First, I want to welcome everyone to the first installment of Ink Drop Interviews, an author showcase published each Wednesday. I would like to thank the authors who have so willingly volunteered to have their work shown in this forum.
And now… I would like to introduce you to the mystery and historical novelist, John R Lindermuth.
A retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth lives and writes in central Pennsylvania. Since retirement, he has served as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with research and genealogy. He has published nine novels, including four in his Sticks Hetrick mystery series. His articles and short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines, both print and on-line. He is the father of two children and has four grandsons.
I urge you to check out John’s website and blogspot, listed at the bottom of the interview, along with links to his books.
IDI – John, tell us, within your writing, what are you the most passionate about? What is it that keeps the fire burning?
J.L. –I’ve always loved mysteries and history and I have a broad streak of curiosity about many aspects of life. That provides an unlimited source of inspiration for writing. I don’t understand people who complain of being bored.
IDI – When did you have your Eureka moment? When did you know that you were born to be a writer?
J.L. – Like many writers, I was an early reader. Our community had no library until I was in high school. Fortunately, my dad had books ranging from the classics to mysteries and Westerns. As I got older, I started emulating some of the writers I admired. Eventually it became something I ‘had’ to do. When I entered the Army, they recognized that I had some ability and sent me to J-school. That provided me with a career which paid the bills as I learned to write fiction.
IDI – What are you working on now? Can we get a peek, an excerpt maybe… to tickle out taste buds?
J.L. – I recently signed a contract with Whiskey Creek Press, publisher of five of my novels to date, for The Limping Dog, a standalone mystery. ‘Dog’ is set in an isolated village on the New England coast and centers over the battle for a radical new microprocessor system, which naturally leads to murder. Here’s a short excerpt:
“I don’t like unsolved cases,” Gleason said, “but it looks like this is going to be one of them.”
The sheriff was a big burly man in his mid-forties. His salt and pepper hair was cut short in a burr and he regarded Flood with intelligent brown eyes that did not waver. He had the look of an athlete gone slightly to seed with time. He rocked back and forth in a swivel chair pulled up to a desk piled high with papers and manila folders. Gleason puffed mechanically at a cigarette despite the no smoking sign prominently posted on the wall by the door behind Flood.
“Fortunately, it’s not really my case,” Gleason continued, tapping ash from his cigarette into an open drawer at his side.
Flood had been prepared to dislike him. Instead, he found the man cordial and, seemingly, cooperative–which wasn’t always the case between small town police and insurance investigators. If Gleason was efficient, as Cutter contended, that remained to be seen.
The office had been busier than Flood anticipated. He had been forced to wait on a hard bench before Gleason would see him. A throng of people had bustled in and out of the office in the courthouse basement while he waited, keeping the two deputies busy–constable picking up papers to serve, lawyers with writs, bondsmen, people with applications for various municipal licenses. He was edgy and suspicious by the time a secretary ushered him into Gleason’s office.
“It was in your jurisdiction,” Flood said.
“The ship running aground, yes. Whatever took place happened out to sea. Minor business for me. Rest of it is up to the Coast Guard and your company.”
“What do you think happened to them?”
Gleason rolled his eyes, took a final drag on the cigarette, snuffed it and slammed the drawer shut. “Who knows?” he said with a little smile.
“You think maybe aliens snatched them?”
The sheriff gave a hearty laugh, showing big brown teeth. “I wasn’t being evasive. You ever been out to sea in a storm like the one the night they disappeared?”
Flood shook his head.
“You don’t wanna be, either. It ain’t pleasant. they were probably all up on deck, got washed overboard.”
“No bodies were found.”
“Hell, that’s not surprising. Probably got swept out to sea. And there are sharks in these waters. not the first time people have disappeared without a trace.”
“There are chains of uninhabited little islands and miles of vacant beach south of that village. Even if body parts washed ashore, crabs and gills would make short work of them if sand didn’t bury them first.”
The gloomy weather outside, the tension of his wait and the pall of Gleason’s cigarette smoke in the tiny office were combining to give Flood a headache. Rubbing clenched fists against his temples, he asked, “Did you know any of the men aboard the boat?”
Wilkie Gleason shook his head. “Weren’t from Brasher and this is where I live,” he said. Searching through the file folders, he plucked one out from the pile and spread it open before him. He picked up a pair of wire-framed glasses and put them on. He scanned the file.
Ronald Myers, the owner. Heard of him, didn’t know him personally, of course,” Gleason said. “Forty-seven-years-old. Computer wizard. Had his own company. Wife said he didn’t like sailing. Said she had no idea where he was headed when he took the boat out. You know the Sandra H. belonged to her?”
Flood nodded. “Did anyone aboard have a criminal record?”
Gleason raised his shaggy eyebrows, squinted. “You think she was scuttled?”
“Not likely. But we have to consider every angle.”
“Ship was old, not worth the kind of money Myers was used to.”
“I know. What about the crew?”
“There was the captain, Lambert Foster. Experienced seaman, about fifty-one, married, father of two grown children. Quiet, good-natured man by all reports. No record. Not even a traffic violation.
