A Few Quick Questions about Dear Mr. Pop Star


I had the great privilege of asking a few questions of Mr. Dave Philpott regarding this great book. It was tough to come up with the questions, the temptation to get into some of the particular letters/responses was great — I also had a song or two I thought about trying to get their take on. But I restrained myself — at great personal cost. But it was worth it — these are some of the best answers I’ve received in one of these. . .

This seems to be largely a UK-based endeavor — for the sake of my largely US audience, could you introduce Derek & Dave Philpott and the background for this project?
To be totally frank with you we are just two ordinary blokes. I’m obsessed with music, am extremely knowledgeable about it and it’s my day job, So I revere and view artists and songs from a skewed perspective. My father though knows nothing about music, is completely detached from it and doesn’t know or care if a tune is by a world famous artist or a band in a garage down the road. Hence, when Mick Jagger sees a red door and wants to paint it black, I marvel at an angst-ridden motif of despair and the hopelessness of the human condition from the pen that bought us ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. My dad though, oblivious to Mr. Jagger’s pedigree, will say:

‘’What a fool! If he doesn’t put a strong undercoat on there it’s going to turn up purple. Your Uncle Len did that once and..’’

…and then he’s off on a diatribe about bad D.I.Y. or, as I believe our American friends call it, Home Improvements. How it would always work is that I would play him a song, or perhaps even give him a copy of the lyrics to a famous tune, let him digest it for a while and then wait for the gold, which would normally just be him wittering on for a while about the record interspersed with details of how his day would pan out and what the neighbours were up to. I would note this all down, edit it and it would form the body of a letter to the artist. In 2008 we put together a website of about 50 or 60 letters, which we would add to regularly, and then we set up our Facebook page. We thought it was funny enough that these unanswered missives were sitting there in the misty ether. We found ourselves with a fierce fan base and then one day, about two years into the project, we got a reply from one of the artists themselves. Crucially this contact was secured not through official channels but from a mutual fan who knew the pop star personally. We then realised that this could be an interactive dialogue with the rock and pop stars and that, importantly, we could get to these artists through ‘the back door of the industry’. This could be through friends of friends, roadies and crew, the bass player’s cousin or any indirect route. This made the process a lot more personable, as we were being recommended by people who knew who we were and what we did and that it was all a bit harmless and daft. Eventually we got to the point where the rock stars were telling each other. I wrote to a pop star last year, asking if they would like to get involved and if they knew who we were, then the immortal reply “Oh god, I’ve been dreading and looking forward to being asked one day!” came back and we were absolutely thrilled.

We made sure that we got the full consent of the artists to use their replies and that they were happy for us to share them. Every single one of them told us that they were more than happy and they all got behind us and some even supported us by telling their own fans about us.

Owen Paul told us, in not so many words, that he felt that this is so obviously an organic project which he’d seen this grow over years and if we had been a couple of journalists then he just wouldn’t have got involved because it would be contrived rubbish.

It took us a long time, nearly an entire decade in fact, but we ended up with enough material for a book which we self published after an amazingly successful campaign on Kickstarter, through which we were able to raise £18,000. The success of that volume bought us to the attention of our now publisher, Unbound, who encouraged us to do a second.

