Mystery/Thriller author Gary Guinn is my guest today. This retired English professor has created a character much like himself - an English professor. He even took an incident from his early career as the inspiration for the first book in the series. Please welcome Gary Guinn.
Where did you get the idea for your new novel?
I had begun to feel stagnant in my writing. I found myself revising older work instead of creating new. Then NaNoWriMo popped up, and I decided to take the leap. I just wanted to do something new. All my writing to that point had been literary fiction, so I turned to my favorite genre, mystery/thriller. Almost as a lark, I decided to write about a protagonist very much like myself—a liberal English professor who taught in a small, conservative southern college. It turned out to be liberating and fun.
Was there anything unusual, any anecdote about this book you’d like to share?
Once I decided to create the scenario of liberal professor at a conservative college, it was easy to establish the first major plot point, the catalyst of everything that followed. It was a gift, in a way. Early in my career at the college where I taught, three of my close friends, who were also liberal professors in three different departments, received disturbing threatening notes from an anonymous antagonist because of their progressive beliefs. The threats were never carried out, but it was a very unsettling time at the college. I simply adapted that actual event as the springboard for my own plot. On page one, my protagonist, Dr. Lam Corso, liberal English professor, receives a note threatening his life, from someone who doesn’t like his beliefs.
What do you want readers to come away with after they read your book?
In the novel, there is a strong strain of religious and political fanaticism and intolerance that drives some of the characters. We live in a world where the destructive results of fanaticism and intolerance leap out at us every day. The novel does not attempt to promote any particular ideology, but I do hope the story is a voice for tolerance and respect and the importance of the dignity of every human being.
Do you work on more than one book at a time?
Yes. During the final revisions of Sacrificial Lam, I was also writing the second book in that series, the working title of which is A Lam to Slaughter. At the same time, I was revising a sequel to my first book, a literary novel titled A Late Flooding Thaw. The working title for that sequel is Every Time I Breathe. I think working on three novels at the same time taxes my ability to really focus on the story in front of me. It makes sense to me to be working on your next book as you finish up the current project, but maybe three at once is one too many.
Gary, I've recently found myself in the situation of writing several books at once, and I can definitely tell you it's too many. What comes first for you – plot or character? And why?
I would say usually character comes first. In most of my short fiction and in my four novels, I begin with a character that intrigues me and build a plot around the character. The reason is simple. I find certain people, and certain character types, fascinating. When I come across someone who grabs my attention, and when that person sticks in my mind and keeps popping into my thoughts, then I have a character for a story. I begin to imagine that character in a situation, and the story builds from there. The exception to this rule is that for several of my short stories I have been attracted to a news story that becomes the catalyst for a work of fiction. The best example of that is a story published in Carve Magazine about ten years ago, titled “The Scar.” It grew from a newspaper story about a pickup truck that ran off a curb and drove through the back wall of a country church.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I wrote my first novel as a “pantser.” Started with a character or two and an incident, and let the story guide me through. It was a long and winding road and the revision process was much more extensive than it would have been with a more structured outline. For the three novels I’ve written since then, I’ve become a “plotter.” I spend two to four weeks writing and re-writing an outline that includes all the major events in the story. By the time I’m finished with the outline, it is four to six pages long and it clearly reflects the story structure. I know where the major plot points are located and what needs to happen to make them work. I don’t feel enslaved to the outline. If a new idea comes up that I think will make the story better, I go back and work it into the outline. I have found this to be a much more effective way to write long narratives. For my short fiction, I am still pretty much a “pantser.”
What’s one thing that your readers would be surprised to learn about you?
Interesting question. Maybe that I have been spooked by heights all my life, and so when I was in college I took a sky-diving class and jumped twice, just to prove to myself that I could do it.
Or maybe that, when my two grandchildren were infants (They are four and six now), I brewed each of them a very strong beer, a Barleywine, that is stored away until they come of age, at which time they can drink the beer. It’s a custom handed down from jolly old England.
Do you have any pets? Are you cat person or a dog person? Or are you into totally different pets, like goldfish? What do you like best about your pet?
We have two dogs, both pound puppies. They are, like two siblings, very different from each other. The older one, a male lab mix named Seamus (after the late Irish poet Seamus Heaney), is cautious and catlike. He is not cuddly, though he can be very affectionate when he chooses to be. He is very watchful and is the first one out the doggy door when there is something that needs barking at. The younger one, a female corgi mix named Peanut (because she is long and brown), wants all the affection. She will squeeze in between Seamus and whoever is petting him. If you stop petting her, she paws on your hand, letting you know she has not given you permission to stop. She often wakes us in the morning by licking our faces.
What are your hobbies away from the computer?
1) I started brewing beer about six or seven years ago. I have brewed a wide variety of types of beer. My favorites are India Pale Ale and Rye Ale.
2) My wife and I travel a lot. When I was still teaching at the college, we took students on foreign study trips, and did a lot of traveling in Europe on our own. Our son and his family lived in Ireland for eight years, so we visited them often. Now we like to head south for the winter. We spent the month of January in Caye Caulker off the coast of Belize.
