Welcome to the two hundred and second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, biographers, agents, publishes and more. Today’s is with political / crime novelist and short story author Pete Morin. 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, Pete. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Pete: I became attracted to creative writing in college, in the last century. After several creative writing courses taught by very talented published authors, I won two short story competitions sponsored by the University newspaper. After college, I left writing for 35 years, and returned to it in 2007 when an energy healer told me there were things missing from my Q’I, did I know what they were? I did know what they were. I began my first novel in February of 2008.
Morgen: I love that. I didn’t know I was missing anything until I went to my first writing class in January 2006 and found I had been, or that’s how it feels. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Pete: My short story collection (Uneasy Living) is literary. My first novel, Diary of a Small Fish, is a blend of literary and political / crime.
Morgen: Yay, I love short stories. And I love the videos for your novel, they’re so clever. I love technology. If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Pete: I have yet to see my novels on a shelf, other than a virtual shelf at Amazon, Smashwords, B&N and iStore.
Morgen: Me too. Maybe we will one day but this is fun in the meantime. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Pete: Too much.
Morgen: Oh dear. A lot of interviewees have said it’s their least favourite aspect of self-publishing but even household authors seem to have to do a fair amount, just the way the industry is going. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Pete: My short story, Buried Treasure, will receive Honorable Mention in the 2011 Al Blanchard Award competition, sponsored by the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters In Crime. I do think it helps with your reputation among other writers, but not with the public.
Morgen: Something for the CV at least. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Pete: I do, Christine Witthohn, Book Cents Literary. Christine is a superb agent and tireless advocate. Although she was unsuccessful in selling DOSF in the short period of time I gave her to do it (a year), she was instrumental in convincing me to self-publish it, worked on a plan with me, and assured me that it would help her sell my second novel. In that context, I would say YES, I consider her to be vital to my success, because she understands the nature of the changes taking place in the publishing world, she embraces them, and she is adapting her work to help her writers position themselves for the New Paradigm.
Morgen: It must be pretty tough for agents at the moment especially given that it’s so easy (I can say that now I’ve done it) for us to put our own content out there, and more of us are doing it because it’s hard to get an agent. So your books are available as eBooks? What was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Pete: They are, the experience was relatively painless, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I hired an old dorm mate to do my cover. It helped that he’d done a half dozen book covers for Random House and a cover of The New Yorker magazine. I hired a professional conversion / formatting specialist, who did a superb job on the interior. I read about 50 novels a year, 80% of them on my kindle.
Morgen: Wow, one a week. I’m lucky if I read one a year (oh the shame of it!). That’ll all change when I go freelance at Christmas. <laughs hysterically> Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Pete: Christine gave my manuscript to editors at 7 publishing houses, all of whom she’d sold properties to before. After nine months, none of them had gotten to reading it. That was when I became convinced that the old traditional publishing model was broken. If I’m being honest about it, it really cheeses me off. I dealt with it by self-publishing. Doesn’t mean I won’t try to sell the next one, but I certainly won’t give it a year.
Morgen: I approached a dozen agents (by email / in person) and started wondering why I was when I was going to give up so much control – never say never but not for now. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Pete: I am nearly finished with a straight-up murder mystery, dead body on page one, whodunit. It is situated on Cape Cod, where I spent 15 years of my adult life (all of my work has some connection to the Cape). I have two ideas for the following one, and I haven’t decided which to write first. It will probably be another murder mystery based on a real-life unsolved murder known as The Lady In the Dunes.
Morgen: You could always write both, for variety, switching from one to the other if you get stuck? 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Pete: I do not write every day. I am a practising lawyer too, so I switch things around depending on my schedule. The most I’ve written in a day is about 4,000 words.
Morgen: That’s good going. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Pete: Never had it, never will.
Morgen: <laughs> Me too, pretty much. I might run aground then go on to something else but find I can plough on when I get back. One thing for sure, I’ll never run out of ideas. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Pete: I haven’t the slightest idea, and that’s the way I like it.
Morgen: 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Pete: I am a pantser through and through. I get an idea, and my characters run with it. I wrote a blog post on this subject recently. Here is an excerpt from it: I am a pantser through and through, which means –especially as I approach the climax and ending of my second novel – that I must rely on the feedback of my characters to help me get them out of the jam I put them in. I mean, it’s only fair, right? Often this time in semi-consciousness is spent running through a conference call with these characters, brainstorming, noodling, arguing about where they’d go next. By this point, I need to trust them, and they need to trust me. How did we get to this point?
Morgen: I’ve heard ‘pantser’ a few times now, I love it. 🙂 Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Pete: I’m sure I do, but I don’t know what it is. My characters simply reveal themselves to me at the outset and are pretty sneaky about how much they tell me and when. Their names seem to pop right into my head spontaneously, as soon as I see them. I don’t think I’ve changed three names in all of my stories. My favorites are Bernard (don’t call him ‘Bernie’) Kilroy, Billy Cruddy, Harold Acres and Diana LaVonn.
Morgen: In my third novel (a 117K first draft chick lit) I had a William (no-one has called him Will or Bill and kept their job). I’m stuck on Elliot now, wanting to call all my characters Elliot, as a first or surname. I’m resisting the urge pretty well. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Pete: My writing wouldn’t have progressed the way it did if a fellow named John Hudspith hadn’t spotted my early first chapter on youwriteon.org and invited me into a private writers website (The Book Shed), where a bunch of Brits pounded me silly until I’d gotten it right. So I am a firm believer in paying it forward. I am a veteran member of agentqueryconnect.com, a website that assists aspiring writers to craft their queries and learn about the process of seeking publication. I participate with other veteran members in the operation of fromthewriteangle.com, a blog about all things writing and publishing.
