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  • Catherine O'Flynn

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Catherine O'Flynn was born in Birmingham in 1970, where she grew up in and around her parents’ sweet shop. She has been a teacher, web editor, mystery customer and postwoman – and her first novel, the Booker longlisted What Was Lost, draws on her experience of working in record stores. After a few years spent in Barcelona, she now lives in Birmingham.

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for What Was Lost?

    Catherine O’Flynn: I had a job working long hours in a big shopping centre and there were many things about it that made me want to write: the trance-like state of the shoppers consuming everything in their wake; the eeriness of the empty centre at night; the constant awareness of surveillance; the industrial past buried beneath it. I kept writing about it, in a slightly obsessive way, but I didn’t have any idea of it being a novel or having a plot. Then I heard a story from a security guard who worked there of a child being seen on one of the CCTV monitors in the middle of the night and that image stayed with me and was the starting point for the novel.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    CO: Once I had the idea for the story it probably took about six months to finish the first draft.

    MT: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing the novel? How did you overcome them?

    CO: I found the characters came to mind easily, but the plot was more difficult. I was probably thinking about the story for 3 years or so before I started writing anything. I realised that my brain was a lying, greasy lump that would try and fool me into thinking ideas would just come and that concentration wasn’t necessary. Once I understood that some small effort on my part was actually needed then things started to move.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing? Lots of research or none at all?

    CO: I write notes in various notebooks that I then can never find when I need them. In their absence these notes become far more aposite and profound than they inevitably turn out to be when I eventually locate them. After that I write straight on computer, editing as I go. I don’t have the patience, inclination, or with this book the need, to do lots of in-depth research.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    CO: The usual things: talk quite a lot of rubbish; laugh at customers at work; drink very weak tea; wander aimlessly in and out of shops; sometimes I update my blog, most times I don’t; pay an unfortunate woman to speak to me in Spanish for a few hours each week; listen to music, read, try and be careful when I’m crossing the road.

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    CO: I wrote it initially for my partner Peter. I used to read him what I’d written each day. We were living in a very sparse apartment outside Barcelona with no TV and no friends, and this is what amounted to entertainment.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    CO: I’m working on an article about women and music – about why being 'into' music is seen as such as boy's thing, about why to a large extent it actually is.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    CO: I don’t have a single favourite writer – but these are all contenders: David Foster Wallace, Kazuo Ishiguro, Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett, Anne Tyler, Cormac McCarthy, Mervyn Peake, James Ellroy, Kurt Vonnegut, Gordon Burn, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    CO: I suppose – don’t write until you have something you really want to say… and then don’t stop till you’ve said it as perfectly as you can.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    CO: Once, I killed a wolf.

  • Alan Macfarlane

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Alan Macfarlane is Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge. He first visited Japan in 1990, and has returned and taught there many times since. He is the author of sixteen books, including the acclaimed The Glass Bathyscaphe, Letters to Lily and Japan Through the Looking Glass.

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Japan Through the Looking Glass?

    Alan Macfarlane: Japan has often been described as upside down and inside out. It has also often been described as a place where people believe in impossible things and hold totally contradictory views. It seemed obvious that this was like Alice's travels through the looking glass. (I had also written a book on glass and mirrors and their ability to change the way we look at the world interests me). Also, the book is, like Alice, meant to be a satire or mirror for us as well - so that we begin to question our own assumptions.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    AM:In one way 15 years - I have been trying since I first arrived in Japan in 1990. In other ways, the final writing only started in April 2005 and most of it was done in six months. Often I find that writing quickly is best.

    MT: Why does Japan fascinate us so much?

    AM: For many reasons - its wonderful art, its strange sports and amusements (sumo, kendo, pachinko, karaoke, manga), its wonderful electronics, its beautiful buildings and ceremonies. But above all because it seems both so familiar and so strange - extremely modern and efficient, yet with something mysterious and magical about it.

    MT: Further to my last question, why does Japan fascinate you so much personally Alan?

    AM: Again for several reasons. At first I wanted to see why it seemed so like England - the first industrial nation (in the east), as England was in the west, a feudal society, a place where they loved tea, many similarities. Yet also so very different in its art, style, ideas of sex, gender, the person and many other things. And gradually as I wandered through the enchanted mirror I realized that it reflected and helped me understand my own contradictions and the strange development of the western world I had always rather taken for granted.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of >editing?