Is there an artist/group or song that you’ve tried to write about but just haven’t gotten things just right?
Yes, indeed, the one that springs to mind first is Stiff Little Fingers. Many of their songs are based around The Troubles in Ireland which started in the late 1960s, an era that my Dad lived through and, due to being that bit older, knows more about than I. He was quite rightly very uncomfortable about deriding the subject matter and lyrics, so we decided that we would poke fun at ourselves by writing a letter to them where we deliberately got the wrong end of the stick by misunderstanding the song for comedic effect. Looking back I think that that letter completely changed the project for the better – we realised that we could turn the joke on ourselves and this allows the artist to hit back at us. For the new book Dr Hook and Tears for Fears both informed us that they couldn’t find the inspiration to reply to our first efforts because they weren’t up to our usual standards, probably because of the fact that at the time we were compiling the whole project, and had our eye off the ball. So we screwed up the first letters and started again, thought it through and came up with completely new letters which they lapped up and their responses were magical. They were absolutely right.
Of the responses you’ve received from artists/groups, which has been the most surprisingly good? Either you didn’t expect a response quite along the lines of their letter, and/or theirs was better than you expected? (I’m sure you have some on the other end of the spectrum, as well, but we’ll ignore them)
From the new book it’s Geoff Deane from Modern Romance, Chris from The Waitresses, Mott the Hoople, Wang Chung and Nik Kershaw. They absolutely slaughtered us with their wit and inventiveness. Although I have to say that we are always impressed at the answers that we get back, the effort that the stars put into their replies is astounding and we’re flattered that they give us so much time and attention. Each letter is a wonderful surprise.
You’re obviously enjoying a measure of success from artists and readers (otherwise this book wouldn’t exist), what’s the most interesting criticism you’ve received — either from a reader, critic or musician? Has it changed your approach to anything?
Feedback from our friends online is vital to us and this is why we’ve always tried to be as interactive as we can on our Facebook page, which dad does try to be a part of as much as he can, but he is obviously from a era where things were a little less ‘immediate’ and a lot more polite. Sometimes when we send messages via Messenger and there’s a ‘seen tick’ but no reply, Dad feels that this is incredibly rude, but it’s just the way things are now in the world. He like so many pensioners comes from a more courteous past.

There is a certain luxury of this real time interaction with the people who follow you though, in that you can bounce ideas out there via status updates and see how new material is received in general. If it chimes and makes people laugh then you can integrate it into letters. Also when we first began our letters were fairly flowery – we would spend sometimes weeks perfecting them, making sure that we never repeated words, writing very elaborate scenarios to tie in with the different songs. Perhaps we were trying to be a bit too clever to impress the artists. But the feedback we got told us that we could actually lose a lot of the purple prose and just get straight to the point and this has crucially changed how we write now. Being succinct actually means that the focus is more on the replies and probably makes our missives easier to respond to, as they not bogged down in unnecessary language.

Also a lot of anoraks on the prog forums were incensed, claiming that we’d invented the responses from some of their heroes as ‘there is no way that Mr. XXXX would respond to this outrage’. I loved that – it meant that we really were getting somewhere.

Of all your letters in this particular volume what are the one or two that you’re most proud of?
Bruce Woolley’s is a masterpiece. Also as fan of Gong, getting Daevid was a massive deal for me. It was one of the last things the great man did before he left us, and he absolutely loved it. I was going to include it in the first book but felt it was too soon after his passing. Then I was dithering about putting him in this one and I had a vivid dream, in which he visited my house, knocked on the door and said,

“I am ready to speak”

Thank you very much for your time — and for this book. I had such a great time reading it, I hope you have great success with it!
Bless and thanks, Mr. Newton
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A Few More Quick Questions With…Chuck Waldron

Here’s Part 2 of the Book Tour stop for The Cleansweep Counterstrike — a follow-up to the Q & A from last time.

