Marion: What was the first book you ever read that really blew your mind, that you couldn’t stop thinking about after you’d finished?
Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Side, the true story of US POW’s being held in the Philippines during WWII, really got under my skin. The treatment and the condition of the prisoners was gut wrenching. Their heroic rescue made me proud that there are people willing to risk everything for their fellow man.
Marion: How do you start thinking about a book? Is it the characters that first pop to mind, or the setting, or the plot? Where do you usually start?
When I start a new book, I know the beginning and the end. The characters grow as I write, which means I’m constantly going back and updating chapters to match their ever changing personalities. Perhaps I’ll change my style as my writing matures, but right now it’s working, so if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Marion: If you could invite five writers, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be?
I’d love to invite Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Alexander Dumas, and Edgar Allan Poe to dinner. I’d like to bring them into the present, have them look back on each other’s work and maybe have Faulkner discuss what he’d do with Hamlet, or what Poe would do with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, or what Shakespeare would do with Flem Snopes. An interesting evening indeed.
Marion: When was the last time you just had to write, and what inspired that feeling?
The had to write experience comes and goes. I never force myself to write, but when an idea pops into my head, something that connects disjointed story elements, I can’t boot up the computer fast enough. This happened with my current work in progress. Struggling with a change of direction, an idea came to me when I least expected it. Of course, it always happens when you’re away from your computer or even a note pad.
Marion: When you’re writing, what game do you most often play during “breaks”?
I don’t play games. My breaks consist of checking email, facebook or other forums I attend – forums that have nothing to do with writing. That’s how I wind down or kill time.
Marion: Have you ever tried to shake up your writing routine? Writing at a different time? Writing in new places? Writing nude? *waggles eyebrows*
During spring break my family and I went to the beach. I thought I’d take advantage of writing with the ocean just outside my door. Didn’t work. Too many distractions. Plus I had to use a laptop. I don’t particularly like laptops. Much prefer my desktop with dual monitors. My outline and character descriptions are on one monitor. My Word Doc is on the other.
Marion: What is your absolute favorite sentence--just one sentence--from your book? Why?
“The Townsend’s always stick together.” It’s the first and last line of The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff. It sets the tone for the novel and then places an exclamation point on a chilling finish. I incorporate this line when signing autographs.
Marion: What one scene do you think you spent the most time editing? What was it about it that you couldn’t seem to get right?
I spent hours and hours and hours writing, editing and rewriting the prologue to The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff. At last, I had something I felt good about – a scene that set the tone for the entire book. My beta reader and others I confided in didn’t like it. In the end, I rewrote the prologue and moved it to the last chapter of the book. Glad I did. It gave the book the chilling conclusion it needed.
Marion: What’s your worst writing habit? Something you know you shouldn’t do, but just can’t seem to stop?
I tend to overuse commas. I like commas because they let you take a breath. They direct the reader to pause where I want them to pause, to read the sentence the way I intended. Sometimes I find myself inserting commas where they don’t belong and I have to go back and eliminate them. Sorry, comma. You’ve got to go.
Marion: What’s the one thing you wish you were good at, but just can’t seem to master?
Paragraph flow. Breaking down paragraphs. Starting new paragraphs. Sometimes there’s a fine line on when to start a new paragraph. I’m trying to become more consistent on how I manage these evil blocks of text.
Marion: How do you ‘get into character’? Are their certain characters you find it harder to write than others?
Developing characters doesn’t come naturally for me. I have to work on it because I let my characters evolve over the course of the novel, which forces me to backtrack and edit chapters for consistency. Right now, I’m creating a character from eastern Europe. I’m trying to learn his language, his nuances, his annoying habits. I’m sure he will receive a healthy dose of editing as the story develops.
Marion: There are a lot of concepts about what writers are like, what’s the one you hate the most? Like the most?
Faulkner had a reputation for over indulgence in spirits. Without a doubt, he earned that reputation, but I hate that it defines him. On the other hand, Faulkner was very dedicated to his work and didn’t let silly things like The Nobel Prize for Literature get in his way.
Marion: What’s your favorite book title?
Oh, that’s easy. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day. What could possibly be better than that?
Marion: LOL! Yes, that’s definitely one that sticks with you! What project are you currently working on?
I’m working on my second novel, the title of which keeps changing. It’s about a released prisoner, a land deal gone bad, political intrigue and supernatural gamesmanship. Of course, I let my stories evolve as I write them. A new character trait can change everything, so who knows where this will end.
Marion: About how long does it take you to get from first draft to polished manuscript? What does that process look like?
My first novel, The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff, took five years to go from first draft to finished. I’m purposely avoiding the term ‘polished’ because I’m sure my book can stand a little more shine. The process had no rhyme or reason. I worked on it when I wanted to and set it aside, sometimes for months at a time. Then, I’d blow the dust off and start again. Eventually, a small press gave it the light of day.
Marion: What’s your best book-related memory? Your worst?
I remember the elated feeling I had when I finally finished A Tale of Two Cities. It’s my favorite book and I love the story – especially the beginning and the end. My worst? A Tale of Two Cities. It took me three tries to get through this book. Like Faulkner, Dickens can be a difficult read, for me anyway. Once you get the feel for his style of writing, the sentences flow like a river to the sea.
Marion: What did your “favorite” rejection letter say?
I received a hand written note on a form rejection letter that said “some nice things here, but…” I still have that rejection.
Marion: Name a book that, if you find out someone likes it, you know you will get along with that person.
That book would probably be Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. Anyone who appreciates people who put it all on the line for others is alright by me.
Marion: Is there a writer whose style or talent you envy? What is it about their writing that draws you in?
I like Robert McCammon’s style. His writing is not too elaborate or sophisticated, just good, solid sentence structure that tell the story without unnecessary sidetracks that prolong rather than progress the story. Yet his writing is not simplistic. He just tells a good story without too much fluff.
Marion: Any parting words?
I’d just like to thank everyone who has read The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff and given it a thumbs up. Please feel free to connect with me on Twitter: @jcalvindean.