A Few Quick Questions With…Russell Day

Yesterday I reposted a couple of personal highlights from 2018 (I’m talking about what I read, not what I said) — Not Talking Italics and Needle Song. Today, I get to share some A’s to my Q’s behind the brilliant writer behind them, Russell Day.

Without further ado…

What was your path to publication? What did you do to prepare yourself to this career in fiction?
I don’t think I ever consciously prepared for a career as a fiction writer (my default setting is pretty much: wing it). I started writing when I was a teenager, but it’s only been the last five years or so that I’ve taken it seriously. Before that, I’d make a lot of good starts but then get bored or, worse, sit around waiting until I was in ‘the mood’. That’s a recipe for a drawer full of unfinished manuscripts. Now I just sit and write and if it’s crap, I rewrite.

Getting published, for me, has largely been down to competitions. The first piece of fiction I ever had published appeared in Writer’s Forum Magazine, where it had won second prize in their monthly short story contest. It was a Doc Slidesmith story, called The Tattooist, the Tarot and Bang-Bang the Clown. Fahrenheit might be releasing a collection of my short stories this year, and hopefully The Tattooist will be included in it. I’ve got a lot of affection for that piece, it was the first time I saw my stuff in print and it was doubly exciting that it featured Doc.

The book deal with Fahrenheit Press came my way because of their Noirville competition. I entered two pieces for that, The Icing on the Cake and Not Talking Italics (another story about Doc). Both stories struck a chord with the judges, and Chris McVeigh offered me a two book deal on the strength of them. The Icing on the Cake, was included in the anthology and Not Talking Italics, was offered up as a teaser to introduce people to Doc.

What first hooked me with your story “Not Talking Italics” was the way you told that particular story — all dialogue, practically an extended monologue. Was there anything in particular that drove that choice, or did it just “happen”? Would you/have you consider writing a novel in that manner?
We’re back to competitions again. I wrote Not Talking Italics with a view to entering it into a competition that wanted stories told entirely in dialogue. In the end I couldn’t keep to the required word count, but I liked the story and thought it might be a good fit for the Noirville competition. One of Doc’s main features his the-gift-of the gab, so he lent himself to the style.

I don’t have any plans to write a whole novel using just dialogue. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I think that technique is best suited to pieces that can be read in one sitting. That said, I like my characters to talk a lot and I sometimes slip ‘transcripts’ into the plot. I do that in Needle Song in a couple of places and do it again in Ink to Ashes, the second Slidesmith novel.

Liking to hear the characters ‘talk’ is why I often write in the first person, I try to give the impression that the reader is being ‘told’ the story.

Doc Slidesmith has quite the interesting and varied résumé/CV — he’s clearly not your everyday fictional detective (amateur or not). Psychologists have been done, tattoo shop owners — not so much. Definitely no one’s put them together before — and then throwing in the Tarot reading has to make him even more distinctive. How did you stumble across that particular combination, and why would you go looking for it?
Just before I started writing Needle Song, I’d met a woman who practiced Voodoo and it caught my interest.  Doc’s connection with Voodoo and Tarot stemmed from that. After that I sort of built Doc, bit by bit, around the scene where we first see him reading the Tarot. Once I’d established him as a freak, albeit a clever one, I had to ask myself how he’d make a living. It had to be something that fitted his aesthetic and suggested a certain depth. Tattooist was an obvious choice.

The psychologist angle was almost accidental. I’d wanted a name that had a Voodoo flavour to it. For a while I thought about calling him Papa Slidesmith, but that made him sound too old. Doctor Slidesmith had a certain ring to it and, of course, someone would have to ask why he called himself ‘Doc’. Giving him a full-fledged PhD was a good way to show his intelligence and it also muddied the waters as to whether he’s reading the Tarot cards or the people around him.

