DAB: So Gary, where do you come up with ideas for your novels?
GLC: BREAKING IN is the first novel I've written. I'd had some success with other forms of writing, but I approached writing a novel tentatively. Could I construct a story with an interesting plot, compelling characters, and good dialogue, which together could hold a reader's interest? I wasn't sure, but I was sure I wanted to be a novelist. So I wrote.
Film Noir and the first person narrative of private eyes had always fascinated me. I didn't want to have to travel to the East or West Coast to research traditional "noir" settings or study the 1940's or 50's in order to glean a sense of that time period (although I love history), so I set my novel in present day Wichita, Kansas, where I live. About one page into my homage to Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, I realized my protagonist was neither hard-boiled nor jaded. He looked for the humor in difficult situations and wasn't afraid to wise crack when confronted by a bad guy. His personality drove me toward most of the ideas I came up for in BREAKING IN.
DAB: Do you come up with a character template, backgrounds, likes and dislikes, and all that, or do you let the characters come to you while writing?
GLC: Many people use a character template, and I can see advantages in it. However, I like to drop my protagonist into the situation where I want him to find himself and then imagine the people he'd meet. When the scene is over, after he has conversed, or at least interacted with someone, I construct a plausible history of the new characters. That is, if the scene works and the character is interesting. If the scene doesn't work, I kill the new character, making him or her suffer a slow, painful death as a warning to other characters in my mind to be INTERESTING or be DEAD.
DAB: What author has been your biggest influence?
GLC: Over the years, I've read and enjoyed these authors: James Mitchener, Joseph Wambaugh, Arthur Hailey, Dean Koontz, Jack Higgins, Nora Lofts, and Clive Cussler, among others. If Ihad to fall under the influence of someone, these writers would be a good group to start with.
DAB: From BREAKING IN, I've heard through the grapevine about something known as a "Kyleism". Can you give our audience a little description?
GLC: A "Kyleism" is an observation on an absurd or difficult situation in which Kyle finds himself. One that comes to mind is in a scene where he has been punched in the face and is holding a block of blue ice against his cheek to control the swelling. A policeman enters the room, recognizes Kyle as a fugutive from the law, draws his gun and demands that Kyle raise his hands. Kyle puts both hands over his head, still holding the ice. "He's got something in his hand," the officer shouts. "Drop it, or I'll shoot." Kyle internalizes, Don't shoot, I'm packing ice, not heat. Kyle has these thoughts as a way of keeping calm in a tense situation. If I may finish the scene I've started, Kyle drops the ice and it falls hard on the toe of the pretty EMS attendant who Kyle's been trying to woo.
DAB: Do you identify with any of your characters in BREAKING IN?
GLC: I try to understand my characters. Kyle is opposite of me in many ways. He's very tall, I'm not. He's quite outgoing while I'm less so. He's unhappily divorced compare to me being happily married. I think some of the same thoughts he might, but think and say things completely opposite of Kyle in other situations. You have to be into all of your character's heads, at least the major characters, to give them life-like qualities that keep the reader's interest. Having never killed anyone, other than a few boring characters in my mind, I'm forced to think about the motives and thoughts of such people who do kill. I don't identify with them, but I understand them.
DAB: There's a question I like to ask in almost every interview - do you write via an outline or no outline?
GLC: I use a rough outline, but I like to let the characters have a free run without the outline. One process I've adhered to in writing is creating a balance between the Editor and the Muse in my head. My Editor likes outlines, my Muse doesn't. My Editor tends to say, "Don't play with guns," while my Muse says, "Take plenty of ammunition because you're going to need it." When there's trouble, my Editor says, "Get out of danger, then call 911," while my Muse says, "Shoot at the first sign of trouble." My Editor says, "SVO: subject, verb, and object." My Muse says, "Just get the words out as long as they're descriptive, or funny or shocking."
My rough outline keeps the characters within my approved geographical boundaries. It limits my protagonist to solving the problems I've laid out for him to encounter. As long as these restrictions are adhered to, I seriously consider all action and dialogue my characters suggest to me. My second and third drafts are the courts of last resort for both Editor and Muse.
DAB: Have there ever been times when you've struggled to write a character of the opposite sex, and are there ladies in your life that make it easier?
