Writerly Questions with Paul Stansfield

Warm weather has finally arrived and it is time to start thinking about what to read as you lounge around the pool, while your kids play in the park, or during your hour-long commute on the transpo. To help you prepare your summer-time TBR list, every Monday for the next few months I will be talking with some really fabulous authors about their latest or upcoming books.

Today I have Paul Stansfield to talk about his mystery/suspense novels Dead Reckoning and Kaishaku. His first e-book hit the shelves on February 17th and is published by the Melpomene Imprint, while Paul’s second book Kaishaku is coming out on August 24th with Thalia.  

How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
(I won’t cheat and just put down my tagline.)  Dustin Dempster’s community service has something he didn’t bargain for—amateur counseling sessions with a bizarre kind of killer.

Hmmm, that’s intriguing already! How long did it take you to write this book?
If memory serves, a couple of weeks.  Which might sound somewhat impressively fast, but to be fair, it’s a short story, and only about 10,000 words.

I was about to say that was quite quick *L0L* How many drafts do you go through?
Two on my own, before submission.  I wrote it out in rough draft, and made appropriate changes as I typed it into my computer.  And then another two with my editor (Elizabeth Hinds) once it was accepted by Musa.

When do you write best: in the morning, afternoon, or at night?
I’m not a morning person at all, so I’d say late afternoon or evening.

In my opinion, morning shouldn’t begin until at least 10am *wince* Where is your favorite place to write?
When I’m at home, at my desk in my bedroom.  However, with my job (field archaeologist) I’m on the road usually 8-10 months out of every year, so I’m forced to write in whatever hotel they’ve put us up in.  Fortunately almost all hotels have desks or tables in their rooms, so I use those.

I used to want to be an archaeologist!  Then someone told me I might uncover dead people during a dig and it lost a bit of its appeal…  So should archaeologists find you a zillion years from now, will it be with a typewriter, computer/laptop, or pen & paper?
It wasn’t just a plot contrivance that my first e-book, “Dead Reckoning”, dealt with Luddites.  I have definite Luddite tendencies myself.  I can only write using pen and paper, then I have to type it into the computer at the end. It is extremely inefficient, but I can’t even fathom just creating the first draft directly into a computer.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t use a typewriter again, with its lack of memory and my terrible typing skills. 

I tried to type up an essay on my mum’s typewriter, and that was more than enough for me! What do you drink or eat while you write?
Nothing.  It would be too distracting.  Plus, with my giraffe-on-Thorazine-like clumsiness, I’d probably end up spilling something on my manuscript, and possibly ruining it.

I think I know the answer to this already from the previous question, but do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
No,  I’m lazy and unproductive enough without more distractions.

What do you wear when you write?
A rubber zebra suit with detachable hooves.  Just kidding—a friend (really) told me she saw this in an, ahem, alternative sexuality catalogue, and I’ve always remembered it as being delightfully absurd.  Real boring answer—whatever I happen to be wearing that day.  Probably jeans and a t-shirt.

Do you have any other writing rituals?
For the first and last sentences of every story, I write them out using my own blood as ink.  Okay, I’ve gotten the jokes all out of my system now.  No, I don’t have any rituals.

If I had to write so much as a word in blood, I’d never write again *shudder* How do you plot: Chapter by chapter or an overall synopsis? Do you use detailed outlines?
“Dead Reckoning” was the first story that I used a detailed outline, roughly chapter by chapter, because I kept getting confused about which character was doing what at a particular time.  Generally I’m not that organized.  Usually it’s plot point sentences, lines of dialogue, and other notes written on a sheet or two of paper, and I just cross them off as I write them -“Kaishaku” was written like this.

 How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
No real plan—just what seems correct while I’m writing.  The main character(s) get regular POV’s, of course, but secondary characters get a POV when I feel I have something to say from someone’s else viewpoint.  Sometimes I intentionally never have a particular character’s POV, if I think it’s more interesting that the reader not know for sure what that individual is thinking and what motivates them, especially if they’re some very evil or otherworldly character.

The answer to this next question always fascinates me no matter how many times I ask it. How do you choose your characters’ names?
Usually they’re names I’ve heard that amuse me.  I’ve consulted baby name books, and sometimes phone books of whatever town I’m in.  Often athlete’s names, as I’m a major sports fan.  After hearing about Tony Twist’s lawsuit against Todd MacFarlane, though, I’m careful to switch the names up, i.e., I’ll use Player A’s first name and Player B’s last name.  Sometimes I’m guilty of using too-weird names, which I guess is kind of hacky, so I have to guard against that.

I never thought to use a phone book, that’s actually kind of brilliant. No need to struggle finding the perfect name, just close your eyes and pick a page! And speaking of picking the perfect person, who is the first to read your manuscript?
Generally the editor of whatever magazine or publisher I’ve submitted to.  I know this is discouraged—that writers are always told to have friends and family read your stuff first, and then you revise it several times before you submit it, but I find this counterproductive.  I’ve sent or given stories to friends many times, but I almost never get useful feedback.  Either they don’t have the time, or maybe they only asked for a copy to be polite, or they do read it, but don’t feel comfortable criticizing it to me.

