I get asked to do quite a few author interviews, and while I love hearing about people’s ideas and their writing processes, I usually turn these offers down because of time constraints – I just don’t have time to write really good insightful questions for the writers I now.
But now, I think I may have found a way to help promote these authors here on my blog as well as get at some of the fundamental questions I have about writers and writing. I am written five standard questions that I will ask the writers I interview on this blog. Hopefully, asking the same questions will help give these writers a chance to shine but also give us, their readers, a way to compare and ponder this thing called writing. What do you think?
Bruce Cook (aka Brandt Randall), author most recently of Blood Harvest, which I reviewed here, is my first participant in this new endeavor, and I find his answers to these questions to be quite interesting – as I hope you will. And now, the interview –
What led you to write Blood Harvest instead of other books you may have considered writing?
I have a file of more than 100 book length ideas I have been creating over the last 30 years. As an aside, these ideas usually come to me while in the midst of writing something else. The temptation is to abandon the first project in favor of the exciting new idea. If I give in to that desire then another new idea pops up halfway through that one. I eventually learned to spend one hour outlining the new idea and then to file it away. That way my subconscious feels it has been dealt with and I can return to the story at hand.
In any case, when deciding on the next book to write, I read through my existing cache of plot outlines and see which appeals to me now, and decide which I think there is a market for.
This novel grew from an incident related to me by my grandmother when she was in her nineties. She was a Scotch-Irish girl from rural New England, one of twelve children, though two died in infancy.
I knew she had married young, perhaps at sixteen, though she sometimes claimed she had been eighteen. She said that after her wedding day she never returned to her home town. I assumed that she eloped or otherwise angered her parents. At one point I asked if her parents disliked my grandfather, who I remembered as personable and charming.
She claimed that they liked him very much. He was a perfect example of the immigrant success story. Came to America from Greece at sixteen, without any English. Started working the next day. Within five years he owned his own restaurant, and in another five he added a chain of candy shops and drug stores.
â€œSo why didnâ€™t you ever return to your home town?â€
â€œIt was those dumb clucks.â€ She used this expression only when quite angry. â€œMy brother-in-law didnâ€™t think it right for a white girl to marry a non-white European.â€
This was new territory to me, but when I read my grandfatherâ€™s immigration papers I found that southern Europeansâ€”the Greeks, Spanish, Italians, and Turksâ€”were classified thus until 1912. But it was her next revelation that stunned me.
It wasnâ€™t dumb â€œclucks.â€ It was dumb â€œklux.â€ It was the KKK that had driven my grandparents from the town. This was not consistent with what I had learned in my history classes (if only they had been so interesting!), and so I began to research.
Who is your favorite character, or what is your favorite scene in the book?
Blood Harvest is written in the first personâ€”but each chapter is from a new point of view. Jackie Sue is my favorite character. She is a precocious thirteen year old, just realizing the power she is going to have over men. She is loosely based on a trio of young women I knew in high school.
(Hmmm. I wonder where they are now? Perhaps I should Googleâ€¦oh, Iâ€™m getting off topic.)
Jackie tells a story of a Sunday school lesson gone wrongâ€”well, Iâ€™ll let her tell it.
â€œNow that my breasts have come full, I notice looks from most of the boys whose voices have broken. And a couple of the church elders as well.
â€œBoys my age will do most anything I say just for a chance to touch them. Iâ€™m only talking about through my clothes. Anything else is just too dangerous.
â€œOne time me and Harold were playing hooky from Sunday School. Miss Hicks had been carrying on about the Gadarene swine and Iâ€™d had my fill of pig talk, so I left for the bathroom and didnâ€™t come back. Harold had stolen a pack of his fatherâ€™s Camels and we were smoking and talking by the bank of the Euphrates. He asked and asked and asked if he could just feel for himself how soft the skin was on my bosom. He was so earnest I let him slip his finger inside my middy blouse.
â€œNo sooner had his finger brushed my breast than his face turned red and he began to stutter. I think he was trying to tell me that he loved me, but he was stuck saying â€œI luh, luh, luh, luh.â€ Over and over, like a broken phonograph record. Finally he fell to his knees and began to froth at the mouth.
â€œI hurried back inside and told Miss Hicks that Harold had been possessed by the devil. She rushed down to the riverbank followed by the entire Sunday School class and discovered Harold lying there, thrashing about. His eyes were rolled back in his head and heâ€™d wet himself.
â€œYou can imagine my embarrassment.â€
What was your process for writing Blood Harvest? Did you do all the research first? Combine writing and research? Write every day? Etc.
Not answering in orderâ€”I should write every day but the truth is that I teach college, help take care of my grandchildren, and myriad other responsibilities. So I write 3 days a week.
I usually outline the entire novel first. This leads to a list of topics to research.
I write brief synoptic biographies of the key characters, no more than one page. As I think of other traits or bits of background information I add it to the bio. I â€œseeâ€ each character in my mindâ€™s eye as an actor in a film. In some senses I can place that character in an imaginary scene and just watch what they would do, see how they would react.
I write a chapter, revise, do more research, add to it, give it to my writerâ€™s critique group, get their feedback, revise again.
What are you thinking or feeling about reader reaction to this book?
Generally I have been quite pleased. Blood Harvest is an attempt to give a new perspective to a past that is still within living memory. When most people hear the background of my story they express either astonishment or disbelief. A few confirm it and add more details to what I have learned.
In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan had as many as six million members in 35 states. It controlled state legislatures. It controlled the Democratic National Convention in 1924, stalemating the nomination of Al Smith (a Catholic) for 103 ballots.
Its power base was NOT the south. It was the northeast and Midwest. It certainly was anti-black, but in the 1920s it was especially anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic. There was a rally of 20,000 Klansmen in Worcester Massachusetts in 1924 that ended in a riot, where the opposition was the Knights of Columbus. There are films of the KKK marching down Pennsylvania in front of the Capitol in 1925, fifteen thousand strong, in full Klan regalia.
You can see this film footage in the book trailer on YouTube.
If time and money didn’t limit you, what book would you write? Why that book?
I donâ€™t see how time or money enter into this decision, except that I am writing books that I hope thousands (in the best situation, millions) of people want to read. If I am correct then money follows.
I find it offensive when a writer tells me that they believe there are only a dozen people in the world who will truly understand and appreciate their work. (Yes, this actually has happened more than once at writerâ€™s workshops.) My response is that they ought to photocopy the manuscript and send it to those oh-so-literate readers and spare the rest of us.