Thursday, February 16, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: James Conway

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author James Conway is visiting my blog today. To read his bio and see his photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

Above is the cover photo for his first novel, Dead and Not So Buried, which was released yesterday. In the book, Hollywood is rocked after the remains of one of the most idolized movie stars of the 60’s are stolen. The thief chooses Gideon Kincaid to deliver the ransom, forcing the ex-cop to unravel a master plan that includes extortion, blackmail and murder. While trying to stay one step ahead of his nemesis, Gideon is led on a harrowing roller coaster ride through sun-and-sin drenched Hollywood.

But Gideon’s not alone. There’s the tough as nails cop assigned to the case. Unfortunately, she’s Gideon’s ex-wife and hates him. And there’s the beautiful starlet who Gideon has to protect. Any red-blooded detective would want to sleep with her; unfortunately for Gideon, he already has. And it didn’t go so well. In fact, she’s terrified of him. And there’s his assistant, the adorable Hillary. She wants to be a PI like her boss. She’s also got a huge crush on him. And that never works out. In fact, it could kill her.

This sure sounds like a fun read to me! Below are James's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for James, and if you have a question of your own for him, ask it!

Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

Reading inspired me to start writing. I never remember not reading. To be honest, I’m also including comic books in the reading category but from grammar school on I always had a book in my lap. I loved Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, Jack London, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. So one day in eighth grade I decided to try my hand at writing. I wrote a six-page short story about a kid who could fly. I’m sure it wasn’t very good, but God bless my mother. She told me it was great and encouraged me to continue writing.

And I did. Stubbornly. I didn’t sell my first short story until I was twenty-three.

I also loved watching TV as a kid. I guess that makes sense since I’ve spent so much of my life writing, producing and directing TV shows. There was this one show I watched as a kid in the early 60’s. Burke’s Law, starring Gene Barry. Gene played Amos Burke, a handsome, charismatic, filthy rich homicide detective. Each episode was filled with big name guest stars that were all suspects in the murder of the week. It was produced by Aaron Spelling.

Well, thirty years later, while I was working for Aaron Spelling, I developed a new Burke’s Law TV series, starring Gene Barry! He now had a son and they solved the crimes together. We ran for two seasons.

Talk about childhood fantasies coming to life.

What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

I always start with the protagonist. What fascinates me about this person? Why do I care about this person? What is wrong that needs to be fixed?

Next I write the protagonist’s biography. I try to include relatable incidents growing up that we can hopefully connect with and as well as seminal incidents that made the protagonist what he/she is when we find them.

The biography is just for me. To see what surprises happen when I flesh out the character. Bits of it will end up in the book, of course. But that’s just a bonus. The biography is a great way for me to better understand the character.

Once I have a handle on my protagonist I rinse and repeat with the rest of the main characters.

How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I like outlines. I need to know where I’m going. So I start with a beat sheet. I just write down all the logical steps I want my story to take. I let that marinate for a bit, decide what works and doesn’t work, then start a more detailed outline.

I try not to put in every single detail, I want to be able to still discover as I write. But I need to know my character arcs, major plot twists and turns, and of course, the end.

And after all that, I’m often surprised what happens when I start actually writing and the characters start taking things in a completely different direction.

In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

For me, a great murder mystery is filled with fascinating characters and unpredictable twists and turns. So while I think both character and plot are important, I have to admit that once I know who my characters are I spend a lot of time on the plot.

I want to put a unique spin on the story. I want the reader to be surprised, baffled and ultimately satisfied with the puzzle. And that takes a lot of work.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

My biggest challenge has been rejection. I’ve had a very successful career in Hollywood but my life long dream was to write novels. I wrote my first one ten years ago. There was a lot of interest, but ultimately, it didn’t sell.

That broke my heart.

I was very busy then writing and directing TV shows, so it took me a few years to sit down and write another book.

Again, close but no cigar.

That rejection didn’t hurt as much. In fact, it made me mad. And determined. Damn it, I will get published!

I started another book right away and that one, Dead and Not So Buried, was published February 15th.

What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

I write every morning. Starting at about 8:30. I write for two or three hours, then work out, have lunch, run errands (maybe sneak out to hit a few golf balls). Then late afternoon I review what I’ve written and tinker for an hour or so. But my major creative writing is done in the morning.

I rarely write on the weekend, but I often reread and make notes for the coming week.

What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Study the genre you want to write. I mean, really study. Outline the books you love. Learn how the author structured the book. Pay attention to the character arcs. Ask yourself what it is you love about the book.

Then, cliché warning… Write. Every day.

Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

Remember earlier I told you I watched a lot of TV as a kid? Well, I still do. My DVR is the hardest working appliance in the house. Favorite shows at the moment: Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, Fringe, Crown of Thrones and Shameless.

What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I’m writing a new book. They say to write what you know, and what I know best is Hollywood. So the new book is another Hollywood thriller.

This one is about a movie star, an action hero, who made the mistake of getting old. By old I mean fifty-two. Young in this day and age everywhere but Hollywood.

So he is willing to do anything to get his name back up in lights. And that’s when he makes the biggest mistake of his life.

The book is entitled Falling Star, and I hope to publish it early next year.

I’m also planning the second Gideon Kincaid novel. Breaking the Gravesnatcher case has made Gideon a Hollywood celebrity, and now the question becomes: Will Success Spoil Gideon Kincaid?

Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

I’d love you all to check out my website. You’ll learn a lot about Dead and Not So Buried, and if you check the Hollywood page, you’ll be treated to bit of my Hollywood history.

I love to talk about books and Hollywood, so if there are any book clubs out there please get in touch with me (my email address is on the website).

Thanks, James! Now, who has a comment or question for him?


jenny milchman said...

I love the look at Hollywood marries with publishing--uneasy company at times, it sounds like. Glad you persevered and broke though--here's to great success in both media.

I agree with you on reading begetting writing. That's what it was for me, too.

Do you know Kit Sloane's Margot & Max mysteries? They are set in Hollywood. Sounds like you two should read/know each other!

Thanks for the posting, Beth.

James L. Conway said...

I don't know Margot & Max but I will. I'm going to order them right now.