Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
J. Alexander Greenwood Interview:
7/3/2011 6:33:53 AM
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Author J. Alexander Greenwood discusses his novel 'Pilate's Cross' and the writing life!
LTS: If you’re a fan of fast-paced thrillers, then today is your lucky day! I’m pleased to introduce you to the talented J. Alexander Greenwood, the author of ‘Pilate’s Cross’. I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Alex. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?
JAG: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my work, Lorna! I'm flattered to be asked. When I'm not writing and running my public relations firm, I enjoy hanging out with my (nearly) three-year-old daughter and my wife. When we're not together, I love to escape to a coffee shop to read. I know--I'm a pretty wild and crazy guy.
LTS: You are a man of many talents and skills, having worked as a journalist, politician, radio talk show host and TV executive. When did writing fiction fit into all of this and was becoming a published author a life long dream?
JAG: My grandfather was a successful midlist writer of Westerns and historical fiction, and I can remember literally sitting at his knee learning about writing and soaking up his enthusiasm. He never had a "bestseller," but he absolutely loved researching and writing his books. I didn't have the discipline to be a serious writer for a long time. I wrote some pretty awful manuscripts, plays and short stories from the age of twelve until I was in my twenties, then quit writing to pursue a career in politics. Failing that, I turned back to the word processor in my late thirties. Actually, one of the last things my grandfather told me--literally from his deathbed--was to get back to writing.
LTS: I understand your debut novel ‘Pilate’s Cross’ is a fictionalized account of true events. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, John Pilate?
JAG: After I lost my last election, I felt I needed a change of scenery to figure out my next move. So I left my hometown of Oklahoma City and worked as PR director and instructor at a small college in southeast Nebraska. While I was there I learned about a horrible incident in 1950--a professor assassinated the school's dean and president, then turned the gun on himself. I gained access to the police reports, crime scene photos, affidavits from witnesses, news clippings, etc. It was fascinating. Apparently the professor killed his bosses because he was denied tenure. I mentally filed that away and after leaving Nebraska to take a job as a TV executive in Kansas City a couple years later I decided that it would be a basis for a quirky little mystery thriller. So, I created an entire conspiracy around an incident loosely based on true events.
John Pilate, our hero, is someone very much like I was then--a guy who moves to a place where he doesn’t know a soul, to cut ties to some tough things in his past. He's a fish out of water with plenty of baggage. Pilate is dogged by self-doubt, loneliness and bad luck. He's also "haunted" by a sardonic doppelganger called Simon. Simon spends most of his time "looking over" Pilate's shoulder and telling him he's a loser. Is Simon real or imagined? That's up to the reader. Anyway, Pilate finds himself smack in the middle of a mystery in the town and gets himself into a load of trouble…
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open ‘Pilate’s Cross’?
JAG: Readers have said it has the feel of one of the "lighter" episodes of "The X-Files" with a bit of "Northern Exposure" and "The Prisoner" mixed in. It moves pretty quickly--a solid, fun read. "Pilate's Cross" has action, mystery, wisecracks, mild mental illness, thrills, a little romance and some creepy stuff in graveyards and mortuaries. Something for the whole family.
LTS: This sounds like it’d make for a great movie with broad appeal. Now, the road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation through a literary agent?
JAG: I tried for two years to get an agent. I had dozens of rejections, but also a few requests for partials and fulls. One agent was right on the edge of taking me on--but a little something called the Great Recession came along at that moment. I think that killed my chances. I don't blame her. The recession scared a lot of publishers and agents away from newbies. My advice to any new author is to go through it, though. The option to go independent (self publish) is always there. I would love to have scored an agent and managed to get the book out there with even a small publisher. It would have given me the credibility that is so very hard to develop on your own.
LTS: What made you decide on self-publishing?
JAG: That said, I don’t regret my decision to go the independent route. After two years and more than 100 agent rejections, I was just about to put "Pilate's Cross" in a drawer and give up on it. But I couldn't sleep nights. I kept dreaming about John Pilate, Simon, Kate, and the other characters. I felt I was abandoning them. Couldn't do it. Unlike the half-dozen or so failed manuscripts I have in a box somewhere, "Pilate's Cross" was not something I wanted to consign to oblivion. I've long been an early adopter of new platforms for publishing; I started blogging in 2002 and podcasting in 2003. When I heard about ebooks I thought it was the next wave.
I did some Googling and found Smashwords. Mark Coker created what I feel is the best ebook distribution system in the world. I formatted the book, got my good friend David Terrill to create a cover and my ebook was soon everywhere ebooks are sold (except Amazon. It will be there in July). About nine or ten months of good ebook sales convinced me to make a paperback version available as a POD on Lulu. Making it available in paperback has been a tremendous boon in getting book clubs to select my novel.
LTS: What is the best advice you can give to an aspiring author considering self-publication?
JAG: Persevere. If you believe you've written your very best work--which I believe involves several rewrites, editing by a third-party and feedback from trusted readers before publication--then go for it. However, if you just cranked something out in a week or two and didn’t do rewrites or editing beyond a cursory spell-check, I beg of you to take the time to make your work the best it can be.
