Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, John. Tell us about your latest book, Sooner Than Gold.
Sooner Than Gold, published in April 2013 by Oak Tree Press, is the second in the Sheriff Tilghman historical mystery series. Set in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1898, Tilghman has a murder victim with too many enemies. He’s also coping with threats to his job, a band of gypsies and other problems while trying once more to convince his longtime girlfriend to marry him.
In September, Sunbury Press published Digging Dusky Diamond, a local history book about the lives of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal miners in the 19th and early 20th centuries. More about that below.
Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I’m currently dividing my time between the seventh in my Sticks Hetrick contemporary mystery series (published by Whiskey Creek Press) and a third in the Tilghman series.
When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I like to assume I am, though my characters more often than not hold a different opinion. For instance, in the Hetrick book mentioned above, his protégé is intent on playing a leading role, which wasn’t my original plan. She’s doing alright, so I’m inclined to let her proceed.
How long have you been writing?
I had an early talent for drawing. Eventually I started adding captions to my drawings. At some point in grade school I got the itch to imitate some of my favorite writers and started doing stories without pictures. The Army sent me to journalism school and I spent nearly 40 years in the newspaper business, first as a reporter and then as an editor. Throughout that period I was churning out freelance articles and stories, but I didn’t publish my first novel until after I retired.
What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
Providing pleasure and/or information to a reader and getting feedback from them.
Tell us a little bit about where you live.
I was born and now live again in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region. While that may sound dismal to some, I’d note we’re all nostalgic to some degree about the places where we grew up. My home area is surrounded by mountains and even many of those scarred by mining have been reforested by new growth. There’s beautiful farmland nearby and the Susquehanna River is only a short distance away. There are three universities in the area with all the advantages and culture that has to offer. Knoebels, America’s largest free admission amusement park, is only a few miles away from my home and brings in tourists from all over the eastern seaboard.
Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
My town didn’t have a library until I was in high school. My dad was a reader, though, and I had access to his books—ranging from the classics to popular novels. My early favorites included Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dumas, Conan Doyle, and others. We’re all influenced to some degree by what we read, but eventually find our own voice.
Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
Most of us live boring, restricted lives. If we stuck to that advice, there’d be a lot more dull writing available. Life is a non-stop learning process. A day when we don’t learn something new is a day wasted. Imagination provides the means to make what we don’t know knowable.
How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I’m not fond of restrictive classifications. I’ve written fiction and non-fiction and hope to continue doing so. I’ve written mysteries, historical fiction, short stories in addition to articles on a variety of subjects. If the right ideas pop up, I may try some other genres.
Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
Since retiring from the newspaper, I’ve been librarian of my county historical society where I assist patrons with genealogy and research. I also write a weekly history column for two newspapers (which was the genesis for Digging Dusky Diamonds). And I have four grandsons of varying ages, who provide incentive for other activities.
Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?)
I’m sure they did. Dad had them all. I still love Shakespeare. While I’d never lay claim to being an actor, I once participated in a Shakespeare in the Park group in Louisville, Ky. Don Quixote, Moby Dick and Wuthering Heights are among books I’ve read and re-read many times. With every reading I discover something new and inspiring.
Thanks for joining us today, John. For more information about John and his works: