MARK COGGINS – See What Has to Say About Writing Successful Crime Fiction

Mark Coggins was born in the Four Corners region of New Mexico and is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation. His work has been nominated for the Shamus and the Barry crime fiction awards and selected for best of the year lists compiled by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Detroit Free Press, and Amazon.com.

 

THE DEAD BEAT SCROLL – Private investigator August Riordan’s quest to avenge the death of his old partner drops him in the missing person case his partner was working when he died. An alluring young woman named Angelina is looking for her half-sister, but what Riordan finds instead is a murderous polyamorous family intent on claiming a previously unknown manuscript from dead Beat writer Jack Kerouac.

What brought you to writing? I composed my first published short story, “There’s No Such Thing as Private Eyes,” in the late ’70s for a creative writing class at Stanford University taught by Ron Hansen. This was shortly after I’d learned about Raymond Chandler and his distinctive writing style in another class, that one taught by Tobias Wolff. I was all of 19 years old when I typed out the original draft on my Smith-Corona portable, but it was eventually published in the mid-1980s in a revival of the famous Black Mask magazine, where Hammett and Chandler got their start.

In addition to being my first appearance in print, the tale also introduces my series character, San Francisco private eye August Riordan.

Tell us about your writing process: I maintain a research folder on my computer for each novel I write. In it goes digital photographs, Word and PDF files, links to web pages, etc.—anything that can be stored on disk. I also have a small notebook in which I write a variety of things, including location descriptions, snatches of dialog, plot ideas, and similes. The dialog can be imagined or something I’ve overheard.

Of course, the reason I have the notebook is to draw upon the entries when I’m writing. If I decide to use an item from the notebook, I put a tick mark beside it, so I know I’ve already put it in a novel. But even when I don’t select something I can use directly, I find thumbing through the notebook can be helpful, especially when I’m suffering from writer’s block. Somehow, just reading through everything I’ve jotted down can be inspirational, and I usually come up with an idea to get me back on track again.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Yes, in The Dead Beat Scroll, I killed a character named Chris Duckworth. (This isn’t a spoiler since the book begins with news of Duckworth’s death.) Duckworth was Riordan’s sidekick for five of the seven books. Many readers found his personality and the byplay between Riordan and him to be one of the most entertaining aspects of the novels. Although Riordan and Duckworth are estranged at the time of Duckworth’s death, I hope Riordan’s regard for Duckworth and the real grief he experiences come across in the book. I found the process of writing the final scene in the novel—which is a celebration of life for Duckworth—to be particularly poignant. I hope some of that poignancy is transmitted in the text.

What kind of research do you do? The first research I do is on Bay Area locations, where most of my books take place. I usually walk around a neighborhood I’m going to set a scene in, taking both pictures and notes that I use to jog my memory when I get to the actual writing.

I also do research about the theme or social issue I’m using to drive the plot. For instance, in my novel Runoff, I researched electronic voting and the possibility of defeating the security of voting machines to rig an election. To do that research, I interviewed computer science experts on the topic and talked with poll workers who had an “on the ground” understanding of how the machines are used in a precinct.

For my novel Candy from Strangers, which was about cam girls, I interviewed a young woman who has a website where she solicits anonymous gifts.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My settings can probably best be described as hyper-real. I try very hard to set every scene in a real location—often in San Francisco—and many of my books feature black and white photographs of those locales.

Do you have any advice for new writers? I can’t emphasize enough the importance of critique groups. In addition to providing camaraderie and support, they give you feedback, encourage you to write to deadlines. Reading other writers’ work with an eye towards making suggestions for improvement helps me better understand what does and doesn’t work in fiction. Good writers read a lot, and even better writers read a lot and analyze what they are reading.

 

Website: https://www.markcoggins.com/

Twitter: @Mark_Coggins

The Dead Beat Scroll – https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Beat-Scroll-August-Riordan/dp/1643960318

Podcast (where I do serial readings of some of my books) – https://riordansdesk.buzzsprout.com/

 

4 Comments

  1. Mary Hagen

    Enjoyed your comments. Unfortunately, my critique group disbanded. I miss them.