Could you tell us a little about your “path to publication”? What got you into writing and what did you do to take it from an aspiration to a reality?
It started innocently enough when I joined a class on writing short stories. Years of professional writing was transformed into story-telling. Fifty-five short stories later I went back to my first short story, wondering if I could turn it into a novel. Now, working on novel number six, the journey continues. I’m a proud indie author and haven’t looked back.
Back when we talked about The CleanSweep Conspiracy, you said, “I like Matt Tremain, the protagonist in The CleanSweep Conspiracy. He just might hang around for another story.” Of all the various things you could’ve done with Matt — what was it about the premise for Counterstrike that made you say, “That’s the one”?
Matt’s story wasn’t finished. He still had his evil nemesis lurking, waiting to do Matt harm. I decided to follow Charles Claussen after his escape and weave his story of revenge with Matt’s desire to be left in peace. Matt, realizing that “peace” wasn’t going to happen as long as Claussen was in the picture, had to act. That’s when I knew, “that’s the one.”
thing they did in the prior book, or conversely, something they said in a “throwaway line” in the first b
For me, it was trying to walk a tightrope. How could I create a stand-alone book in the sequel and yet have it be part of a continuing story? I already knew my main characters and how they acted, but how to keep their voices fresh. Stieg Larsson did it brilliantly in his series, setting a high standard.
We seemed to spend plenty of time with Charles Claussen in this volume (not that we didn’t in the preceding one), seeing things from his point of view — what’s the hardest part of writing him?
For me, creating villains has always meant digging into some dark corners of my imagination. In just about every way Claussen represents my polar opposite. I chose to create a composite of evil people I know. The hardest part writing him was to give his character something likable.
I’ve often heard that writers (or artists in general) will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
I wrote a quirky fantasy Remington and the Mysterious Fedora. From all the words, a reader chose a paragraph that had some mild sexual context. She said, “I can’t believe this book. It’s not about a hat or a typewriter. It’s about sex.” It’s my only one-star review. I don’t see that as a demand bid to change my writing.
Is there a book 3 in the works, or is this the end of the road (at least for those that survive)?
This hint is the sample chapter of book three at the end of The Cleansweep Counterstrike. There’s still enough conspiracy theories to go around.
Thanks for your time, and I hope The Cleansweep Counterstrike is met with plenty of success!
Thanks for having me, and your good wishes.

A Few Quick Questions With…Nick Kolakowski

Little backstory to this Q&A, in my never-ceasing attempts to get organized, I’ve started noting when a book post is due, what I’m doing associated with it, etc on my reading log (nothing special, just an up-to-current date Excel spreadsheet, with a couple of blank lines and then a list of upcoming reads). I’d put a note on with Boise Longpig Hunting Club with the release date and a note “read early for Q&A.” Before I sent my list of Questions, I looked over my correspondence with Kolakowski and realized we hadn’t actually discussed it — thankfully, he was gracious enough to answer my questions (beer’s on me next time you’re in town) — and here they are.

Could you tell us a little about your “path to publication”? What got you into writing and what did you do to take it from an aspiration to a reality?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. My love of crime fiction also started at a very young age, when my Dad gave me his yellowed copy of Chandler’s “Trouble Is My Business.” I’d written crime fiction since I was a teenager but I only got serious about producing a novel in my late 20s. I wrote three “trunk novels” before “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,” which was picked up by Shotgun Honey and published in 2017. Other novels followed.

I suspect my process mirrors that of other folks: you write a lot, query agents, send manuscripts around, and generally struggle in a very crowded market. And when you finally begin publishing books, that kicks off a whole new game: marketing, publicity, trying to get the word out. The grind never stops. Good thing it’s fun.

Why Boise, of all places? In the Acknowledgements you mention the time you’ve spent in Idaho — other than just soaking up the culture, what kind of research did you do? (I’ve got to say, as someone who’s lived most of his life in the Boise-area, you do a really good job of capturing the feel, the geography, etc. Just hopefully not the crime)
My wife was born and raised in Boise, and so I started going there with her, sometimes a couple times a year. She has friends and family all over the state, and so we spend a lot of time driving around. That’s the bulk of the research I did for the novel—with the exception of the book’s final act, which is set in a wilderness of my own invention, I don’t think there’s a location that isn’t grounded in reality. I’m sometimes startled by the changes when I come back every eight months or so—the money pouring into the state is producing seismic changes, especially in the Boise area.

I chose Boise because it’s not a place usually covered by crime fiction; I’m a little tired of novels always being set in New York, or Los Angeles, or Chicago. And for years, I’d wanted to write a thriller set in someplace more isolated and rural—which Idaho definitely provides, along with a unique texture all its own.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
“Breaking Bad.” I can say that without putting too much thought into it. It’s a masterpiece.
(I might have to retire that question — between the answer, and the way you put it, I don’t know if that can be topped.)

I’ve often heard that writers (or artists in general) will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?

Ooof, that’s a tough one. My sense of humor is rather bleak, and at one point, an Amazon reviewer suggested that they “didn’t appreciate the crudeness and [my] choice of words at times.” And when I read that, I thought, “Well, okay, but you should have seen the first draft. That was even worse.” I do try to restrain myself a little bit more, at moments, because I realize that some readers might not appreciate when I go deliriously over-the-top.

