Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Allan J. Emerson - Guest Blog

Today we get to learn more about a fellow Kindle Press author, Allan J. Emerson, who describes himself as humorous, serious, quirky, simple, and wry. He chose writer, reader, daydreamer, procrastinator, and technophobe to describe his writing (Ed. note: his answers did arrive by email and I know he has a website so, I’m interested in this technophobe issue, but I’m afraid if I ask, he’ll procrastinate and we won’t have an answer – maybe in the comments we’ll find out?) Here are Allan’s choices of questions and his answers (which I think you are going to enjoy a lot).:

You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?

I’d invite Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. I’ve met her a couple of times, and she’s down-to-earth, charming and witty. Not to mention an incredible writer. And yes, I’m name-dropping.

And I’d invite the wonderful English writer, Diana Athill, author of Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir, an unsentimental take on what it means to grow old. Athill is still writing at 97 and is as witty and clear-sighted about life and mortality as ever. There’s a YouTube clip showing her on a panel with Alice Munro.

Finally, I’d invite Dashiell Hammett, the creator of Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, lover of Lillian Hellman, and defier of communist witch hunts during the ‘fifties. As far as I know, he and Alice Munro never met, so I’d have to introduce him to her. Oh, and to Diana also, of course.

If we’re getting separate bills, I’ll say we’re in Barcelona, because I’ve never been there and I want to go. If I’m paying the whole shot, the Food Fair here at the mall is fairly quiet on a Sunday morning. Alice and Diana would probably have poutine (a Quebecois dish of french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy). I’m pretty sure Dash—all his friends call him Dash—would have a burger, and so would I. Coffees all around, except for Diana, who’d have tea. There’s a Dairy Queen, and I’d get our selfie transferred onto an ice cream cake for the dessert course.

We’d talk about writing, of course, and Alice would show us her Nobel medal. Diana would talk about her lovers, and Dash his time in the slammer. I’d give them each a signed copy of Death of a Bride and Groom. After lunch, I’d drive them to the nearest transit loop and wait to make sure they got on the right bus. Later, we’d “friend” each other on Facebook.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

I’m most productive in my home office, a messy rat hole filled with books, cast-off Christmas decorations, tattered tabloids with headlines like “Baby Born with Wooden Leg,” and ancient computers used as shelving for coffee mugs. I can relax there, and the visual overload forces my eyes to the white, empty monitor screen, and that triggers the need to fill it with words.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

The caffeine is needed in the mornings, although I don’t write then. My body gets up around seven a.m.; my brain sleeps until ten.  Without the caffeine I’d stagger through the day like Frankenstein on muscle relaxants. Mornings, I read and respond to emails, or do other prosaic stuff that doesn’t require creativity. I write between late afternoon and midnight.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I probably read six to eight books per month, depending on their length. It took me a week or ten days to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, while I read Chesil Beach, a beautifully-written novella by Ian McEwen, in a couple of hours.

I do read mysteries while I’m writing. I recently finished Patricia Stoltey’s Dead Wrong, which I enjoyed, and a terrific noir novel from Sam Wiebe called The Last of the Independents. Wiebe isn’t afraid to take chances, and the shocking opening of Independents took me by surprise and kept me reading.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

Figuring out how the sleuth figures out who the killer is. What am I doing about it? Occasionally I read books about plotting, or attend seminars which explain in general how to do this. Strangely, not one of them ever outlines exactly how my sleuth catches the killer in my book. So I fall back on the only method I know: fret, procrastinate, write possible scenes, give up, repeat.

What motivates you to write?

The urge to tell a story. To create a world that doesn’t exist except in my mind, set it spinning, and get people to visit.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

In Death of a Bride and Groom, I started with a single scene: the discovery of the bodies of a man and woman dressed in wedding attire atop a wedding cake parade float. Once I had bodies, I needed a sleuth and I came up with Will Halsey, ex-RCMP, now small-town police chief. The wedding cake parade float suggested the setting—a near-bankrupt town re-inventing itself as a honeymoon resort. From there, the story seemed to grow organically into a dryly humorous small-town mystery.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

The best advice I got was to stop obsessing over the quality of my first drafts. They always depressed the hell out of me—the brilliant, funny, original creation I held in my mind’s eye had congealed into this on the page?

Unfortunately, it took me a long time to accept the advice, so my first drafts were often my last. Eventually, I came to terms with the idea that the first draft isn’t anything but lumps of story clay that need to be worked into a final shape. Even so, I still flinch sometimes when I read the first draft. (And if your first drafts are things of beauty, I don’t want to hear about it.)

For more information on Allan J. Emerson and Death of a Bride and Groom, visit his website www.allanjemerson.com and check out his blog, see his Facebook profile, or view the Amazon listing for Death of a Bride and Groom

From the blurb for Death of a Bride and Groom:

When the body of writer Iris Morland is discovered in full bridal array atop a giant wedding cake parade float, the little resort town of Honeymoon Falls is left reeling. Not only is its reputation as "the Romance Capital of the World" at risk, its very survival is threatened. Murder, it seems, has a chilling effect on those considering venues for potential nuptials. 
Chief Will Halsey, head of Honeymoon Falls' three-person police force, must find the killer among Iris's host of enemies. And he'll have to do it while coping with small-town politics, feuding among his subordinates, and the ferocious attentions of the media.

From the author: Death of a Bride and Groom is the first in the Honeymoon Falls series. It's a small-town mystery containing humor, a little sex, and some surprising relationships (kind of like the author’s life, except for the murders).


  1. How kind of you to mention Dead Wrong, Allan. Thanks! You have a great sense of humor and it shines through in your interview responses. I especially enjoyed your comments about first drafts. I have five of them that I really should work on....one of these days.

    Many thanks to James for the entertaining questions. This is a nice blog.

  2. Jim's questions are entertaining, and I agree it's a nice blog, Patricia. I'm always happy to mention a book I liked--the only thing as satisfying as reading a good book is sharing it with others.

  3. That is great advice. I'll use it with my students. This book is a great start to a new series!

  4. Hi, Allan,

    Yes, first drafts are the hardest part for me as well. Good interview!

  5. Agreed on the first draft perfection syndrome. Have it myself...but trying to get better! Another great interview!

  6. Nice interview, Allan. I got quite a few chuckles out of your imaginary table for four, especially your selfie with the Greats, and getting them on the correct bus. Too funny!

  7. Thanks, Catherine. Jim's interview style gives his interviewees plenty of scope to have fun, which is great!