Welcome to the one hundred and twenty fifth of my blog interviews, today with mystery and historical fiction writer John Lindermuth. 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 John. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
John: Like most early readers, I began by trying to emulate the stories of writers I loved. After a period of this derivative experimentation—learning the rules, one might say—you start trying to be more creative. Eventually, if you keep at it long enough, you may become a writer. I like to paraphrase Melville and say the Army was my Harvard and Korea was my Yale. The Army made me a journalist, which allowed me to make a living. My time in South Korea gave me a broader world outlook, which I think has helped enormously in everything I’ve attempted since.
Morgen: Wow, and what incredible experiences I’m sure. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
John: My main focus has been on mysteries and historical fiction, the primary genres I prefer to read.
Morgen: It is recommended to read the genre you write but I know an incredible science-fiction / fantasy author who’s never read a word of it but “that’s what comes out”. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
John: I’ve published nine novels so far and have contracts for two others. My latest is Fallen From Grace, a historical mystery published by Wild Oak, a division of Oak Tree Press.
Morgen: Ah, the lovely Oak Tree Press. They and their authors have been incredibly supportive of my blog. 🙂 Does OTP help with your marketing? How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
John: Even those we recognize as ‘brands’ are required to do more of it than in the past. There’s a lot of competition out there, which means all of us have to shout a little louder to get heard. But if we don’t think we have a good product, who will? I’m a proud member of Sunny Frazier’s Posse, a group in which we help one another find and sort out various options for marketing.
Morgen: I probably shouldn’t say this and it’s no reflection on any of the other writers I’ve interviewed, but Sunny Frazier’s interview pulled in a record ‘crowd’, not topped since… yet. 🙂 We’ve mentioned your publisher, do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
John: Though I tried to interest a few back in the dark ages when having one was beginning to be the only access to mainline publishers, I never secured representation. There are now so many options available to writers I no longer believe an agent is necessary.
Morgen: I’m inclined to agree although if one approached me now I may be tempted. But for now I’m going the eBook route. Are your books available as eBooks, John? And do you read eBooks?
John: Both my current publishers offer books in both print and electronic form. I’ve put another novel and several short stories on Kindle and am testing those waters as well. My son gave me a Kindle for Christmas and I’ve become addicted. It’s so easy to download books and convenient for travel.
Morgen: Isn’t it – my trouble is that I never go anywhere. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
John: My first publications were non-fiction way back in the 1960s and 1970s in newspapers and small mags, some of them so obscure no one had heard of them even when they were still publishing. The fiction didn’t come till later. Acceptance remains a thrill—even when little or no money is involved. Of course money is definitely a plus.
Morgen: It certainly is; I think although we’d all like to just see our names in print, we do also strive to do well financially. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
John: Tell me a writer who hasn’t and I’ll tell you he / she hasn’t been doing it very long. It takes some of the string out of it when you realize even a wonderful book like James Lee Burke’s The Lost Get Back Boogie had more than 100 rejections before it was finally published and went on to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Morgen: I think I did have an early interviewee who hadn’t but you could be right. I didn’t know about JLB – that does make me feel better. What are you working on at the moment / next?
John: While awaiting the publisher’s decision on the fifth, I’ve begun work on the sixth novel in my Sticks Hetrick mystery series. These books are published by Whiskey Creek Press.
Morgen: So eleven books published / on their way, do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
John: I try to. Unlike some others, I don’t think you should lock yourself into a certain number of required words. That kind of pressure can be hurtful. My output on the current WIP today was a little over 1,200 words. The day before I did 1,600. And yes, I do keep track of the words as I work on a project. Like Hemingway, I believe you should quit when there’s still some juice to get your started on the morrow.
Morgen: And some writers (I think PD James is amongst them) leave sentences half-done when they go to bed so it’s easier to pick up afterwards. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
John: Those of us who come into the game via journalism seldom have the problem. We’re too used to writing under pressure and meeting deadlines. No time to wait on a muse—if there even is such a thing.
Morgen: I’ve had a few interviewees (mostly ex-journalists) say that too. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
John: I’m more a pantser than a plotter. I may jot a few notes here and there to keep me on track (hieroglyphics which would mean nothing to someone else). I generally know where I’m headed, though I like a few surprises and inspirations from my characters along the way.