    Reply
  2. Mar Preston

    I don’t miss my critique group meetings for anything, Mark. That’s sound advice. Something that is glaringly obvious to you may not be to anyone else. It can be humbling.

    Reply
  3. Michael A.Black

    Really sound advice, Mark. Thanks. I remember the short-lived revival of Black Mask and have several of them. I’ll have to look for your first story as well as check out your new one. Good luck.

    Reply
  4. Thonie Hevron

    Fascinating interview! Thanks for letting us get to know you.

    Reply

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Black’s Back … And he’s still quick on the draw

I close off the Gunslinger Series.

 

Michael A. Black is the award winning author of 43 books, most of which are in the mystery and thriller genres. He has also written in sci-fi, western, horror, and sports genres. A retired police officer, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations. Black was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010. He is also the author of over 100 short stories and articles, and wrote two novels with television star Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). His Executioner novel, Fatal Prescription, won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award. His latest novels are the Trackdown series (Devil’s Dance, Devil’s Fancy, Devil’s Brigade, and Devil’s Advocate) and Legends of the West (under his own name), Dying Art and Cold Fury (under Don Pendleton), and the Gunslinger series (Killer’s Choice, Killer’s Brand, Killer’s Ghost, Killer’s Gamble, and Killer’s Requiem) under the name A.W. Hart.

Last January, Paul Bishop, the acquisitions editor at Wolfpack Publishing, contacted me and said they wanted me to finish off the Gunslinger series that I, and a few others, have been writing under the house name of A. W. Hart. I’d already written three other books in the series, Gunslinger: Killer’s Chance, Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand, and Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost. I had a great time writing each one of those. With my westerns, I try to make them as historically accurate as I can while still paying homage to the western mythology that has popularized the genre.

Sometimes this is easier said than done. Remember, writing westerns today, unless the book is set in modern times, deals with a rather bleak era. I mean, think about it. How entertaining would it be to read something that has total historical accuracy regarding a harsh, cruel era before toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, deodorants, personal hygiene practices, etc.? Thus my cowboys break the historical mold and take baths when they can. And I also like to pay homage to the western mythology that has been popularized through the ages. The quick draw, for example, was pretty much a myth that originated in those movies and TV shows of a bygone era. However, my intention in writing the books is to entertain. I still get a thrill each time I watch James Arness walking on that dusty street to face down the bad guy in the opening credits of Gunsmoke. Sure it probably wasn’t anything like that in the real Old West, but like I said, that’s entertainment.

As I’ve said, it’s been a blast writing this series. I started with Gunslinger: Killer’s Chance, which has Connor, Abby, and Hicks rescuing a Chinese man named Lee, who’s tracking the whereabouts of his missing fiancée. The book touches on the way the Chinese immigrants were exploited while building the railroad system in the western United States. Naturally, Mr. Lee is something of a martial artist. (Anybody remember Kung Fu? Bruce Lee came up with the concept, but was considered “too Chinese” for the role by the television big wigs and was replaced with “round eye” actor David Carradine.) There’s also a professional gunman who has a business card with the chess symbol of a rook printed on it.

THE REGULATOR

WIRE RANDALL D. LANDECKER  SANTA FE

Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand has a powerful man who, along with his sons, runs roughshod over the entire territory adjacent to his large ranch called The Dominion. Added to that one are an ex-buffalo soldier who’s charged with murder, a group of mysterious masked riders, and a courtroom scene reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird. Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost is my version of a western monster story as an enormous, mysterious creature stalks a mining encampment.

So when the opportunity to finish off the series by tying up the ongoing story arc that had been running since the first book was offered, I jumped at the chance. I quickly penned Gunslinger: Killer’s Gamble, which has the trio traveling through a California town and becoming involved in a big poker tournament as well as a boxing match. The first American Heavyweight Champion, John L. Sullivan, makes an appearance, as well as an actual western poet named Joaquin Miller. There’s way more to it than that, including Abby deciding to leave Hicks and her brother to be with a beautiful female gambler. This one sets up the final confrontation between our heroes and the mysterious man who’s been their nemesis from the beginning.

