Welcome to the three hundred and sixty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with thriller novelist PT Dawkins. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, PT. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Morgen: Me too, isn’t it great (although I ‘retired’ 20 years too early so it’s equally scary). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
PT: I like reading thrillers where there is something at stake and risk of it not happening. I can’t see writing something I wasn’t interested in reading. I may try my hand at historical fiction someday.
Morgen: Historical fiction is really popular (not something I’d probably do as it was one of my worst subjects at school but never say never). I’ve had agents tell me that they want more historical (and crime). What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
PT: I self-published The Analyst about six months ago. I use PT Dawkins (my first name is Peter) because when I went to build a website, I found there is another writer out there, named Peter Dawkins. I didn’t want to confuse things. Using initials seemed to work OK for JK Rowling!
Morgen: It certainly did. I’ve interviewed two Alison Bruces (both real names). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
PT: I spent about a year sending out query letters to agents and came up empty. I dealt with that by self-publishing. I plan to go back to them after book #2 is (self) published.
Morgen: Some authors have success doing it that way round. I think it’s all about getting a web presence first to them prove that you’re capable of marketing. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
PT: The Analyst recently won the DIY Book Festival award in the genre-based category.
Morgen: Oh wow, well done. You mentioned trying to get an agent, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
PT: I think they are vital if you want to sell a lot of books, at least until the public gets used to ordering Print on Demand and not walking around a bookstore with all those great musty smells. Perhaps that is changing as we speak.
Morgen: It is, sadly. A lot of people are doing the wandering but then coming home and ordering online. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
PT: Yes. No (Llumina, the on-line publisher I used, did it for me.) I sort of prefer the e-reader because it frees up one hand but there is something satisfying about holding a novel too.
Morgen: Absolutely. I have both and read both, although I’m currently reading Jane Wenham-Jones’ ‘Prime Time’ (or rather my Kindle’s reading it to me ) ahead of going on her writing workshop on the 20th. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
PT: Nowhere near enough because I don’t know what I am doing. I’d rather write, anyway. I may hire a publicist going forward. This on-line book tour is my latest effort to market myself. If it seems to be effective, I will “launch” book #2 this way.
Morgen: I have dealings with three blog tour co-ordinators and that seems to be a good way of getting around online, but you’re right. We’re writers, we should be writing. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
PT: I like the Sandy Allen character because I think she’s unique. The actress would have to be a very attractive but hard-nosed, street-smart woman. Angelina Jolie perhaps?
Morgen: Sounds like a plan. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
PT: As a DIY author, I had full say in both. I hired an independent artist and was very pleased. I think they are very important. I suspect that most people don’t bother to open a book unless the title and cover appeal to them.
Morgen: I’m sure they certainly help. What are you working on at the moment / next?
PT: I am three-quarters of the way through the first draft of my next novel, again, a thriller about white collar crime. I plan to write three novels and create a trilogy. One of the characters in my first novel, The Analyst, lives on and is part of the second book (although the reader doesn’t see that until close to the end.)
Morgen: Oops… was that a plot spoiler? I love bringing back characters. I’ve just brought back Eddie and Thelma (from Tuesday Tales story Eddie’s fault) to Monday’s Story A Day May story The dancing stopped in 1983. We get to see why Thelma is the way she is. That was a thrill. I’ve just mentioned Story A Day, do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
PT: I try to write every morning, even if it is just for 30 minutes. Writers block? Sure. But I try not to get too hung up on it. Given the number of times that whatever you write is going to be edited, don’t worry if you think what you’re writing is garbage. But, having said that, there are times to get up and walk away. I guess everyone has to find their own way.
Morgen: As long as it’s writing… you can’t edit a blank page. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
PT: I am methodical. I learned in my writing courses at the University of Toronto that every scene and chapter needs to have seven elements (the “hook, inciting incident etc.”) Before I write the first word, I do an outline of all of my chapters, which includes specific details of each of the seven points. That is my road map and I follow it as I write (and sometimes change it as I go along.) So, in the novel I am working on now, outlined to have 70 chapters, there are 490 one or two sentence paragraphs describing each part of the scene. Building that map is part of the creative process for me.
Morgen: Seven elements sounds like a perfect topic for a guest blog. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
PT: I try to think of what roles are required in the story – e.g. good guy, bad guy etc. Then I think about people I know, have met or have read about. I just look around the internet for names although Sandy Allen, a character in The Analyst is named after my sister in-law because she kept bugging me saying she wanted to be in my book. The role is not very complimentary, for a woman or a man. Be careful what you ask for!
Morgen: Oops. My Story A Day story yesterday had to be about someone I know fictionalised so I went with my colleagues at the charity shop I help out at. Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
PT: No. But I like to read them from time to time. I’m a big fan of Robert Frost. I have a brother who is a beat poet based in London, England.
Morgen: Wow. An hour and a bit from me. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
PT: Lots and lots of editing by me and others. For The Analyst, if it was written as a first draft once, it’s been edited five or more times. I suspect that good editing may be one of the secrets, which makes sense since you should be writing with the reader in mind anyway.
Morgen: I’m currently doing fourth (or possibly fifth) edits to my chick lit and I’ve not been through it for a year. Fortunately there’s not much to change (probably helped that it’s been vetted by two other people) but sometimes leaving it for a while (perhaps not as long as a year) really does help. Thrillers can often be complex, do you have to do much research for your writing?
