I'm delighted to welcome novelist Patrick Parker, who has written three intriguing novels so far, to my blog. Welcome, Patrick!
Thank you, Maggie, for your time and giving me the opportunity to talk with you.
Tell us about yourself and your life to date.
I retired from the US Army, then worked in the defense industry for fifteen years. My duty assignments took me to Italy, Germany, Panama, as well as the United States. My corporate work took me to Europe, across the United States and England. I am now settled in Texas, writing full time. I enjoy scuba diving, sailing, going to the beach, and astronomy.
A challenge issued by your wife led to you writing 'Treasures of the Fourth Reich' - can you elaborate?
I picked up a suspense book to read on the plane for a trip. This particular book, by one of the large publishing houses, was hyped as a “must read” and had several endorsements. I thought I couldn’t go wrong. However, I found numerous errors and holes in the plot. In some instances, the story line was not believable. When I returned home, in a conversation, my wife asked how I liked the book. I told her about it, and that I was disappointed. I made an offhanded comment that I could write a better book. She said flat out, “Why don’t you?”
Time passed and I began thinking of her comment, but doubt filled my head. A few travel excursions later, I bought another suspense book and it too, disappointed me. Then I was sent to Panama on a classified assignment. I stopped in at an art gallery hoping to buy a painting as a memento. The owner of the shop was active in the resistance against Manuel Noriega and looked to the United States to rescue her country. She told me at length, about the situation in the country. I found her fascinating. My trip to the isthmus did have many tense and exhilarating moments. Soon after I returned, in one conversation, my wife asked me again if I was going to write a book. “It is harder than you think,” she said. I think she was just tired of me complaining of the quality of some books. Her comment was all it took. Panama was still fresh in my head and I thought the art dealer would make a very interesting character in a book. The idea took shape and 'Treasures of the Fourth Reich' was born.
How far is the character of Maria Conner based on that art dealer you met in Panama?
Maria Conner is based on a real person in Panama. That person, I’ll call her Mary (not her real name), did own an art gallery. Mary was very vocal in her opposition to the Noriega regime. She intrigued me, although it was a bit frightening. Almost immediately, she asked me if I was going to save them. She began to tell me of the atrocities occurring there. She even told me she and a number of others were organized against the government. Her flat out statements were alarming. If we were overheard, I probably wouldn’t be here. Mary is about the same age as Maria Conner and, probably, much the same personality. Mary did have tragedy in her life as well. Yes, I did buy a watercolor painting from her.
From where did you get the inspiration for the character of Dydre Rowyn in 'War Merchant'?
Dydre Rowyn is a combination of several women I knew from my work in the defense industry. I took from their personalities, traits, and background. Usually, the protagonist in a book like War Merchant is male. I thought a female would not only be a better twist but also add to the suspense. I didn’t want to have the usual stereotypical book. I knew it would be a challenge to maintain her femininity and it was. This character had to be smart, cunning, attractive, not cower when faced with danger, and deadly. I have known some female soldiers that were tougher than woodpecker lips. A female is more deadly than a male. So, after all that, Dydre came to life. The excellent reviews and comments on my female protagonist, from women, tell me that I accomplished my goal with her.
Tell us about your latest book, 'Six Minutes Early'.
Your books so far have focused on issues of war. Will you write about other themes and in different genres in the future?
Yes, they have but I don’t want people to think they are war books. I have been asked many times if some of my characters will return in another story. I would like to bring them back and have a few ideas to do just that. For the time being, I think I will stay in the suspense genre. Yes, that is a broad area and one I like and enjoy writing. I may bring a character(s) back for a crime story or mystery. For now, I have several ideas that incorporate politics, history, and current events. There is so much going on in the world now that you can’t make up. It is ripe for storytelling!
How does your writing fit in with your non-writing life?
That is a good question. If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you it infringes too much. I look at it as a full-time job and I am focused on the story at hand. It is time consuming, but if you want a good product, you must devote the time. I do get involved in a story and probably do drive everyone nuts until it is finished. How do you see your writing career progressing?
What are your literary aims and ambitions?
What's been the most joyful part to date of being a novelist?
The most joyful is getting my books published and reading the reviews. My mother, wife, and daughters are very proud of my accomplishments. That in itself is very gratifying. Some of my old friends and classmates are not only astounded that I am published but elated as well. I guess I just surprised everyone.
What are your top three strengths (as a person, not just as a writer)? Your top three weaknesses?
My top three strengths are: I am very tenacious; I have great attention to detail; and I am disciplined. I want to produce quality work. Sometimes my tenaciousness and attention to detail consume too much time. My three weaknesses are: I get impatient at times; I fret too much over the small things, which I have no control over; and incompetence drives me crazy. I do work on these weaknesses and try to keep them in check.
Thanks, Patrick! It's been a pleasure interviewing you.
