped in to support him.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Mystery Author Kate Flora at Groton Library

Our Groton Mystery Book Club invited long-time, award-winning, superstar mystery author (and fellow Sister in Crime) Kate Flora to come and have a chat with some ardent fans.
Many thanks to the library staff and all those who made this event happen!
For an interview with Kate, click here

It was a lovely time, as Kate told us stories of her True Crime book, Finding Amy, about a real-life murder case up in Portland, Maine.

People really enjoyed hearing Kate tell about her experiences working with the police up in Maine.

She kept us entertained with anecdotes about her life and work.

It's always great when a well-known, popular author takes time to come and speak with fans like this, especially with clubs so particularly devoted to the mystery genre.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Big Trip to Portland

Recently I took a couple of days off to go to Maine with a couple of friends and just hang out.
With a day job, a writing career, and sporadic attempts to engage in marketing the books I write, I seem to be always busy. So a brief interlude of idleness came as a welcome change.

We had an AirBnB- the price was right, as was the terrific view, even if the rest left a tad to be desired. But we mostly didn't care, because we could sit out on the little deck and look out over the water.

Of course we had to stop at the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland.
Hey, they still sell my novel Shadow of the Wendigo.
Out there at Thompson's Point, next door to the museum is a beer tap room, a winery, and a distillery!

I ponder the mysterious universe...

We tried to visit the Portland Observatory, but they were closed for the season.

As the weather turned into a warm sunny day, we went next to Fort Williams State Park, which holds the famous Portland Head Lighthouse.

Perfect time to be there, and quite a crowd taking advantage of the day- even had a few brave waders.

In the town of Wells, we ate at Congdon's Donuts (a great diner), and at the Maine Diner, and got too-full at both. Yes, you MUST try the cod cakes, and the chowder.

When I go back up to Maine, I'm reminded of how wonderful it is, and how much I miss it. I set my Zack Taylor mystery series in Portland, because I wanted to feature all the good parts. The Portland bookstores sell the books, so if you go up, drop by Letterpress Books, Sherman's, Longfellow Books, or Nonesuch Books (South Portland)

Now to look for more excuses to get back up there.