Morgen: I had a couple of things on You Write On but pulled them off as I didn’t have time to do the site justice (swapping reviews). It’s a great tool though, like Harper Collins’ Authonomy. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Pete: I wrote over 20 drafts of my first novel. I’ll probably write three for my second. I tend to edit as I go along, and the more I write, the better I get as “curing” my old bad habits.
Morgen: 🙂 20 edits ouch. I glaze over after three or four then it goes to my editor who picks it to death (thankfully) anyway. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Pete: Google has revolutionized the research process. Google Maps especially. I like to be very site specific in my locales, and I use real names of restaurants, meat markets, bars, etc.
Morgen: Because someone will catch you out. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Pete: There is no process. When I am not writing, I am fighting with my characters about what’s going to happen next. Could be lying in bed at 3:00 am, could be in the shower. When I sit down to write, it just starts coming. I have no explanation for it.
Morgen: But it comes out, that’s the main thing. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Pete: I’ve written successfully in the silence of my kitchen (or any other room in the house) at 2:00 am and at a crowded bar at the height of Happy Hour. I do NOT listen to music, however. As a musician too, I find I get distracted too much in the listening.
Morgen: I’m the same, classical only, no words to take over. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Pete: My shorts are mostly 3rd person, the novels are 1st person. I have no interested whatsoever in 2nd person, reading or writing.
Morgen: It is a strange one, probably why I like it. 🙂 Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Pete: That’s like asking, “what do you think of wine?” I have an epilogue in DOSF. My editor told me he liked the novel better without it. I said, “Then don’t read it.”
Morgen: (I don’t like wine, my brother loves it) but I tend not to read prologue or epilogues. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Pete: Only if I never get around to finishing them.
Morgen: If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Pete: That strangers think it’s any good.
Morgen: 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Pete: Pay attention to learning craft, read everything you can get your hands on, in and out of your genre, and keep your day job.
Morgen: Oops, I’ve just given up mine. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Pete: The prospect of refreshment at the charges of another is an opportunity never to be neglected by men of clear commercial judgment. Hilaire Belloc, The Mercy of Allah (1922)
Morgen: Wow. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Pete: I play blues guitar in seedy Boston bars and golf on the finest courses available.
Morgen: Ah ha, that’s where the reference to golf in your videos comes from. I know you’re on LinkedIn (I think that’s where we ‘met’, how valuable do you find forums or networking sites?
Pete: I recommend that writers pick one or two social networking sites to hit hard, and visit the others just to stay visible. I hit Facebook hard. As far as value, I won’t know until I see how many of my old hometown childhood friends buy my stuff. I do have quite a following, I just don’t know if it converts to readers – yet.
Morgen: Let’s hope this interview helps a little. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Pete: I like to think the possibilities are just beginning.
Morgen: Me too, I’m very excited by the way things are going. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Pete: What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
Morgen: It depends on wind thrust and air traffic but anywhere between 37mph and 83mph. Only kidding, haven’t a clue. Thanks Pete.
I then invited Pete to include an extract of his writing and this is from ‘Diary of a Small Fish’ (I love the cover by the way, Pete):
I used to play an obscene amount of golf at the exclusive Hyannisport Club. I knew at the time it was irresponsible and over-indulgent, but I never thought it was a federal crime.
At the beginning of a perfectly glorious Labor Day weekend, I sat on the back deck of my Cotuit home, cleaning my Pings, preparing for the typical holiday Friday afternoon: eighteen holes, a few martinis and a well-aged New York strip.
Life was good. Then the doorbell rang.
When I opened the door, a massive United States Marshal glared at me with a stone face. He wore a black suit with a badge the size of a pastrami sandwich. His jacket was pulled back on the side to display a gun on his hip.
“Paul B. Forté?” he said in a gravelly voice, deep and mean.
I felt the skin of my face go cold. “Yes?”
He reached inside his suit coat and withdrew a piece of paper.
“You are hereby served.” He shoved the paper in my chest.
Stunned, I took the document.
“Have a nice day,” he said. He turned, marched to the black sedan idling in the driveway, and got in. I watched as it roared backward into the street, slinging the white clamshells onto my lawn, shifted into drive and squealed rubber.
My throat fought to swallow, but it was dry as gin. “Thank you,” I croaked.
Pete Morin has been a trial attorney, a politician, a bureaucrat, a lobbyist, and a witness (voluntary and subpoenaed) to countless outrages. He combines them all in this debut novel. Pete’s short fiction has appeared in NEEDLE, A Magazine of Noir, Words With Jam, 100 Stories for Haiti, and Words to Music. He published many of them in a collection titled Uneasy Living, available at most online ebook stores.
When he is not writing crime fiction or legal mumbo jumbo, Pete plays blues guitar in Boston bars, enjoys the beach, food and wine with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two adult children, and on rare occasion, punches a fade wedge to a tight pin surrounded by sand or water. He lives in a money pit on the seacoast south of Boston, in an area once known as the Irish Riviera. Pete is represented by Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency.
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