Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Should This House Be Saved?

Edgar Allan Poe is an iconic figure in American literature. He invented the genre we know as detective fiction and he played an important role in development of the genre of science fiction.

Though Charles Brockden Brown is considered the “father of the American novel,” Poe is believed to be the first American who endeavored to live from his writing alone. Despite a decidedly difficult financial life, his literary output continues to influence culture around the world.

Now those of us who love his work have a challenge before us.

During his short life, Poe endured a bohemian and transitory existence, moving up and down the eastern seaboard. Four residences have been preserved and survive as shrines to his memory for scholars and students as well as ordinary tourists.

In fact, Poe never lived in the best known of these—the Old Stone House in Richmond, Va. I say this not to defame the site, which I have visited. The house does preserve his dorm room from the University of Virginia in addition to many other items and rare printings of his work. Upkeep of this facility is in the capable hands of students and staff known as the Raven Society.

The home where Poe resided with his wife, Virginia, and his aunt/mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, in Philadelphia is preserved as a National Historic Site in affiliation with the Independence National Historical Park.

His last home, a cottage in the Bronx, N.Y., is also part of a Historic House Trust administered by the Bronx County Historical Society.

But a fourth residence in Baltimore is endangered.

This small structure at 203 Amity Street operates as a museum and is home to the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore. It is also a National Historic Landmark. For some years its upkeep was subsidized by the City of Baltimore. Now, for the second year, city leaders decided they could not continue this financial assistance.

Their plight is understandable. Charm City officials are as burdened as any other community with difficult financial demands. I’m sure they see better use for scarce dollars than preserving a structure well off the tourist beaten track and not located in the most affluent of neighborhoods. I’ve been there, too.

As a working historian I realize not every structure can be preserved—or even deserves to be preserved. We have three other Poe shrines. What’s the harm in letting one go by the wayside?

I might be persuaded to that viewpoint were it not for two things. First, this is the place where Poe enjoyed his first literary success, winning a short story contest and attracting the attention of the public and editors who recognized his talent.

Second, if the public really values the legacy of Poe, there is no reason why they and not a government entity can’t subsidize the museum. I’m not going to mention names, but there are some big literary guns in Baltimore who could help support the project. I’m not saying they should contribute money, but they could certainly aid in the way of publicity.

That might attract a generous millionaire or two who doesn’t need another yacht or jet. Who knows, ordinary citizens might even be inclined to chip in a few bucks here and there if given the right example to follow.

And what about all the Poe societies out there? There’s more than one: http://www.eapoe.org/links.htm Join me in asking them to clamor for some public attention.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Interview With Douglas Quinn

My guest today is mystery, suspense and historical fiction writer Douglas Quinn. Welcome, Doug. Let’s start right in with some questions: JRL: Have you always wanted to write, or was there some transforming incident led you to it?

DQ: Actually, when I was a growing up I was more interested in art. But the one other thing I liked to do, which gave me background knowledge and ultimately the interest in writing, was reading. As a kid, I got hooked on Edgar Rice Burroughs, especially his Tarzan novels. In fact, I ended up collecting all of his books, including many first editions.
Early on, my interests gravitated toward science fiction. It wasn’t until much later in life, when I began to read Edgar Allan Poe, Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (my personal favorite classic authors), that my interest began to shift toward mystery and suspense.

JRL: What was your path to publication?

DQ: I didn’t begin writing until 1994, when I was already 52 years old (do the math and you can calculate how old I am now–the secret is out), which was when I began working on my first novel, The Catalan Gambit. I finished the rough draft in 1997, then sent out queries to agents and to those publishers who accepted submissions without agents.
After three years of frustrating results, I laid the novel aside and didn’t write anything more until 2003, when I dragged the manuscript back out and gave it about six hard edits. Being over age 60, I wasn’t interested in subjecting myself to further disappointments. I had faith in the book. I figured if I could just get it out there someone would read it, they would like it. That’s exactly what I did. I signed up with iUniverse, a print-on-demand publisher whose primary stockholder was Barnes and Nobel. Long story short, the book received great reviews and encouraging comments from readers. So I began working on my next novel, the first book of the Webb Sawyer Mystery Series, Blue Heron Marsh. Since then, I have published seven more books, including two children’s chapter books.
In 2009 I turned to Amazon/CreateSpace, publishing under the White Heron Press imprint, for the first Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective children’s chapter book. Since then, I have published two more books with them. I’ve been pleased with the distribution and sales results and hope to continue that relationship. I currently have three more books completed (two of them children’s chapter books, the other one being the third Webb Sawyer Mystery) and in the editing process, with publication dates on the calendar.

