Saturday, January 20, 2007

All Aboard The Midnight Ink Express


One of the best perks of being a published author is meeting and hobnobbing with other writers. For 2007 I have decided to interview writing colleagues and bring a little bit of them to the readers of this blog. Some of the featured writers will be from my publisher, Midnight Ink.

I am very pleased to introduce Keith Raffel, author of Dot Dead, as my first author interview and the first passenger aboard the Midnight Ink Express.

Keith, You have described yourself as having career ADD because you’ve had so many careers. So why did you decide to try your hand at being a novelist?

Hmm. I somehow found myself in a University of California Extension class on mystery writing. A classroom exercise brought unexpected praise and that planted the idea of publishing a book. I was a little bored with my day job and was looking for a new challenge. The game was afoot!

Tell us what is your absolute favorite thing about writing? Least favorite thing? Most difficult thing? Easiest thing?

Friends are always trying to equate the hero of Dot Dead with me. “You’re Ian,” they say. I think this is exactly backwards. Dot Dead was written in the first person and that gave me a chance to become Ian, to live a life that wasn’t my own. Losing myself in the writing, looking at the clock at eight in the morning and not raising my head till noon – that’s my favorite thing. It’s sublime. And it happened about three times in writing Dot Dead, but made the whole endeavor worthwhile.

Least favorite? Becoming a caffeine addict again. I gave up caffeine years ago, but now I’m doing my writing in a café. I can’t just sit there without buying something, can I? And quaffing a few beers might not be too good for the quality of my prose. So I’m drinking pot after pot of green tea. If I try to go a day without tea now, I get the sensation of two weightlifters pulling a belt tight around my head. So I’m a caffeine addict again. But it’s worth it.

Most difficult? Plot! For dialogue I can carry on conversations in my head and just transcribe. Characters it must be the quest for the divine that makes me enjoy creating humans with distinctive personalities out of thin air. But figuring out how to keep the reader turning the pages, how to drive the story forward – that’s hard work.

Easiest? Years ago there was a billboard on 101, the main Silicon Valley freeway, that read, “Someone will win the lottery, it just won’t be you.” When aspiring entrepreneurs ask me for a piece of advice, I tell them, “everything is hard.” Finding an agent was not easy nor was finding a publisher. Getting the book done with a plot that worked – oh, my goodness. The only thing that was easy was going to the launch party. No, wait. That weekend we were moving back into our house after it was renovated, we had no hot water, and we weren’t unpacked. That was hard, too.

I enjoyed your novel Dot Dead a great deal. Since it is called a Silicon Valley Mystery, can we expect a whole series based in that part of California?

Right now I’m working on a book tentatively called Coup that features Sam Rockman, a Stanford professor, who is called back to Washington to work on anti-terrorism. I spent four years as counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee and couldn’t resist drawing on some of what I saw and experienced in D.C. But I certainly plan on getting back to Ian and Rowena and doing a sequel to Dot Dead. [Yea!] There’s so much for a crime novel to draw on in Silicon Valley. Mix together the ambition, greed, and money that are found in such large quantities here, and you have the perfect recipe for a crime novel. Just read the papers. A feud among board members of a Palo Alto computer giant begets corporate espionage. Soaring stock prices engender financial shenanigans like the backdating of stock options. The high value attached to small devices leads to warehouse robberies by armed gangs. What material!

Is there a specific reason why you named the two sisters in Dot Dead Gwendolyn and Rowena? These do not sound like traditional Jewish names, yet the young women are from a Jewish home.

I have four children and naming them was no picnic. So my wife and I accumulated the largest collection of baby-naming books west of the Library of Congress. I found Gwendolyn’s name first and just liked the way Gwendolyn Goldberg sounded. It’s an ethnic mix-and-match, like Bernardo O’Higgins, the Chilean hero. Anyway, once the elder sister had a Welsh name, I looked for another and found Rowena, the name of Ivanhoe’s lady fair. Ian, the name of the protagonist, is certainly not a Jewish name – it’s Scottish. I guess I was going Celtic.

I know from reading your blog that you are currently working on book #2 and that you have given yourself a deadline of February 14th to complete the first draft. Are you on schedule to meet your deadline?

There are two kinds of writers: those who write from an outline and those who go where the story takes them. I fall into the second camp. Now that I’ve found the perfect café to write in -- featuring delicious tea, efficient help, and clean bathrooms -- I am on pace to have 80,000 words written by Valentine’s Day. The question is whether the story will be done by the eighty-thousandth word.

According to your website, your second book is called Coup and centers around our country’s terrorist threat. Can you give us a thumb nail synopsis?

Nope. Lots of surprises in the book (I hope) and I sure don’t want to give anything away. Also I’ll be facing a lot of rewriting after February 14 which is bound to change the plot. Suffice it to say, it’s a mystery/thriller set amidst the corridors of power in D.C.

Has Coup been picked up by Midnight Ink or another publisher yet? Is there a scheduled release date?

Midnight Ink did ask to see what I’ve written, but I think I’m going to wait till it’s ready for a second set of human eyes. So no publisher, no release date so far.

I thoroughly enjoy your blog, especially when you talk about your family. Are there any budding authors among #1, #2, #3 or #4?

Thanks. My wife is a closet Luddite. She does not read my blog. I’m amused when friends of hers who do read the blog get to tell her what I’m up to on the writing front. #4, my eight-year old son, has asked to come to the café with me so he can write his book. I think he’s figuring a couple of hours, and he’s done. It just may be a little harder than he imagines. #1 is editor of her high school paper so maybe she does have the writing gene. Poor thing. Condemned by genetics, I guess.

Stephen King says in his book On Writing: “If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.” I know you are a book LOVER in the extreme, but of all the books you have ever read, which is the one you wish YOU had written and why?

Besides Too Big to Miss? [Nice kiss-up.] God help me, I do love books. Does anyone know of some kind of 10 step program for bibliophiles? Hmm. What do I wish I’d written? I know I wish I could write as prolifically at a high level as Stuart Kaminsky. Just looking at the page inside one of his books that says “Also by Stuart Kaminsky,” throws me into paroxysms of envy. But one book? The Maltese Falcon might be my all-time favorite mystery, but that’s because it was the first of a kind. There are so many riffs on Sam Spade that if written today, it would not be so special. I’d like to have written some book that changes lots of lives for the better, but I can’t think of one to choose. Now Dr. Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” I don’t want to be a blockhead. Okay then, I’ll pick The Da Vinci Code just because it made so much moolah.

Thank you so much, Keith, for being my first guest author. I wish you continued success with Dot Dead and future success with Coup.

Learn more about Keith by visiting his Website and blog.

The next author interview on Babble ‘n Blog will be the fascinating Christa Faust. Stay tuned!

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