Morgen: ‘pantser’ I love that expression and I don’t think I’d heard it before doing these interviews. And isn’t it great how the characters just take over; that’s probably my favourite aspect of writing. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
John: Curt Sutherly, an old newspaper pal, used to say I was one of only two people he’d ever known who could sit down at the machine and crank out page after page that needed little correction. What he didn’t take into account was how much I’d “worked’ that story in my head before I started typing. I’m not saying my stories don’t need editing. There isn’t a writer alive who can’t stand another set or two of eyes on their copy. But it is another plus of coming from journalism that you’re more likely to be capable of formulating and revising in your head and, thus, turning out cleaner copy than some others.
Morgen: I guess it equates to practice, even if it’s non-fiction journalism. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
John: In the bad old days of typewriters I used to do some preliminary writing with pen on a legal pad. Now, thanks to the cut and paste and other technological advantages of the computer, it’s more of a rarity. Anyone examining those early scrawls would be inclined to think they were in Sanskrit and I doubt any universities will ever be seeking them for their collections.
Morgen: 🙂 What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
John: My tastes in music are eclectic, but there’s usually something classical playing low in the background as I work. There was always music in the newsroom—not always my choice—so I’m accustomed to it and don’t find it a distraction. At least now it’s my choice.
Morgen: I like classical too when I write, less distracting. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
John: I’ve written in first person, but my preference is for third. Never tried anything in second person.
Morgen: Second person is great… blatant plug: I’ve put some 2ndpov sentence beginnings on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/sentence-starts if you’d like to have a go. 🙂 Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
John: I have used prologues. Frankly, I don’t understand all the fuss lately opposing them. They go back to Euripides and there are two valid reasons for using them. One is to provide back-story without resorting to flashbacks or other devices which might bog down succeeding chapters. The other is to provide a hook for the reader and target toward which the rest of the book is directed.
Morgen: Well, now you put it like that… What advice would you give aspiring writers?
John: I’d quote Ray Bradbury who once said the only way to learn to write is to write. He recommends writing everyday and believing in yourself. I don’t think any better advice has been given.
Morgen: Short but definitely sweet (see earlier reference to practice). What do you like to read?
John: I’ve always been a voracious reader of anything that sparks my curiosity. There are some favourites I keep going back to, but I’m constantly finding new writers as well.
Morgen: Yay for new writers! 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing?
John: Since retiring from the newspaper business in 2000 I’ve been librarian of my county historical society, where I assist patrons with genealogy and historical research. I also enjoy spending time with my children (a son, daughter and son-in-law) and four grandsons. I read, I walk, I draw. I’d like to do more travelling, though finances and other commitments limit that.
Morgen: My mum, aunt and uncle are involved in their local town historical society and it’s hard work but they enjoy it and that’s what it’s all about. 🙂 In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
John: I’m in the United States. Since we’re now a global economy, I don’t find location limiting.
Morgen: That’s brave John, using the US and economy in the same sentence… sorry, I shouldn’t rub it in, we’re not exactly trouble free here in the UK. 😦 Where can we find out about you and your work?
John: Website: http://jrlindermuth.com
Then there’s Amazon.com
I’m also on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Goodreads, Shelfari, Linked-In, etc., etc.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
John: Despite fears of a decline in readers, I think this is a wonderful time to be a writer. We have so much more control over how and what we can publish, options not available in the past. But I do believe writers must pay more attention to editing.
Morgen: Absolutely John, quality over quantity every time. And I agree, I’m so excited to be a writer now… to be able to do my own thing (with an editor). 🙂 Would you like to include an extract of your writing?
John: Here’s the blurb for Fallen From Grace:
As the 19th century winds to a close, Sheriff Sylvester Tilghman of the small Pennsylvania town of Arahpot ponders his biggest problems: finding a new deputy and convincing his true love, Lydia, to marry him. But an early autumn day finds Arahpot’s usual tranquility shaken when a stranger is fatally stabbed. Upon seeing the victim, Tilghman recalls witnessing a strained encounter between him and Valentine Deibert, an obese man with a wife half his age who had recently moved to Arahpot. The sheriff questions Deibert who denies knowing the victim. Tilghman is unconvinced, but lacks a connection until the widow arrives in Arahpot. Suddenly Sylvester is plunged into investigating two murders. As he works through an abundance of motivated suspects, Tilghman finds himself in danger. And worse — Lydia is pushing her obnoxious cousin as a candidate for deputy.
Morgen: What wonderful names, thank you for taking the time to chat to me John. 🙂
Update June 2012: Whiskey Creek Press released The Limping Dog, my 10th mystery, a standalone set inNew England, on March 1, 2012. In August, WCP will release Practice To Deceive, the fifth in my Sticks Hetrick series, and I have a contract with Oak Tree Press for a sequel to Fallen From Grace.
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