1. Tell us about your latest published book and your current writing project.
My latest book is my first–-Dear Mouse … with a subtitle that’s wordy but not very descriptive.
My protag, Matt Logan is a has-been movie actor, working on a low-budget horror film in the NC mountains. He keeps a journal in the form of letters to “Mouse,” the 10-year-old daughter he has lost. A local beauty, hoping to get “discovered,” steals the latest journal pages. They end up in the tabloids; the beauty ends up in Matt’s dressing-room closet, strangled with Matt’s tie, and dressed for the shower scene.
2. Why do you write about a washed-up movie actor?
As a failed actor myself, I know and love that world. I’ve worked as walk-ons and extras in movies produced around the Boone/Blowing Rock area. As a recovering alcoholic, I know that world, too. When I began thinking about this story, Matt coalesced pretty quickly. It’s important to like your main character at least, if you want readers to like your book.
For 3 years, I played Tom Thumb in Annapolis MD’s annual The Tom Thumb Christma Show, in which we all wore big, Disney-style heads. The first year I played Tom Thumb, the head was great, but the costume was a tad tight The first time I wore both head and costume was our only dress-rehearsal, the morning of the opening show, in a movie theater. The stage was 4 feet high, 10 feet deep, and slippery. And I wore tap shoes.
At the climax of the show, Tom Thumb grabs the “Magic Wand” from the villain and holds it high. In rehearsal, my tap-shoes slipped around a bit, but the rehearsal went well.
Over 1,000 school kids filled the theater. When I grabbed the Wand, I brandished it high and took a little hop. When I landed, all I felt between me and empty space was about an inch of heel-tap, which then slipped off the edge of the stage. As I fell, I thought, “Okay, if I break an ankle, I can still stand on one foot and finish the show.” But I landed on my heet, with only the pants of my costume injured. Well—the pants were ripped stem-to-stern, and I still had to lead the whole cast up the middle aisle of that movie theater.
Fortunately, I wore black tights under the pants. I kept my knees pressed together and led the procession up the aisle, until one kid, below my line of sight, grabbed at my pants, finishing the job of ripping the pants into two separate and independent parts.
I leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.
4. How did your character, Matt Logan, come to you?
I was in a deep depression after splitting from my son’s father. I’d wake up at inappropriate hours of the night, telling myself pointless horror stories until dawn.
One night, as I got madder and sadder, I suddenly thought, “I can’t control waking up, but I can control what I think about.” So I cranked up my brain and thought up a silly fantasy—I meet and befriend the celebrity of my choice—until I drifted off. The next night, I built on the scene I’d started the night before. Soon I had a full scene, and decided to write it down. Of course, the Depression-Demons jeered that it wouldn’t be any good—but: “So what if it’s bad? Who’s going to die?”
Well, the bimbo died, actually; Matt lived, and the book got written.
5. What’s involved in editing the biblical thingy?
Ah, “The biblical thingy.” As good a description as any!
Dr. Alan Hauser is Senior Editor of: Currents in Biblical Research, an international scholarly journal of which I am Assistant Editor; the 5-volume A History of Biblical Interpretation (volumes 1 and 2 are out now) and a series, Recent Research on the Old Testament, for both of which I am the Associate Editor.
We edit articles sent (by invitation) by proven scholars in various biblical fields. We send queries (trust me, there are always queries!) regarding details that only an editor could love. The authors send their corrections, which we incorporate into the MSs. We send the results to the publishers—Sage Press; Phoenix Press in Sheffield, England; and Eerdmans, in Grand Rapids, respectively..
For A History of Biblical Interpretation, I also construct each volume’s index. In the second volume, I also translated the chapter on the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation—the author, while fluent in English, prefers to write in French.
6. Describe your writing work space and habits.
My work space is the same for all my work—my grandfather’s library table, barricaded on three sides with piles of books, paper, reference works, and an antique sugar-bowl filled with pens, lip-balm, pairs of glasses, and other stuff. Within reach are my phone, the tv remote, nail-files, writing pads, and an undefined “etc.” Depending on how routine the work is—bibliographies are very routine—I’ll have the tv on for cheerful noise. For more complex work, I prefer silence.
