How would you describe yourself and how does your description translate into the way you work?
I guess I'm a bit of a chameleon, able to adapt pretty well to circumstances around me. My wife and I have three boys and they are not quiet types. Doing Max Vinyl was written entirely during a time when I had a full-time job and also tried to be fully active in the family. I can do certain kinds of revision with significant background noise. Only when I'm writing a first draft or doing some serious planning work do I need peace and quiet. But then I'll often take a walk in the forest anyway. It helps a lot to be adaptable. For me it's been the key to being able to finish a big project.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I was an early reader and this led to curiosity about writing stories. My sister and I wrote stories during long car trips. In high school and then in college I dreamed of writing novels, but I only started writing short stories after graduating from college. That writing phase lasted about five years, and I learned a lot about writing, but life got in the way, with marriage and job and career and kids. Only when my kids were halfway grown and my career reached a certain level of success did I find a way to return to writing. Now I'm fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Doing Max Vinyl is a book I truly loved reading, where did your inspiration come from for this story?
Thank you! I guess I loved writing it as much as you loved reading it. The inspiration came from a flight of fancy I had while gazing at Lake Michigan one day. The lake is so enormous, and so little trafficked, I thought it would be entirely feasible for a scoundrel like Max Vinyl to dump computer trash three or four nights a week. Recycling is still in its infancy in the United States. But there is a long tradition of scoundrels and cheats, and I thought if I could create a somewhat likeable person in his line of business, it would make a good story. So on the one hand I had an image of Max Vinyl in my mind, and that's what I started with. But I also had this image of a female Iraq War vet who comes home unscathed physically, while mentally and emotionally she's a bit of a wreck. Not so far gone that she really needs professional help, like so many of our soldiers do when they come back, but not completely healthy, either. And certainly taken aback at what she finds once she comes home, messy situations like Max Vinyl dumping old computers out in our beautiful Lake Michigan. It doesn't take much to set Annie off and get her feeling provoked. It was a lot of fun constructing a web of deceits centering on Max Vinyl which all come back to haunt him, and at the same time exploring Annie Ogden's psyche.
Will we have the pleasure of seeing Annie Ogden again? Actually, yes. One thing I felt was unfinished in Doing Max Vinyl was that exploration of Annie's mind. Max Vinyl takes place over a period of just five days, so I was limited in the discoveries Annie could make about herself. That's why I planned a series of three Annie Ogden mysteries--to really get to the bottom of Annie. The second Annie Ogden mystery is now finished and will appear in early June 2012. In a few weeks I will announce the title and the reveal the cover. I'm very excited about how much further I could develop Annie Ogden's character in the second book in the series. That being said, her character still feels incomplete to me. I guess she's a real person to me, and there will always be more to plumb and to discover. Which makes life interesting. Anyway, the third book in the series, due in 2013, will wrap it all up.
What process do you go through to define your characters?
I start with an image of someone basically good or basically evil, and put them into a context or a situation, and then just basically make sure there is plenty of conflict. Not that characters are perfectly white and black. I found it really interesting allowing Max Vinyl his "good" moments, when he does the right thing. Annie would be boring, and unreal, if she were flawless. We're drawn to characters and their weaknesses. Of course, sometimes all the planning goes out the window. It's a cliche to say that characters surprise you with their actions and reactions, but it's a fact. They do. I did some acting in high school and have always loved the theater, and knowing what it means to be in character helps me be in character when I'm writing dialogue. My books have a lot of dialogue and are fairly dialogue-driven. What the characters say defines them and reveals what they are thinking, and most importantly what they are feeling.
What do you hope readers will experience while reading your books?
I like to feel the passions of the characters when I read books, so this is what I hope will happen when people read my books. Reading "Girl With The Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier I enjoy the descriptions of life in the 1600s and imagining how hard it was to live then, but what really keeps me turning the pages is to vicariously feel exactly what that girl is feeling. I think the strength of feeling is what makes people read novels, whether it's romance, or horror, or vampires (romance + horror) etc.
Do book reviews have an influence on your writing?
The only reviews I've ever experienced were written concerning Doing Max Vinyl, my first book. They have not influenced my writing at all. First of all, most reviews are quite superficial, I find. People will give a few impressions and maybe a blanket judgement, and leave it at that. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just the way it is. And the main purpose of reviews is to help clue other potential readers to whether a book is worth reading or not, so they don't have to go very deep. Also, books are inherently subjective. So some people will love my book while others will intensely dislike it. I like to review books myself, and recently I gave one book one star and another one only two stars. And both books also had a lot of four- and five-star reviews. For these reasons, I think it would be folly for any author to feel influenced by reviews.
What advice did you receive that was most beneficial to you?
It's hard to pick out any one piece of advice, and nowadays there is so much advice being dispensed I feel bombarded with it. And much of it is conflicting advice. Some say you should define your market and write for your market, while others say you should just write what you feel and know. There was a time when I needed to hear that writing is a matter of 90% discipline and just plain sitting down and writing. That was one thing. Another piece of advice came from a writing teacher, who said you had to shatter some glass. He meant I should stop avoiding conflict. The conflict is the story. The conflict shows the true colors of your characters. I grew up in the suburbs, and I grew up avoiding conflict. So embracing conflict has been something I had to learn.
Are you currently working on another book?
Yes, I'm just putting the finishing touches on the second Annie Ogden mystery. Annie and also her sister Alison return in this book, but all the other characters are new. It's a completely new story, and I'm really excited about it.
This is your chance to speak directly to readers who haven’t discovered your books.
What would you like to say to them? Thank you for trying out one of my books! I became a writer because I love reading so much, so if you like reading good books, you and I have that in common. I also like to laugh once in a while reading a book. I like to think my books tell a good story, they might make you laugh, but they will also make you think. And in the second book in the Annie Ogden series, there are some delicious recipes as a special bonus.
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