In Gunslinger: Killer’s Requiem, all of the questions about who Connor and Abby really are and the secret that River Hicks has been concealing since the first book are answered in a slam-bang, traditional western-style showdown. Let’s see; besides the revelation of the major villain and all the plot revelations, there’s a bounty hunter with a sawed-off rifle called the Mule’s Leg, a maniacal fanatic known at The Dark Deacon who leads a band of army-trained mercenaries, a masterful gunman whose skills rival those of River Hicks himself, the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s best detective, and a host of other surprises. I even found a way for the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, to make an appearance in this one. Romeo, Juliet, and Hamlet are all on hand.

I hope you’ll make A. W. Hart’s day and check out these last two books in the series. Although I finish off the story arc, there’s a chance our trio of heroes could return to strap on the guns one more time if the demand is great enough. In any case, I guarantee, if you like westerns, you won’t be disappointed.

Contact Information: docatlas108@aol.com

 

Legends of the West: A Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves Western

 I had to include this image because Mike likes it, but the real reason, it is my favorite Michael A. Black novel. gdc

 

12 Comments

  1. John Schembra

    Love the Gunslinger series, Mike. You breathe life into your characters, and your settings. Very enjoyable reading!

    Reply
  2. Thonie Hevron

    This is a fun series! I missed one or two and have to get them. Thanks for this post, Mike and George!

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    I appreciate everyone stopping by to check this one out, and my special thanks to Big George for giving me the opportunity to be on his great blog once again. It’s always nice to hear from everyone, especially those who are far away. Stay strong, everybody, and take care.

    Reply
  4. Fleur Bradley

    Gotta check these out… Great to know more about this series. And that last photo really is the best.

    Reply
  5. Marilyn Meredith

    I love this series! Of course Mike is one of my favorite authors and a good friend. This was a great post. And yes, back in the day, they didn’t bathe often or even change their clothes. The women wore long skirts that dragged in the dirt and through whatever else was in the road. Not nearly as romantic as the times were made out to be in the movies. But believe me, though Mike writes authentic Westerns, they are also full of adventure and surprises, and wonderful characters.

    Reply
  6. John Bluck

    Mike, I read several of your Gunslinger books as well as the Trackdown series, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I like the way your characters come to life on the page. I also enjoyed your action-packed books because scenes from them pop into my mind’s eye just like an excellent radio drama can make you “see” everything that happens just as if you’re watching a high-budget Hollywood movie.

    Reply
  7. Vicki Batman

    So nice to learn more about you. My hubby is from Dodge City and the truth about back then is rather boring.

    Reply
  8. Scott Decker

    Very interesting Mike. I’m going to order my copy of “Gunslinger: Killer’s Chance.” I watch reruns of “Rawhide” starring Clint Eastwood in his breakout role as Ramrod Rowdy Yates. Thanks for the great interview.

    Reply
  9. Donnell Ann Bell

    I learn something every time I read either one of Michael A. Black’s novels or read one of his blogs. I have been meaning to buy Gunslinger, shame on me! But in truth, I’ve just finished up D.V. Berkom’s Retribution and Gunslingler (her protagonist is a woman), so I imagine along with Quick Draw, that rarely happened as well. I don’t think I will ever be able to watch Matt Dillon and not think of your comment 😉 Thanks for the education, Mike. I’m big into Westerns right now! Can’t wait to read yours. George, thank you!!!

    Reply
  10. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    How can you not like Mike’s Killer series. It’s action backed has great characters both good and bad and as he said includes some historical aspects. I’m a slow reader, but with Mike’s book I have tendency to read through them faster than usual because their exciting, suspenseful and interesting. Plus I love westerns. Thanks Mike for taking on these adventures.

