Hello All- I'm still recovering from my trip to Bouchercon, the world mystery convention for mystery crime writers and fans, held this year in New Orleans. (Hint: it was AWESOME!!!)
When I get the pics sorted out, I'll have the writeup- look for that in a few days. Maybe I'll be caught up by then.
While you wait for that, here's a treat. Today marks the print release of author Bruce Robert Coffin's debut novel, Among the Shadows.
Bruce was a police officer in Portland, Maine (setting for my Zack Taylor novels) for 27 years. He's had a fascinating life, and is now turning his experiences into fiction, and this is his launch. I've got my copy, so be sure to get yours.
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. My first attempt at writing a novel was a several-year process. I wrote 20,000 words in first person before deciding I didn’t like the caged in feeling of that point of view. I started again in third person making it to about 40,000 but then realized I was no longer in love with my plot. I never imagined I was so fickle. Finally I came up with a story idea that I really liked. The finished 72,000 word manuscript was called Death Watch. I thought it was pretty good, at least for a first novel. Then I attended a three day writer’s conference where I listened to editors and agents describe all of the things one shouldn’t do when writing a novel. Realizing I had done most of them, I was pretty discouraged. But as the conference went on, I was bombarded with ideas that would make the entire novel better. My muse was singing. On the drive home I recorded two hours of my thoughts on the brand-new novel. There were so many changes, I basically threw Death Watch away and started again. It took five months to write the rough first draft and another seven rewriting and editing. The 96,000 word result of my decision is Among the Shadows.
Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?
A. I think it’s a classic tale of good verses evil with a twist. It’s a tale of right verses wrong, and perception verses reality. It is the story of a man trying to right a wrong in spite of overwhelming odds. One man trying to break free from his father’s shadow while another hides in it.
Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?
A. I think the lessons are important. Ethics and integrity are always under siege, maybe more so today. It’s kind of the cross we bear as flawed beings. John Byron is a good man and a diligent investigator, but he struggles like all of us. He carries demons around with him. Some of those demons are a result of twenty years on the job, and some are his own creation. But he fights hard to try and right the wrongs of others and to take care of his people.
Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?
A. Ha! Great question. Ask a thousand writers and you’ll likely get a thousand different responses. I think the plot is important, as is the pacing, especially in the mystery/thriller genre. But the most important aspect for me is the characters. Do we care about them? Do we want them to succeed? I think pitting an unrelenting protagonist against an unrelenting antagonist is the struggle that will always make for great reading. It’s timeless in its simplicity, yet people never seem to get enough.
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. Similar themes? Probably. There are many good mystery writers out there. What I hope I’ve brought to the page is good storytelling. Good storytelling combined with the voice of someone who knows what it’s like to be a cop. How we think. How we act. How we feel. What we struggle with. How we cope. What motivates us to keep going. I want the reader to feel those things, too.
As for my influences? People ask me that all the time now. It's funny, up until the last couple of years I never had time to read much of anything except Stephen King novels. Believe me I’m making up for it now, but the 24/7 nature of my previous work didn’t allow for endless hours of reading. People expect me to give them the name of a writer whose style I’ve fashioned my writing after and are disappointed when I don't. The truth is other than the occasional stray book by Bill Bryson or David Sedaris, most of my reading was King. I’ve read all of his books but I don’t think I write anything like him, and certainly not in his genre. But he’s definitely had the biggest influence on me as a reader. And let’s be honest, what writer doesn’t aspire to be as well known as Mr. King?
Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
A. At its heart I think it’s entertainment. But I also think good storytelling should make us think, make us feel something. Stories are always about people first. Human beings are capable of so much, both good and bad. I think great fiction allows all of us the chance to experience the best and the worst that life has to offer, without leaving the safety of our chairs.
Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?
A. Keep on trucking. That’s my goal. Write another book. Write a better book. I love the art of writing, of storytelling. I want what most writers want, to bring great stories to the masses. I’ve had success in both in my professional and my personal life. I hope, with a little luck, and a lot of hard work, to be able to carry that success into my writing life.