Also, grow a thick skin. Being independent can make you a target for derision by the snide and provincial. For example, at one of the book club meetings I attended a woman quite abrasively said that she found a few typos in my book (yes, a few slipped through the net--it happens) and that it "ruined" the reading experience. She implied that's why she is suspect of self-published books and even posted a review on Goodreads saying it. Well, that hurt like hell, to be candid. But what's funny is that the next five books I read (by bestselling authors with traditional publishers) averaged six typos per book. I defy you to get through any book for magazine and find it perfectly free of typos or formatting errors. The point is, some readers will look for any way they can to burst the self-publishing balloon, and that's why our books have to be as clean, professional and error-free as possible. We're held to a higher standard, ironically.
LTS: Thanks for all the great advice, Alex, and very true about the traditionally published bestsellers, too! So now, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned about the whole writing business?
JAG: I've learned that you have to roll with it and not judge yourself by the success of others. People who think this is the road to riches are usually very disappointed. I just like writing entertaining stories. Most of the reviews indicate I'm a success by that yardstick.
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
JAG: I used to write 3-4 hours a day, six days a week. I'd write until it didn't flow out of me anymore. If I was struggling for more than a half hour or so, I knew it was time to get up. That usually happened after I had written for about three hours. Now, with a young child in the house and running my own business, I'm lucky to get three to four hours of writing in per week. However, I am getting my discipline back as my child and business matures--I'm shooting for writing 1500 good words a day six days a week. We'll see how that goes. I'm working on a novella with my cover artist David Terrill for a series of paintings he did entitled "What the Gardener Saw"; after that I have to finish "Pilate's Key," the sequel to "Pilate's Cross."
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
JAG: Pantser. I'm with Stephen King on this. The story is a fossil I'm unearthing. I hate plotting out stories. I create characters, put them in deep holes and then let them dig or climb their way out. Much more fun. I've tried sticking to a pre-conceived plot outline. Dreadful results. Too much like homework.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
JAG: Coffee in the morning or tea in the evening. Need music. I like Colin Hay, Neil Finn, Sting, or when I don’t want lyrics I turn to Mark Snow (he scored all the "X-Files" shows and movies). Depends on what I'm working on. It also helps if I'm alone in the house. Sometimes I need stimulation and go to a coffee shop (yeah, yeah, I know: what a cliché). I slip on my earbuds and listen to music and pound out the words while my coffee gets cold. I look up occasionally to see what's going on. Once or twice something I saw in a coffee shop makes it into my stories.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
JAG: There's only one way: sit your arse down and write. As Stephen King said, you may be "shoveling shit from a seated position" but you are getting that "muscle memory" going. If nothing else, you'll keep your discipline until you get back on track.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
JAG: Oh wow. That's a tough one. I love Gore Vidal. "Burr" is an exquisite book. However, I think Nelson DeMille and Stephen King have really inspired me to work in the thriller/mystery/suspense genres. I even made a run at emulating King. I wrote a paranormal-tinged short story (Obsidian) that won an award and has been turned into a podcast on New Fiction Writers. Funny enough, I used to call King a hack in college. What an arrogant snob I was. His book "On Writing" is one of the best things I've ever read--and "The Dead Zone" is one of my favorite books of all time.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
JAG: I'm still a little surprised and even embarrassed when people come to book clubs and ask me serious questions about my work. And autographing books at books clubs or a bookstore? I feel like an imposter! But when I stop that nonsense and think about the expressions of appreciation for my characters and the enjoyment they have given people, it makes it all worthwhile. I remember after one particularly great book club meeting I climbed into my car and looked in the rear-view mirror--I could swear ol' Simon (the "imaginary friend" of John Pilate) was giving me a wink.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
JAG: I just finished "Behind the Scenes with the Mediums" by David Phelps Abbott. It was written back in the early 1900s as an expose on the Spiritualist movement--specifically tricks used by those conducting séances and other parlor tricks. I read it as research for "What The Gardener Saw," which takes place in Victorian times and has a kind of "Edward Gorey meets Tim Burton with absinthe" flavor to it. I've also read some Christopher Hitchens, Eden Baylee, Jason C. McIntyre and Michelle Stinson Ross lately. I think I need to look into some Lorna Suzuki, too!
LTS: That would be very cool! Now, what do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from mystery/thrillers into other genres? When can your fans expect the sequel to ‘Pilate’s Cross’ to be released?
JAG: I'd like to finish the "Gardener" book--which may have multimedia applications to it--something more than a book, but I'm just writing the story--I leave all the cool technical stuff to the experts. After that, I have two sequels planned for John Pilate, then I'd like to write a non-fiction book about public relations and marketing. The next Pilate book, "Pilate's Key" should be ready for the holidays (fingers crossed!). After that I think I'll focus on short fiction--take a swing at all genres--until the insanity overtakes me and I decide to write another novel.
LTS: Thank you so much for taking time from your busy day to share in your works and your writing experiences, Alex! ‘Pilate’s Cross’ is definitely a book I’ll be looking into.
Thank you Lorna!
For more information about J. Alexander Greenwood and his novel, check out:
Follow Alex on Twitter: .PilatesCross or .A_Greenwood
Where to buy the book: Paperback: http://t.co/VAleTWq
Ebook also available wherever ebooks are sold, including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel, iBooks, etc. Coming to Amazon in mid-July 2011. Links on my homepage.
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