(that’s one of my favorite answers I’ve ever received from an author . . . )

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’ve been very lucky in terms of reviews and haven’t been roasted … yet. I don’t know how, or even if, harsh criticism will affect my writing. I’m pretty well tuned into my own sense of what does or doesn’t work, so I’ll probably stick with that.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I read many genres, but my first port of call is mystery/crime. I couldn’t write a historical novel, I’m just not good enough at research to get the details right.
This one’s not about you directly, but what is it about Fahrenheit Press that seems to generate the devotion and team spirit that it does (or at least appears to)? I don’t know that I’ve seen as many authors from the same publisher talk about/read each other’s books — or talk about the publisher — as much as you guys seem to. Is it simply contractual obligation, or is there more?
A lot of it’s down to Chris McVeigh’s enthusiasm. If you talk to the man for a few minutes it’s clear he wants Fahrenheit to publish books he believes in. Yes, it’s a money making venture but that’s not all it is to him, not by a long way. Another thing that makes Fahrenheit different is simply the selection of books.

Fahrenheit doesn’t think like a mainstream publisher. It doesn’t want to publish a reworked version of last year’s best seller. It wants to publish something else. And if that means colouring outside the lines a bit then so be it. THAT implies a certain trust in both the writers and the readers. That trust makes you a part of Fahrenheit. We’re not just numbers being told what to write this year or told what we’re going to read. With Fahrenheit we’re all in it together.

And they sell cool mugs.

Can’t argue with that last line — love my Fahrenheit mug. 🙂

Thanks for your time, sir. Can’t wait to see what you’ve got coming next.

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A Few Quick Questions With…Luna Miller

Earlier today, I talked about The Lion’s Tale by Luna Miller (translated by Aidan Isherwood). Miller was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. Hope you enjoy this.

Tell us about your road to publication — was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your education/other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
I have always had an ambition to write, but with a restless personality it was a challenge to complete any work in a satisfying way. Always a lot of ideas, but never enough patience to complete any of them. I was always occupied with other commitments – long travels when I was young, and then education, then kids, then work…

But difficult experiences made me realize how important it is for me to make my dream come true. And my years spent working as a civil servant, specialising in providing support for cultural life, taught me about patience. So, a few years ago I started to give myself time to write. And then more and more time. Disorganized at first, but then slowly developing.

I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But this collection of characters — Gunvor, Elin, David, Aidan — is so unusual, so great. How did this come to you? Did you start with Gunvor and then try to figure out how she could accomplish things (and therefore needed the kids), or did you start with one/both of David and Elin and then added Gunvor? I’m just guessing here — you take over 🙂
Gunvor was the first character, but Elin and David entered the story soon enough. I did just about all of the backstory on the three of them before starting to write the book. The idea was to tell the story of unexpected heroines and heroes. Characters that have issues the readers can relate to and feel a bit sorry for. Characters who can barely cope with each other, or even themselves. But characters that grow with the story, even if they do make mistakes along the way. Characters that don´t really know what they are doing, but still give it their all.

Even if I worked on a backstory and planned how to take it along, the story still took on a life of its own. There are always a lot of unexpected things that happen when I start to write. It is like the characters begin living their own lives. Making decisions within the story that I hadn’t planned in advance.

I spent so much of this novel convinced that everything The Fruängen Bureau (one member in particular) was doing and thinking regarding one particular character was a giant mistake — did you plan this character arc out from the beginning, or did it come to you mid-draft? It’s possibly the trickiest thing you did in the book, very impressive.
I made the backstory of Chibby pretty early in the process. I am fascinated by people whose strengths and weaknesses are close. But, as I described in my answer to the previous question, Chibbe also “came to life” during my writing session and evolved in the process.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I like to write mystery/suspense/thriller. I have already written the second book about Gunvor Ström and her allies in Swedish, but I have tried other genres as well. The first book I wrote, Three Days in September, is a contemporary adult relationship drama about unlikely friendships, loyalty, love and hope intertwined with sex, violence and tragedy. That story had been in my head for many, many years before it finally become a book. The main idea is about the desires, dreams and fears of six lives that collide when a stranger comes to town. The story is intense, short and drastic.

I love books like The Lord of the Rings and the stories of Harry Potter. But I cannot see myself having control over so many characters at once.

