Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Author Interview- Neil Low

Welcome to this weeks Author Interview. Today we have Neil Low with us. Thank you for coming by Neil to share some thoughts. Glad to have you.
1. Please tell the readers a bit more about you.
1.      I am a veteran captain with the Seattle Police Department and have been involved in police work my whole adult life. When I went through the academy in the early 70s, we were told to read Joseph Wambaugh’s novels, The New Centurions and The Blue Knight. I was immediately hooked on Wambaugh’s fresh approach to writing and decided at that moment I wanted to be a writer when I grew up and got tired of police work. First, I had to go out and experience excitement, and then I had to learn to write well enough for people to want to read about it. So, I worked dangerous and exciting assignments during my career, and then as I rose in the ranks, I went back to college and graduated cum laude from the University of Washington Bothell. The only problem is that I never got tired of police work. I’m still here after all these years.
2. What types of books do you write?
1.      I write noir murder mysteries set in 1940’s Seattle. Some of my rationale for choosing this era was to avoid any complaints of conflict of interest or accusations that I divulged official secrets learned through my position on the department. The other reason is that while in college one of my professors encouraged me to read Raymond Chandler for a class project. As with reading Joe Wambaugh, I was again inspired to pursue writing, but in a more stylized way, the Chandler way, focusing on the noir movies and stories I remembered as a kid. I like exploring the dark side of human behavior and through my writing I try to figure what motivates people to do the atrocious things they do to each other. I don’t believe that somebody commits a crime we would call horrendous just because they are pure evil; instead, I believe, there is some rational process they go through that makes sense to them at the moment. The rest of us don’t agree with it, but nonetheless it provided a motivation for this person/character.
 3. Who's your main audience?
1.      I have a surprising number of male readers who are mature in age and education, but my largest audience is women over forty, who make up the majority of readers everywhere. I have a young male protagonist, Alan Stewart, who gets into a number of situations many of the males can only dream of, yet at the same time he has a sensitivity the women find appealing, while they watch him grow and mature into a young man. Alan develops an attraction to a woman near forty, who breaks role stereo-typing by becoming Seattle’s first woman private investigator. She’s a strong character with a colorful past who fills the role of Alan’s tutor and temptress. And as I’m thinking of it, all the women have strong roles, even those who are victims. None of my characters will play completely helpless roles, needing men to save them from peril. They all have a source of strength, which I’ve found to be true in life—even if it only means finding a way to survive.

4. When it comes to writing- what are your strong points? What are your weaknesses?
1.      My strong points are characterization and plotting. I’ve had some wonderful compliments from literary agents and bookstore staff, saying I write lean like Dashiell Hammett with Raymond Chandler-like alliterations, even referencing a passage or two they liked. I’ve also had readers quote back some of my original dialogue to me, because they found it memorable enough that it stuck in their head. That kind of experience is truly humbling. As far as weakness, one agent I respect very much said that although I write like Chandler, she’s looking for something more modern and edgy, which is not where I’m at now. She’s looking for the next James Ellroy, who writes with an unblinking eye. That may come later for me when I move on from police work and can write about modern times. That’s when I will come up with new characters and a different pacing. In fact, I already have a story idea that’s percolating while I finish my fifth Alan Stewart novel.