    Reply
  11. Mar Preston

    You are a marvel, Mike. You keep writing good books. How? You must have a clone in your closet named Mike Black.

    Reply
  12. Madeline Gornell

    You are amazing, Mike, and I keep you in the front of my mind as a guiding light to write, write, write. Finished Killer Requiem last night, and loved it! Which you should take as high kudos because I don’t read westerns, except for yours. Smile. Hope to get an Amazon review up today (or tomorrow) There are so many things you do so well in your writing–like making your characters real people I can identify with…and more.

    And prolific–how you do it amazes me. Anyway, enjoyed your post!

    Reply

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MARK EDWARD LANGLEY – Western Mystery Author

The title of his latest release is When Silence Screams.

Mark Edward Langley is an award-winning author of the Arthur Nakai Mystery Series, including Death Waits in the Dark which won both as a finalist in the American Book Fest Awards in 2020 and winning the coveted Feathered Quill Book Award for best mystery of 2021. He is currently writing his fourth novel of the series, Broken Glass, due out August 2022. He and his wife, Barbara, divide their time between the home in Indiana and New Mexico.

Award-winning author James Wade had this to say about it: “Langley’s third installment of his Arthur Nakai Mysteries is the most thrilling yet. The characters are fully formed, and the danger is real and urgent. Langley has an unmatched feel for his New Mexico setting, both the landscape and the culture. A master of dialogue, Langley lets the banter flow freely and allows the mystery to drive the story from the opening pages to its heart-pounding conclusion. There’s not a better detective writer in the American West.”

And these best-selling authors had this praise for my Arthur Nakai series: Anne Hillerman said this: Death Waits in the Dark tells a gritty story of betrayal, deceit, and danger through the eyes of Navajo protagonist Arthur Nakai. The tightly written noir plot moves from scene to scene like a thriller, building suspense on every page.

William Kent Kreuger said this: With Death Waits in the Dark, Mark Edward Langley offers readers an utterly compelling portrait of human beings struggling to deal with the aftermath of great trauma. Langley writes about the great Southwest with a loving eye for detail that fans of Tony and Anne Hillerman will readily embrace. I was utterly captured by this fine second novel in the Arthur Nakai series. Along with those who are already fans, I can only hope that there will be many more stories to come. I recommend this book with a full heart.

Craig Johnson said this: “Combining the gait of a fine horse, the comfort of your favorite Indian blanket, and the ease of a well-worn saddle, Mark Edward Langley’s Path of the Dead is one heck of a debut novel!”

Do you write in more than one genre? I only write in the mystery genre. I have always loved reading them and watching them because I am always intrigued and try to figure them out. The best ones are the ones that surprise me!

What brought you to writing? I fell in love with it when I began reading the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker. Then, when I discovered Tony Hillerman, I kept telling myself, “you can do this! You need to do this! You have stories to tell!”

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my office. It gives me the privacy I need, and I am surrounded by inspiration. Plus, I have an extensive cd library and often play Native American flute music … and the occasional Pink Floyd album to help my mood.

Tell us about your writing process: My process consists of coming up with a title and composing a story around it. Then I do what seems to be reams of research, categorize it into a manageable pile, create new characters and begin mapping out each chapter. For the next book–Broken Glass–I contacted the Navajo Nation, Albuquerque, and Phoenix police departments and obtained closed case files concerning the main crux of the story my protagonist Arthur Nakai will move through. It’s wonderful to see how police procedures move things along in an organized fashion.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Hands down–the research. Sometimes it is daunting, but it is always worth it. Even if I search out one fact for one sentence, it makes the story that much more authentic.

What are you currently working on? I am three chapters into Broken Glass (book four) and recently had an idea based on a title (Midnight Harvest) for book five and wrote the first chapter of that. I have also begun creating another series set in another part of New Mexico featuring another wonderful character. When it comes to fruition, I will let my Members Only subscribers of my website know first.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I belong to four associations, but the most help I have received has come from Western Writers of America. ITW has done very well helping to promote my work, and I look forward to a long relationship with them all.