The same goes with violence; I’m trying to be a little bit more judicious in my moments of kinetic action. If you structure it right, you can pack a lot of emotional and thematic “oomph” into just a single gunshot.

What’s next for Nick Kolakowski? (Bonus points if it involves anyone who survives Boise Longpig Hunting Club)
I’m actually writing the sequel to “Boise Longpig” right now! It’s called “Voodoo Potato,” and it’s set in New Orleans. It deals heavily with the privatization of public security, and the dangers that stem from that. When we were in New Orleans last, someone casually mentioned to us that it takes 20 minutes for the cops to arrive if you call 911, and that some local millionaire had set up a private security force in the French Quarter that can respond more quickly. Sounds like a potential Pandora’s Box to me.
Oh, that sounds great (the book, not the terrifying reality behind it).

Thanks for taking the time to answer these, and I hope that Boise Longpig Hunting Club finds all sorts of success!

Have you met . . . D. I. Jolly?

The first book I read in 2017 was Mostly Human by D. I. Jolly — and it was one of my favorites (but man, I’d have sworn it was 2016, man…I’ve read a lot in the last 15 months). We did a little other business via his then-day job at a publisher, and a Q&A. And I’ve really, really intended on coming back for more of his work (as much as I’ve read, there’s more I want to ). Anyway, he’s got himself a snazzy new website and is trying to get some eyeballs on it (and, hopefully, the books he talks about there).

So, click the link above — or this one — and, if you have the inclination, check out my thoughts about Mostly Human and the Few Quick Questions with him.

A Few (more) Quick Questions With…David Ahern

David Ahern was nice enough to answer some questions for me when his debut novel, Madam Tulip, came out and somehow, I got him back for another round as we prepare for the release of Book 3 in the series, Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance. I talked about it earlier today, and really recommend you go grab it (pre-orders are being taken now, it releases April 12).

Anyway, here’s the new batch of questions:

So it’s been almost 2 years since your first novel came into the world, How’s the reality of that (and the follow-up book) match up with your hopes/expectations? Other than James Patterson, I’m sure every writer wants better sales, but are readers being generally receptive?
The important thing for me is that readers enjoy the books, especially the characters; and happily people seem to love Derry and her friends. That’ll do. There are a lot of books out there, and anyone who imagines they’ll be an overnight best-seller isn’t paying attention.
Has your writing process changed? Are things coming easier now — or are you finding yourself working harder as your craft improves?
Writing is a funny old thing. Parts are a hoot, and hugely enjoyable. Other parts are a pain, and like any craft hard work. In a way the job does get harder in that you’ve set the bar for yourself and you want each book to be better than the last. At the same time, you’ve got a comfortable storytelling rhythm you can settle into, and that’s nice.
In Madam Tulip, it seemed like most of this fortune-telling was a joke, Derry being a good listener with a flair for the dramatic and possibly a touch of something else (if you believed in that sort of thing). But in each book since, you seem to be emphasizing the reality of Derry’s gift. Unless I’m misreading that, was that your plan all along, or something you stumbled on to? Do you see this continuing, or will there be a resurgence of the ambiguity?
Hey, this is Ireland. We can believe stuff and laugh at the same time. Seriously though, the main thing is that Derry’s modest powers don’t help her solve mysteries – that would be cheating. But a sensitive person, psychic or not, will sense disturbances and respond unconsciously to situations that don’t seem right or are somehow contradictory or even dangerous. Derry has that ability. It can be scary.
Talk to me a little about Bruce — your Hawk/Joe Pike/Wallace Fennel/Ranger character. I’m not really sure I have a question about him — just tell me something about him and/or writing him.
Almost every woman I know has a close gay male friend they love. I guess because there’s the possibility of a strong friendship without romantic complications. It’s a happy kind of relationship and often a lot of fun. The other side of Bruce is his background as a Navy SEAL. When I was a film maker, I developed a tremendous respect for a certain type of military personality. Bruce has the balanced confidence and extreme competence I associate with the best soldiers (and sailors, of course, as Bruce would remind you).
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
Ooh, that’s too hard. I’m probably strange, but I only envy non-fiction writers. I read some people and I think, ‘how do you get to be that clever?’ But then I relax, remembering that mostly it’s best not to have a clue.
Thanks so much for the book, these characters and for spending some more time answering my questions — I hope The Bones of Chance is a success!