I’ve often wondered what it’s like to work with a translator — was it a collaborative effort, or did Aidan Isherwood just take the manuscript and run with it? How was the translator selected?
Years ago, I lived in the house where I have now placed Gunvor’s home. I am nothing like Gunvor except that I also had a neighbour and friend by the name of Aidan. So, except that he is the translator he is also an inspiration to the Aidan character in the book. He did an excellent job.
At that time, I had no money to pay a translator, so we made an agreement to split the income of the book.The Lion´s Tail was also edited by Perry Iles. He was recommended by a friend of Aidan who is also an author. He did a great job with the book. I really recommend working with an editor. No matter how long you work on a book there are always things that can be made better by a “third eye”.
What’s next for Luna Miller?
I am writing the third book in the Fruängen Bureau series in Swedish. I hope that the second book will be translated into English in 2019 or 2020. I am also working on a sequel to Three Days in September.
Thanks for your time — and thanks for The Lion’s Tale, I really enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.
Thank you for taking time to read it. I am really happy that you enjoyed it. And thank you for the possibility to answer these interesting question 😊

A Few Quick Questions With…Matthew Hanover

Matthew Hanover’s Not Famous was released last week (see my initial post about it)– and he was clearly and understandably busy with that. Still, he took the time to answer a few questions for me — which I greatly appreciate. As usual, this is designed to whet your appetite for the author so you go check out their website/twitter feed/etc., but more importantly, you check out their book. I hope that’s what happens here.

I threw in a bonus question about the Nick Hornby/Ben Folds album Lonely Avenue to see just how deeply the Hornby-fan in him ran. Also, his book is about a musician — we should talk music, right?

You’ve spent a lot of time blogging your way through the production of Not Famous — which, incidentally, forces lazy bloggers to get more creative than usual when coming up with interview questions — why did you decide to do that? Did thinking about what you were going through via reporting it help you in any way?
My hope was to build an audience before my novel came out and help motivate me to get the novel finished.Talking about my novel’s progress on my website and on Twitter did help me connect with potential readers and book bloggers like you, so I guess it worked!
In the writing of Not Famous, 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.”
I think the biggest surprise was how much I cared about the story and the characters. There came a point where, even though I was the writer, I felt I was just transcribing the story as the characters I’d developed would play it out naturally. As nice as that sounds, it was really difficult other times… If I didn’t feel inspired to write, I didn’t force it. There were definitely stretches of weeks and months at a time I never touch it.
I’ve made it clear that Lacy is the character that I’m most interested in — where did Lacy come from? Was it a conscious choice to make her role in the Nick/Alli relationship so pivotal, or did that just happen as you wrote?
Lacy, as you know, is Nick’s half-sister. Originally, she was just his sister, but as various plot points evolved, I felt it was necessary to put as much distance between them as I could, and so she became the daughter of their mother’s second marriage which contributed to his struggle to connect with her, and gave him a stronger opportunity to redeem himself with her. It seemed like an interesting way to explore a different kind of relationship (other than a dating relationship), and the problems that exist in that dynamic. Intertwining those to arcs was a real learning experience because I wanted it feel natural, and not forced.
Is “Lad Lit” all you write/want to write? Can you articulate what draws you to the genre? Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write?
As far as novels go, yes. When I first read books by Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper, they were totally the kinds of stories I want to read… and eventually discovered I wanted to write. I do like science-fiction and post-apocalyptic novels, and I’ve written one sci-fi/paranormal short story… but I don’t think a novel in those genres in my future. Lad lit has always been the genre I’ve been most drawn to, and there’s quite a few stories in my head trying to get out!
What’s next for Author Matthew Hanover? Is Novel #2 underway, or are you solely focused (for now) on getting this launched?
I’ve been plotting out my next novel since before Not Famous was finished. I’m not actively writing it yet, and I should tell you straight out it is not a sequel, but is set in the same universe as Not Famous. Some characters you met in Not Famous will make an appearance… but this will be an office comedy / romantic dramedy. I hope to start it soon!
Oooh, sounds great. Hope to see it soon.

Bonus Question: Best song on Lonely Avenue and why?

Wow, what a great, and difficult question. How about I give you my top five? I’m guessing since you’re a Nick Hornby fan you’ll understand!