Who’s your favorite author? I would have to say it is Robert B. Parker. Spenser is a wonderfully written character. I loved his books from the moment I picked up my first copy. Working in a bookstore at the time gave me a wide array of authors to choose from–including Tony Hillerman, Mickey Spillane, and John D. MacDonald (whom I share a birth date with–July 24th.)

How long did it take you to write your first book? I heard someone say once that “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.” That is absolutely true. Path of the Dead took 20 years before it saw the light of day. Once I retired at the end of 2016, I focused on my writing. I think it’s worked out pretty well.

How long to get it published? I was lucky. I first got an agent. He submitted my manuscript to six publishers, and in two weeks, I had a two-book deal.
How do you come up with character names? I keep a list of Navajo and other names to choose from. I also have several other pathways and often combine first and last names to create a character.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I would say that they run the show. No matter how I map out a chapter, my characters seem to have their own minds and their own will, especially during dialogue scenes. They have lives, they have ideals, they have thoughts that lead me off my pre-written trail and down a new, unseen path.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Well, I use a lot of personal experience and do a lot of research as well. You have to find a way into their minds. In my case, it’s Arthur’s wife Sharon and her thoughts on pregnancy, depression, and PTSD, all things I have no experience with.

Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No. They do not. They always amaze me with their individuality and loyalty.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Yes, I have subplots. Often they are little stories inside the main story that gives the reader an authentic feel of the area. In book three, When Silence Screams, the two subplots have a more prevalent connection.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? By making something unexpected happen. Because fiction, like life, moves forward when conflict occurs.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Stephen King. I just can’t read him. My wife can, but I just can’t get into him. I love watching films based on his work–my favorite being The Dark Half.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? Like most writers, I pull from friends, school buddies, and the like. And sometimes, it’s a conglomeration of several people.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I outline. I like to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? 98% of the locations in my novels are real. I have driven the hard packed dirt roads, the open highways and visited the small towns and places I write about. I feel I have to do that in order to give the reader an authentic experience so they can feel and smell and taste and see everything that New Mexico and the Navajo Reservation holds.

What is the best book you ever read? Robert B. Parker’s Crimson Joy and Finding Rachel Wallace. I actually read both twice.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Hopefully, my dream will continue to come true, and I can enjoy writing and make a good living at it. I figure I have maybe 15 to 20 years left to be creative and want to enjoy those years with my wife with what success will offer me.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Never let go of YOUR dream. No one else will ever understand because it is not THEIR dream. They may find every reason they can to dismiss you and alter your mindset and resolve, but don’t let them. YOU have the vision … don’t give them the power to change it.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? If anyone wants to learn more about me and my books, they can visit markedwardlangley.com and join Members Only for exclusive content access. From my website, you can navigate to all my social media pages, watch book trailers, listen to my podcast and radio interviews, and much more!
https://www.facebook.com/ArthurNakaiShadowWolf
https://www.instagram.com/markedwardlangley/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-edward-langley-68443219/
https://markedwardlangley.com/

5 Comments

  1. Marilyn Meredith

    Sounds like I better get started reading this series.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Great interview, and love the advice, “Never let go of your dread!”

    Reply
  3. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Hopefully Mark you can confirm whether I bought a signed copy of WHEN SILENCE SCREAMS. I know that may sound strange, but I knew the minute I saw the story line that I wanted that book. You have accomplished so much and I only hope I can too. This was a great interview and I hope you can make next years conference PSWA.

    Reply
  4. Michael A, Black

    Mark’s a good friend and an excellent writer. If you haven’t checked out his Arthur Nakai series, do yourself a favor and grab one. You won’t regret it. Best of luck to you, Mark. Keep it going.

    Reply
  5. Danny R. Smith

    Great interview. Congratulations, Mark. Those are some heavyweight endorsements too!