The others were Wally Gould, mid-thirties, Iraq War vet, divorced, minor drinking problem ashore but responsible on the job, and Leon Vincente, twenty-none, married, three kids. Gould had experience on freighters, tugs and other vessels. He’s worked with Foster before on another ship. Vincente had been laid off from a cannery job. Foster hired him a couple days before they sailed. No theft covers on either one.”
“if the vessel wasn’t being used by the Myers’ then Foster must have been ordered to prepare for a trip. He or one of his men might have told someone–wife, girlfriend, acquaintance–where they were headed.”
Gleason glanced at him over his glasses. “Sounds reasonable. Dunno myself. Maybe the Coast Guard’s got something on that. All I can tell you is what’s in my report and I sent you copies of those. You got them, didn’t you?”
“Yes. What about Cutter? What do you know about him?”
“Loner. No trouble since he’s been in these parts. Good painter. Wife bought me one of his pictures for my birthday.”
“He doesn’t make much money.”
“Neither does anybody else around here. That don’t make him a criminal.”
“Then why are you askin’?”
Flood wasn’t sure himself. “Just curious,” he said.
“Ask me, his girlfriend is more of a suspicious character than him.”
“Yeah. One Maria Baltazar. Younger woman with a couple kids. Came here about the same time as him, opened an antique shop in town. He restores antiques for her. Some of them might not be as old as she claims, if you get my drift.”
“You think they’re manufacturing fakes?”
Gleason shrugged, gave him a coy smile. “Nobody’s complained yet. But then, city people ain’t always as smart as they like others to think. Anyway, I’m a keepin’ an eye on her.”
“Hmph, yes. Well, that’s no concern of mine. But there’s one other thing I wanted to ask you about. I was told there was a woman who witnessed the wreck.”
“Who said that?”
“Mr. Cutter. He thought he mentioned…”
“It was a while back, but if it’s not in the report he didn’t tell me.”
“What about the other two men?”
“Nope,” Gleason said, shaking his head, firmly. “Don’t remember nobody saying anything about a woman witness. Besides, I think I only talked to Cutter. Deputy talked to the others. You might want to talk to him later. He’s not here today.”
“I see. Well, thank you, sheriff,” Flood said, getting up. “You’ve been very helpful.”
“Anytime,” Gleason said.
At the doorway, Flood glanced back. Gleason was lighting another cigarette, watching him.
IDI – Some writers have been known to be ‘eccentric’, from keeping rotting apples in a desk drawer to only being able to write while wearing fuzzy pink slippers. Do you have any quirks or superstitions that have become as integral to your writing as plot and character?
J.L. – I’m sure there are plenty of people willing to paint me as ‘eccentric’, and it’s not a label I’d reject. I think all creative people are by definition, different. That said, I’m not aware of any particular superstitions I ‘need’ to work. I like a bit of music in the background, though it’s not something I can’t do without.
IDI – Are your stories plot or character driven?
J.L. – You can’t have one without the other. That said, I believe plot evolves from character. The average person is rarely concerned about technique when reading a novel. but they’ll know when it isn’t there. Technique is the business of the writer. It consists of varied ingredients–character, plot, dialogue, style, point of view. think back to the last novel you enjoyed and consider what made it memorable. Most times that element will be character. Whomever your favorite character in a novel might be, they all share one characteristic which makes them memorable–they inspire emotion in the reader.
IDI – Something every writer is asked to the point of exhaustion – where do you get your ideas?
J.L. – Ideas are everywhere. I find them in the daily newspaper, in books I read, snatches of conversation overheard, or it could be something as simple as the sight of a person walking down the street (as in the case of my series character, Sticks Hetrick). Any one of these things may spark a “what if…” moment.
IDI – When people say ‘why do you write’, I reply ‘I’m either creative, or a pathological liar, I haven’t decided yet’, just for shock value. Actually, I think (in part) that writing is almost like being schizophrenic, but without the personalities coming out verbally. Seriously, we ‘become’ the people we write, at least for a time. We have to feel what they feel, think what they think, know what they k now… so how can we not ‘be’ them? Agree? Disagree? What are you thoughts?
J.L. – I’d agree. You can’t create believable characters without ‘experiencing’ their thoughts and personalities.
IDI – Who’s your favorite author? And why?
J.L. – I can’t really name one favorite writer; there are too many I admire and love reading. Some classic favorites include Poe, Melville, Emily Bronte, Twain, Dumas, Dickens, Cervantes, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Steinbeck, Katherine Anne Poreter – the list goes on. In the modern era, I’d have to name Peter Matthiessen, John Fowles, Nabokov, Jim Harrison, Jon Krakauer, mystery writers like Charles Williford, Ruth Rendell, James Lee Burke, Elizabeth George – again, the list goes on and I’m always discovering new writers who make me envious.
IDI – Who’s your target audience? What aspect of your writing do you feel targets that audience?
J.L. – Hopefully, every reader is a potential audience. It’s our job to provide ingredients that will make them want to try our stories. There are universal themes which are applicable to all fiction. Add interesting characters and situations and be honest with your reader.