5. Picture Window
4. From Above
3. Claire’s Ninth
2. Practical Amanda
1. Your Dogs

As for why? I think these are the most solid songs on album… they’re all different… each tell vastly different stories…

Technically cheating — but I figure Rob Fleming would approve of the Top 5 approach. Good answers, too — although if we were hanging out in Championship Vinyl, I’d be compelled to tell you that you got 3 out of 5 correct, but your order is wrong. Good thing we’re not there, right? 🙂

Seriously, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, I hope that Not Famous does well — and I look forward to your future work.

A Few Quick Questions With…Gray Basnight

Earlier today, I talked about Gray Basnight’s thriller Flight of the Fox and now I get to present a little Q&A I did with him so you can get acquainted with him. I did zero prep for this beyond reading the small “About the Author” paragraph at the end of the book, so I appreciated the opportunity to get a peak behind the curtain. I hope you do, too.

Tell us about your road to publication — was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
I’ve always been a writer and long aspired to be a published novelist. One key reason why I worked in broadcast for three decades was to be in an environment where the written and spoken word mattered. When I was laid off during the financial crisis, I decided it was time to take my fiction writing more seriously.
I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But out of all the ideas floating around in your head, why’d you latch onto “A Math Professor being chased by drones”? (to be highly reductive) — what was it about this character, this idea that drove you to commit months/years to it?
The truth is, I haven’t a perfectly coherent answer about the specifics of how Sam Teagarden came to be. I wanted to create a protagonist who was an Everyman, or at least as far from a secret agent with karate chopping skills as I could make him. A math teacher seemed to fit the bill.

As for drones, I have no idea where they came from, except to say that they began making news while I was starting this novel, related to their potential for mail order package delivery. From there, remote controlled assassins seemed a logical progression. By the way, I’m confident – and I fear – this will become a reality in the not too distant future.

Pangolin is such an interesting character — I can easily see him starring in his own book. Can you talk about where he came from?
Thanks for that. I’m glad you liked good ole Pangolin. In terms of plotting and pacing, he was a bit of a challenge because he’s an important character introduced in the final third of the novel. Technically, that’s a no-no. But when he appeared on my pages, I liked him so much I kept him along for the duration. He’s an ex-Navy pilot who despairs over the evolving intrusion of technology, computers and A.I. into our economy and general way of life. As a kid I always liked a comic book hero called Magnus, Robot Fighter. It’s curious to me that Hollywood hasn’t yet discovered Magnus for the lucrative franchise I believe he would be. So Pangolin is my Magnus.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I’m a voracious reader. With some exceptions (steampunk/boys with swords) I read a little from all genres. As a writer, I think it’s important to do that.

For personal enjoyment, I tend toward crime/espionage and literary fiction, plus well-crafted biography from the non-fiction shelf. Chernow’s bio of Grant was wonderful. What a unique and important American that man was.

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?
True, true, true. As for the absolute worst thing, I haven’t seen it—yet. Nothing has really crushed me, except for a face-to-face insult levied by a famous editor at one of the large publishing houses who hadn’t read my manuscript but was confident it was unworthy of her time, which she let me know in no uncertain terms. As Frank Sinatra sang, “some people get their kicks stomping on a dream.”

As for altering my approach to writing, thankfully, that has not happened. All I can do is sit down and try my best with the skills I possess. And, hey, sometimes the result is pretty good.

What’s next for Gray Basnight?
Lots. I’m putting final touches on a sequel to Flight of the Fox.

I have a finished YA manuscript that I’m confident has commercial viability – I only need one agent or publisher to see what I see!

I’m excited about another project I’m now outlining after having written a crappy first draft a couple of years ago. I’ve never outlined before, but so far, it’s going surprisingly well. The plot centers on an event in the Confederacy that springboards to an adventurous contemporary story.

Behind all that, there’s a bottleneck of about a dozen projects that may or may not get further fleshed out, including some first drafts that are already done.

My hope is to keep writing, and to keep readers interested!

Thanks for your time — and thanks for Flight of the Fox, I really enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.