    Reply

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JON DAVIS – Educator – Mentor – Poet Laureate

I met Jon when I inquired about the low-rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Five days later, he had me admitted. During the program he wasn’t just the director, he was a mentor and friend to every student. When I had a serious medical issue that prevented my attendance one semester, he created a remote program that allowed me to complete my requirements and graduate with my cohort.

Jon, I can never thank you enough for your compassion and friendship. Yôotva  – Thank You, George

My name is Jon Davis. I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and grew up in the nearby town of Orange. After graduating high school, I worked for eight years, primarily as a mason and a warehouse manager, before attending the University of Bridgeport. I went on to earn my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. I taught for 30 years, 28 of them at the Institute of American Indian Arts. In 2013, I founded the IAIA low residency MFA in Creative Writing, which I directed until my retirement in 2018. From 2012-2014, I served as the City of Santa Fe’s fourth Poet Laureate. I have published seven books of poetry, one book of poetry in translation, and six chapbooks of poetry.

My new book of poetry, Above the Bejeweled City, will be available from Grid Books on September 15. Here’s the official book description:

In his seventh poetry collection, Jon Davis exhibits the range and mastery that is the result of fifty years of study, teaching, and practice. Above the Bejeweled City opens and closes with homages to Federico Garcia Lorca’s dream-struck ballad “Romance Sonámbulo.” In between, he inhabits what the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls the “inexplicable existence” that marks our passage here on Earth.

Part absurdist, part satirist, part tender correspondent, Davis writes in the slipstream of writers like Joyce, Beckett, Parra, and Plath. In an age that calls out for hopeful verse, Above the Bejeweled City offers, instead, a treatise on defeat and despair—and on how letting go is a way of holding on.

I think of it is as the third book in a tryptich with my previous two books, Improbable Creatures and An Amiable Reception for the Acrobat. All three books were written more or less simultaneously.

Do you write in more than one genre? I write in many genres—poetry and short fiction primarily, but I’ve also written screenplays, plays, creative nonfiction, literary criticism, satire, and songs. My first published writings were record reviews, and for a while, I was the music critic for a weekly newspaper in New Haven, Connecticut. I also write poetry and perform as Chuck Calabreze, an alter-ego of sorts that I developed in the 90s.

What brought you to writing? I was always an avid reader, and, for some reason, when I was in third grade, I suddenly wrote a 23 page story, the hero of which was a young Navajo man who had stumbled across a bag of money—I think some thieves had stashed it. The story followed him as he was pursued by both the authorities and the original thieves. I didn’t know any Navajo names (I was an eight year old living in Orange, Connecticut), so I borrowed an exotic-sounding name I’d seen in the newspapers for my hero: Tse (borrowed from Mao Tse Tung!). Four years later, I began writing imitations of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. (I read both when I was 11 years old.) I’d wander the woods with a journal (I mean, the notebook actually said “Journal” on the cover!), and I’d scribble down my romanticized observations of nature. I still have one of those journals. Trust me, nobody is going to see it.

But I didn’t think of writing as something one devotes oneself to until my 7th grade English teacher talked about James Joyce and his notion of the literary “epiphany. ” I think she defined it as the writer “seeing into the heart of things.” I remember thinking, “I want to do that!” The same teacher also made me stay inside during recess when I didn’t complete my assignments on time (which was most of the time). As “punishment,” she’d make me memorize poems. I remember being given John Donne’s “No Man is an Island.” I thought it was the best punishment ever.

It took a while before I came to poetry myself, though. What finally brought me to writing poetry was a dirt bike accident when I was 18. I was riding alone on a tight dirt track I’d carved out of the woods. It was the first cold morning in November, 16 degrees. I slid hard into the berm on the first turn, but instead of sliding around the turn, the tires bounced off the frozen berm. The bike stopped dead and fell on my calf muscle. I pulled the bike upright, got back on, and rode home. I figured I’d torn my calf muscle (two weeks later, I went to the doctor, and he confirmed my diagnosis), so I hopped up the stairs, sat at my desk, thought, What am I going to do now?—and started writing poems.

