Hello hello, everyone! Once again, it’s been…oh, it’s been a week at the good ol’ American public schools. Between tweens yelling at me that they don’t have to do their homework because I’m not their mom, to kiddos my sons’ age hitting each other because the other “was going to do something bad”….well, it’s no wonder I have some of the university students I do. Eeesh.
So, let’s focus on something lovely and positive, shall we? Let’s celebrate one another with a delightful indie author interview. Colin Garrow is a FABULOUS writer of mystery and spine-tingling adventures for adults and children alike. His latest for tweens, The Curse of Calico Jack, and his latest for adults, A Tall Cool Glass of Murder, are available now on Amazon and Smashwords. Check’em out! (After the interview, of course.)
Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourself, please!
You might think from some of my previous jobs (taxi driver, antiques dealer, drama facilitator, Santa Claus impersonator, fish processor, etc) that I’m a bit of a Jack of all trades, but let’s just say I like variety. When I left school, I had a vague idea of becoming either a rock star or a novelist. At the time, I was too timid to strut my stuff on a stage, and instead spent many hours churning out short stories and poems. In those days (late seventies), there were hundreds of what were called ‘little press’ magazines on the go, all looking for talented writers.
So, sending my scribblings out to such literary tomes as Stand Magazine, Envoi and Staple, I managed to collect a huge pile of rejection slips, and though I did eventually get a few poems and a short story published, it was studying for a BA in Drama that really made the difference to the quality of my writing. After that, I spent a few years writing plays, some of which were eventually performed by my theatre company in Aberdeen, but I didn’t start trying to write novels seriously until 2013, after a failed relationship left me living alone in a damp, mould-infested hovel, with little money and a lot of spare time. That summer I decided to try and finish a book I’d started a few years earlier. It was called ‘The Devil’s Porridge Gang’ and was set in a fictionalised version of the town where I grew up.
I suppose I started writing for children because I didn’t think I had the talent to write for adults, so my Terry Bell and Watson Letters books didn’t get under way until a few years later. Now, having recently published my 20th book, I’m feeling a lot more confident about my creative abilities.
TWENTY BOOKS, my goodness! I tip my hat to you, Friend, and admire your years of experience in this publishing jungle. As a book reviewer and writer, what do you see as the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Aside from Kirkus reviews which, at several hundred dollars a pop, should never be considered by any sane person, I think the practice of paying a reviewer for his or her opinion is dodgy, to say the least. Even if you believe the individual is completely unbiased, you’re never going to know for sure. Readers too, are aware of this practice and if a book has too many five-star reviews on Amazon, it can give the impression someone is taking backhanders, even when that’s not the case. I’ve also seen books with six or seven reviews that sound so similar they could have been written by the same person.
Indie authors often give away free books in the hope of prompting readers to buy some of our other wares, or at least to leave a review. While I don’t have a problem with this, it’s not the same as someone actually handing over hard-earned cash in exchange for a book. My own reviewing practice is to buy a copy of any book I intend to review, which puts money in the author’s pocket, and eans they also get a ‘verified’ review on Amazon. Even so, I do sometimes accept a free copy in return for an honest review, though this is mostly due to my being on Amazon’s Vine programme.
You review SOOOO many books that I’m always humbled whenever you read one of my stories. Plus, you clearly use your growth as a reader to build your own unique stories. What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your artistic process?
It might sound odd, but the hardest part is coming up with a title and a cover for the book. With these in place I then have the motivation to write the book and discover what it’s about. As an example, the cover for the second Terry Bell mystery, A Long Cool Glass of Murder had to fit with the design of the first book, so it took me a while to come up with something that made sense. It also gave me a title that suggested poison, which was a good starting point.
On the other hand, I’m currently working on a horror novel for adults (as opposed to children), which doesn’t have a title or a cover. I do have a working title of Witch Moon (which may end up as the actual title), and a vague idea of what the cover will be, so there’s enough to get started with but I’ll need to finalise both before progressing much further with the plot.
One of the reasons I jive so well with you is because you’re a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan, just like me! Tell us about The Watson Letters.
I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes for years but not being a particular devotee of ‘fan fiction’ had never thought of writing about him. Several years ago, a friend and I started emailing each other under the guise of a variety of fictional characters, usually centred around toilet humour and fart gags. Our favourite roles were Holmes and Watson, so when I started a website in praise of Arthur Conan Doyle and the associated books and movies etc, I included a spoof blog called The Watson Letters inspired by our musings. Some years later, my friend having taken to producing fewer and fewer emails in response to my attempts to create actual stories, I often found myself writing both parts of whatever adventure we were ensconced in, and when she eventually gave up altogether, it occurred to me I might take selected episodes of the blog and knock them into some sort of book.