JRL: What was your first job, and did it have any impact on your future writing?
DQ: My first job was a four year hitch in the Air Force. After that I went into banking. Then, for almost two decades, I ran my own personnel recruiting company. Just like anything else a person has experienced during his or her life, when writing, all of it is drawn upon. I follow the old writer’s adage, “Write what you know.”
JRL: Writers are often driven by curiosity. Is there any particular subject that especially arouses your curiosity?

DQ: Human nature. While the plot and setting are important to story-telling, my novels are all character-driven. The characters are essential to my writing. I believe that if the character is unable to bring some emotional impact to the reader, the book fails. My time as a “headhunter” probably gave me the most insight into how people think and act under different situations.
JRL: We’ve both written mysteries and historical fiction. You’ve also been doing some writing for children. How difficult do you find the transition from writing for adults to doing it for youngsters?

DQ: Oddly enough, I don’t find it difficult at all. The reason being, I’ve spent a lot of time at my grandsons’ elementary schools, either volunteer reading to their classes or having lunch with my grandsons in the school cafeteria. The cafeteria is where I get most of my material. Outside of the school environment, my grandson Quinn is a very inquisitive kid and we’ve had lots of interesting conversations about every imaginable topic. Simply talking and listening to my target audience is the key.

JRL: Are you an outliner or a pantser? How do you actually go about writing a story or book?

DQ: By “pantser,” I presume you mean, do I write by the seat of my pants? I’m not a true outliner, but not necessarily a total pantser, either. When an idea for a novel or a children’s chapter book hits me, I start thinking about it. I begin playing out the scenes and the dialogue in my mind. I start thinking about the characters and what makes them tick, how they might interact with the other characters in the story. I also like to think about what plot twists I might be able to bring to the story line. By the time I sit down to write, I’ve already “seen and heard” much of what I translate to the document. Then, of course, I refine it as I go along, many times letting the characters and circumstances take me where they will. I suppose you could say I’m a mental outliner who writes by the seat of my pants.

JRL: What do you love most about being a writer?

DQ: I love the process. I love creating something out of nothing; of coming up with an idea, thinking about it, visualizing it, getting it down on paper (via the computer printer, of course), then going through the editing process. I don’t do a lot of rewriting. I pretty much know what I want when I begin. What I do is tweak what I’ve written. Only once have I actually begun a story, then started over when I wasn’t happy how it was going. That one is/was the story for the Four of a Kind anthology, which I am a contributing editor, and for which (of course) you and two others are contributing a story.

JRL: Going to the opposite extreme, what do you hate most about being a writer?

DQ: Hard question. I don’t really “hate” anything about it. What does annoy me is when someone requests a review copy, then doesn’t bother reading the book or writing a review. I mean, if they actually read it and hated it, I’d rather they just tell me. I can take it. We now use delivery confirmation receipts to track time and place of delivery, then follow up after 90 days, then every subsequent 30 days. It’s a pain in the you-know-what but, unfortunately, has to be done.

JRL: Have you experienced an “I’ve made it” moment, or are you still waiting for it?

DQ: I made it the moment I actually finished the rough draft of my first book. People don’t realize how hard it is, and how much of a commitment a writer has to make, to accomplish even that first step toward publishing. It’s hard work, and I love it.
JRL: What was the last book you read?

DQ: I don’t have as much time to read as I used to before my writing became a personal illness. During slack times in my writing and publishing schedules (meaning I only have a couple of projects going), I tend to read other authors who are either self-published or published through small independent presses. I do this because there are a lot of great authors out there who don’t get the wide name recognition that they deserve. I like to both read and post reviews of their work. My most recent read was FireSong by Aaron Paul Lazar. I like his work and I like him as a person. Prior to that it was Fallen From Grace by J. R. Lindermuth (I think you may know him).

JRL: Do you have a favorite among the books you’ve written?

DQ: Yes. It is Cornelius The Orphan. Cornelius, which is historical fiction/adventure, is a departure from my usual mystery and suspense fare, although the book does hold elements of suspense. His character is more rich and more complicated than any I have created so far.

JRL: What is the next project for you?

DQ: I’m currently working on the next book in the series that follows Cornelius The Orphan. This one is called Samuel The Pioneer, and follows the life of Cornelius’ son, who was profoundly (in a negative way) impacted by his father’s life. I’m also currently writing the 4th book of The Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective. This one is titled The Case of Blackbeard’s Treasure and takes place in Ocracoke Village on Ocracoke Island. The third book in this series, The Case of the Haunted House, will be released this October.