A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Russ Colchamiro

Russ Colchamiro came back for round 2 — and I’m very happy about that. I hope you enjoy this:

Tell us a little about your road to publication.
Finders Keepers is loosely based on a series of backpacking trips I took through Europe and New Zealand, set against a quest for a jar of the Universe’s DNA. Very much in the spirit of The Good Place, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

It original published in 2010, and got great notices, including in Publishers Weekly. As part of the launch—it was my debut novel—I landed a national distribution contract, with Finders Keepers on the shelves in 20 or so Barnes & Nobles throughout the U.S.

About a year ago I had a hankering to revisit the guys and see if it stood the test of time. Seeing how I could improve upon the original, I was inspired to write Finders Keepers: The Definitive Edition. It’s 15,000 words shorter than the original, with tighter pacing, some new content, and a few characters I reimagined to better match how I always intended them. This new, updated novel is indeed the final version. This is it!

In the Author’s Note you talked about your reasons for this new version of the novel, and how you cut a good deal of the original text. Talk to me about the process of revising — how painful was it to cut anything? What was it like to look back at an almost decade-old work with a critical eye?
It was trippy to go back and look at the manuscript with fresh eyes. Certain scenes were painful to cut because I loved them, as individual scenes, but I needed to serve the story, and keep the pacing as tight and lean as possible. The biggest change, where I had to take a humble, was some of the language. The original version was a bit raunchy, but as the series evolved, and as I evolved as a writer, I accepted that some of the sex comedy elements were distracting from the overall adventure. So I cut virtually every F-bomb, toned down some of the sex elements, and ultimately made it friendlier and more accessible for a wider audience. Consider the original as the Raw & Uncensored Edition, with an ‘R’ rating, whereas The Definitive Edition is ‘PG-13’.
I’m admittedly late to the Finders Keepers party — what kind of feedback have you received from readers who showed up earlier to the trilogy to The Definitive Edition? Anything surprising about the reaction (hopefully positive surprises, but I’ve been online long enough to not know to assume that)?
All of the feedback I’ve gotten is extremely positive. Finders Keepers is a 3-book series— Finders Keepers, Genius de Milo, and Astropalooza. The Definitive Edition much more closely matches the tone, length, and style of Genius de Milo and Astropalooza, so the entire trilogy feels much more like one cohesive adventure. I’m incredibly happy with the way it turned out.
Last time we talked, we spent some time talking about Finders Keepers when we were supposed to be talking about Angela Hardwicke and the anthology she was in. It’s time for some payback — talk a little about Angela — her tie to these books and her future.
Angela Hardwicke is my hard-boiled private eye, who briefly showed up in Genius de Milo with a much bigger role in Astropalooza. I’ve since written a few short Hardwicke mysteries in Crazy 8 Press anthologies. The biggest news is that I’ve also written the first draft of my first Hardwicke novel. I’ll be doing revisions over the next few months, with plans to publish either this year or in 2020. After that I plan to write Angela Hardwicke mysteries for years to come as an ongoing series. I’m not supposed to pick favorites, but Hardwicke I’ve never had more fun as an author than with Angela Hardwicke.
You’ve said Finders Keepers is loosely based on a series of backpacking trips you took through Europe and New Zealand. What inspired you to turn those adventures into a novel, and then expand it into a trilogy?
I know its cliché that a trip was life-changing, but in my case, it happens to be true. Before I went overseas, I hadn’t traveled much, and since then I’ve been halfway around the world, and made friendships that have endured all these years. Finders Keepers and the sequels are for readers who want to go on a wild cosmic ride that will, I hope, inspire you to think a bit about the meaning of life, your place in it, and the machinations of the Universe. And, of course, leave you with a smile on your face.
Thanks for your time, and I hope that Finders Keepers meets with all kinds of success!

A Few Quick Questions With…Matt Cowper

Very happy to have done this Q&A with Matt Cowper, who describes himself as, “Unbranded author trying to write sentences that read good.” Back in August of 2017, I posted about his Double Lives and today (unless I messed up the scheduling), I posted about his newest book — The World Savers, the first book in his series The Elites. I hope you enjoy this, and that you’ll go back and read those posts (or skip the posts, and read his books, I guess. But first, at least click on the links to the post, so I can get the ego boost from page views),

As always, I kept this short and sweet, because I’d rather he work on his next book than take too much time with me, y’know?