The first book, The Watson Letters vol 1: Something Wicker This Way Comes was a bit of a hotchpotch and I didn’t really expect it to catch on, particularly as it jumped around a lot and didn’t exactly have a ‘through line’ in terms of the plot. It’s also very short, at around 23,000 words. But considering a second book, I opted to write three complete adventures and continued with that idea for books three and four. The current book, Murder on Mystery Island is different, in that it’s one complete adventure, and the next book, The Haunting of Roderick Usher will probably be the
By this time, I’d scrapped the original website and started a new Watson Letters Blog, so what hasn’t changed, is that I still write each story on the Blog first, before putting it into book form. I’m aware that this practice limits me to what I’ve already written, but it’s good to have a challenge.
Another challenge in writing new stories with established characters comes in the
expectations of the reader. (Pretty sure Disney’s feeling this challenge with their
attempts at creating Star Wars sequels, but I digress.) How do you create an original story while also delivering the kind of story readers want in a Sherlock Holmes adventure?
Hmm. This is an interesting one, as obviously there are tons of books written about
Holmes, Watson and several of the other characters created by Conan Doyle. I think
if you’re going to be true to the characters and attempt stories that reflect ACD’s
style and character traits etc, then that’s great, but since the original books are perfect as they are, I wanted to do something different. Taking a bunch of well- known characters, moving them off into a parallel universe, having them swear and do battle with villains like Hannibal Lecter and Bill Sikes, I hoped readers would go along with it, recognising I’m not trying to copy the original, but to create something different, though with a generous nod to the originals. Of course, one or two readers have complained that Holmes doesn’t use the F word, and Watson would never urinate on a pair of ne’er-do-wells, but when you’re in a parallel universe, anything can happen!
Ha, eeeeexactly! One of the fun things about writing fiction is that you don’t HAVE to follow “how things work.” I recall Colin Dexter saying as much about his Inspector Morse mystery series. Still, writing historical fiction is going to require some sort of research. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
In general terms, I don’t do a lot of research for my books, as I believe it’s a writer’s
job to make stuff up. However, there are some things you just can’t make up and need information or detail to give the writing an authentic feel. Usually, I leave it until the point in the story when I need specific information before I’ll start looking for it. In the case of my middle grade series The Christie McKinnon Adventures, the first book begins in Edinburgh in 1897, so I used an old map of the city to work out Christie’s routes between one place and another. I did the same thing with The Maps of Time series which is set in 1630s London. In that instance I also wanted to use the old street names, like Cheap Syde and Fanchurch Streete.
For the Watson Letters books, which often use dates on letters and telegrams etc, there came a point when I confused myself and had to resort to using an online calendar to work out when things happened. This was particularly noticeable with The Curse of the Baskervilles adventure. The book starts in 1891, but the first story actually goes back to 1884, with the adventure following it beginning in 1889. For other books, there have been times when I’ve needed to know about air rifles, handguns, specific types of period clothing and how to use skeleton keys. Anything that requires lots of research is probably something I’ll avoid writing about.
That’s a great piece of advice. Would you like to close out on any other important writing tips for aspiring writers?
I think the advent of eBooks and the ease with which virtually anyone can become a published author, has also created its own set of problems. It’s not so much of an issue now, but a few years ago there were an awful lot of people churning out books that were nothing short of abysmal—packed with clichés, typos, poor sentence structure and a lot of really bad writing. I’ve had a few people approach me for advice on their own work and overall, they thank me profusely for pointing out their mistakes, realising no-one can produce a perfect novel all by themselves. Of course, there are those who think their immense talent should be obvious and the only motivation for asking my opinion is so I can tell them how wonderful they are. I know it’s hard for newbies to get started and forge relationships with other writers, editors, beta-readers etc, but I do think it’s essential, especially for indie authors, as we all need to know how other people see our work. As well as having two editors, I have several writer pals who proofread my books, while I do the same for them, so even if you can’t afford a professional editor, there are always people who can help out. It’s the same with book covers too—unless you happen to be Stephen King, a rubbishy cover will never sell your books. I have a reasonable ability with Photoshop, so I create my own covers (though I’m aware some of the early ones need updating). If you’re not gifted in that area, there are plenty of generic cover creators who can adapt a cover with your name/title etc for a reasonable price, so your book at least looks professional.
As Smashwords boss Mark Coker says, ‘…it’s the readers…who decide what’s worth buying. Bad books will sink.’
So, essentially, you need to write a good book, get it proofed, edited and pop on a good quality cover that tells us what the book is about, and off you go.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights, Colin! Folks, you can find Colin all over the place–go, visit, see, read!
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
Seeing the students I do, I think I’m ready to write about villainy. Dark, impulsive, whiny villainy.
But if my soul’s been sucked too dry by the American education system, then count on Blondie to come to my rescue with her awesome stories–and book reviews, too!
Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!