Welcome to the forty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with mystery, suspense, thriller writer Tony McFadden. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Tony. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Tony: It all started with a 1987 interview in the Miami Herald with Dick Francis, writer of jockey-related mysteries for decades. His writing process was, according to the interview, winters in his South Florida condo, sitting on the balcony and writing his stories long-hand followed by summers in his native England where his editor and publisher would produce the final work. It seemed so easy, and fun and a perfect lifestyle. That planted the seed. When my wife was pregnant with our son (holy crap – 17 years ago) I decided to write a thriller. It was terrible, took about five years and has been lost to a massive hard drive collapse – a blessing for readers everywhere.
Morgen: Ouch. I came across a competition (or it might have been an online magazine) a while back that had closed because the organiser had everything on his computer
Tony: I was (and still am) a communications engineer. We were living in Malaysia at the time. The writing continued on sporadic spurts ‘when I could find time’.
Morgen: I know the feeling. 🙂
Tony: I didn’t have any real strong motivation. At that point it was a hobby. It wasn’t until early 2009 that I buckled down and finished (or so I thought) what ultimately became ‘Matt’s War’. Then in early November of that same year a tweet by ‘Richard Castle’ (I know – he’s not a real person) twigged me to NaNoWriMo. I wrote my 50k words in November, finished (what will ultimately become ‘Family Matters’, my current work in progress) in December. NaNoWriMo gave me the discipline to write a couple of thousand words day (when in first draft mode). Then I learned about story structure from Larry Brooks and things really picked up.
Morgen: Absolutely. I’ve done NaNoWriMo three times and although I’m now going back to short stories, I have now plan to stop doing NaNo. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Tony: Mystery, suspense, thriller. I’ve written so far an international terrorism-slanted thriller, an ordinary man murder mystery and another murder mystery/suspense novel. I’ve tried my hand at sci-fi but only in short story form. I may collect them and self-pub an anthology some day. I enjoyed that experience.
Morgen: Me too (although not sci-fi). I love short stories; always have, always will. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Tony: All of it is self-published. ‘Matt’s War’, ‘Book ‘Em – An Eamonn Shute Mystery’ and ‘G’Day LA.’ Details of all can be found at my website http://www.TonyMcFadden.net. So, being self published, I do all of my marketing myself. Since you mentioned it, if you and your readers pop over to http://www.TonyMcFadden.net/flyers.html you can help me market AND get a free book as a token of my appreciation for your assistance.
Morgen: Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Tony: I was shortlisted in a sci-fi contest affiliated with the convention here in Australia a year or so ago. Didn’t make it to the finalists but was complemented on my humour. I think they were just being kind.
Morgen: Not usually. They’re invariably too busy so if they say something it’s normally true. 🙂
Tony: It provided a momentary boost of confidence, but ultimately that confidence needs to be internal, almost to the point of delusion, for any new artist to succeed.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Tony: No agent. I’m self-published because I got tired of the ‘we have too much on our plate to represent new writers at this time’ message I kept getting back from them. I don’t know if they’re vital. Never had the pleasure of one working for me.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Tony: All available as eBooks (see link above) and as paperbacks from Amazon.com (‘G’Day LA’ now, the other two by the end of August). Probably 90% of my reading is eBooks now, and I see that increasing. Love the convenience of having twenty books taking up the space of my iPod Touch.
Morgen: Isn’t it great? What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Tony: I was actually accepted to a sci-fi mag that went bust before it’s first issue.
Morgen: Oh dear.
Tony: I had submitted a number of short stories and two were selected. Worked hard with their editor to clean them up but ultimately they ran out of funding and resources. Or it was a scam and my work is published somewhere with someone else’s name. Nah, that never happens.
Morgen: Of course not Tony. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Tony: A couple of the ‘this isn’t right for us’ variety, but that comes with the territory. I was an extremely geeky teenager – I’m very used to rejections.
Morgen: I think that’s the way it ends up being for most writers (though not necessarily previously geeky teenagers, although I suspect I may have been one). 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Tony: I’ve taken my NaNoWriMo 2009 mess and completely deconstructed it. The plot, story line, character arcs, etc. all stay essentially the same but now that I’ve learned something about story structure I think I can make a very good story of it. ‘Book ‘Em’, by the way, was my second book published and used some of the primary characters in that NaNo mess as minor characters. It’s the same universe and now I’ll have the genesis of the characters completed. It will be available later this year (mid-December, I think) and is called ‘Family Matters’.
Morgen: Yay! http://nanowrimo.org I love NaNoWriMo (done/won three times and doing it again this November tho’ not wishing my time away). Having done NaNo, do you still manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Tony: Except for days like the past few where I’ve had high fever, sore throat and a chest full of phlegm, and all I want to do is crawl under a rock and die, yes.
Morgen: Oh dear. I hope you feel better by the time this comes out.