5. What do you think of this term- Writer's Block? How do you overcome it?
1.      As far as WRITER’S BLOCK goes, I haven’t really experienced it…yet. Sure, there are times when I’m taking longer to work out a scene, moving people in and around a room, a ship’s deck, or a hotel’s basement, but I have secrets I use. First, I have a large white board where I draw out the scene and characters, moving them about as modified stick figures, visible from an overhead view—which happens to be just like a crime scene sketch. This way I don’t lose bodies in dynamic fight scenes, and I can get into the little boy mode of playing with toy soldiers, which is something else I’ve done. Other tricks include taking a shower and letting the hot water roll over me. There’s something about the tactile touching that activates the alpha state, where I’m most creative. If that still doesn’t work, I sit down in a chair and do a formal mediation, which is something I learned how to do many years ago. Once I can calm down and relax, the characters can go to work and tell me where the story should go. And a funny little side to this alpha state thing is that I have woken up in the middle of the night only to find the characters ready to play. Rather than fight it, I climbed out of bed, booted up the computer, and wrote it all down. You cannot wait for morning when this happens, because if you let yourself go back to sleep, you will have a dickens’ of a time remembering what it was that woke you, which is often some very good plotting.
6. How many books have you written?
1.      I have four novels and they are all published: THICK AS THIEVES, SIGN OF THE DRAGON, UNREASONABLE PERSUASION, and UNHOLY ALLIANCE. I’m nearing the completion of my fifth novel, THEATER OF THE CRIME. Okay, there’s one more I’ve been keeping in a drawer, because it has my Alan Stewart character at a more advanced age, which is actually when I first discovered him. I’m keeping STRAYS a secret because I don’t want to confuse my audience by having them see Alan as a mature man, especially when he’s not the main focus of the story. Some of my private reading friends who’ve read this one keep nagging me to publish it, but I think I’ll wait a while longer.
7. How many are published?
1.      See: number 6.
8. Are you self published or traditionally published?
1.      Are self-published and traditionally published the only two options to choose from? I work with Kristen Morris of Tigress Publishing, and we call it collaborative publishing. Yes, I’ve paid for her services, the cover, the editing, and the printing, but she also helps with the marketing, distribution, and event planning. She also helped me convert my files so that they were electronically available on my website and Kindle. She also designed and built my website. You don’t get that with self-publishing.
9. What's the hardest part of the writing process for you?
1.      The hardest part of the writing process for me is setting the staging, crafting the scene, and getting the story down on paper. It’s also tremendously rewarding. Originally, editing was the hardest, because I think like many writers I wanted to believe my story was a gift from the gods and was delivered perfectly to me, but then as I combed through the draft, I re-worked and re-worked it as many as fourteen or fifteen times. Finally, I asked another published author, and he assured me that it took many re-writes. I asked him if that wasn’t exhausting, and he told me that was the part he enjoyed the most—the buffing and polishing, which made the story sparkle. After that, I tried his approach and found there is a lot of joy to it. It also helps that I insisted on being a part of the editing process, so I would learn what the trained eyes were looking for. This helped me tremendously, and I spend much less time on the edits as I did before; consequently, writing and editing is a much more enjoyable process, because my skill set is much stronger. As my friend predicted, I now enjoy putting the luster on a story, which I’m proud to say is mine.

10. What type of books do you enjoy reading?
1.      I primarily read crime fiction novels. That goes all the way back to fifth grade when I discovered the Hardy Boys. I read every one of those that summer and loved them all. A neighbor and I collected the series, which he somehow won in a coin flip. Before I went back to college, my wife and I did the same thing with Tony Hillerman’s series, set in the American Southwest, collecting them all. And let’s not forget the Harry Potter series. I read all of those to my daughters and thoroughly loved them and the movies. I suppose in many ways my Alan Stewart has many Harry Potter qualities, just darker, deadlier, and more sexually experienced. But of course I also love literature, particularly John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Toni Morrison.
11. Who's your favorite Author?
1.      My favorite author continues to be Raymond Chandler, followed closely by Dashiell Hammett. About the time I think I’ve read all their stories, I find and collect ones I didn’t know were still available. I even read their uncompleted ones that other authors finished in their name and style.
12. What's your all time favorite book?
1.      Sorry Raymond and Dashiell, but my all-time favorite book is L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy. Was that a trick question? This is another story we studied in college, after first analyzing the movie, the directing, the camera angles, and what made it so great. I not only bought the novel, but I had Santa bring me the screenplay and DVD. I was very impressed how the screenwriters were able to capture the essence of Ellroy’s work and condense it into a very tight screenplay. They should have won the Oscar that year, but I think it went to Titanic, which was the sentimental favorite.

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