    AM: I used to write with a computer, but I now write by hand and do many versions - usually at least four or five. There is an account of my writing methods on my website.

    MT: What were the principle challenges of writing your book?

    AM: This was probably the most difficult of the sixteen books I have ever written. I had to unlearn or forget almost all the assumptions I had made about how the world works. I had to put on one side the whole development of western philosophy since the Greeks. I had to forget that Japan has 120 million people in the biggest cities on earth. And I had to get my mind round logical contradictions and unexpected associations which were totally unfamiliar. Finally, it all had to be done in one simple, smooth, flow since Japan is like a painting - it cannot be divided up and appreciated in bits, but as one total picture.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing and teaching?

    AM: I have a big rambling garden with masses of fruit and flowers. I have two wonderful grandchildren (one of whom, Rosa, is the person the book is dedicated to) with whom I play a lot. I travel to India, Nepal, China, Japan. And I walk a good deal and listen to music.

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    AM: Yes and no. I would like it to be for anyone who wants to understand other worlds and thereby their own world. I have written simply, so it should be understandable for anyone over about 12 or 14, up to 100, from any country, and most backgrounds. It is hopefully interesting at various levels - like a river, you can sail across the surface, swim in the middle reaches, or explore the precious stones on the river bed.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    AM: I have spent three years working (as an anthoropologist)in a village in central Nepal and taken many films on 16 visits. I want to try to create a 'virtual' community so that I can share this experience with others. I am also working with my students on various parts of western China.

    MT: Who is/are your favourite writer/s?

    AM: Kipling, Orwell, Wordsworth, Primo Levi, amongst others.

    MT: What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    AM: Impossible to limit it. I listed some of my favourites on the website to Letters to Lily; On How the World Works. They included The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams); Sherlock Holmes (Conan Doyle), Democracy in America (de Tocqueville), Love and Death (Llewelyn Powys), An Essay on Man (Alexander Pope).

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    AM: 'Write first, think later'. (Ray Bradbury). 'The best is the enemy of the good' - i.e. don't try and make it perfect, just write and then improve it bit by bit.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    AM: Perhaps I can just quote part of one of the three pieces at the front of the book. Kurt Singer wrote: 'But in truth...there is nothing behind the veil. The Japanese are difficult to understand, not because they are complicated or strange but because they are so simple.' Simplicity is the most difficult thing both to comprehend and to convey. Yet in the end, it is what I aim at - following Einstein's advice 'Make things as simple as possible. But not simpler'.

  • Kathleen McGowan

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for The Expected One?

    KM: The short version is that I started out years ago to write a book about a series of women in history who I felt had been misrepresented in history, which is really the book that my protagonist character, Maureen, writes in The Expected One. There were originally 15 women on my list, which included Marie Antoinette, Mary Queen of Scots, Lucrezia Borgia, Catherine the Great. Mary Magdalene was just one of the subjects when I started back in 1989, but her story is so compelling and important that it really took over my life and became the focus of my research.

    MT: Why do think interest in medieval Christian heresies and the stories that spring from them have become so popular of late?

    KM: I think about this a lot, as I am very excited about what this can mean for the future. Those “heresies”, the Cathar heresy most specifically, are crucial elements of history that have been intentionally hidden from our view for centuries. I think people around the world are waking up to the fact that we have been lied to by history. Because human beings have an innate sense of justice, it is natural for us to want to know what really happened and why.

    What happened to the Cathars was genocide, make no mistake. I think we have an obligation as human beings to ask questions when the intentional eradication of an entire culture occurs, and I think most people feel the same. The Cathars were beautiful people who lived the principles of love, peace, community and charity. They were the healers and educators of their time and place, and yet they were butchered and tortured in the most horrific ways. For what? Heresy? What, exactly, was so heretical that the Church was relentless in their efforts to wipe their entire culture off the face of the earth? Those questions were the driving force behind my own quest for the truth, and I think many other people are finding the same passion for knowledge and justice that comes with trying to understand the events of the 12th and 13th centuries.

    MT: What source material, and which other books, inspired your novel?

