Sunday, January 23, 2011

Inspiration Interview #1: Untreed Reads Author Jack Bates

The first interview of the New Year, and the first in my series "Inspiration to Publication, is with my fellow Untreed Reads Author, Jack Bates.  Jack recently had a story titled "Ambrosia" published in the Untreed Reads Thanksgiving Mystery Anthology (entitled The Killer Wore Cranberry).  In addition to some general questions, I have also posed a series of queries about  what inspires his writing, and in particular, what inspired certain aspects of his story, "Ambrosia".

Please welcome to the stage:  Jack Bates!

The Accidental Author:  For January and February, the theme of the posts and interviews on Accidental Author is “Inspiration”.  In general, what types of things inspire you to write?

Jack Bates:  I get a lot of my crime story ideas from surfing for small town newspapers. Whenever something happens, these are the places people are always quoted as saying, “I never thought it would happen here.” Plus, small governments are just as apt to be as corrupt as larger governments. It’s all there so I cull it, and think I think, “How would Lawrence Block slant this?”

AA:  When you formulate a character, do you tend to fashion them out of people you know and tweak them, or do you start from scratch?

JB:  I start from scratch. It took me a while to understand that the characters will flesh themselves out f I give them the space.

AA:  Specifically regarding your story, “Ambrosia”, what inspired the events in the story? 

JB:  I don’t really know. I had this image of a two story farm house out in the Currier and Ives holiday snow setting. It was dusk, the lights were on, it looked warm and cozy inside, but I was on the outside looking in and wondering, ‘Why is nobody talking to the guy on the porch having a smoke?’ Then the narrator arrived and I had my story. Plus, I’ve been to enough people’s houses to know there’s always someone there someone else doesn’t want there.

AA:  You set “Ambrosia” in Michigan during Thanksgiving.  What inspired you to set the story in Michigan?

JB:  Being from the Mitten state, it’s an easy default. I’ve traveled it from coast to coast and up and down the Thumb, and back and forth across the Mackinac Bridge.

AA:  You chose to have your protagonist be female.  Do you have any difficulty writing a female versus a male?  What were the challenges you faced?

JB:  It was a little interesting, but I know some women similar in demeanor to my narrator. Usually my narrators are smart-ass, quick talking men. Edie didn’t present herself that way, nor did she try to sound like she was the chief of police. Her job has forced her to be a patient observer. I tried to paint her story that way.

AA:  When you get an inspiration for a story, do you immediately set out to write it, or do you jot it down and let it incubate before you begin crafting a story?

JB:  A little of both, actually. And then there are the times I sit down and I can’t pull myself away from the keypad. I carry a pocket paperback Moleskin journal with me at all times.

AA:  For “Ambrosia”, when you look back at what inspired your story, as the revised the story, did the initial inspiration persist, or did the story take on a life of its own?

JB:  The only thing that came up differently was the antique lamp. It became a red herring. I wish now I had done something a little differently with the lamp as that plot device, but as I answer this, I realize it would have added about an extra 2000 words and that would have been too long for the anthology.

AA:  As you write and re-write a story, how do you know when you are ready to submit your work?

JB:  When I can’t possibly imagine any other twist, turn, or direction. When it reads like the snap of a whip. When I have nothing left to give and it has nothing left to take. After all of that, I close one eye, proof it to the best of my attention span, and then send it out.

AA:  Do you have a circle of people who read your work in order to get feedback?  If so, how valuable is that to the finished product?

JB:  I have a friend who is a member of SAG. When I was writing screenplays with her husband, she read a few. Sometimes I shoot her a couple of my short stories. Her husband and I collaborate quite a bit. I’ve also joined a few writers’ groups online. The best feedback source, though, is the editor or publisher. I’m not one to hold that every word I put down is gold. If a publisher wants a poodle, he gets a poodle. Freeing myself from my ego has propelled me further than the last 30 years of trying to justify something that only worked for me.

AA:  What genres do you enjoy reading?  Do you tend to write stories that reflect your reading preferences?

JB:  Crime fiction. Adventure fiction. That Hard Case Crime fiction line is superb. I really dig true crime and other nonfictions that have a story. I read one awhile ago about Teddy Roosevelt’s son hauling the former president through the Amazon after an accident crippled MR. Roosevelt. Fascinating read.

AA:  What are you currently reading?

JB:  Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover

AA:  Finally, if you don’t mind my asking, what are you working on currently?

JB:  A guy I work with who originally inspired my Harry Landers, PI, character just gave an idea for a story that wasn’t that bad; I’m trying to develop a new lead and sidekick from it. I just finished a 35k word YA novel that I pitched and got a foot in the door with it. My collaborating buddy and I have one we’re sharing with his thirteen year old daughter. She says it’s boring and wants to know where the boys are in it. We may abandon that one.


Jack Bates writes crime fiction. He has a private eye series featuring rookie gumshoe Harry Landers that is published through Mind Wings Audio Books. His stories have appeared online at sites such as Thug Lit, Beat to a Pulp, A Twist of Noir, and the cozier Pine Tree Mysteries.  Furthermore, he has had stories included in anthologies such as Shadows of the Emerald City, The Killer Wore Cranberry, and the accalimed Discount Noir.

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