So, I held a “Book launch and reception” at my local public library last Thursday night. It was, by all relevant accounts, a success. More than twenty people attended, only one of whom is related to me. I read a passage from my new novel To Hemlock Run, gave away a gift certificate for our local bookstore, and answered several interesting questions from the audience.
Since I can’t share the homemade cookies, I thought I’d share some of the more interesting questions I was asked.
The passage you read (about sneaking through the night time woods on a deer trail) was so vivid and so realistic, how did you do that?
Well, I carefully chose specific sensory details—mainly of sound, temperature, and wetness—and used those to build the atmosphere. I then used specific incidents such as crossing a small stream and climbing over a fallen tree to add realism and give the reader the illusion of the passage of time.
Informing all of these choices were the memories I have of wandering around the neighborhood forests when I was a young teen. I still remember how those woods we knew as well as our own faces, became a different, alien, world when the sun went down. I tried to convey that faint sense of threat in the passage.
How do you plot out your novels? Do you know how they’re going to end before you start writing?
No. I almost never know how the story will end when I begin. It isn’t the most efficient means of writing a book-length work, but I generally start out with a character and put him (or her) into a problematic situation. Then I start asking questions. How will he react to this situation? Why has this situation occurred? What are the bad guys’ motivations? How do they conflict with the good guy’s intentions and go from there. I usually conceive of the final ending when I’m about three-quarters through the first draft.
Like I said, it isn’t the most efficient method of writing. Many writers work out the plot in an outline before they ever write a line of prose. I’ve never been comfortable with that. I want the first draft to be the first time I write the story. Besides, if a plot twist surprises me, it’s more likely to surprise the reader. Right?
How much do you read, on average?
Over the last couple of years, I’ve averaged fifty novels each year. But this year, I’m trying to slow myself down and read less, but better. I’m trying to alternate reading fun, genre-style novels with classic literature. So I read a Craig Johnson “Walt Longmire” detective novel (which I really enjoyed if you’re keeping track) and then read In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck. Right now, I’ve just started Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woof.
Do you like the college prep reading lists?
I think there is a lot of great writing and great thinking in those lists. One could always gain something by read Plato, Dante and Shakespeare. But many of those titles can also be very challenging reads. You really have to work to read and understand James Joyce, Dante, or Chaucer. There’s a danger in making reading so difficult that it is now longer fun. Reading should always be fun. That’s why I’m trying to lighten my load by allowing myself to read some less challenging material.
What are you doing to promote your book?
I’m limited greatly by my budget, but I’m doing the reading tonight and will be at another reading next month. I have a Facebook page for the novel and another for myself and use those, as well as a handful of book-related groups. I am also listed on Goodreads.com and have two ads running, though they haven’t been very effective up to this point.
Next month, I hope to schedule a blog tour, which is the online version of the old book signing tour. For a fee (or a lot of work if you want to set it up yourself) you are set up with a number of book-related blogs. Depending on the blog, they will review the book (also posting the review to Amason and Goodreads), post an interview with the author, or feature a guest post by the author. Whichever they decide, it will increase the book’s visibility and introduce it to people I cannot otherwise reach.
Are you working on a sequel to this novel?
Not actively. Right now, I’m working on a serious of short stories I couldn’t work on over the past year because I was concentrating on writing the novel. But, that being said, I am working ideas about the next novel-length work.
I am also hesitant about diving too deep into a series with the same character. Most authors like series because they take away one of the toughest parts of the job: creating a whole new set of characters with individual tics, problems, and backstories. In a series, the main character (and many of the supporting characters) are already designed, ready to go.
The one problem with a series is, unless it is a murder/police/detective series set in a major city, it starts to stretch disbelief. They really have multiple murders every year in that quiet rural town in Nebraska? I want to avoid that.
How long have you been writing?
In one form or another, since I was in high school. I realized fairly early on that I was easily able to express myself through writing and initially intended to go into journalism as a career, doing my fiction on the side. I first went to University as a journalism student, but quickly realized there was way too much competition for the jobs available. So I turned to English literature and became completely unemployable.
But throughout it all, my long term goal has always been to write fiction: novels and short stories.
So how did you make a living in the mean time?
With whatever I could find. I worked construction for five years in Texas until the oil boom of the eighties crashed. I returned to Oregon and found myself working in restaurants, managing several fast food locations, before switching to full service restaurants, where I worked as a waiter, a cook, and manager.
In 2010, I was able to retire on disability because of deteriorating scoliosis in my back. Since then, I’ve writing as a full-time occupation.
At this point, we needed to wrap things up so the library staff could go home.
It was an interesting, engaging discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nearly as important, because of the flyers the library distributed around town and coverage in the local newspaper many people weren’t in the audience are now aware that I have written a new novel. Perhaps at some point, they will buy a copy.
Oh, I also sold two copies of To Hemlock Run after the event and one copy of Deception Island, the first novel in the Jason Reynolds series. I might have sold more but most of the people at the event already had a copy. They were showing support, which is important.
So, I would say the book launch was a success.