I’m also working on my memoirs. This will be for publication, but not for general sale. I’m writing it for the benefit of my grandchildren and future generations, so they will know and understand who I was and what I was all about. This is something I think everyone should do.

In addition, I am currently mind-planning the 5th Quinn Higgins book, a second book in the Charles of Colshire series, a fantasy children’s chapter book series. The first book in the series, Charles of Colshire Castle: The Purple Dragon, will be released this November. In addition, I’m in the editing process for the third book of the Webb Sawyer Mystery Series entitled Swan’s Landing, which has a background in the 9/11 tragedy. It will be released in the Spring of 2012. By the time this interview appears, there will probably be something else on the list.

JRL: Who are some of your favorite writers and have they influenced your style?

DQ: As I said before, I grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs, then moved to Poe, Kipling and Conan-Doyle. At one point in my life, I was reading 125 books a year. When I was into science fiction, I liked Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Frederick Pohl and the like. When I moved to reading mystery and suspense, I grooved on (and still do, when I can find the time) James Lee Burke, John Sandford, Robert Kellerman, Kathy Reichs, Alex Kava, Walter Mosley and others. Everything I’ve read has influenced my writing, one way or another. Even so, I’m not very poetic. I still can’t turn a phrase the likes of James Lee Burke. Hopefully, readers appreciate the way I lay out a scene and develop my characters.

JRL: What are some of the things you enjoy doing when not writing?

DQ: For relaxation, I play golf and swim. I don’t have time for much else. I walk the dogs twice a day and I really like to cook. I’m really not all that interesting. Kind of a minimalist in my lifestyle.

JRL: Is there something about you that might surprise your readers to learn?

DQ: Probably, but I’m not going to let that one out of the bag.

JRL: People seem to enjoy learning what kind of pets hold a special place in a writer’s life. Do you have (or have had) any special animal friends you’d like to tell us about?

DQ: Ah, pets. I prefer to refer to them as four-legged family members. I’ve had critters around all my life, including an baby alligator, a flying squirrel, a raccoon, a pigeon and rabbits. I didn’t have my first dog until I was 13. Smokey used to follow me around on my paper route. What a sweet guy he was. My favorite cat was Basil. Unfortunately, a fox got him. He had more personality than some people I’ve known. I honor his memory by making him a character in the Webb Sawyer Mystery books. He’s Webb’s best bud; once, he even saved Webb’s life.

Currently, I have two dogs and five and a half cats. Snookie, a mixed sheltie, was a SPCA rescue special and Gracie is a tri-colored beagle who lives for her biscuit treats. The cats are Moustaki II (that’s Moustache in Greek) who, as a kitten, was rescued from the middle of the road; Swee’ Pea, a calico who was dropped on my doorstep with a mangled tail and in a family way; Funny Face, a tortoise-shell female, who came in from the swamp; Panther, a black male (who I also call Brutus Beefcake) who also came in from the swamp; Tommy Gray, who decided he liked my house better than my neighbor’s down the street, and the half-cat is a golden tomcat I call Theo, who hangs around the periphery because he likes Funny Face. It’s never dull around the Douglas Quinn ranch.

JRL: Where can people find more info about you and your projects?

DQ: You know, I’m kind of a lazy so-and-so when it comes to marketing and on-line sites. I hate taking the time away from writing. My publicist is on my case all the time about it. I had a web site for a while. It was designed by a fan. It was okay, but it never really seemed to work for me. Also, I wasn’t much for keeping it up to date. I have a Google blog site, where I don’t post much. I’m working on a new web site at Webs, Inc, which reminds me, I need to get back to that. Darn!

So, I guess the answer to your question is go to www.Gather.com (Douglas Quinn/obxwriter), where I post reviews, interviews, announcements and excerpts from my books, or Facebook (Douglas Quinn), where I make daily entries and post links about my activities, or, better yet, go to www.amazon.com, read the reviews of my books, get excited, and buy copies. I’ll announce on Facebook and Gather when my new website is up and running–maybe by 2015.

List of Books by Douglas Quinn:

The Catalan Gambit 2004
The Spanish Game 2006
Blue Heron Marsh 2007
Pelican Point 2009
The Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective
–The Case of the Missing Homework 2009
Cornelius The Orphan 2010
The Capablanca Variation: The End Game 2010
The Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective
–The Case of Bigfoot on the Loose 2010
The Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective
–The Case of the Haunted House (October 2011)
Charles of Colshire Castle: The Purple Dragon (November 2011)
Swan’s Landing (Spring 2012)