Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Spotlight Interview with Author Eliot Parker

Welcome Eliot, so happy you could join us today.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Growing up, I was a kid that loved to read and loved stories. I really got interested in writing when I was in junior high school. I won the school writing award in eighth grade and it was the first time that I really felt like I had some talent with writing.

How long does it take you to write a book?

About two years. It takes me about a year to write the first complete draft of a book and then that is followed by about six months of heavy revision and then another six months of more editing and polishing the manuscript. I write slow and since I teach English at Mountwest Community and Technical College, my writing time is divided between working with students, teaching classes, grading papers, and committee work. I find my most productive writing time is during Thanksgiving and Christmas Break and over the summer.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I write every day, usually early in the morning when my mind is fresh. I get up rather early before everyone in my house is up and stirring around. I will write for about 45 minutes to an hour each day. Some days, I will generate 250-300 words during that time. Other days, I might only churn out 20 words. However, I’ve discovered that if I chip away at the book a little each day (and write more heavily and intensely when school is not in session) then I can have the draft of a book completed within a year. 

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I write best in libraries. I have an office at home and will write from there most days, but some of my best writing comes from writing in libraries. There is something about being around the books and the quiet serenity of being a library that helps me think and helps me write. Plus, my cats (whom I love dearly) can’t bother me when I’m in the library and I don’t get distracted with needing to do laundry, run the dishes, etc.

How do your books get published?

Basically, from research. I look for publishers and/or agents that publish the types of books I write, which are mostly mysteries. Then, I send those folks query letters and sample chapters from my manuscript and then cross my fingers. Over the years, I have received a ton of rejection letters, but in most cases, something constructive was always mentioned in the rejection letter that helped me make changes to the manuscript and also helped me become a better writer. Writer should not be afraid to pursue all avenues when it comes to getting a book published. There are so many quality, independent presses that produce good books and are always looking for new authors. 

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

From real people and real experiences. The old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction” is true. Many of the plots for my mystery novels are loosely based on real-life crimes and criminal scenarios that have actually occurred. The characters in those books either are related in some way to the people involved in the actual case or are based on people that I have met and spoken with at various points in my life.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

The first book I wrote was called The Prospect, and it was written in 2008 when I was 28 years old. I had written some short stories that had been accepted for publication in the past, but The Prospect was my first book. I knew nothing about publishing books at that time, and it was self-published. The publisher has gone out of business and the book is now out of print. My first traditionally published book was Breakdown at Clear River, which came out in 2012 when I was 32 years old.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I love movies, and I usually go and see one every week. I also love to read and spend time with my cats. I like to play basketball and travel as well.

What does your family think of your writing?

They have been very supportive of it. Many times, they will read one of my books and jokingly ask me if I based a character on them or someone we both know mutually, but overall, they have been my biggest cheerleaders and supporters. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

That it takes time and the first draft of the book is going to be revised and drastically changed before the final draft is complete. Every writer is different and every writer works on a different schedule, but I was surprised by the amount of time it takes and the revision process. I’ve also learned how important good editors are for me and my books. My two editors, Sandy Tritt and Brette O’Connell, are wonderful and their advice and expertise has been extremely helpful with my three books.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I have written three: Breakdown at Clear River, Making Arrangements, and my latest novel Fragile Brilliance. I love all of my books for different reasons, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Fragile Brilliance.

Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?

Read and read widely. Find an author that you like and study how they compose their book regarding character development, plot, etc. Do not be afraid to read something in a genre that is not your favorite. For example, I am not a big science-fiction reader, but I will read in that genre from time to time because science-fiction writers are so good at creating setting(s), that I learn a lot about “world building” from their books. I would also suggest just writing and getting your ideas down on paper. The first draft of anything you write is not going to be good, and that’s okay. Getting your ideas down on paper is so important, because without that, you don’t have anything to revise and improve. If you want to be a writer, then you have to do it. Talking about and trying to wish it into existence will not get that first draft completed.

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

I do. Many of them will message me via social media and leave comments about my books. Most of the comments have been very positive. Readers seem to enjoy my characters, the pace of my writing, and the multi-layered plots that occur in my books.

Do you like to create books for adults?

Yes. I have never tried to write for a younger audience, but I would like to try that someday.

What do you think makes a good story?

Great characters who are interesting, flawed, and utterly human. I also think a good story should absorb the reader in the world and circumstances that you’ve created as a writer. I think a good story is the one where you (the reader) gets so absorbed into the story and the characters that you lose track of time and, ultimately, not want to put the book down.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be the next Jim Nantz or the next SportsCenter anchor. I actually worked as a radio broadcaster for three years, before going into teaching an education. When I worked as a journalist, many newspapers and radio stations were selling to large conglomerate corporations, and many layoffs happened during that time. That was in 2005, and I felt like it was a good time to leave the profession and pursue something else.

About the author:

Eliot Parker is the author of three novels: Breakdown at Clear River, Making Arrangements, and Fragile Brilliance. His short fiction has appeared in Speck Literary Journal, Kentucky Story Press, Apex Books, One Story Magazine, and others. He currently teaches writing and literature at Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington, West Virginia. Learn more at www.eliotparker.com

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