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 tend to write fairly quick, at least when it’s going well. I usually begin a writing session by editing what I wrote previously, unless the muse is screaming in my ear. I don’t know about other writers but my editing never stops. Seems like every time I read a section I make changes. Fellow crime writer Kate Flora once told me that the time to stop editing is when you find yourself changing things back to the way they were. I’ve found that to be pretty good advice. As far as tiring of the book goes, no. If I’m happy with the story I’ve written, I won’t tire of it. I may well be tired of making changes to it, but not the book itself.
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. Nick Amphlett, my editor at HarperCollins, is very good. Patrice Silverstein, my copyeditor, was ridiculously good. Also, my agent, Paula Munier, is a very accomplished editor as well. Every editor has their strong points. They make suggestions on how to make a scene stronger or to clarify voice in the story. They will usually pick up on things the writer missed. When I read my own work I may only see what I meant to say, but that’s not always what’s on the page. A fresh set of eyes will always catch things I missed.
Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A. That’s a tough question. I guess it depends on the writer’s skill level and motivation. Most writers are looking for publication, and she can be one elusive creature. There are far better writers than I who’ve yet to find a home for their books. If you really want to be published, my advice is simple. Never. Give. Up. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep improving your work. Be as stubborn as I am. I remember being told that it would be next to impossible to land a book deal, especially with a major publisher. “You might want to consider self-publishing,” someone else said. I don’t know about you, but when I hear things like that, when someone tells me something can’t be done, I move the shift lever into high gear. Lee Childs once said if you like what you’ve written, odds are that there are literally hundreds of people who will also like it. The trick is writing something that thousands of people will like, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. That’s what publishers like.
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. I can definitely see it as an audio book. Part of my editing process was to play parts of it back on a PDF reader (although, the computerized voice was a little off-putting). Film would be awesome! Getting to see the characters who have resided for so long inside my head actually come to life on the screen would be fabulous. Although, transitioning from one medium to another is always tricky. The one thing missing from novels that go to film is the inner thought. The conflict, worry, and fears, inhabiting the characters in the book, don’t translate well to film, unless spoke in dialogue. Often movie makers will add a narrative voice between scenes as a way of getting those inner thoughts across to us. The television adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser does this quite well by using Robert Urich’s voice to take us in and out of scenes and to let us know what Spenser is thinking.
Q. What's the next step in your writing world?
A. Hmm. That’s a tough one. I guess time and readers will ultimately decide that for me. My goal is to keep writing good fiction, even beyond the three books that I’ve signed on for. I have so much more in store for John Byron. And I have many other ideas for novels and short stories, just waiting to be written. I’m constantly writing ideas down, whenever and wherever they come to me. I’ve written notes on napkins, in notebooks, on my phone, even on my hand (a habit left over from my time as a police officer). Hopefully, I’ll keep writing until I’ve drawn my last breath, or until I no longer have anything to say.
Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
A. In addition to writing, I’m also a professional artist. Back in 2008, I was commissioned by the New England Chapter of the FBI National Academy to paint a portrait to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the FBI. Working alongside a FBI historian, to get the history right, I began work on a portrait of Special Agent Edwin C. Shanahan. Shanahan, the first agent ever killed in the line of duty, died in 1925 when he was shot while attempting to apprehend a car thief in Chicago. The painting took me a year to complete. I presented it to Boston’s Special Agent in Charge (SAC) during the 2008 FBINA New England Christmas Party. The large oil portrait is still displayed in a conference room within the Boston Field Office.
Q. Where can folks purchase your novel?
A. Among the Shadows is published by HarperCollins under their mystery imprint, Witness Impulse. It is available in both digital and trade paperback versions through the Witness Impulse site, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sherman’s books, etc.
Web page: www.brucerobertcoffin.com
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