Friday, 24 June 2011

Dancing With Myself: KATY MUNGER interviews KATY MUNGER

What do you see as your greatest skill as a writer?

My agent and editors would say that it was my ability to create and sustain a voice when I write, but I disagree. I think I am totally awesome at constructing or deconstructing books. I like to think of myself as a book architect. There is nothing I love more than outlining the book, mapping out a book, creating a schematic, moving plot elements around, tweaking the pacing, creating a dual emotional storyline to fit with the action storyline, helping other writers brainstorm plot points or plot twists or suggesting ways to cut or combine scenes. God, I love that stuff. It's the equivalent of a painter who first sketches in a scene and then very carefully puts on overlay after overlay of paint and color. I just love working on the fundamental structure of a book. One nice bonus to this is that when you are finally ready to write the book, you have a great road map in front of you of where you want to go. That really frees you up to concentrate on your word choices and it ensures that you never suffer from writer's block. You always know where you are headed.

Does the writing life come naturally to you?

Yes, in the sense that both of my parents were journalists and I spent my youth creating homemade newspapers and books. No, in the sense that it conflicts with my fundamental nature. Writing is a very solitary occupation. I was raised in a family with six kids, theater was a big part of our lives — and you can imagine the crowds there — and I am an extrovert. I’m always having to balance the push of wanting to be around people and the pull of needing to be alone to write. This results in odd behaviors, like me attending an event and partying furiously and then abruptly disappearing at some point. Fortunately, one silver lining in getting older is that you can work a reputation for being eccentric to the max.

Do you think you will ever write outside the crime fiction genre?

I have tried and the book always comes back around to being a crime-related book in some way. I have never been able to pinpoint whether that is because it is easier to write when you have the parameters of that genre to guide you. Certainly, the conventions of crime writing give you something to hang your hat on and at least get started and they help you put boundaries on your plot and scenes. I find writing pure fiction a little terrifying. One thought in my brain tends to explode into 25 thoughts. When anything is possible, as is the case with fiction, it’s like having fireworks exploding in your head constantly as you are trying to write. The ideas just keep coming and it's just overwhelming. Where do you stop? So I think that for this, and other reasons, including a love of looking at people at their very best and their very worst, I'll be sticking with the crime fiction genre. At least in this lifetime.

What's the greatest epiphany you've ever had as a writer?

I’ve had a lot of smaller epiphanies, like realizing that some of the best scenes – the ones that will resonate most with readers – are those that require the least effort from you, but my greatest epiphany has to do with the business side of writing. For years, I found myself vaguely angry and definitely resentful over my publishers’ expectations but I would promote myself. That — on top of writing a new book and taking care of my family and making a living somehow because, god knows, they weren’t paying me enough to live on — I would cheerfully find the time, the money, and the willingness to tour book stores, send out postcards, or bookmarks what have you and then flog myself relentlessly on the Internet with a blog and endless forum pages, etc. I just wouldn't do it. For one thing, there was no way in hell I had the time. And I always thought I was being a really bad sport, that I was somehow shooting myself in the foot by not doing so, or maybe that I have a secret desire to sabotage my career. It turns out it was none of those things. It was my sane inner voice speaking and it was just not buying into their bullshit. For good reason. And that's what my greatest epiphany was about. When the e-book revolution finally rolled into town, and I began to work very hard to get my backlist up and a marketing plan in place for them, it hit me — I was having no trouble doing the promoting of my e-books. In fact, I enjoyed it. You know why? Because I was actually getting something out of it. All those years, my publishers had been asking me to make Herculean efforts and they were reaping virtually all the profits from it. They were paying me crap, asking me to put everything in my life on the back burner to do things that, in fact, did no real good, and then whatever meager profits were generated, they were getting. What kind of a boondoggle is that? Why do any writers put up with it

What's the worst thing to ever happen to you as a writer?

I don't know that I've ever had anything truly terrible happened to me that stands out. I've had a long line of smaller annoyances that have cumulatively chipped away the joy of being a writer. I think the time some low level publishing house hack decreed that I could not have my baby daughter in my author photo is one good example. I mean, people were posing with their dogs, for god sakes. I wanted to show my readers what I’d been up to (and prepare them for ever fatter photos of me to come, of course, as I entered middle-age momhood) but, no – this nameless and faceless person decided that if I showed my kid, everyone else would want to show their kids. To which I wanted to reply, so what? You're not paying for the photo and who are you anyway? I've never heard of you in my life and you certainly have not done a damn thing for my career. But that was just a little thing, and as you can see it, it hardly bothers me. Why, it's only 12 years later and I'm still pissed off about it. But it symbolizes all the little things that have happened to tax even my vast innate optimism. As Gilda Ratner would say, "it's always something." I've had publishers go under right after signing me. I've been the featured selection of a national book club that went under the month before I was due to be highlighted. I've had a TV series based on my books lose out to being part of a national network’s line up by one show. I had all kinds of near misses like this because, that's what life is all about and it is surely what the writing life is all about. You just have to put them behind you and move on. All of which brings me to the answer to this question: I think the worst thing that ever happened to me as a writer was when I decided I was going to be a writer.