PT: I do it where it is necessary to keep the novel real. For example, there are a number of “local” scenes in The Analyst about the East Village area of New York City that were found on the Net.
Morgen: I love technology. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
PT: I like third because it gives the author the power to really allow the reader to get to know and form an opinion of each of the characters by observing their actions (the reader’s POV as opposed to the first person narrator’s) and listening to their internal monologue (not possible in first person.) There is a scene in The Analyst where Sandy are David are sitting in the waiting area of a seemingly plush corporate office, each running through their reactions in their mind to what they see. They are both looking at the same things but their different impressions say a lot about each of them. I’ve never tried second person. It might be difficult in my genre because there is a lot of terminology on Wall Street that people don’t understand. For The Analyst, it was a challenge to put some of these things into layman’s terms. Like what does it mean to sell a stock “short.” (You’ll have to read my novel to find out!) In the second person, if I understand it, the reader is the main character in the story. I’m not sure how I’d do that. Anecdotally, I’ve had a number of people come up to me to say they learned a lot about the business, which wasn’t necessarily the objective but is still gratifying.
Morgen: Second does work like that and really is best suited to short pieces (perhaps why I love it so much) but it’s an acquired taste and can be quite dark (again perhaps why I like it ). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
PT: No. Granted, I’ve only published one novel. Part of me thinks that if it hasn’t seen the late of day yet, I just haven’t worked on it enough.
Morgen: I live in hope for mine but have 100+ short stories in files and I write a new one every day (granted it only started 1st May but I’ve just created 5PM Fiction so plan to keep up that timetable, even if it’s just flash fiction). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
PT: I knew I enjoyed writing as far back as high school. I am not sure I fit the standard definition of wanting to “be a writer” because it has never been a career. For me, writing has always been a means to an end. I used it extensively in my career in the investment industry. Having left that over four years ago, I have a wonderful opportunity to fulfill a dream – to write and publish fiction novels. I am learning every step of the way, which is equally enjoyable. My least favorite aspect, I guess, is having to learn how to market myself (but still interesting).
Morgen: You have the same as most interviewees; the creation vs marketing. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
PT: My favourite quote is “Read your ass off. Grow a new one. And read some more. Reading other’s works and making notes of what I like and don’t like has been very instructive for me.”
Morgen: I love that. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
PT: Rather than come to my place, I’d rather go to theirs. I would love to know what life was really like during certain points in history by “being” there but without having to actually live there. So, how was your day Cleopatra? Romeo, how’s your friend Juliet working out? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Are you sure you want to rob people in Mexico? Maybe they’ll invent that someday, like it was on the original Star Trek when the characters wanted to go on holidays.
Morgen: Technology seems to move so quickly that you never know. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
PT: There are many floating around in my head, depending on the circumstances. One favourite is “be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.”
Morgen: Ah yes, your sister-in-law. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
PT: No, other than trying to read a lot. But… in the back of my mind, I may go after an on-line MFA someday. I am a firm believer that we never stop learning (or should never stop trying).
Morgen: Absolutely. My current CD in my car is to learn Spanish. I used to speak it quite well but it’s gone so rusty so I’m trying to brush up. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
PT: I enjoy Pilates and Tai Chi. I keep track of what’s going on in the world of finance. I’m always happy to join a euchre game or even a game of chess. I read a lot. I try to stay away from the party tricks – it usually means I shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
PT: There are so many. If I feel the need, I usually just Google the question and see where it takes me. If I bookmark a site, I usually forget that I have, anyway.
Morgen: I have a Mac and use Safari and the Bookmarks bar at the top is really crammed. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
PT: I hate to admit it, because the world is going the other way, but I just “delisted” my face book page. It just seemed like not being right for me. I do have a website and blog though www.ptdawkins-author.com. I’m disappointed about the amount of spam the blog generates. I recently bought the book Social Media Marketing for Dummies. Maybe after I read that…
Morgen: I do get a lot of spam on here but the filter is brilliant; I’d say about 95% accurate. The spammers are certainly getting more inventive with the text they use. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
PT: People have enjoyed being entertained by the creativity of others for a very long time. Does that go away? I don’t think so. The delivery of the entertainment is changing for sure and that could really alter the economics. Unless I am mistaken, authors’ make more money selling e-books than printed because the biggest cost, printing and paper, is eliminated. I suppose even if mankind decides it doesn’t want to read any longer and would prefer just to watch you tube, someone still has to create the script.
Morgen: They do make more and it’s instant. I don’t think paper books will disappear but they will be the minority due to the cost of making and shipping, although I’ve heard of some people owning both versions of the same book (if it’s good enough). Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
PT: I’m going to be very interested to see the continuing development of Indie authors.
PT: No, other than to thank you for hosting. This is new to me.
Morgen: You’re so welcome, thank you for taking part and do have a think about guest blogging for me.
A 28-year veteran of the investment world, P.T. Dawkins writes from experience about the insatiable desire for money that leads to unethical, illegal and unscrupulous behaviour. He majored in English at Dartmouth College, earned a MBA from The University of Western Ontario and completed extensive studies in Creative Writing at the University of Toronto, and he blogs at www.ptdawkins-author.com.
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