Connie Wilson is the author of Hellfire and Damnation II which I reviewed just yesterday. As part of this book tour, Connie was kind enough to give her time to be interviewed. I welcome Connie to Over Cups of Coffee:
1. Can you tell your readers out there a bit about your background and your journey into writing?
I am a graduate of the University of Iowa, where I was originally a Journalism/English major on a Ferner/Hearst Scholarship. (I changed majors in my junior year to English/Education). Prior to that, I graduated from a small (110) high school in Independence, Iowa, and was Editor of the School Paper and co-editor of the Yearbook. I worked for our town newspaper (The Bulletin Journal & Conservative) when I was 10 years old, conducting interviews and doing feature stories (Not saying the interview done by a 10-year-old was the best ever, but it was..interesting.) That assignment grew out of winning $50 in an Archdiocese of Dubuque poetry contest. I attended the University of California at Berkeley briefly, and finished my Master’s (after starting it at Iowa) through Western Illinois University. I have also attended Northern Illinois University and the University of Chicago and taught writing at 6 IA/IL colleges as well as 17 and 1/2 years spent teaching 7th and 8th graders and student teaching with all high school levels.
2. As an author, you have written different genres including sci-fi, children’s books, humour and poetry. Which has been the easiest to write? And which has been the hardest?
I found the science fiction writing to be difficult because it was my first novel. I was approached by someone who had a plot, but claimed to have no time to novelize his time-travel plot. I found the plot to be a tad “over-the-top” but those were the “Transformer” days, so, on condition that he do ALL of the time travel sequences (which didn’t happen) and his reassurances that he could secure a publisher for the book (Lachesis), I wrote the book. He did the chapter headings. That was about it. He also tried to contribute some poetry at the beginning of each chapter (which was presented as “Music” written by the time-traveling rock star…. not the best idea ever), but most of the poetry was mine from my 2003 book “Both Sides Now.” Anyone who owns a copy of that book will be able to see that for themselves. So, I labored on this book for 3 long years and, when it came time for the “collaborator” to write the time travel sequences, he did nothing. He also refused to “fix” some problems he had created with the chapter headings, and I took a frantic call from the woman I had secured for us as an agent, saying he had to “fix” those chapter headings immediately. At the time, I was inside the Republican National Convention headquarters in St. Paul, MN, covering it for Yahoo and did not even have a copy of the novel with me. He finally—very reluctantly—“fixed” the issues with the chapter headings, which had to do with problems in sequence/time that he had created. I “fixed” everything else, which was a lot of work. Then, he gave away all the signings for the book locally that he was supposed to have arranged for “our” novel (which was really “my” novel) to a good buddy he was collaborating with on a different novel. He took half credit for the book I had written. I also learned, after the fact, that helping write this book made me ineligible for the Best First Novel category of the Stokers ®. Since he refused to do anything promotional for “Out of Time,” it pretty much sank without a trace, souring me on future collaborations and on this individual, [especially after he took 3 of my short stories without permission and put them within a collection he published.] He never so much as asked if it would be “okay” and, when I said, in astonishment, “How could you do that? MY short story collection is just about ready to go to press!?” (the first “Hellfire & Damnation”) he nonchalantly answered, “Oh, a short story can appear a lot of places.” So, that was my first experience writing a novel, she said wryly.
For me, writing a children’s book is easier. Writing ANYTHING without an unethical collaborator is easier. I also like to write humor, when I’m in a good place psychologically.
3. Do you have a favourite genre?
After trying to write “one of everything,” I’ve concluded that I will primarily be writing—whether long or short—- suspenseful, psychological thrillers, with horrific overtones, but that I may still write the occasional children’s book or collection of humorous essays. I’ve also done nonfiction (for 57 years), most notably my movie book “It Came from the ‘70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” and I wouldn’t rule humor out entirely, if I’m in the right frame of mind, but I plan to stick to writing psychologically challenging material that would normally be called “thriller/suspense/horror” or, with “The Color of Evil,” paranormal and YA (Young Adult) in the same vein.
4. How did you get inspired by Dante’s Inferno when writing Hellfire and Damnation (I and II)?
As a Literature major at the University of Iowa (with no minor), I took mostly Literature classes (i.e., lots of reading) and experienced Dante’s “Inferno” then. The real answer to the question is that I was searching for a “framing” device that could be used to encompass the type(s) of stories I was writing. My publisher suggested the 7 Deadly Sins, but I wanted something fresh that had not been done previously. The 7 Deadly Sins had been done (“No Way to Treat A Lady” with Rod Steiger and “7” with Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow.) Dante’s “Inferno,” to the best of my knowledge, had not been used previously as a unifying device. My humorous book (“Laughing through Life”) was criticized (somewhat unfairly, I thought) for not having a “unifying” framing device, as the essays all detailed funny things that had happened in my life over a 40-year span. [After my foray into politics as a spectator sport, especially at the DNC and RNC in 2009, there were also the red state folk who paid no attention to the cover warning that it was going to make fun of “W,” which seems to have been the real complaint; the only “bad” review of “The Color of Evil” on Amazon is angry that I made Pogo, the fictional Killer Clown, who is based on John Wayne Gacy, a Republican rather than a Democrat. These are definitely politically divided times in the US of A] When I thought of potentially using Dante’s “Inferno” as a framing device, I revisited it and found that each Circle of Hell had multiple “sins” or “crimes” punished therein. I plan to write more “H&D” collections, so keep your eyes peeled for “Hellfire & Damnation III” some time next year.