When I write fiction, I first need a scene. As the characters move around in my head, I just watch, until I know what the characters want, and what they fear. The story takes shape from there, so I grab whatever scraps of time I can find to type that scene out. I don’t think I’ve ever written a first paragraph first. I write chunks, then move them around until the story makes sense. That’s when the real work begins.
For non-fiction (articles in Carolina Mountain Life, for instance), I interview the people involved in the story, taking notes by hand. I prefer to interview people in person, where I can see them do what they do. With those visuals, I can get a nuanced, complex story. I type the notes, with visuals, verbatim into my computer. I’ll lift chunks from one position to another, connect some ideas, separate others, until I figure out the nucleus of it—what readers need to take away from the article. Then I get to work.
When I edit, I keep the tv off, and try to keep the decibel level down when I cuss. Scholars, even—especially—the eminent ones, have wildly diverse writing styles and documentation methods. Sometimes it takes serious effort to figure out what they want to convey. At such times, I do not welcome visitors.
7. How and why did you begin writing book reviews?
An early review of my book appeared in one magazine. As I read it, I saw, in effect, that I had written it! The reviewer had simply lifted bits from the materials I’d created for the publicity materials and cobbled it together into a review. I doubt the reviewer had even opened my book.
When I mentioned this to the publisher of Carolina Mountain Living (now Carolina Mountain Life), she offered me the job of reviewing books. That soon expanded to writing articles. I couldn’t ask for a better gig.
8. What’s your favorite part about publishing the monthly High Country Writers Journal?
Wow. There’s so much.
Let’s take the December issue this year. In November, I made a lavish Christmas issue, and went off to bed. The next morning I opened it up, and saw that I’d only thought of Christmas, when so many great holidays happen around the Winter Solstice! So I made a Chanukkah template, a Kwanzaa template, and a separate template for the article I wrote about all the other Winter Solstice holidays I could lay my hands on. It was difficult and tetchy, and I loved doing it. The writing, the editing, the art work, finagling it all together to make it work, the thought that goes into putting it all together—I really love it all.
9. What advice do you have for making the most of attending a writing conference?
Comfortable shoes. Trust me on this: Wear the comfy shoes.
If you have a published book, bring copies, even if copies are supposed to be there. Tzatzkes reminding people of your book can be fun.
Once you’re at the conference,
First, find the dining room.
Use your schedule of events to figure out what you want to attend, and where it will happen.
Walk around and locate places where your chosen events will take place. Add about 5 minutes to the time it takes you to walk to each place, so you won’t get there late.
As important as the shoes, go around making friends. Seek out people you know are attending; seek out people you met on the ’Net; seek out people you don’t know. The more friends you make, the more fun you’ll have.
10. What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I read, a lot. Some of it is research; some recreational. I sometimes work on biblical Hebrew before going to sleep.
I love to cook, even if it’s only for myself. I improvise and experiment a lot, not always successfully.
I exercise while watching marathons on tv. The Ovation channel is now running a Nutcracker marathon. It makes for great background sound as I peddle away on my exercise bike.
I also have my guilty pleasures—soap operas, British-style crossword puzzles, odd magazines …
11. Chat about your pets – we love those.
I have a Burmese (I think) cat–-all black and square-built, with gold eyes and a soft, thick coat. Jumper’s clever, with a strange sense of humor. She keeps her long, sharp claws in when she plays with humans, but hunts savagely, but rarely kills. I’ve rescued all sorts of small critters, until I decided she doesn’t come in the house with carry-ons. I’ve never been a fan of decorating pets, but Jumper actually enjoys getting new collars. She lifts her chin and arches her neck to facilitate adjustment, then sits still, all but saying, “…and…?” until I wax poetic about her beauty. I got Jumper from Friends for Life, a rescue organization, so I have no idea of where or how she came to have such nice manners and such unabashed vanity.
12. Who is your favorite Southern actor(s)?
I really enjoy the work of both Reba McEntire and Tommy Lee Jones.