Interview with Wally Wood
Death in a Family Business is a cosy mystery. A mystery because there is a body, a cosy because all the violence happens offstage. It’s 1986 and 29-year-old Tommy Lovell, who tells the story, is at loose ends after the collapse of his restaurant and his marriage. He goes to western Massachusetts with Tom, his father, to help Otto Jonker, a family friend. Otto—like Tom—is an appliance/TV retailer, but his business is failing and he’s called for help. Before Tommy and his father can begin to help turn Otto’s business around, a motorcycle accident puts Otto in a coma and he dies. The police regard it as an accident, but was it? When Tommy’s suspicions are raised he begins investigating, putting himself and his father in danger.
Those readers who enjoy a mystery will find the interlocking puzzles in the book intriguing—what has gone wrong in the business and what happened to Otto? Anyone who has ever bought an appliance in an independent appliance/TV store will enjoy this look behind the scenes. Many readers will be interested in the relationship between Tommy and his father and the effects of a death on this family and their business.
Who designed the cover?
A good friend of mine, Susan Brier, who heads a graphic design company, has designed the covers for all three of my novels. She invests serious time in the project; she read the manuscript, suggests editorial changes, and produces alternate cover ideas. And has even given me a title.
I called my second novel Mt. Koya, a place in Japan important the story. But I came to realize it was not a title many people would pick up. In the book, adult siblings find a memoir their father had written his tour in Japan as an Army surgeon during the Korean war, his affair with a Japanese woman, a letter, and a picture. Susan found a picture of a young Japanese woman of the time to use as a cover element. As we talked about the story and Mt. Koya as a title, she suggested The Girl in the Photo. Infinitely better.
Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?
Death in a Family Business provided fewer surprises than my first two novels. Because it is a mystery, I had to know the victim, the villain, the motivation, and the killing’s mechanics before I started writing. If you start with the crime, criminal, and motivation, you can drop clues and red herrings into the narrative along the road to the denouement. Nevertheless, I was surprised by one act of violence I had not planned, but is entirely plausible given the characters, situation, and context.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Write every day. Write something: a letter, a poem, a journal, an idea for an essay, story, book. Write when you don’t feel like writing. I tell writing students, “If you don’t feel like writing, write about that; describe what that feels like. Write for the pleasure of writing not because it is going to make you a living (it probably won’t).
Read the best stuff you can get your hands on, classical and contemporary, fiction and nonfiction, essays and poetry. Read on two levels, the surface (the story, the message, the lesson) and deeper. What is the author doing and how does he/she do it?
What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.
I have three works in progress. I’m in the early stages of a second Tommy Lovell mystery. I now have a place, a setting, and a group of characters, so I don’t have to invent everything. The challenge, of course, is to take what I have and make it both fresh and familiar.
I’m working on a book set in Harlem low income New York City housing project that begins on the day JFK is assassinated (11/23/63) and ends the day Malcolm X is murdered (2/21/65). My wife, children, and I lived in a project at that time, so I’m writing from the inside.
I am also translating a book of contemporary Japanese short stories as a way to improve my ability to read the language.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing verses traditional publishing?
I have self-published three novels and, as a ghostwriter, traditionally published 21 business books. Both offer a writer positives and negatives. A traditional publisher assumes all the book production chores: copy editing, proofreading, layout, cover design. Publishers Weekly and the shrinking number of traditional book reviewers will consider a review. Bookstores will stock the book. On the other hand, if the book doesn’t sell, the publisher pulps the returns and the book vanishes. Royalties, particularly for ebooks, are limited, and publishers may demand rights that can be valuable.
The self-publishing author is responsible for all the production chores. Few traditional reviewers will look at a self-published book. Bookstores do not stock self-published books, not because of their quality (necessarily) or because they resent Amazon’s competition, but because ordering, tracking, and returning unsold books is too much trouble. On the positive: the author has full control over the book, retains all the rights, and can earn more per book than through a commercial publisher. In both cases, the author is primarily responsible for publicizing and promoting the book.
Yes. My wife is also a writer, although in a different arena entirely. She writes marketing textbooks. Nevertheless, she reads mysteries and is able to look at my work with professional eyes and to see things I cannot. We have been married long enough to be able to see a manuscript as a work, rather than as a piece of ourselves. If something is not working in the manuscript, the issue is with the work and not with me (or her). I don’t always agree with her suggestions, and I do not always accept them with good grace, but she has made my books far stronger than they would have been without her. Every self-published writer needs a skillful developmental editor, a careful copy editor, and a sharp-eyed proofreader.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I meet with a Japanese conversation partner one morning a week to improve my Japanese. I participate in an Italian conversation class one morning a week to improve my Italian. I am a volunteer SCORE business advisor and several hours a month (it varies) I counsel clients who want to start a business or improve their existing business. I participate in a writer’s group, which is invaluable, and a writer’s workshop. I read about two books a week, most of which I review. I watch DVD and streaming movies (thank you, Netflix).
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
I maintain two blogs: The posts on http://mysteriesofwriting.blogspot.com focus on—what else?—mysteries and writing.
The posts on http://gettingorientednove.blogspot.com cover things Japanese and reviews of books that are not mysteries.
My Amazon author page (http://amzn.to/1X6Ouj2) has a number of pictures, links to my blogs, to my books, and more.