Author Interview: Alex Taylor

Alex Taylor, whose debut novel will be reviewed in a raving 5-star writeup tomorrow, gives us a slice or two of his brain. Hang on! Like his novel, this interview will blow your mind!

–How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

I wouldn’t presume to give advice to writers who are already publishing unless they asked for it. As for novitiates, I hope they are aware that there are so many other and more productive ways to spend a life than writing. If they understand this and still feel compelled to write, then I am afraid they are terminal and nothing I say will cure them. All I can do is possibly put a tourniquet on the bleeding so that they suffer less.

Once a writer is diagnosed, the best avenue of treatment is that they recuse themselves, as much as possible, from the contemporary world, particularly contemporary literature. It is a swamp of dross. Occasionally, a work of genius glimmers forth, but this is the exception, not the rule. They should immerse themselves in the classics. Because they are difficult, in every sense of the word. Because they have endured. Because they will continue to endure, if there is any justice, which I have my doubts about.

Secondly, I would advise them to be prepared to live in obscurity. Writing helps no one but the writer. It will not save Syrian refugees, but it may help you to survive and somehow transcend certain problems endemic to 21st Century life and modernity. One must not be adverse to monkritude. One must be able to love a few and hate many.

–When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

I rarely take a break from writing. When I do, I feel my muscles weakening, my soul diminishing. Lord, the horrors a man may encounter when he is away from the page. But, being chained to the flesh, I must eat and occasionally see other people. When I do, my ear is always open to original and refreshing turns of phrase. I have no qualms about such thievery. The populace is degenerate. Should one break the mold, it is my duty to record their words, lest they be tossed upon the midden of history. As for being a human being, the only moral stance here is one of constant disgust. I know of no other path to salvation. To those ignorant of what I mean, I will refer them to the words of a Jewish carpenter who was crucified by the Romans some two thousand years ago. But the carpenter wasn’t always disgusted, some might say. True. But I am not the carpenter. I am unworthy to tie the laces of his sandals. So I must remain disgusted. Particularly by myself.

 

–From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

The biggest problem with the publishing industry is to be found in the phrase ‘publishing industry’. Bestsellers are manufactured, major prizes awarded to hackneyed books because they espouse correct politics. Implicit therein is much evil. Not that commerce is bereft of virtue. But it diminishes the artist. His soul is compromised, and thereby so is his ability to speak the truth. The writer can’t concern himself with such. He must write and hope that he will be given bread.

–What books are you currently reading?

I just finished John Fowles‘ The Magus, a tremendous and tremendously erudite book that is ghostly and haunting. I am currently reading Njal’s Saga, an Icelandic Saga from, I believe, the fourteenth century. Plenty of ruptured skulls in this one. A delight.

–Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why? 

Robert Penn Warren and James Dickey are shamefully neglected. They should be canonized. We no longer have great men of letters such as Mr. Warren and the result has been a glut of sophomoric drivel. No one is willing to declare the age inept. Sadly, my sense is that these two writers are neglected for political reasons. This is the height of absurdity. It matters not one iota what a writer’s prejudices are. The art is all. And Dickey and Warren were geniuses by any definition of the term.

–Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?

I don’t have time to read many new writers. I’m stilly catching up on those who have gone before me. Donna Tartt is good, though not new. She deserves every award she gets. Likewise, Jeffrey Lent.

–Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

The only ‘get writing’ technique I have is to wake up. That and guilt. If I do not write, I know the angels of my agony will demand an answer. I rarely have an adequate one.

–Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

I have completed a novel set between 1799 and 1830. It involves a duo of murderous brothers and their wives (they are polygamists), all of whom happen to be sisters. I am fifty pages into a second novel that is also historical. It centers around a bear, a dog, a woman and a widower.

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Book Giveaway

Enter here for a chance to win one of two signed copies of Message Stick, a novel of Australia and winner of two national awards.

If you are interested in receiving an ebook of this novel in return for writing a review on Amazon, email me. Available for review only for a short time! Do share with others who might be interested. And thank you!

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

William Morrow Paperbacks 2015

Here’s a well-researched and well-drawn historical novel. I received an ARC from the publisher. Set during the 1918 flu epidemic, a twenty-something woman leaves her family after her father and brother commit a horrific act of violence…and revel in the blood. They claim to be patriots, and have murdered a member of a German immigrant family during WWI.

When she leaves her family behind, she stays in town, striking out on her own for the first time in her life. She falls for the brother of the murdered man, and begins driving an ambulance for victims of the flu. She has survived her own bout with the illness and so is safe. The work takes her into every social and economic strata of her town, allowing readers a detailed look at life during this time.

Oh, and she sees ghosts, the “uninvited” of the title.

While the book provides readers of historical fiction with what they crave, the prose is a bit pedantic…not dense so much as precise to the point of stripping out the deeper elements of voice and tone. This affects the book’s atmosphere and makes for a surprisingly dry read. However, since this is an artistic choice (because it’s related to the author’s voice), it can be chalked up to something that strikes me personally rather than as a flaw that might put other readers off.

Overall, the work is well written and the story is interesting. If you like historical novels, check out this book and the author’s other works. She’s written extensively across many time periods, so it’s likely that one or more of her books will resonate with you.

4 stars

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Author Interview: Cat Winters

Cat Winters has written an astonishing number of novels. Do visit her website to learn more and to discover where to purchase her different types of books. A review of one of her many books will be posted tomorrow. Meanwhile, enjoy a chat with her here!

-How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

Honestly, my advice wouldn’t differ between the two. It took me nearly two decades of serious writing before a publisher ever offered me a contract. I would give the version of myself who was starting off back in 1994 the same advice that I would have told the version who was on the brink of giving up in 2011: If writing is what your heart and soul tells you to do, do not give up.

