A Debut Interview for a Debut Author
With my debut novel All that Glisters finally launching (Worldwide Release: 09.20.23), my Senior Editor, Lea Schizas, reached out to interview me for her forthcoming blog in The Writing Jungle.
Here’s the first draft of the transcript for my debut interview:
Lea: Give me three words that describe you as a person.
Topper: Active, curious, hopelessly-romantic
Lea: Give me three words that describe you as a writer.
Topper: Lyrical, fast-paced, thoughtful
Lea: Give me three things that no one would guess about you.
Topper: First off, I’m a high-school dropout who smartened up enough to find a way to finish, earn my diploma, and go on to college, graduate school, and then a Ph.D. program.
Second: In my early twenties, rangy and a total lightweight at 145 lbs., I made some Christmas cash in college by playing a Department Store Santa with the help of two bed pillows strapped to my waist.
And third: At 18, I wallpapered the bedroom of my off-campus college apartment with manuscript rejection slips before selling my first piece of writing: A crossword puzzle.
Lea: At what point in your life did you realize the writing bug had grabbed ahold of you? And which writers influenced you?
Topper: Let’s take the writing bug first, then the writing influences.
High School. I’m sitting on the bench waiting for the JV coach to put me in to play second base. One of my teammates hands me the school newspaper. He’s pointing his stubby finger at a poem on the page.
“What’s this, Jones? He presses his lips to the back of his hands. Makes a kissing sound. And then in a swoon-worthy voice, he starts to read: Love grows, so too we. This passion—”
I grab the paper from him. I’m gonna kill Seevy. In Study Hall, she asked to look at what I was working on, something kind of personal. And now...now it’s in print?
But that byline. Seeing my name on something I had written. Total rush! I’m hooked. So instead of dispatching Seevy, I end up thanking her for giving me my first pub.
Early influences on my writing were poets (Walt Whitman, e. e. cummings, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti). As I gravitated to short fiction, I read everything by J. D. Salinger. Then, when I made the move to full-length fiction, I tried to emulate commercial authors I found engaging (Robert Ludlum’s early work, Raymond Chandler, Robert Parker, Robert Crais, and Michael Connelly). For novel structure, I rely heavily on the works of Blake Snyder (Save the Cat!® screenwriting series) and Jessica Brody (Save the Cat!® Writes a Novel).
Lea: Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
Topper: Surfing, jogging, theater, traveling, screening (and analyzing) films with my wife/lover, and of course, reading.
Lea: What types of films and music do you enjoy?
Topper: Films—Action-packed, Mysteries, RomComs, and Literary Adaptations.
Music—Classical (particularly Baroque), Modern Jazz, and good ole Rock ‘n Roll.
Lea: Do you have a specific writing ritual (like listening to music) and/or a schedule you stick with?
Topper: It all starts with just the right workspace: A quiet place with a relatively clear desk, a high-speed computer with two high-res monitors and an ergo keyboard and chair, a desktop fountain burbling, soft instrumental music playing in the background, and a storyboard on the wall plastered with scene cards from all three acts of the novel, and a window with a view.
My calendar has a daily entry “Write Now” set for a three-hour block from 9 a.m.-12 noon. Oh, oh, oh...if only I were that disciplined. The calendar event acts more as an inspiration to remember to get words on the page each day.
Lea: From all the characters you’ve written, which one is your favorite and why?
Topper: Hands down Abril de la Guerra, though Thad Hanlon is a close second. Together they “out-sherlock” Holmes & Watson.
Why Abril? Bri, as she’s known to her intimates—is a sassy, kickass twenty-something woman who doesn’t know the meaning of “No.” Her family hails from Spanish aristocracy that settled California. As a member of landed gentry owning swaths of the Central Coast from Santa Barbara south to the Santa Susana Mountains, Bri always gets what she wants, even if it means rewriting the rules.
Lea: Do you allow your characters to dictate their paths or do you plot out everything?
Topper: My primary characters tend to have lives of their own and can take over the plot. When that happens, I just sit back and watch what they do, tear up my scene cards, and revise the storyline.
Lea: Does research play a big part in your writing schedule?
Topper: Absolutely. I use my second monitor for research while I’m writing the draft on the first monitor. Google is my best friend. Google Maps my next best friend. Wikipedia my goto for an overview and footnote references to definitive research sources on a subject. The downside of having a separate monitor dedicated to research is the tendency to rabbit-hole. When that happens, I go back to the draft and put in XXXs as placeholders for things that need to be looked up later, then get on with the writing. Most of the time. ðŸ˜‰
Lea: Are there any other works in progress that you’d like to hint about?
Topper: Book Two in the Thad Hanlon & Bri de la Guerra Mystery Series has been workshopped, reviewed by beta readers, and currently is under revision. Here’s the logline: Newly licensed private investigator, Thad Hanlon, takes a break from catching waves along the California Central Coast to land his first client—a former exotic dancer from Bakersfield looking for her surf prodigy son who has gone missing in the wake of a string of ritualistic murders terrorizing Oceano Beach.
Lea: If your favorite author (past or present) invited you for dinner to discuss writing, who would that be and what one question would you ask him/her?
Topper: Robert Parker, Ph.D. English Literature (Spenser Series; Jesse Stone Series; Sunny Randall Series): “Bob, how do you weave the literary—the depth and richness of the written word—into your work without coming across as an egghead and turning off the everyday reader?
Lea: What wise words of wisdom would you give up-and-coming new writers?
Topper: “Workshop your work!” Whatever it takes, get feedback from people who are interested in your success. And be open to what fellow writers have to say. They can tell when something isn’t working, when characters behave out of character, and when your language isn’t capturing your intention. Listen and revise accordingly.
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