    KM: There was, and is, so much material to work from. I have spent years collecting books on the history of the Languedoc, and like to think that I have read everything ever published in English on the Cathars. I have some rare books in French as well. But for me, the academic material was just the beginning. It was not until I spent significant time in Europe, most often in the southwest of France, that I discovered the cast treasure of folkloric an cultural information that is part of the living history down there. For me, that information is at least as important, if not more so, than anything in a history book.

    I respect historians, certainly, but I just don’t think we can stop there. Look, I’m not the first or the last to point out that history was written by the victors, the oppressors, the conquerors, and the farther back we look to history, the more true that is. Look at the Cathars. The vast majority of what we know about their spiritual practices was recorded by their inquisitors, the same people who cut off their noses and gouged out their eyes to punish then for heresy, before finishing them off at the stake. Do we really think that is going to give us an accurate depiction of who they really were? Of course not.

    A French friend of my once told me, and I use this line in the book that “They are folklorists in the Languedoc. They preserve their culture by not writing it down.” So in order to really understand what happened there, you have to dig deep – sometimes literally.

    In terms of the Biblical research, I used hundreds of sources as well, from multiple versions of The New Testament, to Gnostic material, to early Christian writings. Some of the greatest information I found came from the Eastern Orthodox churches, like the details of the life of Claudia Procula, who was the wife of Pontius Pilate and a critical character in the last days of Jesus’ life. We in the western world have no idea who she was, yet she is an important saint in other cultures. I found that it was really important to break out of the narrow confines of western Christianity while researching, and look as far and wide as I could go. Then, I went to Israel to follow up on what I learned and concluded. Just as a side note, I have a personal rule that I will not write about a location that I have not personally visited as I think readers can sense authenticity.

    The Expected One is, I believe, the most thoroughly researched book on Mary Magdalene ever published as I took every thread – the historical, the biblical, the folklore and anthropology and combined them to create a complete picture.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    KM: Years! But I should say that I was processing almost 20 years of research, which was no easy task. I really began writing this version of the story in 1998, but I took breaks along the way as I was raising three kids and working and doing all of those things that writers have to do to survive. The first draft of TEO was 1250 pages long, which was when I realized that I had, at the very least, a trilogy on my hands.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    KM: I write on a laptop and am very rarely without one any where I go. I am fortunate enough to type very fast, so it is easier for me to get all of my ideas on a computer than it is longhand.

    And I think there is always lots and lots of editing! However, I try not to edit myself at all in the beginning as I think too much self-criticism is the death of creativity. It’s important to get the initial ideas down and just let them flow, even if you’re not sure where they’re going or if you’re ever going to use them. Get it all recorded until you’ve absolutely exhausted every idea, and then go back and start editing. I know a lot of great writers who have beautiful first chapters, because they edit it over and over again until every comma is perfectly placed and every sentence has been constructed just so. But will those writers ever finish their magnum opus? Not unless they allow themselves to move past chapter one and stop editing so early in the process!

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    KM: I think about when I will be writing. And then I read something that will help me with whatever I am writing next.

    Seriously, I am a devoted bibliophile so it’s a blessing that I spend so much time in bookstores (although my husband may not agree as our house has been taken over by my book collection). And as I mentioned, I have three rather glorious sons who keep very, very busy.

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    KM: I believe that “writing for the market” is a terrible mistake for any writer. That way madness lies, or at the very least, it offers direct access to the word “hack”.

    I write the stories that are dying to get out, the characters and elements that become so alive in my consciousness that I have no choice but to give them expression. And then I really, really hope and pray that the readers love them even fractionally as much as I did.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    KM: I am working on the second book in The Magdalene Line series, which is the sequel to The Expected One. It is called The Book of Love and it deals with the legendary gospel that was written by Jesus himself. It has completely obsessed me and I am having more fun writing this than anything I have ever worked on. It’s been pure joy so far, and I hope that passion comes through the writing and grabs the reader.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    KM: This is always a wonderful, if difficult, question to consider. I am a “classics girl”, in so many ways. A Tale of Two Cities changed my life when I read it as a teenager, and I love the classic hero’s journey stories. I’m a Dumas groupie and a Hugo fan, and both of those authors show up in interesting ways in my next book. I still read the “Alice in Wonderland” books all the time for whimsical inspiration and travel with a journal containing quotes from Lewis Carroll (“why, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”)

    In terms of non-fiction, I am a big fan of the French mystic, Jean Markale.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    KM: I’ve included some, above, about not writing for the market, but to elaborate on that idea a bit I would add that writing is hard work so that’s all the more reason to write for your passion above all else. Be bold, be creative, find your own voice and know when and when not to take advice from others. There are times when creative criticism is very helpful, there are other times when you have to stick to your dream and your vision no matter what anyone says.