Tony: The most I’ve written in a day will probably never be met again. ‘G’Day LA’ was plotted in advance, about two months of planning and research. Chapters and scenes were mapped out. NaNo 2010 was me writing that. 95k words in one month, which included a Saturday where I churned out almost 9000 words.
Morgen: That’s about the same as me. If you’ve done it once… 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Tony: Once I learned that I could plan and plot things out in advance (something near to my engineer’s heart) I no longer had writer’s block. I plan out my stories now in chunks of 3000 word chapters, 36 chapters to a book. Some chapters have multiple scenes. When I sit to write, I know what is needed for the scenes and chapter. If I do get stuck I can just move to the next chapter or scene. Words always get written. (I read somewhere that 7500 words is about the norm for a single sitting of reading. If I plan 3000 per chapter I figure after editing I’ll have it pared down to 2500 on average. That makes three chapters per sitting. Three sittings to the first plot point. As long as I make sure I’ve got the reader hooked in the first sitting, I’m good to go.
Morgen: Wow, that’s organised – are you sure you’re not a secretary? 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Tony: Plot. Plot, plot and more plot. Diabolically plotted. See parenthetical addition to previous question. Some people can just go with it, but I don’t have enough confidence in keeping to the structure of a good story to do that.
Morgen: But your method works for you. How do you come up with the names of your characters?
Tony: Different ways. Eamonn Shute was a joke at first with a colleague, thinking up good names for crappy detectives. A homonym with ‘aim ‘n shoot’ seemed to fit. I ended up building a huge back-story for the guy and even wrote half a dozen (rejected) short stories around the guy. Possibly another anthology in the works. Ellie Bourke (heroine of G’Day LA) was inspired by an Australian actress who I had heard interviewed on the radio dozens of times. I tried to select a name that sounded the same (first name two syllables ending with the ‘ie’ sound and the last name a single syllable, hard sounding name. Others are less specific, but I try to go for strong names for heroes and skeevey names for bad guys. (Apologies in advance to anyone who shares a name with any of my bad guys. I don’t think you’re skeevey.) This may create a spoiler effect if readers figure this out…
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Tony: Some of the science fiction stuff is shocking. Birds would refuse to crap on it. And the prequel to Matt’s War, lost forever in a hard drive crash. And like I said, for the better.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Tony: Favourite is the ability to control the universe I’m building. If I don’t like the story I can change it. I can make sure I don’t have any Jar-Jar Binks, for example. The least favourite is the fact that I still need to have another job to pay the bills. I’m still aiming for that Dick Francis lifestyle.
Morgen: If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Tony: How addictive it can be. In addition to the current work in progress, I’m mentally plotting out the sequel to G’Day LA and keeping an eye out for plot hooks for the next in the ‘Matt’s War’ series. And there’s more to come.
Morgen: It’s great that you’re getting content out there so that if someone reads one and likes it there’s something else to go to. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Tony: LEARN. Grammar is one thing, and spell check (the devil that it is) is only good up to a point. But if you want to make a living from writing you need to have a basic understanding of the structure of stories. Pick up any commercially successful novel and you’ll find a context shifting, ‘this changes everything’ scene at the midway point. The first plot point, the twist that changes the hero’s trajectory, will occur in the first 20% to 25% point of the book. These aren’t by luck. They work and if you start off with some basics you’ll find you don’t have middle-story lags, your character arcs will read truer and you won’t be one of those writers pulling a Deus Ex Machina out of their butt to finish the story. All that and they should understand that the Dick Francis life comes to one in 100,000. It is hard work, but rewarding when you hear a reader say they lost sleep reading your book, or tried to read it through dinner.
Morgen: You certainly know your stuff. What do you like to read?
Tony: Thriller, techno-thrillers, suspense, some horror.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Tony: One above all http://www.storyfix.com Larry Brook’s provides so much free useful information on this site it feels like stealing. Highly recommended if you’re of the writing clan that needs to plot.
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Tony: Australia, but with the global reach of twitter (http://twitter.com/tony_mcfadden), Facebook etc., it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Tony: http://goodreads.com and of course, Twitter. Great when used properly. I’m not sure I’m using them properly.
Morgen: But then you probably get more writing done. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Tony: Easy. My website (http://www.TonyMcFadden.net) which includes links to my twitter feed, blog and Author page on Facebook.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Tony: Writers have a great future. People continue to read. The delivery mechanism is changing, and I think that’s opening up the world of reading to even more readers.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Tony: Thanks very much for allowing me to do this.
Morgen: You’re so welcome, I’ve enjoyed it. “Allow” makes me feel scary and I hope you think I wasn’t. 🙂
Tony McFadden left Canada two decades ago and has spent the bulk of the intervening time consulting for wireless operators throughout South East Asia. Now enjoying the relaxed lifestyle of coastal Australia he has embarked on a second career, writing suspense and thriller novels.
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