Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Today's Mystery Author Guest: John Scanlan

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author John Scanlan is visiting my blog today. To read his bio and see his photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, John is running a contest for a free autographed copy of his book, Of Guilt and Innocence, the cover art for which appears above. John will select the winner tomorrow evening from among those who leave a comment today or tomorrow.

In the book, when a five-year-old girl is snatched from her own front yard in a well-to-do community of Boca Raton, two Boca Raton Detectives commence on a helter skelter investigation in hopes of finding her alive. As the little girl’s father reveals secrets of his own in hopes of aiding in the search and leads begin to solidify, the investigators learn that their main suspect might have ties to the murder of an elderly victim, a crime attributed to a long dormant serial killer, the South Florida Strangler. Uncertain how these two cases might dovetail, detectives scramble for clues before Ashley or another victim run out of time.

Sounds very exciting to me! Below are John's answers to my interview questions.

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

I would occasionally come across a criminal case in the newspaper or on television and think to myself, "That would make a great book," and then I'd wish I had the time and resources to write it. About two years ago, after having one of these thoughts, I changed gears and decided maybe I'd try my hand at fiction. So I developed an idea which eventually turned into my first novel, Of Guilt and Innocence, but I didn't really do anything with it right away. It just kind of sat on my brain. Then, my wife, who had been home with my daughters since the birth of my youngest, decided to go back to work. Being a police officer my days off are atypical. All of a sudden I had the house to myself on certain weekday nights with my wife and kids going to bed early. So I figured I'd give it a shot.

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

As I develop ideas for a novel, I generally know what characters I will need to make it work. I know roughly what I need their background and personality to be, but I don't get into specific details until I've begun writing. Then as I get a little ways into it and I've decided who all my essential characters are, I write down their names and all the characteristics I envision and need them to have. Age, physical description, etc. When I finish a manuscript and review it, I have this list out so I can see what needs to be adjusted to ensure I have accurately depicted my vision of who the character is.

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

I'm mostly a pantser, but I generally have a loose outline of how I want it to start, what needs to happen in the middle, and how I want it to end. But this outline can change along the way, and generally does to some extent.

4. 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?

I am a big fan of a solid plot and great, unexpected plot twists. To me, there is nothing that draws my interest more than a good story. I'm drawn more to a great premise rather than an intriguing character.

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

The biggest challenge I've faced is my inexperience with the whole process. From grammar and sentence structure to the submission process to the editing process to publication, I've been learning as I go. Sometimes it is a bit overwhelming, but what motivates me is how much fun it is. All of it.

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

A typical workday for me is waking up around five a.m. and preparing for my eleven and a half hour shift as a police officer. I get home around seven p.m., make my dinner, then spend about an hour with my daughters before I read them a book and put them to bed. Then, it varies. Some days I will write for an hour then watch some TV with my wife before bed, some days I write for two or three hours then go to bed. Some days I just don't get the chance to write at all. I never push it and that keeps it fun and me looking forward to it.

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

Be yourself. You can only write the way you are capable of, not that you shouldn't aspire to always be getting better. Just don't be desperate to be something you aren't. As long as you have a good story to tell, it won't matter.

8. 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.

Before writing took over what spare time I had, I actually used to brew my own beer at home. I still have all my equipment, though I think my brewing days are pretty much over. It was a way for me to be creative before I found the outlet I now have in writing. And it gave me a lot of beer to drink.

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

Right now I am putting the finishing touches on a manuscript about a recently overturned murder conviction. It depicts the point of view of the husband of the murder victim and how he deals with this sudden loss of closure. It also details the man who spent twenty years in prison for the murder and how he re-enters a world he knew as a young man. And finally the police investigation into the original homicide ties it all together. I have ideas for quite a few more, and develop new ones all the time. As long as people continue to enjoy what I write I will continue to do it.

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

I love feedback, good or bad(but especially good!). Please visit my website. There you can find blog posts I have done, all the locations my book is sold, what I'm working on now, and how you can get in touch with me. I am always up to do interviews or speak at events or even answer any questions you might have. Check it out and feel free to drop me a line!

Thanks, John! Now, who has a comment or question for John Scanlan? Good luck in the contest!


Anonymous said...

Some fun writing about crime, huh?! Do you decide how to treat the "bad guy", and whether he will get away with it before you plot the crime? I do! I used to work on death penalty cases and now write about those kinds of things, knowing the outcome at the beginning of the story. I also include funny stuff about trials. What makes you laugh about crime writing? Thanks, Laura

Beth Groundwater said...

Comment from Sue Cox on Facebook:

I have family living in this area of Florida and it is weird. Fiction can hardly do it justice! Looking forward to reading John's novel to see if he comes close.

Kaye Killgore said...

Sounds like an interesting read.

John Scanlan said...

Hi everyone. Unfortunately my computer is acting up so I am going to respond to your questions by making posts via my IPhone. I apologize and really appreciate the great questions and comments so far!

John Scanlan said...


I generally know if my bad guy will get away with it or not before I begin, though this, or who the true bad guy is, can change as I go. Knowing who the bad guy is and what he has done right away actually proves rather difficult for me in certain aspects. It goes against what I know and do as a police officer. We try to solve the case as quickly and directly as possible, yet in writing crime fiction I have to drag solving the case out, covering my bad guy's tracks along the way. And in that regard, you actually have to think more like a criminal than a cop! In my writing I also like to include things about being a police officer that most people don't know about and that make me smile. Like the officer who speaks in police codes and signals 24 hours a day, as if it was his primary language. And, of course, the practical joking. It makes the police characters seem more real to me, and less like robocops. Thanks so much for the great questions and good luck in your writing!

John Scanlan said...

Hi Kaye.

Thanks so much for your interest. I hope you really enjoy it!

Barbara T. said...

Buy the beer, but keep writing...please!

John Scanlan said...

I do miss brewing sometimes but trying new craft beers and writing crime fiction is a much more enjoyable way to spend my free time!

John Scanlan said...

I want to thank everyone for their fantastic questions and comments. Congratulations to Laura, who has been chosen to win an autographed copy of Of Guilt and Innocence! If you would be so kind as to provide me with your information so I can get it right out to you I'd appreciate it. I can be reached by following this link:
Thanks again to everyone and, of course, to Beth for having me.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks so much for visiting, John! I enjoyed having you on my blog.

keizerfire said...

I'd love to read this book. My friend's nephew (Dylan Redwine)disappeared in November 2012, and his body was just found last week. ;-( Pretty sure who the culprit is, but makes me want to read this book even more.