    I was told by one very big “super agent” that no one would ever publish my book as I had written it because my structure was unorthodox and that first time novelists weren’t allowed to break the rules! I have even been told along the way that I couldn’t get away with this book because I was a woman. Ridiculous, maybe, but these were serious publishing professionals and they meant it. I just never accepted those ideas because I had a very definite reason for using an unusual story structure and I knew that it worked – and I knew that the world was more than ready for a woman’s version of this story.

    So don’t give up, believe in yourself, and remember that faith is rewarded and fortune favors the bold…

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    KM: I’d like to thank all of the readers who have given this book a chance on its own merits. There was so much controversy around it when it first came out that I was being reviewed on the sensationalism, and not on the content of the book, which is very frustrating for any writer. From all of the mail I receive, I think people are now seeing that it is a very unique book and the word of mouth is growing and spreading. I am also excited that a younger audience is beginning to embrace it and explore this idea of a new kind of Christianity – which is really the oldest and purest form, the form given to us directly from Jesus and Mary Magdalene, one that is about love and community and charity and non-judgment. I think many people, and younger people particularly, feel that traditional religion has let them down and become too dogmatic and political. They are looking for something else, and some of them have found the version of Jesus and Magdalene as told in my book to be an inspirational starting point on their own journeys. And that is what I hope comes from my books most of all – the inspiration for readers to keep exploring, keep searching, keep asking those important questions about history and spirituality as they proceed on their own quest for the truth.

  • Craig Nelson

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Craig Nelson has worked in a zoo, in Hollywood, as a Fuller Brush Man, as an executive editor for Harper & Row, Hyperion, Random House and Villard, and as a literary agent. His fifth and newest book, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations, tells the story of the eighteenth century's struggle for democracy.

    Mark Thwaite: What first drew you to Thomas Paine?

    Craig Nelson: I first became interested in the story of Thomas Paine when I learned that his bones were missing. I was astonished to find out that this man who I thought of as being a minor footnote to history had in his own time been such a significant figure that one of his disciples, enraged that Americans weren't paying him due attention as a founding father, stole the bones from his grave and sailed with them to England. Now they are likely gone for good, and as anyone trying to write a book on Paine soon finds out, so are almost all of his papers, which were destroyed in a fire in St. Louis Missouri. What we do know is that this writer's life spanned one of the great epic moments in history, that incredible upheaval of the Enlightenment, and the American, French, and Industrial Revolutions. But because of those missing papers, the life of Thomas Paine is a story filled with mysteries.

    MT: What made you think the world needed another biography of the great man!? What do you think your biography newly brings to the table?

    CN: There are recent and excellent academic lives of Paine, but none written for the general educated reader over the past four decades. Since one of Paine's key motifs as a philosopher and propagandist was his insistence that working- and middle-class citizens have as much a right to a say in their government as aristocrats and monarchs, I felt duty-bound to correct this. Then I discovered that, during those four decades, scholars have uncovered a number of insights into the history of the British side of the Enlightenment, of the role of the working class in it, the origins of meritocracy, the role of self-education in the founding fathers of the American and French Republics and Britain's Labour Party, and a host of other issues that greatly affect our opinions and respect for Thomas Paine. So the book became not only the first Paine biography written for the general reader in four decades, but the first "life and times" of Paine to really show his era and his context.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    CN: I spent over five years researching and writing, traveling to every city where Paine had a significant presence, or where there are important archives -- Thetford, Lewes, London, Philadelphia, Washington, New York, and Paris. But I would like to point out that those five years were in essence five dog years, since I don't have a university post, but only write books full-time for a living.

    MT: Did you enjoy all the research? Do you miss it (and such a close involvement with Paine's work) now it is over?