Wow, those strengths and weaknesses mirror my own! Want to know more about Patrick and his books? Visit his website at http://patrickparkerbooks.wixsite.com/author
My fifth novel, 'After She's Gone', has a strong theme of arson throughout the narrative. In my opinion, arson lends itself well to novel plots, as authors can use the crime to cover up other nefarious deeds such as murder. The research I needed to do for my book was fascinating and at times quite unnerving! As part of my 'Five' series, I thought it would be fun to examine five novels that have also used arson or fire as their dominant theme. Here goes!
1. 'The Arsonist' by Sue Miller
2. 'Death du Jour' by Kathy Reichs
3. 'Blue Smoke' by Nora Roberts
4. 'Afterwards' by Rosamund Lupton
5. 'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury
A novel told backwards!
A while back, I wrote a post about novels with unusual structures (you can read it here), examining books such as B S Johnson's 'The Unfortunates', which consists of twenty-seven chapters that can be read in any order. As a novelist, I'm fascinated by examples of authors stretching the boundaries of what's possible with fiction. Last week, I picked up from the library another novel with an intriguing premise: Jeffery Deaver's 'The October List'.
What's unusual about it? Well, the story is told in reverse - sounds weird, I know! The index begins with chapter thirty-six, the story working back through time over the last two days to the first chapter. In his foreword, Deaver explains that he became captivated with the idea of reverse chronology after listening to a radio discussion about Stephen Sondheim's musical 'Merrily We Roll Along', which uses the same idea. Deaver says: 'I began to wonder if it was possible for a thriller writer to pull off a backward-told story that was filled with the cliff-hangers, surprises and twists and turns that are, to me, the epitome of good crime fiction. The task of course, is to present the twist before giving the facts that lead up to it and still make the surprise thrilling. It's like telling a joke's punch line first, yet still making the audience laugh as hard as if they'd heard the gag in its proper order.'
Part brilliance, part ho-hum
So does Deaver succeed? Yes and no, and that reflects the range of reviews I've read about the book on Amazon. For the majority of the novel I wasn't that impressed. The characters lacked depth, Deaver giving only the barest details about them, and the writing failed to grab me. Along the way, there are surprises, but no major thrills or twists. In addition, the ending of the opening chapter (number thirty-six, which appears first in the book as this is a story told in reverse) would have been weak had the plot been conventionally ordered, not delivering the final punch thriller readers expect. Whoever reviewed the book for The Sunday Times appears to have the same reaction, saying: 'Even halfway through, it seems possible that Deaver has been defeated by the mind-boggling technical challenge of delivering surprises in back-to-front time.'
Towards the end, however, everything changes, and I found myself gripped by the twists that Deaver throws into the mix. So does our friend from The Sunday Times: 'After the reverse journey reaches the couple's first meeting, his (Deaver's) gamble is thoroughly vindicated by a series of twists in which he resembles a conjuror who each time seems to have performed his final trick, but then tops it.'
My reaction as well! The final two chapters are particularly gripping, delivering surprises that perhaps I should have seen coming but didn't. By the end, the last part of the book left me thinking, 'Wow!', as well as unsure how to sum it up as a whole. 'The October List' is, by its very nature, plot-driven yet that's no excuse for poorly drawn characters or pedestrian writing. Yet I'm filled with admiration for any novelist who attempts such an ambitious task. Could you conceive of writing a novel backwards?! Deaver says in his foreword that 'The October List' was more challenging than anything he'd previously written - hardly surprising!
Have you read 'The October List'?
I'd be interested to hear what other people think. What's your opinion of 'The October List'? Do you, like one five-star Amazon reviewer, consider it 'brilliantly executed' with 'more surprises than you can shake a stick at'? Or do you side with the one-star reviewer who says, cuttingly, 'An intriguing idea wasted'? Leave a comment and let me know!
If you've considered doing this, then read on...
As an author, I benefit greatly from being a member of various Facebook book groups. The better ones ban spam posts, concentrating on encouraging a great mix of readers, book bloggers and authors. It's a wonderful way to grow connections and engage with readers. My favourite is UK Crime Book Club. It's friendly, supportive, and packed with fellow authors, readers and bloggers. At present, it has over 9,300 members and is growing steadily. In this post, I interview the lovely David Gilchrist and Caroline Maston, leading lights behind UK Crime Book Club , about running the group and what they have planned for its future. So what makes it so special? Over to you, David and Caroline!
Tell us how UK Crime Book Club got started.
DG: We wanted to have a group that works for UK-based crime writers, to help promote them and give them a platform to speak to readers and writers both. I would love to have the group be something of a UK crime fiction magazine to keep everyone interested.
CM: I am lucky in that i was bought up in a book loving household; we’ve always been our own kind of mini book group. Then we discovered groups on Facebook and me and my dad got involved in some and thought we could run our own, that focussed on the kind of stuff we like to read and was a place to help authors, bloggers and readers as well as being full of interesting stuff.
How broad is your definition of ‘crime book’? Do your members read thrillers and suspense novels as well?
