Today I have the pleasure of chatting with Everett Powers, Author of ‘The Mighty T’ and ‘Canals’. It’s an honor to me because I’ve read ‘The Mighty T’. I mean, how often does a fan get to interview a favorite author? As lucky as I am today, for up to date info, I have to check out Everett’s blog, here. I highly recommend visiting.
Anyway, here are brief synopses of both of Everett’s books;
The Mighty T:
Detective Grant Starr and his buddy, Detective Ralph Bensen, took the day off to catch a Giants game, but their plans are cut short when a lunatic starts shooting people from the top of a twelve-story hotel. The shooter is crazy, but he’s also crazy-good with the sniper rifle.
The gunman’s found dead and Grant has no idea who he is or why he killed nine people, apparently at random. When two more are murdered the following night, Grant finds a thread connecting the eleven killings.
Unfortunately, he’s up against a well-funded fanatical eco-terrorist with a gang of hired mercenaries. After a building housing giant pumps in the San Joaquin Delta is blown up with a fertilizer bomb, Grant chases the gang into the foothills, then to the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.
The unthinkable happens: the O’Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy is attacked with multiple bombs. It fails in a most spectacular way and a sixty-foot-high wall of water is sent hurdling down the mountain…
Can Grant and his team stop what would be the worst U.S. disaster since 9/11?
Central California. June. Insatiable hunger. Something terrible is in the canals. Fangs that bite through steel. Body parts found on canal banks. Loner detective and beautiful deputy discover psychic powers. Can they stop the monsters in time? — CANALS by Everett Powers — You’ll make your children stay away from the canals for months.
Hi, Everett. It’s a pleasure to meet you and ask you some questions. First, tell us about Everett Powers and what drove you to write in the first place?
I’ve been a doctor of chiropractic for twenty-four years, in private practice. I’m fortunate in that I have office hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday only. I write on those days, but only for an hour or so. I do most of my writing on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and a little on Sunday.
The tagline on my blog says “Everyone has something to say.” I got that from a guy named Dave Donaldson, who taught an English night class I took in 1982. The class was filled with adults who had worked all day—the back three rows slept through most of the class, but Dave never protested or woke one of them up. I thought that was pretty cool.
He gave us a writing assignment one night. We were to write a bit of fiction. When half the class groaned, he said something like “Everyone can write because everyone has something to say.” I got all goosebumpy. I had always loved reading but didn’t think I was capable of writing fiction, but for some crazy reason I believed him. After this incident, writing was always there, in the back of my mind.
I started writing fiction in 1994, after my professional career became routine. My first book was called The Healer. I never finished it and recently found it in a box in the storage room. I dusted off the binder and read a few pages. It was dreadful so I stuffed it back in the box; may it never see the light of day again. I picked up the pen (or the keyboard, as it were) again in 2004 and wrote Canals.
Writing gives me a “high” I’ve come to love. I love everything about it: the research, the plotting, the actual writing, and, yes, even the editing. I love sitting in public places with just my iPad, iA Writer or OmmWriter, my Bluetooth keyboard, and my headphones, ignoring the rabble around me while tuning into a world I’ve created. It’s great.
What writer or writers inspire you?
My writing style has been influenced a lot by the authors I read most. When I wrote Canals I thought I was Stephen King: the first draft weighed in at a whopping 200,000 words! I had to lop off a lot of unhealthy fat before it was ready to publish.
I read a lot of Jonathan Kellerman, Dean Koontz, Nelson DeMille, and everything John Sandford has published. I’ve grown tired of Koontz because I don’t like how it takes forever for anything to happen in his books now; he spends too much time inside a character’s head. I’ve read James Patterson but have given up on him. I like James Lee Burke, Robert Parker, and Elmore Leonard. I read mostly genre fiction.
I’m most influenced by Sandford; I love his crisp, clean prose—no extra words. Grant Starr was (very) loosely based on Sandford’s Lucas Davenport.
When you finish a book, what effect does the completed work have on you? Is it relief, or is it a subject and theme that lingers on your mind?
I’m both relieved and thrilled when I finish the creative work of a book: thrilled because the story is done and I’m happy with the way it turned out; relieved because creative writing is mentally taxing and requires enormous amounts of self-discipline, which I lack. There’s still plenty of work to do before it’s published but it’s mostly busy work, which doesn’t require as much mental energy.