    CN: I'm always mystified that so many famous and highly-regarded nonfiction writers hire research assistants. The research is where all the fun is, where all the ideas come from, where all the 'eureka!' moments happen. It's dizzying to be handed the manuscript of Common Sense and see that Paine had tried to design his own book cover, just like every other first-time author ever ... even though he would be publishing this anonymously. I'd rather hire someone to write the books instead of giving up the research. Plus, you get to spend time with archival librarians, who are genius saints who I can't praise highly enough.

    Even with his surfeit of all-too-human flaws (and perhaps partly because of them), Paine is an immensely likeable guy, more immediately and intimately human than the other giants of his century. I already miss him, even those times when he was doing absolutely the wrong thing at absolutely the wrong time, like getting fired by Congress, or getting thrown into prison. Since my next book centers on tight-lipped engineers, you can imagine how much I miss the man's prose.

    MT: What was the most interesting/odd thing you learned about Paine during the course of your research?

    CN: The strange and hard-to-reconcile issue with Paine that was never addressed by any previous biographer and historian is, why was he so deeply loved by so many (Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Cobbett, etc), and so deeply hated by so many others (Morris, Marat, Adams, Cobbett, etc)? This is why I began my book with William Cobbett, the great English journalist and politician who stole Paine's bones, and who spent a lifetime hating and then loving him. That Paine as a man is such a compelling paradox held me rapt across those five dog years.

    The second and equally strange issue is, why does Paine have such a historic reputation for being a crazy-eyed radical? Considering the American founding fathers, just the incident of George Washington freeing his slaves when he died was a more radical, progressive, and revolutionary act than anything Paine ever did or said. Tracing the history of Paine's odd, hostile, and unreliable reputation over two hundred years was eye-opening as to the ways of history (and myth and legend).

    MT: Is there one single thing you think we should principally learn from the life and work of Paine?

    CN: Paine wrote in Common Sense that "we have the power to begin the world over again." And, this is exactly what he and his friends did. The political system they devised is still the engine driving the majority of nations today. So the question remains, if they could do it, why can't you?

    MT: Have you been pleased with the book's reception?

    CN: I've had astonishingly kind and generous reviews alongside remarkably good sales in the US, so now am a cat on a hot tin roof waiting to see what the UK thinks.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    CN: I travel, especially in the underdeveloped world, and am hoping to get to Laos, Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam next. My book on these kinds of trips, Let's Get Lost, was surprisingly well-liked by UKanians, ending up a finalist for WH Smith's book of the year. But first I have to sell another book to be able to afford to dawdle across Asia, and since I haven't sold it yet, I can't talk about it. Let's just say it's about people in history who used enormous chemical explosions as a method of transportation.

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    CN: When I wrote my World War II book, The First Heroes, it dawned on me how intelligent and interesting someone must be, to pay so much money for a book of history, to read for pleasure. So I always think of my readers as brilliant and refined and terribly well-educated and elegant and sophisticated, and try desperately to write up to their enormously high standards.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer (fiction and non-fiction)? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    CN: I have so many writers that I admire that it would be very difficult to pick a few "for all time," so I'll do an 'as of this moment.' Since Joan Didion's Collected Nonfiction has been reissued, I'm taking a busman's holiday with it, and am page-by-page amazed at her craftsmanship. The two books that I thought were especially wonderful in researching Paine's era, meanwhile, were Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer, which shows all the ways in which all-American traits can be found the England of the 1600s, and Roy Porter's The Creation of the Modern World, which details the British side of Enlightenment history, rescuing it from a French stranglehold. And I know full well there's nothing readers of bookdepository.co.uk hate more than a French stranglehold!

  • Vicki Hendricks

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Cruel Poetry?

    Vicki Hendricks: The start was fun, but had nothing to do with reality. My friend, Janyce Lapore, a playwright, was visiting, and she and I started talking at lunch about how our characters and subject matter are so similar—both always accused of writing about trailer trash—and we came up with main characters’ names and connections. Then we took a drive to a sleazy hotel in Miami Beach and looked at a room, taking pictures and visualizing the characters who might inhabit the place. Janyce is the kind of person whose brain flows with continuous images and ideas as she speaks, so it’s inspiring and fun for me to join in, since normally I have to sit in front of the computer to think. We continued to discuss scenes on email for a while and this helped me to get through some rough spots. I also took the phrase cruel poetry from a review she had written of my earlier novel Iguana Love. The plan is for her to write a screenplay, after the book is a big hit ...

