Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and fourth, is of memoirist, novelist and interviewee Jim Wygant. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights.
Jim Wygant has most recently been the author of three novels and a memoir. But to go back a few years, he has been a volunteer fireman and ambulance attendant, the editor of a couple of small town newspapers, a police reporter for a large daily paper, an investigator for a criminal prosecutor and for a State Attorney General, a polygraph examiner for criminal defense attorneys, a polygraph instructor, a computer instructor, a library volunteer, president of his neighborhood association, and maybe a few other things he can’t remember right now.
Jim has traveled extensively throughout the United States and Europe and obviously enjoys incorporating exotic locations into his stories. He maintains a web site at www.jimwygant.com, which includes information both about his writing and his polygraph work.
He has been an avid reader of spy fiction and spy histories, as well as war histories. Jim says it is not unusual for him to become absorbed in a 900-page book full of the kinds of facts that would put many readers to sleep.
His own fiction obviously draws upon his personal experiences, including over 35 years of intimate encounters with murderers, sex offenders, thieves, and others accused of violating the standards of civilized society.
He told us that the process of conducting a polygraph examination (lie detector test) commits him to spending about 90 minutes alone, sometimes in jail, with persons accused of criminal acts. “They are usually on their best behavior when I see them,” Jim said. “After all, what I do might be helpful to the person I’m testing, if the results are favorable.” His most notorious cases include a serial murderer of prostitutes, a teenage girl who arranged the murder of her father, and over 100 other persons tested on various murder charges. He has conducted more then 6,000 examinations, some of them documented in his true crime memoir, Confessions of a Lie Detector: Years of Theft, Sex, and Murder.
Two of his novels, The Spy’s Demise and Jessica’s Tune, feature the same primary character, although the stories are set 15 years apart, the first occurring in New York and the second in San Francisco. The Spy’s Demise chronicles the life of a Russian spy who walks away from his job at the moment that the Soviet Union slides ungracefully into a state of collapse. The former spy ends up in New York, pursued by the CIA mole he had previously managed. Jessica’s Tune is set against the romantic entanglements of a job counselor in San Francisco who is recruited to help free a kidnapped computer whiz, the son of a counseling client. He discovers that the kidnappers are connected to a Mexican drug cartel.
Jim’s third novel, No Away, published in 2012, takes a turn away from the spy and mystery models of the previous two novels. No Away is a dark thriller set in the near future, when a former soldier flees across the United States as the world is literally collapsing around him. Jim told us, “The post-apocalyptic element was inspired by today’s news about infrastructure failures. It’s not much of a reach, writing fiction about what’s already beginning to happen.”
Jim says he has begun work on another novel, but he says it’s too early to offer even a hint of what it’s about.
And now from the author himself:
I wrote my first novel around 1966, after I quit a newspaper job, got in my Volkswagen Bug, and drove to Acapulco. A few publishers expressed interest in that novel, but nobody actually bought it, and it is now lost. However, I still recall with great fondness my adventures during my two months in Mexico.
I have written a number of short stories, which are now available in a single volume in Amazon’s Kindle format, and I once wrote poetry, although I have not done that in recent years.
I am a very disciplined person, sometimes to my wife’s annoyance, so when I write I typically do it on a schedule. When I’m working on a book I write something every day, including weekends, usually in the mornings, and usually two single-spaced pages. I begin each day by re-reading what I did the day before, both to catch errors and to create a flow into the new work. I like to end each day’s work with something still left to say, so it is easier for me to resume the next morning. I do not have problems with “writer’s block.”
I don’t begin writing until I have done a lot of research about places and circumstances. And I don’t start any book until I know how it is supposed to finish. I need a goal to keep me on track. Like all writers, I like some of my characters more than others and derive more pleasure from writing about the ones I enjoy the most, which has nothing to do with how likable they might be as human beings. Some characters veer off in their own directions, and sometimes that demands that I reign them in to avoid making a mess of the story, but I suppose that anyone who has tried to write fiction has encountered the same phenomenon.
When I have finished a first draft, which usually takes about three months, I re-read the entire manuscript immediately, looking mostly for typos and grammatical problems. I recognize that an immediate re-read will not reveal plot holes because the material is still too familiar. I wait several weeks and then begin reading for plot and textual flow. My rule is: if I have to hesitate in my reading because something is not instantly clear, I fix it before moving on. I don’t adjust my thinking or excuse a problem and move on. If I have to hesitate, the first-time reader will also, and that’s not good.
The Spy’s Demise draws upon the real American spy cases of John Walker, who was with Naval Intelligence, and Aldrich Ames, a CIA agent who spied for the Soviet Union and then the Russians. I was interested in their motivation, which was banal, and in the mechanics of becoming the agent of a foreign government. Loyalty and betrayal are fascinating concepts. I tried to keep the spy details as realistic as possible in my writing, although the actual circumstances of John Walker and Aldrich Ames do not form elements of the plot.
I also harbor a great appreciation of Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, so both are featured extensively in The Spy’s Demise. I must admit that a scene in the Met that involves an escape out of a kitchen delivery dock is pure fiction. I needed it, and I don’t know if anything like that delivery dock actually exists.
For the sequel, Jessica’s Tune, I moved from the 1990s into contemporary time and changed the location to San Francisco, another one of my favorite cities. Again I incorporated some of my personal haunts, including the remains of the Sutro Baths, now identified only by the concrete foundations that outline what was once an elaborate and popular oceanside swimming spa. I put my former spy to work as a job counselor, a prosaic job that is a kind of personal tribute to mystery writer Robert Wright Campbell. His protagonist, Jimmy Flannery, was a sewer inspector in Chicago and was also deeply involved in ward politics. Campbell once gave me an invaluable piece of advice. I asked him how long he had lived in Chicago, because the ward politics were depicted so realistically in his Flannery mysteries. He told me he had visited for about a week, but that he had spent some early years of his professional life on the east coast, where ward politics also prevailed. As he explained, “If you know ward politics in one city you know them in any other.” In other words, draw upon your own experience to make your fiction seem real.
For more about my books and my polygraph work, I invite you to visit my web site, www.jimwygant.com.
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my Books (including my debut novel The Serial Dater’s Shopping List, various short story collections and writer’s block workbooks) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating and choose an optional free eBook.
For writers / readers willing to give feedback and / or writers wanting feedback, take a look at this blog’s Feedback page.
As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. If there’s anything you’d like to take part in, take a look at Opportunities on this blog.
I welcome items for critique for the online writing groups listed below:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
We look forward to reading your comments.