A Few Quick Questions With…Faith Hunter


I’ve gotta say, I was pretty intimidated when I got the word that Faith Hunter was going to participate in this, but it ended up being a lot easier to come up with questions to ask her than it was for many other writers. The main problem was cutting them down to five! Anyway, I enjoyed this — hope you do, too.

Ms. Hunter, before we begin, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to provide some A’s to the Q’s here. I’ve been reading the Yellowrock series since 2011 and have been become a big fan of your work. I want to ask about a dozen questions about the last two or three chapters of Flame in the Dark, but I don’t think you’d want to answer them — and if you did, you wouldn’t let me post your answers. Here are their replacements, which should be spoiler-free, and hopefully you haven’t been asked too many times.
Thank you for that. And I am glad to be here!
First off, what’s been the reaction from your fans toward this spin-off? Anything surprising about the reaction (hopefully positive surprises, but I’ve been online long enough to not know to assume that).
I was not expecting the fans to love Nell or the Soulwood series in any great numbers, but the sales figures for the most recent books are nearly the same — Soulwood #2 (Curse on the Land) and Jane Yellowrock #11, (Cold Reign). And they really adore Nell. They root for her and they pull for her and they want her to get that all important Improperly Proper Kiss!
Each book comes with its own particular set of challenges. What were the particular challenges of Flame in the Dark?
Mostly keeping Nell heading in the right direction. She came from a very restrictive background, so while I want her to experience life in all its sensory and emotional delights, I also want to keep her on the straight and narrow in terms of being true to herself. I want to make sure that she doesn’t lose sight of who she is, and what made her strong. She is a multi-faceted character with a lot of depth and I want to make sure she is never a Milquetoast.
For me, one of the highlights of the Soulwood books is Nell’s reaction to the food (mostly of the “junk” variety) her colleagues are introducing her to. It’s such a subtle and effective way to remind/demonstrate just how far away her life was from the world we all know before she joined up with PsyLED (and so fun to watch this farm-to-table type woman revel in processed foods). Assuming I’m not reading too much into that — why food? Why not . . . the Internet or music? Was it a conscious choice, or just something that started that you ran with? Is the research for it just dreadful? How many Krispy Kremes do you have to eat to make sure you get it right? 🙂 [sorry I babbled a bit there . . . ]
(laughing) The Internet was something she had already learned about through the library system in her town of Knoxville. So while her knowledge of the databases has expanded dramatically, the concept wasn’t brand new to her. As to music, Nell grew up listening to mostly old-fashioned acapella church music. I’m honestly not certain what kind of music she would like, so I haven’t gone there yet. I feel that music will need a deft hand for Nell, and I don’t have that yet. But FOOD! Part of the reason why food, is that I can’t eat many kinds of processed foods anymore. I’m allergic to all corn products and so that means I no longer get pizza or commercially made doughnuts. I miss all that great stuff!!! I am living through Nell’s taste buds, while becoming much more the farm-to-table eater myself now.
The religious lives of Jane and Nell play a more significant role in the novels than any other Urban Fantasy series I can think of, where does that come from? How do you approach bringing their faith (understanding that Nell’s is in flux given her past) into the stories in a way that seems authentic?
My dad taught me to look at EVERY subject from EVERY side, and to work to understand why people think and believe as they do. He also made me look at the ways those thought systems and belief systems contributed to their strengths and weakness as individuals and as members of society. He was a wily man, my daddy was. And what I’ve discovered is ALL people are people of faith, whether that faith is a religious one or a rational one, a spiritual one or a physical one, a churchy one or a scientific one. Therefore, addressing faith (for me, as a writer), becomes a part of each story and character on some level. Nell is struggling with faith, because for her, faith is all messed up with sex and abuse and cruelty. For Occam, faith is all tied up with betrayal. For Nell’s mother, faith is all about surviving and growing through life’s difficulties into strength and forgiveness. For Rick, faith is all about forgiving himself for stupidity that led to pain and lost relationships.
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
Robin McKinley’s Sunshine was a masterpiece.
Devon Monk makes me intensely jealous. She is SUCH a talent!
Chloe Neill’s Devil’s Isle series is spectacular!
/td>
Again, thanks for your time and participation. I hope Flame in the Dark is as successful as it deserves to be, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for either Jane or Nell.