IDI – Everyone has their own dream. What’s yours… best seller, feature film adaption, fame, riches, Oprah, Pulitzer?
J.L. – A best seller, film, fame and riches might be nice to imagine, and I’d be lying if I claimed to reject wanting any of those things. but few of us write fiction because we expect to get rich. We don’t write because of lack of ability to do something else. We write because we want to – and that doesn’t demean it to the limit of a hobby. Not that there’s anything wrong with hobbies. But a hobby is something we do primarily for entertainment; a diversion from the trials and cares of every day life. Anyone who tries it will soon learn writing fiction is not always entertaining. It’s hard work and anything but a diversion. If your goal is get rich from writing, then you’d best consider options other than fiction.
IDI – I’ve heard argument for each side, but when writing, do you outline or sketch the entire book before you feel comfortable enough to begin your draft or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your jockey’s?
J.L. – I’m definitely a pantser. I generally know where I’m going with a story, but if I have too-defined a road map, I’ll get bored before I get there. My outlines are so brief no one else could follow them – usually just a scattering of words as reminders and to keep me focused.
IDI – Pen and paper or computer and Word? The bustle of Barnes & Noble or the quiet of your study? Alone or within a writing group? Tell us, what is your most productive/inspiring setting?
J.L. – I have a desk with a computer, printer and some reference volumes in my front room. I also have a laptop which enables me to be more mobile. I’ll probably “finish” writing at the desktop or on the laptop. but the process doesn’t start or end with the computer. I may be “writing” in my mind/imagination at any time or place during the day. At some point these musings may be transferred to a notebook or any available scrap of paper until I can get them to the computer. There have been times when I’ve done a chapter or more in longhand on a legal pad, though no one else could read that scrawl.
IDI – We all draw from within and I believe there is an element of ‘us’ in everything we write. How much of you will a reader find in any given book?
J.L. – I agree we all draw upon our own experiences and emotions and people who know us well might pick some of that up in our writing. There’s also a Walter Mitty element in most writers, an interest in vicariously living some adventure or other we wouldn’t dare in real life. That might not be so obvious even to those who know us.
IDI – Online cafes or writers groups (aside from social networking). Do you belong to any and if so, help or harm?
J.L. – I participate in a few on-line forums, but I’m not really a joiner. I don’t see any real harm in seeking it. Advice and exchange of ideas can be beneficial, so long as it doesn’t distract from the business of writing.
IDI – What advice would you give to new/unpublished writers?
J.L. – Keep writing. Have patience and persevere. We learn by doing. Keep sending out those manuscripts. Rather than being discouraged by rejections, take the opportunity to learn from them. When they see a glimmer of promise, editors are prone to offer suggestions for improvement.
IDI – What was the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?
J.L. – In addition to writing, I’ve always been interested in drawing and painting and originally thought I wanted to be an artist. I asked Thomas Hart Benton, the painter and muralist for advice on how to succeed. His reply was one word: “Paint.” I think the same advice applies to writing.
IDI – I know I have ideas for stories that cross over the lines of my usual genre. Do you have any such ideas wandering around and if so, what’s your outlook on genre crossing?
J.L. – I’ve already mentioned my favorite genres, but I have strayed outside on occasion. Though set in Pennsylvania, my most recent publication, has been classed a Western in style by the publisher, Oak Tree Press, and kicked off Wild Oak, their new line in that genre. OTP also has The Tithing Herd, a straight Western I submitted. I’ve done some short stories which might be classed horror, literary and even romance. So I’d never say I’m locked into only one type of writing.
IDI – As a writer, what is the one thing you would most like people to know about you?
J.L. – That I’m versatile, adaptable and more willing to try new things in writing than in my daily life.
IDI – In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions new authors have about the publishing industry?
J.L. – That it’s easy to break in. They shouldn’t expect their first submission to be accepted and soar them to fame and fortune as though they are the next James Lee Burke, J. K. Rowling or whomever you choose. They should be prepared for rejections. Even when accepted, they will undoubtedly have disputes with editors who dare to tamper with their precious words and insist on revisions.
I believe in education, but I don’t believe it begins or ends with a certain number of years in a classroom. It’s a lifelong process, one that benefits most by experience. We – Americans in particular – have a tendency to place more stock in degrees than actual education.
Ray Bradbury once advised a person who wanted to write to stay away from college. In his opinion the only way to learn to write was to do it – everyday. His second bit of advice was to believe in oneself.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank John for a wonderful interview and offer my most sincere appreciation for agreeing to sail on Ink Drop Interviews maiden voyage!! Best of luck to you John, in all your writing endeavors. Please, take a minute to pay him a visit at any of the sites listed below.
John’s website – http://jrlindermuth.com
John’s blog – http://jrlindermuth.blogspot.com
Amazon Page – http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002BI_JIQ8
*Interviews are conducted by Kathy Reinhart, author of 3 novels, most recently ‘Lily White Lies’, due out summer 2011 from Wahmpreneur Publishing. Visit Kathy at www.facebook.com/KathyReinhart.Novelist or @kathyreinhart on Twitter.