Writing is never a waste of time—don’t ever tell yourself that it is, even when you find yourself at a point in which you need to file a book (or books) away and move on to something new. Write the stories that grab you by the shoulders and refuse to let you go. Do not write for trends or scrap beloved ideas in favor of ones you think might make a bestseller. Readers will be able to feel your passion (or lack of passion), and so will the agents and editors who serve as the gateway between you and those readers.

Seek honest feedback from critique partners whom you trust, and LISTEN to that feedback, especially when everyone is pointing to the same areas that require a bit of work. Make your books, short stories, etc., as strong as they can possibly be before sending them out the door. A writing career takes diligence, patience, love, and luck, and the writers who make it are typically the ones who stick with it, even after countless rejections and other setbacks.

-When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

These past three years I’ve had so many back-to-back books due that I haven’t been able to take much of a break from writing at all. In December, however, I managed to find myself with a couple of weeks that didn’t involve any pressing deadlines, so I put myself on a full writing vacation to spend much-needed time with family.

No matter how much I tried to avoid thinking about my books, though, I found myself mentally plotting and planning and drawing inspiration from the world around me—a process I believe to be one of the most important stages of writing. Often writers need to walk away from their computers and let the ideas marinate.

As both an artist and a human being, I love that my mind turns everything around me into something meaningful; the entire world speaks to my imagination. It’s a fascinating way of looking at life.

-From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? 

I feel that the biggest challenge is the lack of diversity. Because my young adult novels started appearing in print a couple years before my adult novel debuted, I’m much more aware of the state of the YA publishing industry.

In the world of kidlit, groups such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks are now encouraging publishers to acquire and promote books written by a wider variety of authors. A push for publishers to hire diverse employees is also in the works, as evidenced by the recent PublishersWeekly.com article “AAP, UNCF Partner to Improve Diversity Hiring in Book Biz,” by Calvin Reid (Jan. 14, 2016).

I also believe that we need to work harder to ensure that student writers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds—and at all income levels—receive access to educational opportunities in creative writing.

-What books are you currently reading?

I’m reading Daniel Kraus’s entertaining historical epic, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch. Plus I’m making my way through several research books for the YA novel that I’m currently writing. A favorite of those books is American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America, by Linda S. Godfrey.

-Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why? (The authors do not have to be living.)

Going back to what I said about the publishing industry’s need for greater diversity, I would say that many writers of color continue to be unfairly underappreciated. Sherri L. Smith’s excellent WWII-set novel, Flygirl, is a book that I learned about through word of mouth, and it was so eye-opening and moving, I felt I should have been made aware of it through bigger publishing campaigns and stronger Internet buzz.

One of the books I most want to read at the moment is Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness, which involves a racially divided town on the Texas-Mexico border in 1936. I just learned of the novel because it was named a 2016 Printz Honor Book, but before I read the list of winners, I had, sadly, never heard of it.

Granted, historical fiction is a genre that itself is often underappreciated, but historical fiction about marginalized groups tends to slip under the radar all the more. I hope future changes in the publishing industry will remedy this issue.

-Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?

My busy schedule has kept me from reading as much as I’d like in the past couple of years, but I would say to keep an eye on Amy Lukavics, a young horror novelist. I blurbed her debut novel, Daughters Unto Devils, of which I said, “Imagine Stephen King writing Little House on the Prairie.” I love when authors experiment with the historical fiction genre and do something completely unexpected with it.

-Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

I write when my kids are in school, so there are very specific hours in the day when I need to plop myself down into a chair and get the work done. In order to make the transition from my mom life to my writer life, I typically listen to a song that connects me to my work-in-progress. I compile lists of go-to inspirational music for each one of my books, and when I sit in my chair, close my eyes, and absorb that music, inevitably I’m put into the writing mindset.

In the middle of the workday, when I grow restless or find writer’s block setting in, I get up and take a long walk outside, if the weather cooperates (I live in Oregon). Afterward, I almost always return to my computer refreshed and ready to go.

-Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

I’m getting ready to release my next young adult novel, The Steep and Thorny Way, a retelling of Hamlet that centers on a biracial teenage girl in 1920s Oregon. That book releases from Abrams on March 8, 2016.

The novel that I’m actively revising at the moment is my second adult novel, Yesternight, which HarperCollins will release in October 2016. It involves a female school psychologist who, in 1925, finds herself dealing with the baffling case of a seven-year-old girl who claims to have lived a past life in the late 1800s. It’s a historical psychological thriller, and I’m greatly looking forward to celebrating its publication just in time for Halloween.

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Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Oh, I so wanted to like this book. Great premise, and I really enjoy reading books targeting younger audiences. Usually there’s a spark in them you don’t find in adult projects.

But this book disappointed. The protagonist was just too special. She has such awesome abilities and they are revealed so quickly she doesn’t have to work too hard. So, no challenge for the protagonist, and therefore no challenge or fun for the reader.

DNF: no stars possible

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The Watchers by Jeffrey A. Ballard

The Watchers by Jeffrey A. Ballard

Available from New Rochester Publishing, 2015

FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME HERE!

This copy was provided in the hopes that a review would be written. Although I had expected a book, this is actually a long short story. The concept is that a number of individuals can split their awareness and send it out into the world to track criminals, gather information, and all the other things that governments might want done with that skill.

The protagonist is one of these individuals. He knows full well that splitting his awareness multiple times makes it harder for other watchers to watch what he’s doing…but it also risks splitting him into so many fragments he can never compile his consciousness again. The day comes when he must risk everything to save the one person who can save every citizen.

An exceptionally well written and engaging story. The pacing is fast, and since the concept is never buried under garbled language, readers of suspense fiction will love this even if they don’t usually read sci-fi.

5 stars.

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