5. Which is you favourite story in Hellfire and Damnation II?
Often, you do have one favourite story within a collection, but I like them all. If you are hoping to learn something and read a story that is heavily researched, try “A Spark on the Prairie” or “Letters to LeClaire.” If you want humor mixed with your scary, try “M.R.M.” or “Room Service.” If you want a story that is 95% carried by dialogue, you should like “Oxymorons.” If you like first person POV, try “Cold Corpse Carnival” or “The Shell,” (which is one of the most harrowing of the stories.) If you like ghost stories, there are a couple of those. Like a good parent who loves all of her children, each for a different reason, I cannot select just one. I liked “The Bureau” well enough to put it up as a “teaser” (for 99 cents) prior to the book’s publication.
6. What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I like to travel, and we are planning a trip to Australia and New Zealand for January, as my daughter is there now. I read. I play trivia (AOL’s Pub Quiz and “Hanging with Friends”). I attend writing conferences, (sometimes as a presenter as with Spellbinders Conference in Hawaii Aug. 31-Sept. 3.) I’m a film fanatic and, for the next 2 weeks, will be covering the Chicago Film Festival for Yahoo. I will soon be making a trip to my old hometown to visit an old friend and gather ghost stories for a new book tentatively entitled “Ghosts of Home.” I enjoy spending time with my twin granddaughters (who are 3) and my son, daughter-in-law and daughter (although we haven’t seen the daughter since she left for Australia in February). I’ve hostessed Thanksgiving for over 25 people (both sides of the family) every year since 1968 at a sit-down dinner with china and sterling silver. I shop. I attend concerts (Prince on September 24th was the most recent). I covered the NATO summit in Chicago this past summer for Yahoo. We go to Cancun for 2 weeks every Easter. So, I like to do the same things that you’d like to do, probably. I also talk on the phone and spend time with a few kindred souls and work on keeping my blog (www.WeeklyWilson.com) updated. I like to keep busy and be where the action is, if possible. Today’s marketing demands don’t leave a lot of extra time for socializing, but I threw 2 terrific parties, one in 2001 when my son got married and one seven years ago. I’m kind of “in” to promoting the writing now, so I’m traveling more and writing (in Chicago) frequently.
7. Who are your favourite authors?
As with favourite movies or favourite books, there are too many to be able to pick just one. Of the greats, I like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Graham Greene, Updike’s “Rabbit Run”. I recently had the chance to meet Jane Smiley (1992 Pulitzer Prize winner for “1,000 Acres”) and I enjoy her books. I liked the books of almost everyone I ever interviewed, which includes Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Frederik Pohl, David Morrell, William F. Nolan, Joe Hill. I like Stephen King and Peter Straub and Joseph Heller and, among “new” writers, I like Pete Giglio and Jason V Brock and Gary Braunbeck and W.D. Gagliani and Jonathan Lethem, who won the New York Book Circle Award for “Motherless Brooklyn.” So, again, there are too many to name just one and I apologize for many I have unintentionally failed to name.
8. Have you got any advice for aspiring writers out there?
First, learn how to spell, punctuate and use grammar properly. Second, once you have mastered the basics, read extensively and, if possible, attend conferences where good writers give advice. Third, take the advice of other writers with a grain of salt. Everyone is different. The fact that you write one way and a different writer creates in a different manner shouldn’t be surprising; you shouldn’t feel that you have to be a clone of anyone. I do think that there are helpful people out there, but there are also unhelpful people out there. Hopefully, if you are an aspiring writer, you’ll run into more of the former than of the latter. I hope to be one of the helpful ones. After all, I taught for 33 years and owned a Sylvan Learning Center, which is predicated on the idea of emphasizing the positive. And let’s not forget that marketing seems to have become increasingly important in the publishing world, whether we are talking about self-publishing and E-books or one of the Big Six publishing houses. This Virtual Tour proves that the Internet has changed the way books are marketed (and created) in a significant way. So, good luck to us all.
Once again, please join me in thanking Connie for her time. Also, thanks to Connie, we will be having a giveaway of her book.
Look out for details to enter in a bit!
Until next time,