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    VH: I think I started toward the end of 2000, so altogether nearly five years, with a lot of gaps, if you count the final editing. I kept “finishing” it over and over for a few of those years. It was twice as long as any of my other books at first. I’m never a fast writer because I teach full time, and then I have a lot of skydiving and adventures to fit in also.

    MT: Lots of sex and drugs in your books—lots of research required?

    VH: Oh, yeah! I forgot to mention all the time it took to research.

    MT: How do you write?

    VH: I’m a straight-into-the-computer kind of person. My handwriting is so bad that I can’t read it, so that generally prevents any longhand. I did write the story “West End” by hand, and kerosene lamplight, on my boat in the Bahamas several years ago, but the conditions were highly motivating, and I had no choice. Of course, I couldn’t read half of it when I got home, but managed to figure enough out. Generally, I like to see how things look on the page. I keep going back over sentences as I’m writing them. This is probably what makes me so slow, but I can’t move along, unless I feel what I have is decent. Then it still turns out to need much more rewriting when I get all the way through it. I know many people prefer to rip along on the first draft, and that’s probably a more efficient way of getting ideas, but I’m always afraid I’ll go down the wrong path and never be able to get back to what I wanted. It’s all pretty scary, no matter how you do it.

    MT: What do you do when you’re not writing?

    VH: Mostly I teach and grade papers, but I have a variety of interests I manage to squeeze in, including skydiving for the past eight years, SCUBA for 30 years, a few years ago some dogsledding, a little rock climbing. I like travel to any exotic and adventurous places. Lately, my boyfriend and I have taken up birding as an excuse to head off into the swamps of Florida or jungles elsewhere. A couple years ago, we stayed on the peninsula in Costa Rica in a lodge without electricity where you had to ford the river every time you left because the road had washed out. But it was wonderful, only half walls on the rooms so you could reach out and touch the jungle and watch the bats fly through at night. Recently, that guy, “Survivor Man” on TV, went to the same area and nearly died of heat stroke and starvation. However, we had fantastic food included with our lodging. No need to go too crazy.

    MT: Do you have an idea in your mind of your “ideal” reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    VH: I think my “ideal” readers are people who watch the Independent Film Channel. I’m one of those. I try to write things with unusual characters and a fast pace, lots of sex scenes and suspense. I’m prone to the literary style, character-driven plots that delve into human psychology, and its unraveling. This is what I’ve been exposed to all my life, rather than plot-driven novels, but that doesn’t mean the story can’t keep moving. I’m always afraid of boring the reader, because if that person is like me, I don’t stick with a book very long when I find it boring. There are too many good books waiting out there.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    VH: Right now I’m between novels, working on short stories. I’ve been doing quite a few of them in the last couple of years for various publications, and I’m trying to put together a collection of my own. It’s tough because short stories are not money-makers, to say the least, but most of the stories have been published in anthologies in the past, so I’m hoping to gather them together.

    MT: Who is your favorite writer? What is/are your favourite books?

    VH: That’s a difficult question. I always go back to James M. Cain and either The Postman Always Rings Twice or Serenade. I really couldn’t make a final choice though. Lately, I’ve been reading lots of old pulps and new pulps and noir stories, and there are many great ones. I eat up Jason Starr’s books like candy and Daniel Woodrell’s. Lately, Megan Abbott has come on the scene, and she’s wonderful. There are many more, but these are just recent ones that come to mind.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer?

    VH: Mainly, keep at it, no matter how bad you think your writing sounds. With practice, it will improve. If you can’t take classes, read Janet Burroway and Robert Olen Butler’s books on writing. Read the kinds of books that you would like to write. Remember that much of the pleasure comes from inside when you’ve finished something and it’s all yours. If you get involved with other people trying to write, through classes or groups, you also add a wonderful new aspect to your life. Publication isn’t everything. Enjoy the experience.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    VH: The car is packed up with skydiving gear and it’s time to head up to Lake Wales, Florida, to do some jumps and see some friends. I can’t think of anything else. Thanks for the interview!

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