I taught myself by reading the generation ahead of mine, so Richard Hugo, Norman Dubie, and others were my teachers at first. In 1977, I wrote a letter and sent some poems to a poet named Dick Allen, whose book I’d found in the mall book store and who taught nearby, at the University of Bridgeport. Dick loved what I’d sent him and invited me to take any course I wanted. The one that fit into my schedule was a 300 level creative writing class. At the first full class, four of my poems appeared at the end of the mimeographed handout. After he’d led lively discussions of the other work on the handout, my poems came up for discussion. Nobody raised a hand, nobody spoke. Dick let the silence continue. He passed the time fiddling with his glasses, poking through papers in his briefcase. Meanwhile, I was thinking, I’m in the wrong class, I need to give up this crazy idea of writing poems, etc. Finally, he stood up and addressed the dumbfounded class. “These poems,” he said, “are instantly publishable in any journal in America.” He went on to tell the class what he knew about me—I was a construction worker, I’d taught myself to write these poems—and the various virtues he saw in my poems, then class ended. I talked to him briefly after class, then drove the twenty minutes home in my battered 68 Buick, sobbing all the way.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write wherever I am and write longhand, on a computer, or on my iPhone. Sometimes I record on my iPhone. When I’m writing as Chuck Calabreze, I shout and growl lines and either record them or scribble them down immediately after growling them. I often drive with a notebook beside me and scribble poems (mostly without looking) across the pages. I keep a notebook beside my bed for those times I wake up having dreamt part of a poem. I can write poems no matter what’s happening around me. I’ve written poems in emails and group chats, on Facebook messenger, and in text messages.

Tell us about your writing process. As you might surmise from my previous answer, I don’t have a writing process. In fact, I don’t believe in the idea of a “creative process”; experience tells me poems and stories happen in thousands of different ways. So my approach is to stay open and alert and attentive to the wild world and to my own wildly associative brain. I write notes everywhere, let every glimpse or whimsy, every hurt or big idea, every cluster of words or silly thought, every fleeting buzz or bing into my awareness. I’m apt to drop everything and start writing. Or at the very least, text myself a title, a line, a part of a poem or story or song. I have this idea that the composition / revision divide (process?) is an artificial distinction that was produced by writing workshops. For me, it’s all composition—one fluid (okay, sometimes not so fluid) movement. I suspect that relying on a process will get you processed poems, not quite real poems the way processed “cheese food” isn’t quite cheese.

What are you currently working on? Even before I’d completed Above the Bejeweled City, I was deep into the next collection—by deep, I mean deep for a poet: I have about 30 pages. Some of these poems will appear in State of the Union, a chapbook coming from Finishing Line Press in 2022.

Who’s currently your favorite author? I am currently reading The Glass Constellation by one of my favorite poets, Arthur Sze, whose innovations, developed over fifty years of poetic practice, reveal an entire worldview.

Do you have any advice for new writers? For poets: Imagine what the perfect poem looks like for you, then spend your life trying to write it. Ignore fashion. Ignore equally failure and success.

How do our readers contact you?

My web site: jondavispoet.com
My email: jdavissimo@me.com
Chuck Calabreze’s blog: voydofcourse.blogspot.com
Grid Books:https://www.grid-books.org/shop/above-the-bejeweled-city
Copper Canyon Press: https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/books/preliminary-report-by-jon-davis/

4 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    Love your cover. And so agree, “ignore fashion!” Good to meet you, Jon!

    Reply
  2. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I too am a poet, certainly not on the your prestigious level, but it would seem to me based on this interview that most of your poems are prose rather than rhyme. Do you believe writing prose is more likely to be published than rhyme poetry. Mine is primarily rhyme and I am looking to find a publisher. As a retired cop, I’ve written most of my poems about the street and police work or the sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution. I would be very interested in your opinion of my work and if you would allow me, I could send some of it to you. Thank you for sharing your story and thank you George for providing an opportunity for him to share his story.