Clearly, super-heroes are your niche. What is it about them that captures your imagination?
I’ve always read comic books, from way back when I was a young’un with an allowance, and could only afford one or two issues at a time!

In my grizzled old age of 33, I still enjoy cape-and-cowl adventures. They’re a break from a “normal” book, that is one with black words on a white page, with no images. I read in a variety of genres, but I can only read a “normal” book for about an hour before those endless words, all arranged in the same manner, start to blur together.

Then I open a graphic novel, and BAM – it’s like Dorothy stepping from the drab gray of her home to the dazzling colors of Oz.

It’s a refreshing experience after being a Serious Adult reading Tomes of Great Importance.

(Not that comics can’t be of Great Importance. See: Alan Moore.)

And superheroes appeal to me as a writer because, as I mentioned above, I’m familiar with the tropes. The standard writing advice is, “Write what you know.” Well, I’ve read hundreds of comics and graphic novels in my lifetime, everything from your standard “superhero battles supervillain” stories to the “deconstruction” style stories. I’m comfortable in the world of caped crusaders.

If you can without spoiling anything — talk to me about Blaze. Where did he come from and why did you pick him for your other narrator? (Nightstriker is an obvious choice — who doesn’t want to write Batman?)
What?! You think Nightstriker is a stand-in for Batman?! I thought no one would figure that out! 🙂

Blaze is the yin to Nightstriker’s yang. Blaze is young and inexperienced, Nightstriker is the grizzled veteran. Blaze’s power is potentially limitless, while Nightstriker has no powers. Blaze has a family, and he develops a love interest, while Nightstriker is a loner.

Having these two characters as POVs, rather than just sticking with one of them, allowed me to (hopefully!) create some interesting conflicts, as well as show certain aspects of the fictional world that would be missed if I only used one POV.

And I don’t think it’s a major spoiler to say that, as the novel (and the Elites series) progresses, each character will help the other change and grow. Blaze will become more adept at using his powers, while Nightstriker will soften his hard-edged approach, and so on.

As for the specific inspiration for Blaze, I don’t really have one character or idea I can point to. Readers may associate him with the Human Torch, but Blaze is far different from the confident ladies’ man, Johnny Storm.

This is tonally different than your Johnny Wagner books — was that a conscious choice before you started, or something that developed as you got into the characters/story? How did the difference in tone affect your writing?
Yes, writing “The World Savers” in this manner was a conscious choice.

The Johnny Wagner novels are much wackier, and Johnny is the typical anti-authority PI. He’s suspicious of superheroes, and for good reason; the version of the Elites that appear in these novels don’t do themselves any favors.

And Dak, Johnny’s God Arm…well, he’s in a class of his own!

By contrast, the new Elites in “The World Savers” aren’t meant to be satirical. They’re legitimate superheroes, though they still have plenty of flaws.

There is some humor and wackiness in “The World Savers,” but overall the novel has a serious tone.

I don’t think the tonal differences affected my writing efficiency or satisfaction. If you establish at least a rough plan beforehand, the novel’s proper tone should develop just fine.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
“Metabarons.”

It’s a massive graphic novel created by two raving lunatics. No, seriously – no one could come up with this unless their minds existed in a different dimension than us normal schlubs.

It takes every sci-fi trope in the history of mankind, boils them all in a giant intergalactic pot, then spills them out onto the starways for the unworthy to gawk at.

In sum: it’s really good and you should read it.

It’s on my list! Thanks.

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?

My debut novel, “The Clerk” was one of those “small” literary works, as opposed to a comic book-style tale featuring copious explosions and giant floating fortresses.

Several reviewers disliked the novel’s “excessive” sexuality. This baffled me, because I thought I’d glossed over most of the sexy sex!

I learned that a writer has to be mindful of his audience. Some readers don’t care if there’s sex on every page, with the characters swearing like sailors, while others will stop reading if they encounter a single “F” word.

Some writers have created their own content rating systems, or placed disclaimers in their book descriptions, to help readers ascertain if the novels fit their sensibilities.

I’ve considered implementing one or both of these options, but haven’t moved forward with anything yet.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these, and I hope that The World Savers finds all sorts of success!
Thanks, bub! *snikt*

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