GLC: I belong to a small critique group made up of men and women of differing interests and backgrounds. Having another few pair of eyes examine your work is helpful in many ways. I trust and rely on these friends for their input. Since my protagonist is male and I tell the story in first person past, female characters in my novel are revealed through his perspective. One of the more interesting traits of my protagonist is his tone deafness to women since his divorce. When there is a situation where he must "read" a woman's motive, he misreads it nearly every time. Of course, this still wouldn't let me off the hook as a writer if I assigned reactions or feelings totally incompatible to what a woman would have. In those situations, I would be open to help from my wife and women in my critique group.
DAB: Do you write every day and have specific rituals to assist in getting the juices flowing?
GLC: Since I finished BREAKING IN I have taken a break (no pun or shameless promotion intended) to write a humorous short story and some poetry. The characters in my novel have been calling out to me of late, and I plan on beginning the sequel within a few days.
I edit the previous day's work early in the morning. After this, if the weather is hospitable, I go for a run and then eat breakfast. I own a home and there is always some yard work needing done, and I usually do it after breakfast. During my cool-down after running and also while mowing the lawn, I'm surprised how many times I come up with different directions my novel can go or little bits of dialogue. Word games on the computer are next and maybe a taped episode of Jeopardy with my wife before I start writing for the day. I have no set word count or time limit when I begin writing. Some days are productive and some are less so, and having a goal to reach just doesn't work with my personality.
DAB: Are there some writing tips you care to share with our audience?
GLC: I use writing prompts to get my brain fired up before beginning a writing session. Sometimes I chose a subject, other times I just go with the stream-of-thought. The idea is to write for fifteen minutes, typing as fast as my fingers can go, with anything that pops into my head until the time is up. Most times what I've written isn't worth saving. These writing prompts usually end up having a humorous bent and once in a while provide a line or thought I'm able to use in my novel.
A second tip I'd like to share is one I'd read that Kurt Vonnegut passed along. He urged writers to have every character in every scene you write want something different than the others, even if it's only a glass of water. Think of the last time someone related what they thought was an interesting story to two or more acquaintances in your presence. I bet one person in the group was in a hurry to get back to work or go home, another person might not be on the best of terms with the storyteller and wished the blowhard would hurry up and finish his boring story. Maybe you were looking around to see if the boss was taking note of your little group wasting time. Vonnegut's point was that everyone wants something a little different than everyone else, even if they're on the same team or in the same family or belong to the same political party. Conveying those differences help define life-like characters and make writing realistic.
I have a third tip to pass along, if I may. As I near the end of my writing session, I leave one or two ideas unwritten, so I have a good starting point for the next day. This eliminates the blank page/blinking cursor syndrome that can happen when first sitting down to write on a new day. Be sure to make notes on those ideas before ending the session so as to have the full sense of how they fit into the story when beginning anew the next day.
DAB: Thanks again, Gary, for stopping by my blog. As your finale, please share a plug for BREAKING IN.
GLC: As private detective, Kyle Roach, flees the scene of a house explosion, his tattered shirt resembling Miss Kentucky's sash, he suspects his beautiful client has been less than truthful. During the next four days, Kyle will use a licorice rope to drive off a would-be assassin, crash his beloved pickup into a motel room and steal four vehicles. His unorthodox tactics prompt his rich, spoiled client, Stella, to fire him. In turn, Kyle kidnaps her "for her own good." And this is Kyle's first case.
It's not as if Kyle's life needs turmoil. His week ended with the employer at his day job announcing Kyle's pension had become a victim of cost cutting. He struggles daily with the loneliness of being divorced. The memory of his late father's suicide lingers, and he wrestles with his own fleeting suicidal thoughts. Kyle fights on, surrounding himself with friends and immersing himself in sports, alcohol and a study of great thinkers from the past.
Stella and Kyle settle into an uneasy alliance as they hurtle across the Midwest, running from hired killers as well as the police. The clash of wealthy versus middle class, East Coast versus Middle America and cool sex appeal versus wanton wanting punctuate their flight. Stella's demands and arrogance drive Kyle to the point of abandoning her, but his conscience demands that he fulfill his obligation to protect his high maintenance client. But Stella's evasiveness about why people are trying to kill her hinder Kyle's protective efforts.
"Is your husband trying to kill you?" he asks.
"No," she says. "Maybe."
The true reason behind the threats is bizarre, yet deadly, none-the-less.
Thanks again, Gary, for visiting the blog! As one who has read this novel, if you want a good belly-laugh that will tone and tighten your abs better than any machine or trainer, pick up a copy of BREAKING IN today at Amazon.
You can also connect with Gary at Gary@GaryLCummings.com. As always, happy reading!