    Reply
  3. Thonie Hevron

    I had no intention of reading this interview. After all, I don’t get most poetry. But George’s recommendation and the support you gave him when he needed it convinced me. Your words made me a believer. I particularly like your answer about your “writing process.” I’ll be looking for your work. Thank you for sharing this, George!

    Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    Yours is an inspiring story indeed. Your passion for writing is admirable and I have no doubt that one day you will write that perfect poem. Good luck.

    Reply

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SANDY SHEEHY – Scuba Diver – Fiction & Non-Fiction Author

 

Although Sandy Sheehy was born in New York, after graduating from Vassar, she moved to Austin and lived there, then in Houston, Galveston and Albuquerque. She now divides her time between Texas and New Mexico. Sheehy and her husband, historian and University of New Mexico professor emeritus Charles McClelland, spend several months a year traveling internationally.

Sheehy has written frequently on human relationships and the natural environment. Her work has appeared in Town & CountryForbesHouse BeautifulSelfWorking Woman, and Money, among other national magazines. She is the author of Texas Big Rich (1990, William Morrow), a group portrait of the state’s financially fortunate, and Connecting: The Enduring Power of Female Friendship (2000, HarperCollins).

Sandy’s first novel, Deserts of the Heart, is a multicultural historical romance set in 1798 near Santa Fe (June 2021, White Bird Publications).

I have another book out this year: Imperiled Reef: The Fascinating, Fragile Life of a Caribbean Wonder, October 5 from the University of Florida Press, grew out of her love of scuba diving. “Drifting weightless above a coral head is the closest those of us alive today will ever come to visiting another planet,” she explains. This nonfiction book describes the natural history and ecology of the world’s second-longest barrier reef.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. My previously published books have been nonfiction.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in the room my husband calls the “study.” It sounds small, but it’s the largest room in our 1940-vintage house, and it has a view of the Sandia Mountains.

Tell us about your writing process: I find I work best if I keep regular hours, getting up around 7:00 a.m., dressing, having breakfast, dealing with my email, and then writing for a couple of hours. I use the Authors Guild discussion posts as a warmup. Six days a week, I head for the pool at my health club and swim between three-quarters of a mile and a mile. On the seventh day, I meet with the other three members of my writers’ group. A couple of days ahead of time, we circulate whatever we’ve written that week so that we can discuss each other’s work at the meeting.

What are you currently working on? I’m writing a sequel to Deserts of the Heart. Set two years later (1800) in the same location, this one is a romantic murder mystery

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? You’re helping me right now, George. Fellow member Rosina Lippi (aka Sara Donati) has also been helpful. But everyone who’s actively involved in those AG discussions has taught me something.

How long did it take you to write your first book? It took me a year to research and another six months or so to write. Part of that process involved writing a proposal since it was nonfiction and my agent was shopping it.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I’m killing one right now. As a fan of murder mysteries, I prefer the ones where the reader has a chance to get to know and like the victim before he or she is killed. Doing so makes solving the mystery more than just an intellectual exercise.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Whether I’m writing nonfiction or fiction, I always outline. I need to know where I’m going. Sometimes characters do step forward and take over the road along the way.

What kind of research do you do? For Deserts of the Heart, I visited the 18th century living history museum Rancho de las Golondrinas, “New Mexico’s Williamsburg,” the Pueblo Cultural Center, and several museums in the region. I also relied heavily on Internet sources, especially for details like clothing. For anyone who writes historical fiction, portraits posted online can be amazingly helpful.

Readers are welcome to check out my website, www.sandysheehy.com. I’d like to encourage anyone who wants to purchase my books to visit their local independent bookstore. Ordering online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble is convenient, of course, but those local shops need our support.

3 Comments

  1. Marilyn Meredith

    Fascinating! Interested in the research you’ve done.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Sandy! What an interesting life you are leading. Continued success!

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Good luck with your writing. It sounds like you’ve a very resourceful and dedicated writer.

    Reply

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