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Monday, August 20, 2012

Author Interview - Lou Berney

I reviewed Mr. Berney's most recent novel, Whiplash River, recently (click here) and I am delighted to get an interview with him as well.  This series has been labeled Comedic Thriller, but I found it to be a straightforward crime novel with Thriller elements.  Either way, his prior book featuring the main character Shake, "Gutshot Straight," was nominated for a Barry Award and named by Booklist as one of the best debut crime novels of the year. Mr. Berney has written feature screenplays and created TV pilots for, among others, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Focus Features, ABC, and Fox. Currently he teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University.

Do you start your next novel with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
I always start with character AND plot, since the two are pretty much inseparable for me. That can be frustrating at times – I'll have a good idea for a plot, but I have to let it go if I can't come up with a compelling character to fit with it.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?
I do a lot of outlining before I start drafting, but I also give myself lots of permission to ignore the outline if something better emerges along the way – a new character, a surprise turn to the plot, etc. And I like to write an outline with five acts, with the traditional middle act broken into three parts. I find that makes tackling the long middle section of a novel or screenplay easier.

Shake, Evelyn, Quinn, Gina, Meg and the rest are all unique characters.  What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?
For me, it's important that I hear each character's individual voice, and that really only happens as I'm writing. Sometimes it takes a while for me to get a certain character's voice. It's kind of like a surfer catching a wave – you have to wait for just the right one, and then ride it all the way to shore.

I find myself a fan of FBI Special Agent Evelyn Holly.  Any chance that Evelyn may get a spinoff series?
Evelyn is a character that initially, at the outline stage, didn't have the big of a role to play in the novel. But once I started writing her, and hearing her voice, I fell in love with her as a character. She kept demanding more and more space, and I was more than happy to oblige. She came really easily to me, which doesn't happen with every character. I thought it was just because she's smart and funny and ferocious and relentless and great, but after my wife read the first draft she turned to me and said, "You know this FBI agent character is your mother, right?" And I realized that Evelyn does share an awful lot with my mother (smart, funny, ferocious, relentless), who passed away a few years ago. That made me really happy.

How much research do you typically conduct for a novel?  In this case, did you have to research Belize and Egypt (travel there for research -  a slave to your writing?) How do you research the illegal activities such as conflict antiquities?
I'm a big believer in meticulous research when it involves doing something that's fun (like going to Belize or Egypt). If something doesn't sound like much fun, then I just make it up. As for the idea of conflict antiquities, that was my criminal (writer) mind at work. I was in Greece during the protests and riots about the economic crisis, and I heard about some museum employees who had walked off the job because they weren't getting paid. So I thought, "Hmmm."

Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
I have to get out of the house to write. Every morning I get dressed, have breakfast, and head out to my local coffee shop. For some reason I can think better when there's some noise and activity around me. Or – wait. Maybe it's just that I write better when I'm dressed. I should try that.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
It takes me about nine months – start to finish, more or less – to write a novel. I try to write every day of the week, even on Sundays, because it's always harder for me to start back up than to just keep going. Left to my own devices, I'm a very lazy person, so I've made myself become a very disciplined writer. Otherwise I'd never get anything done.

You have written feature screenplays and created TV pilots.  What is the attraction to novel writing versus script writing for your canvas?
One of the things I love about novels, as compared to scripts, is that there's no page limit – the canvas can be as big or as small as you want it to be, and you can take the time to explore secondary characters and sub-plots as much as you like.

Who is your favorite Suspense/Crime Fiction character?  Perhaps a Godfather fan?
I love the Godfather (my favorite character in that movie is Tom Hagan, played by Robert Duvall). I'm also a huge fan of the late, great actor Roy Scheider. A lot of the characters he played (in movies like Marathon Man and Sorcerer) are some of my all-time favorites.

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
I hadn't read a lot of great writers in high school (or, if I had, I hadn't paid much attention to them). When I got to college, one of the first writers I read was Flannery O'Connor, and she really spun my head around. I thought she was hilarious and terrifying and wonderful, and I think she's been a huge influence on me. As for crime fiction (though, really, isn't Flannery O'Connor pretty much a crime writer?), I'd have to say that I've been very inspired by the great Elmore Leonard.

How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter or through entertainment contacts?

I went to graduate school for my MFA in creative writing, and one of my professors there, Jay Neugeboren, liked one of my short stories and gave me the name of an editor at a magazine. I sent the story to that editor, he liked it, and the magazine bought it. This was after about a hundred rejections of other stories, of course. And many more rejections, of course, awaited me in the future. But it was so great to get that first publication.

What are you currently reading?

I'm reading guide books to Cambodia and, specifically, Angkor Wat, because that's where I'm headed in a couple of days. Which means that's where my characters might be headed soon. You never know.

If your Charles "Shake" Bouchon novels were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?
I change my mind on this a lot, but if I were casting Whiplash River right at this moment, I think I'd go with Jon Hamm as Shake and Anne Hathaway as Gina. For Harrigan Quinn -- the dapper, charming, fast-talking, seventy-something ex-CIA gentleman -- I'd want to go with Jeff Bridges. Who, I know, isn't seventy-something, but I'd re-write the part for him because he's just such an amazing actor.


Tell us about the next book in the series?   What was your biggest challenge with it?  What was your greatest joy with this book?
The challenge with the next book, as it was with Whiplash River, is to satisfy the expectations of the readers (and myself) without just doing the same thing all over again. I hate sequels that just repeat themselves. So the third book in the series is going to be much more of a mystery -- a key character from an earlier book disappears, and Shake has to get to the bottom of it.

Thank You Mr. Berney for that great interview!


Monday, August 13th: No More Grumpy Booksellers
Tuesday, August 14th: Conceptual Reception
Thursday, August 16th: Life In Review
Monday, August 20th: Mysteries and My Musings – Q&A
Tuesday, August 21st: West Metro Mommy
Wednesday, August 22nd: she treads softly
Thursday, August 23rd: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Monday, September 3rd: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, September 5th: Seaside Book Nook
Thursday, September 6th: M. Denise C.
Monday, September 10th: Lance Mannion
Wednesday, September 12th: Kristina’s Favorites
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Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I love it that he based a character on his mother and didn't ever realize it - what fun!

Thanks for featuring this interview for the book tour.

A.F. Heart said...

Thank you Heather for stopping by. Thanks for including this blog on your blog tour.

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