3) We walk three miles per day, in part for exercise, in part to exercise the dogs, and in part because we love walking.
4) I love to sit with a glass of brandy and a good book.
That all sounds good, Gary. Especially the going south for the winter part!
Name two authors we might find you reading when taking a break from your own writing.
Hakan Nesser, the Scandinavian crime writer.
Louise Erdrich, the Native American writer.
What are two (or more) of your all-time favorite books in any genre?
Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich
Sharpshooter Blues, by Lewis Nordan
Cider House Rules, by John Irving
What do you like best about your hero?
My hero, Lam Corso, is not heroic until he is forced to be. When he has to protect his wife and children, he does what has to be done, though it is terrifying. And he brews beer, like me.
What do you like best about your heroine?
When forced to make life-or-death decisions that threaten to destroy her most cherished beliefs, Susan Corso finds a degree of strength she has never known. And she has a sexy smile.
How do you choose the names and physical characteristics of your characters? Do you base them on real people?
I collect interesting names from the obituaries in the newspaper. Then when I need a character name, I mix and match until I find a name that sounds right for the character. I tend to use real people as models for the basic physical characteristics of my characters, though I usually add to them and modify them to better fit the nature of the character.
How can readers reach you or find you online?
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/garyguinnwriter/
Facebook Personal Page: https://www.facebook.com/
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/585203.Gary_Guinn
Tell us a little about your current work in progress.
I am currently working on the second book in the Lam Corso series, the working title of which is A Lam to Slaughter. Whereas the first novel, Sacrificial Lam, begins with a death threat and progresses gradually in the intensity to a crescendo, the second book, at least as it is in the first draft, will open with a corpse hanging in the stairwell and move more quickly into intense action. My protagonist, Lam Corso, decides to help the widow of the murdered man find out who killed him. That, of course, triggers a snowballing series of threatening and violent events.
The opening line of the draft is “In the dim lighting of the stairwell, the flashes of the police camera briefly illuminated the body, hanging inert and heavy from a nylon rope, casting grotesque shadows on the concrete walls, barely registered on the retina before they were gone.”
What’s your tagline? Why did you choose it?
The tagline of my current release is: Someone is set on a path of destruction and determined to sacrifice Lam. Actually, my editor, Laura Kelly suggested the tagline, and I thought it sounded good.
Blurb for SACRIFICIAL LAM:
When English professor Lam Corso receives a death threat at work, he laughs it off. A liberal activist at a small Southern conservative college, he's used to stirring up controversy on campus. It's just part of the give and take of life. Even when violently attacked, Lam is convinced it must be a mistake. He can't imagine anyone who would want to kill him for his beliefs.
When his home is broken into and his wife's business vandalized, Lam is forced to face the truth. His wife—a passionate anti-gun crusader—is outraged when Lam brings a gun into the house for protection. The police can't find a single lead. Left to their own devices, Lam and Susan are forced to examine their marriage, faith, and values in the face of a carefully targeted attack from an assailant spurred into action by his own set of beliefs.
What will it cost to survive?
When he dropped Lam back to the pavement, he said, “You dodged a bullet Friday afternoon. My bad. But I won’t miss this time.” And then the attacker stepped away and waited, breathing hard.
Another shock of fear and clarity ran through Lam. The car had been trying to kill him. He’d been a fool. He thought of Susan, sitting with the boys on the sofa, watching TV and sipping a glass of wine. He couldn’t let go of her, he couldn’t bear to leave her and the boys, lying there in an empty parking lot. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He had imagined dying hundreds of times—cancer, car wreck, drowning, plane crash—but never this, beaten to death by a lunatic who didn’t like his politics.
A desperate sound, short, high, and strained, broke from him. Blind without his glasses in the dark, he was helpless, but he refused to lie there and be killed without a fight. He tried again to stand. But as he struggled to his knees, a blow to the side of his head sent him sprawling against the bike rack, and he thought he was passing out.
The voice came again, “Time’s up, Lambert.”
When Lam looked up, the man stood above him with something, a knife Lam thought, in his hand.
The voice said, “You were warned.”
The Wild Rose Press Amazon
Gary Guinn’s great, great grandfather moved his family to the southern Ozark Mountains from Kentucky after the Civil War. He lives in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, with his wife, Mary Ann, and their lab mix, Seamus, and their Corgi mix, Peanut. He writes both literary and mystery/thriller fiction. His first novel, A Late Flooding Thaw, was published by Moon Lake Publishing in 2005. His poetry and fiction have appeared in a variety of magazines, and his short fiction has appeared in several anthologies, the latest being Yonder Mountain, from the University of Arkansas Press. His mystery/thriller novel Sacrificial Lam, released by The Wild Rose Press March 3rd, is set on a small Southern college campus. His favorite pastimes are reading, writing, travelling, and brewing beer (and of course, drinking it).