A Few Quick Questions With…Nathaniel Barber

Like many things in this Book Tour stop, getting this Q&A together almost didn’t happen — but Barber stepped up and got some good A’s together for the Q’s a I threw at him. All while prepping for a book release party. Couldn’t have been easy, but it’s much appreciated.

There was a good deal of jumping around in time in your arrangement here, why did you choose not to start with young Nathaniel and move forward? Was there a strategy (that you care to share) behind the arrangement?

I’m aware that jumping around the timeline could seem like a gimmick. I understood that was a risk but it was a risk I felt was worth taking.

Chronology is a tool. It is very useful. It sets the pace and sometimes, when there’s a lot of messiness and moving parts, chronology can be the only thing that holds a narrative together.

Arranging these stories in chronological order demanded segues between the chapters. They just didn’t read right without them. Maybe it was somehow possible, but I was having a bear of a time trying to make them flow. These segues were lengthy and distracting. You can imagine, for example, the acrobatics required to naturally transition between hosting an exchange student from Paris, to an obsession about pants.

“Time passed. The days grew into weeks and my thoughts turned to pants…” and so on. No thank you.

I admire brevity. While these stories could use a bit more economy of language, the subject matter is very tight. The scope of the story is singular and isolated. These stories stand on their own. I like that about a short story. It demands so much from the reader: they must put the pieces together themselves. A short story reader is a smart reader. With barely enough information, they’re able to carry the weight. It’s participatory. A shared experience.

Similarly — what led to you choosing the events to write about?
Really, the stories chose me. I know that sounds glib. I can’t help but roll my eyes when I hear authors say things like, “The stories chose me.” But it’s true. As I mentioned, I struggled with these stories to an obscene length. They simply would not let me alone. Many of them were not easy to tell. I would have preferred something witty and artful, but instead I got stuck with these plain-jane stories. They’ve grown on me since though. I’ve developed a great appreciation for banality, thanks to these stories.
What was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
The biggest surprise for me was that there would be an end to working on these stories. Writing and editing a story is a suffocating experience. Sometimes it seems they will never be finished. Their arc, the characters and the concepts that are juggled around a story are sometimes so nebulous and scattershot it seems like a game of whack-a-mole. But I kept working on them, and eventually, story by story, I wrote that last sentence. It’s quite a thing, when you know you wrote the last sentence, even if it still needs to go through a number of edits—it’s a thrilling process, to fine-tune that last sentence.
A lot of what makes a writer are the books that he’s read — what books in particular do you think made you the writer you are/the book the book it is?
Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos and Pat Conroy’s The Death of Santini and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Alice Munro’s Dear Life.
You’re leading quite the interesting life — is there another book in you? (or are you waiting to see how this goes?)
Yes, I contain multitudes (to quote Whitman). Luck Favors The Prepared is a way of asking for permission to write more. I have so much more in me, I can’t wait to get it out there. There’s two books of rhyme and meter poetry on the way. One is a book of childish poems for adults, and the other is a book of grown-up poems for children. What could go wrong? Also, soon I’ll have another collection of nonfiction short stories (and some fiction short stories) as well as as novel which I’ve begun but I hate. I hope I fall in love with this novel soon because so far, the outlook is grim. It doesn’t seem very funny, it deals with a lot of awful, horrible characters. There is violence, there are some terribly graphic scenes I don’t know how to write yet. And worst of all, I have no idea what will redeem the story. So, the jury’s out on that one.