John and I share a similar background in journalism and writing, and a certain sense of humor often seen between siblings and understood by few. His new book, “Maddie’s Gone,” is out, he’s working on another and he has a real job, too. To keep the banter to minimum, let’s hear what he has to say in his own words.
Q: What’s the overall pitch you’d give someone on an elevator for reading your book?
A: Imagine the elevator cable snapping. You can’t get out and the car is racing toward street level a thousand feet below. During the fall, you realize one of the other passengers is a serial killer and you’re pounding on all the buttons to stop the slide, but there’s no hope. “Maddie’s Gone” is about facing death in a place where no one can find you. Time is running out for Maddie, a beloved Jack Russell terrier trapped in a flooded cistern in Key West. Julia, the person who loves her the most, searches madly for her. How does one emerge from the Place of No Hope and return to the Light and Security of Family and Home? Sometimes it takes more than love. Sometimes it takes a serial killer.
Q: Is “Maddie’s Gone” a collection of short stories that can be read as a novel, a novel or short stories? Why did you write it this way?
A: This was a technique that I’ve considered using for some time. A central event occurs in a town. Then you break the book down into sections that describe how that event “clips” other characters as they go about their lives. So I wrote nine chapters of Maddie’s “elevator ride” and between each of those chapters wrote a self-contained story that includes, for instance, a character spotting Maddie on the street; in another self-contained story, a character hears Maddie barking in the middle of the night; and so on. That lets me pick an ending that weaves surprise upon surprise. One cannot predict what will happen next. This I promise, and that includes trying to guess the ending. Ain’t going to happen. What I find most satisfying is that just about everyone I’ve spoken to said Maddie didn’t bore them, that they read all of it. That means it holds the reader all the way to the end. That’s a victory.
Q: A lot of writers have moved from journalism to fiction. Do you think journalism has helped you as a fiction writer? If so, why? If not, why?
A: I love this question. It has unintended irony. Journalism is based on documented facts; yet reporters are just above bottom-feeding lawyers on the “Who do you trust most in America?” poll. No one believes what they read in newspapers. Yet readers love a good novel and fully invest their hearts and minds in fictional characters if the writing is good enough. For instance, no one doubts that a small gang of little folk – known as Hobbits – undertook a dangerous quest to save Middle Earth. And succeeded. JRR Tolkien, I love you.
Here’s how being a reporter helps, I think. When you go to journalism school, they teach you to use active voice. They teach you to not be wordy. To write accurately. Succinctly. Then, when you work for newspapers all those years, editors beat the hell out of you for being too wordy. So, when you make the move (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, ad nauseum) from newspaper reporter to fiction writer, you are ready to write quickly, accurately, and powerfully. So the theory goes, anyway.
In truth, when I wrote “Maddie” I spent much more time rewriting and fixing things. And you never get it perfect. Now when I write a newspaper story, I find that novel writing may have helped improve (There! Passive voice and a helping verb right there!) my news writing.
Q: What is it about Key West that makes you write about it?
A: Moonlit nights add a glow to the towering thunderheads over the Gulf Stream. There are alleys so foul that bootleggers wouldn’t dare enter without the ship’s dog going first – on a long leash. There are the few who believe they own us all and the rest of us who refuse to give an inch. This town has so many moods that a teenage girl gets confused. Corruption hangs in government hallways like low-hanging fruit. Does that make sense?
Key West, simply put, is rich. Rich in personality types and belief systems. Catholicism to Santaria to Buffett-ism. Every aspect of the human condition is on full display here. The legends and tales one hears in Key West are for the most part, true and fun. And throughout its history, inventive people (both famous and not-so-famous) have left something behind for us to share.
Q: Do you find it easy to write while living in Key West? Why?
A: No, not really. You’ve got to work two jobs and sleep. Where do you get these questions? They’re pretty good. Actually, it’s hard to find time to write in Key West, but once I put time aside, I find it pretty easy to get ideas and to write. I have to dedicate time to be alone with the cat and write. By the way, don’t you hate these writer-lifestyle clichés? I blame Hemingway for this. I love cats independent of the fact that he had cats.
Q: Where is your book available and will there be any Key West book signings?
A: It’s an eBook, available at Barnesandnoble.com; Amazon.com; and absolutelyamazingebooks.com. Though it’s an eBook right now, I will come to homes for private readings. To prevent that, I suggest readers download it onto their Kindle, Nook, iPhone and other e-reader. It’s only $3.99. Much cheaper than a book signing.