CM: As broad as it needs to be; I used to mainly like forensic based ones, The thing I love about this group is it pushes you to try new things; in the year we’ve been running I’ve read high octane thrillers (with spies), books featuring no policemen or investigators, forensic thrillers and everything in between, all by group authors. I would say our members are willing to give most things a go including thrillers and suspense; personally I’d like to see a bit more paranormal crime/urban fantasy crime in the group.
How do you maintain member interest and engagement?
DG: This is the difficult area, trying to think up topics for discussion, posting about the authors that are members of the group, the occasional quiz, posting details of new books coming out. Member participation is quite difficult to maintain, but we are working at it.
CM: We try to keep the group going by having active admin and posting discussion topics, having events etc. It can be hard but we have a fab group of regulars that keep us going.
What plans have you got in store for the group?
DG: I would like to set up an award equal to that of the CWA, an Online Crime Writers award. In conjunction with Crime Fiction Addict (another Facebook group) we will be working towards that this year. Last year we ran our own monthly Author of the month awards, this year it is to be the Online CWA with polls on both groups at the same time, with the monthly winners to be in the votes. I have felt for some time the CWA do not give the credit to indies and self-published authors that they deserve. The fightback starts here. (Good to hear it! - MJ). Down the line the hope is for other groups to join us in this.
CM: I'm in total agreement with my dad here. I’d also like to encourage the support that is already there so authors know who to ask for expert help in the group and to help put people in contact with each other. If we keep spreading the word about our authors and helping them out then we are doing something worthwhile with the group.
Tell us about the regular online author chats you host.
CM: I arrange the chats. Any group author member can take part; all they have to do is drop me a message or ask in the group and I’ll arrange one for them. They run on Wednesday evenings between 7-8pm and have proven to be a lot of fun in the past. There have been some real highlights, yourself amongst them. (Thanks, Caroline! - MJ).
Can authors promote their books in the group?
CM: we try to keep promotion to a minimum as we have seen groups that get flooded by it and that can spoil the enjoyment for people as well as inducing a sort of promotion blindness. However we recognise that authors need to promote their books so every week we have an author promotion thread. Anyone can post book offers on it and it has a clear picture so you know which one it is. In addition the admins will post some offers or reminders of books, especially if a publication date is looming. We are always happy to help an author out and share their book.
How do you attract new members?
DG: This is no longer a key factor for us. It's more about having existing members engage in the group.
CM: I’m not sure we ever really thought about having a massive group. To be honest we are just two massive book geeks running a group, so I would honestly say we have never really set out to draw in members. We’re happy to see new people but as my dad says we are all about member engagement.
What useful stuff do you offer for authors?
CM: We have a 'useful people' file that lets you know all the people with expert knowledge in the group who could give you advice on a tricky research point. We also have a list of bloggers who will read and review for people. In addition to that we run author chats and offer promotions as well as running the author of the month poll. We have also in the past distributed review copies for authors and are happy to offer that service again if it was required. What useful stuff do you offer for readers and bloggers?
DG: For bloggers we are a platform for them to post their blogs. We run an author promotion thread where authors can post details of offers, and readers can quickly browse to find books that interest them. CM: We have a file for bloggers and as we have lots of member authors we have posted opportunities for bloggers to join blog tours as well as offering review copies of novels. We have had book group chats in the past for readers and offer author chats as well which is a great way to get all those tricky questions about your latest read answered.
What do you enjoy most about running UK Crime Book Club?
CM: For me its the chance to have real interactions with the people whose books I enjoy, as well as having the sheer privilege at times to see careers blossom and to help get books off the ground and running. I think we have a fab bunch of people in the group who I love chatting to. (I agree - it's a great group, made special by the hard work of David, Caroline and the other admin people - MJ).
What advice would you offer to anyone setting up a Facebook Book Club?
DG: There are many groups that are only a platform for authors to promote books. I do not believe this works; I do monitor them and the member participation seems to be very low. To set up a new group, clearly define the parameters and try to find its USP (Unique selling point).
CM: They take a lot of running. Only commit if you have people who will help you run it. I think the best groups have a niche to meet people's interests and are run by people passionate about the group's subject. Book groups can stagnate if they are over controlled but at the same time I see way too many groups that are just places where people are mean to each other. You should be prepared to monitor group activity and make sure your group is a pleasant place to be.
What’s been the most fun thing to happen in the club?
CM: For me it was meeting some of the authors in person, and the very first author chat we ever did was a lot of fun too, mostly because we learnt a lot from it about how to make the chats run more smoothly. The author who did that one is returning for a follow-up performance soon.
Thanks, Caroline and David! It's been great talking with you.
I can vouch for the commitment that David and Caroline show in running UK Crime Book Club. The group is friendly, engaged, and without the constant promotional posts that spoil some other book groups. It's a good place to interact with bloggers, readers and other authors.
Interested in joining UK Crime Book Club? You can find out more via this link: UK Crime Book Club.