Because I’m a genre writer, when I’m done with a book I’m pretty much done with the subject and/or theme. I may mention something from a book in a later book, to tie the two works together and to point the reader to the previous book.
I’m sure finished products affect each writer differently. Considering that, do you sometimes find an element in your last book something you may want to expand upon in the next volume, or in another title?
I’m working on the next Grant Starr thriller, so I’m expanding on his and other characters, but I haven’t thought of expanding on any one theme. The Mighty T addressed ecological themes important to people who live here in Central California—river management, hydroelectric power, preservation of fish species—but they’re not personal causes so I don’t plan on addressing them again.
Here’s something I struggle with. Maybe your answer to my next question can help writers that share this particular concern. When you write a story, what values do you adhere to? And if you adhere to any, do you sometimes want to break out and be chaotic? (E.G., not a happy ending?)
So far I like things to wrap up nice and tidy in the end. I need to dial this down, though, because it lead to a fairly long epilog in Canals and a lot of wrap-up writing in The Mighty T. I now think both were probably unnecessary. None of the writers I read a lot of do this.
My wife hates sad endings and I don’t recall any genre fiction I’ve read that had a sad ending; two good reasons for me not to end one of my books like that. And I’d hate to lose her as a reader.
I’m a genre writer, not a literary writer. I have characters who will be in every Grant Starr book, providing something bad doesn’t befall them. In my work-in-progress, I want to give Grant a dark edge. Things have been going too well for him so I plan on shaking his world up a little. Or a lot.
How about characters? What method do you use to come up with character names and origins?
I usually create characters on-the-fly. My main protagonist in Canals, Daniel Lawless, was meant to be a little like me; how much I’ll never reveal, even under threat of life. I borrow names from people I know, from the phone book, and from on-line research. I could use to be a little more creative there. I intend to stay away from main characters with difficult-to-pronounce names. If the name isn’t easy to figure out, they’ll stumble over it the whole book. That is, if they don’t put it down out of frustration.
As for characterization, I like everyone to be different. I like to give people quirks: one a twitching eye, another is a health food nut, a third likes to listen to opera and collects shoes. Like that. I think it makes them memorable and I want my readers to remember my characters.
Okay, let’s talk about The Mighty T. Having read it myself, I think quite highly of it, as you well know. Tell us where the idea came from and how it all came together for you.
I wanted the plot for The Mighty T to be big—huge—and I wanted it to be local. Making it local was largely a marketing ploy; when I finally get the print version done I plan on doing a lot of marketing here in town and in the Valley.
When I decided to start another book, and had the idea for a huge plot, I began looking around for possible story lines. One day I read an article in the local newspaper about the O’Shaughnessy Dam, that the City of San Francisco had erected it some sixty years ago to flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley. The article said environmental groups had been upset about that, were still upset, and studies had been done on the feasibility of taking the dam down. They were years away from removing the dam, if they ever even got it done, but I got to thinking, what if someone wanted to significantly speed up the timetable? Who would do that and why, and how could they do it?
When writing The Mighty T, did you just sit down and churn out the words or did you work from an outline?
When I sat down in front of the computer to write The Mighty T, I had only a very rough and sketchy premise; I knew where I wanted the story to go but had no idea how to get there. It’s been drilled into me that a writer has only a few pages to attract new readers, so the story has to start off with a bang. I thought up the sniper angle as a way to hook the reader in early. At first I just had the guy shooting people, then get killed by another gang member. Then, when writing how Lightfoot put together his gang, the Danny character ended up being crazy so I went back and wrote in the ghosts in the opening scene.
I think of writing fiction as standing in a pool of light, but an odd one. I can see only a few feet ahead but everything behind me is brightly lit.
I keep notebooks when I write. If I run into a wall, I write the problem in the notebook and flesh it out. I write down any possible direction the story line could go, then begin crossing out the ones I don’t think the reader will buy. It has to be real; no “Mission Impossible” unrealistic hijinks for my work. This also gives me time to consider whether the action would fit into a character’s personality and if not, do I need to change the character?
So, what’s the perfect writing environment for you?