If it works for you, that’s all that matters! What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
It was a while ago, but I recall being very happy and relieved, of course.  I’m sure I told family and friends soon after.  In an odd way, it made my hunger to be published worse.  Like eating one potato chip, I suppose—I just wanted more.

 If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
It may sound strange, but I’d like to see someone I don’t know (who’s also a competent actor/actress).  For some movies, especially thrillers/horror/suspense like my books are, I find a cast of unknown actors works better—it seems more believable and realistic than if it’s, say, a star like Tom Cruise or Hillary Swank.

 What is the first book you remember reading?
Tough to recall, so I’ll name a few.  I loved the Richard Scarry books, Dr. Seuss, Ranger Rick magazine, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I think I still have that Caterpillar book somewhere… What book is on your nightstand right now?
Just finished the annotated version of “The Hobbit.”  Before that, a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories.

Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
Not really—I have very little shame.  I guess the closest I come is feeling slightly embarrassed for reading The Baseball Encyclopedia cover to cover, or regular encyclopedias nearly so as a kid.

I tried to read the dictionary once -it didn’t go well.  How do you organize your library/book collection?
I don’t, alas.  Which is a real *censor* when I want to find one particular book, since it means going through lots of shelves (often double-stacked), checking piles on furniture, etc.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Pretty much.  I started writing ridiculous Lego-inspired stories as a small child, and kept it up from there.  As an adult I got slightly more disciplined and began writing more, and submitting.

Oooh, Lego… If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
Probably “The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris.  Great characters, great plot, graphic realism.  Disturbing as hell yet still oddly accessible.  Plus it’s one of the rare books that had a faithful and equally awesome movie adaptation.  And to be practical and greedy, it was a huge best seller, got near universal acclaim, and made Harris’s career.

I didn’t read the book as the movie scared me enough! …but I liked it anyways *grin* If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask/talk about?
Probably Harper Lee.  I find it fascinating that she was such a one hit wonder.  That she wrote a hugely successful and respected book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and then nothing else (at least nothing she had published).  I’d like to hear what she wrote or tried to write after that, and why she didn’t submit them.  Plus I’m sure there are stories about the “In Cold Blood” events and book, and about Truman Capote, that weren’t covered in the recent movies.  And unlike a lot of other authors I admire, she doesn’t seem to give interviews much.

 If you could be any character from any book, who would you be?
Sauron from “The Lord of the Rings.”  He had quite an eventful existence—he was a god-like being that chose evil, was another’s servant for a long time, then became his own “man.”  He befriended/tricked/corrupted all the peoples in his domain, and came close to (his) world domination several times.  For thousands of years he was the major being in Middle Earth—defeated yet never completely vanquished until the end of “The Lord of the Rings.”  In short, I think it would be fun to be the bad guy, and ol’ Sauron was one of the baddest in literature.  And with that I guess my “cool guy, not nerdy at all” cover is completely blown.

Lord of the Rings fans are considered “cool” nowadays, so I think you’re safe. *wink* What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
Whatever motivates them to write more/better.  So a gift of time (patiently allowing them to write), space, encouragement (if they’re feeling down), or criticism (if they’re being too arrogant).  Or, on a practical level, a better computer,  the latest edition of “The Writer’s Market,” or a reliable pen if they’re old-fashioned like me.

 What is the best advice someone could give a writer?
It’s kind of cliché, but never give up.  Keep writing, and submitting.  If a magazine or publisher rejects your story, send it to another, or send that first one another story, until you’ve exhausted every one (which is near impossible, I think.)  To paraphrase the lottery motto “You have to play to win,” you have to submit to get published, to sell books, to write full time, to get rich, etc.  And even if you never reached your allotted goals, at least you didn’t sit around and idly dream, you got off your butt and made an attempt.  Plus, it’s surely time better spent than, say, watching some inane reality TV show or something.

Unless there is a reality show about a famous/popular writer’s life, I think I shall pass on those… So other than a dislike for reality TV, what is one random thing most people don’t know about you?
My favorite Halloween costume was a skeleton in first grade.  My mom cut out “bones” using a sheet, and sewed them onto a pair of dyed-black pajamas.  Topped off with a sweet mask—which I’m told I wore frequently before and after October 31st.  Perhaps it’s not surprising that I enjoy exhuming graves for work so much.

 Previous Interviews:  Lauren Hunter InterviewSharon Ledwith InterviewEmma Lane Interview

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Author: JaimeKristal

JaimeKristal is a freelance editor and writer. She started her book review blog "Tales of a Booklover" for the enjoyment of sharing her love of reading.

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