I can write almost anywhere. I wrote most of Canals in a spare bedroom on an old Windows 95 machine with no Internet connection, and only one window. The window proved to be the most distracting. I wrote much of The Mighty T at my office, either in the morning, on weekends, or during slow times. I also wrote a lot of it while sitting in the café of my local Borders. I did most of my editing there, too, which is why I shed a tear when that store was closed.
I bought an iPad this spring, with an Apple wireless keyboard. I can write anywhere now; a coffee shop, the break area of a local grocery store, a Panera store, or the library. I write with either the iA Writer or OmmWriter apps. I use OmmWriter if I need to shut out noisy neighbors. It comes with several sound tracks so all I need to do is plug in my headphones and people disappear into the background. Writer is easier to use, saves its files into my DropBox folder so they’re automatically backed up, and the Apple universal spell checking is active. They’re both great apps.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or is it purely imagination?
A bit of both, I suppose. As stated, I wanted my readers to be able to “buy” anything that happened in The Mighty T, so I kept it low-tech and, I hope, made the characters believable. None of my own experience was used in the book, but most everything else was based on someone else’s experience. That’s why I love Google.
What has been the toughest criticism directed toward you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
One editor said I “told” the story in my first book, Canals, instead of “showing” it. It took a while to figure out what he meant, but when I did, I realized he was right. It went through several major rewrites to fix that, and even then some of the telling remained.
My best compliment was probably the one you gave me, that reading The Mighty T helped distract and entertain you through a tough time. I make no pretense that my writing will be required reading for some future high school English class. My aim is to give my readers more than fair trade for their hard-earned dollar. If I can entertain them for a few hours, keeping their full attention, then I’ve done my job. And they’ll be back.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Realize you have something to say, then sit down and say it. I never took any writing classes or attended any seminars so I can’t say if they’re worth doing or not. I learned the craft from reading and from the school of hard knocks. You have to write a lot, though. You can’t pick it up every so often and work on it. Commit yourself to a writing schedule and stick with it. And get someone not your relative to read what you’ve written.
Now, for those of us waiting for more from you, rather impatiently, what’s next for you? Will there be a sequel to The Mighty T? Perhaps, something involving this fantastic character you’ve developed in Detective Grant Starr?
My work in progress is another Grant Starr thriller. It begins at a “bloodless” Portuguese bullfight when a matador is gored to death by the bull. Detective John McKay, who worked with Grant in The Mighty T, is lead detective. When it’s clear the death wasn’t accidental, and a Modesto connection is made, McKay asks for Grant’s assistance. They follow clues that lead them to investigate a crooked mayor, an animal rights nut, and a deal involving medical marijuana and millions of dollars. Look for it this winter.
Finally, tell us about relationship building, as it pertains to marketing in this new era of e-publishing. For example, the importance of peer reviews and reader reviews as well.
All published works have to marketed. If a writer gets a traditional book deal, where he receives an advance, he will likely still have to market his book if he doesn’t want to see it disappear from shelves in a few months. Only the biggest names have marketing budgets attached to their releases.
Self-published authors, which I am, must shoulder the entire marketing load. How one can market their own work is an education in and of itself. I like the advice of Jack Konrath and John Locke, both successful self-published writers:
Konrath: 1) Write a good book. 2) Give it a professional cover. 3) Write a good blurb. 4) Make sure the formatting is faultless. 5) Keep doing the above until people can no longer ignore you. This is pretty much my plan.
John Locke gave some good advice in an interview. He’s selling extremely well so it seems we should listen to what he said: Know your target market and design and write for them. Ignore everyone else. He’s found his market and does a good job of giving them what they want: a quick, breezy read. For a buck.
Good reviews are important. Most prospective readers won’t actually read the reviews, but they’ll pay attention to the average rating. One good strategy to get some reviews is to offer your book for free while asking for reviews. I make it clear a review isn’t mandatory and that any such review should be completely honest.
At this point, it’s probably obvious that I really enjoyed your work, Everett. In fact, reviewing The Mighty T was almost as enjoyable as reading it. So, if you haven’t heard it elsewhere – “Get-to-writing! Write faster! and congratulations on a great piece of work.” A.T.
Thanks for chatting with me, Everett.