What's the best thing that ever happened to you as a writer?

Without a doubt, the e-book revolution. I never thought I would ever live to see such a fundamental shift in the balance of power between writer and publisher. I, in fact, could not even conceive of what that change might even be. I saw it happening in the music world about 15 years ago, when people started releasing their own CDs and building audiences on their own. But I always figured that there were too many people who wanted to be writers to sustain an e-book market where you could actually get through to enough new readers to make it worth your while. I am very happy to report that I have been proven wrong. E-books are a great way for writers to connect directly with their readers, without having a middleman. And because it dispenses with all of the time and money constraints of producing a physical book, you can sell your work for so much less than you would otherwise — and still make a much bigger profit than you would if you were in traditional print. That is a wonderful formula for writers. Yes, there are all kinds of problems that this new market will present. How will readers find good writers and be able to weed out all the crap being self-published by bad writers? Who will do that final edit that often brings a book into the readable stage, even for experienced writers? But those are all things that can be worked out. As a fundamental creative and business concept, e-book publishing is a huge change. It is a life-changing development in the life of writers.

What would you be if you weren’t a writer?

I have always been something else other than a writer, as I am a firm believer in continuing to go out there into the world each day. It keeps you collecting characters, it keeps you grounded to the real world and what real people think, and it keeps you from going crazy when you have something else to feed your ego with. I work as a communications/advocacy specialist in the nonprofit world in addition to being a writer. But if I could have any career in the world, I would be a union organizer. I get so angry that we have become a world of haves and have-nots. I get angry without the people at the bottom of the ladder don't even know how badly they are getting screwed or don't seem to care. Instead, they worship the very people who are taking the bread off their table and out of their mouths. There is no reason in the world for a CEO to make $6 million a year while the legions of people doing the actual work in his company are making $6 an hour. I worked in that world for decades. There is no way in hell top executives are worth that amount of money. I want to see the workers of the world band together and head for the barricades. I’d like to see a rebirth in the union movement. I want to be alive when that revolution happens. I was raised in a pro-union, activist family and you can never get rid of that influence. I am very proud to say I have never crossed a picket line in my life, with one sole exception — I ate at the 42nd St. Oyster Bar in New York City during a strike when my daughter was very young, because she was hungry and we were desperate. It was a horrible experience, both morally and from a service standpoint, and I have never crossed a picket line since. Never will.

What would you change about publishing if you could?

If I were Queen of the Publishing World, I would decree that, henceforth, no book could be published unless it was actually well written. All books would come to me, and I would scan the first three pages of it and then I would toss it into one of two piles: the “off with its head" file or the “okay, this is worthy and may live” pile. People would whine and say, “But that's just your opinion. Who are you to make that call?” and I would say, “I'm making that call because I'm willing to. God knows, someone ought to been doing this for the last 45 years.” It wouldn't matter what genre, it would not matter if it had talking cats in it or if it was a searing exposé of the seedy underbelly of life. What would matter would be that it had to be well written and that it had to offer readers something new, be it a new voice, a new viewpoint, a new character, anything but the same old crap recycled. I don't think those are abnormally high standards, do you? Just think of what it would be like to be a reader if you could go to the bookstore and no matter what book you picked, it was, at the very least, unique in some way, respectful of your intelligence and followed the basic rules of grammar and style. This will happen when hell freezes over, of course. Those kinds of books are harder to sell as they tend to not fit into marketing pigeon holes and there were too many people out there who think they are good writers when they are not. Who am I to pee on their parade? Write on, people – write on.

What do you hate most in other writers?

People who judge the talents of other writers without actually reading them, and that's most of the time. I am appalled by how few other writers read. Truly appalled. I also cannot abide other writers who think that by tearing you down, they are somehow lifting up their own careers. Trust me, it doesn't work that way. Don't drink the Kool-Aid. And I am also convinced there is a special corner in hell for writers who relentlessly flog their books on their personal Facebook pages. It's stupid, but I just think that it's transparent and useless and obnoxious. I like to use Facebook to share my life, my actual life, with other people, including readers. If I want to flog my books, I could always set up a page just for my books. Come to think of it, I think someone has set up a Facebook page for my books and I really must start feeding that beast more.

What are your guilty reading pleasures?

I am a cheesy true crime junkie. This year, my favorite book in that genre was about a former Las Vegas dancer and 80s-era stripper who was a do-it-yourself whiz and, after dispatching with her husband, went on shopping sprees at Home Depot and Lowe's, mounted a dozen home projects shortly thereafter, and is thought to have disposed of her husband all over her newly renovated house. I just love the image of a hard body, steroid-using, face-lifted former stripper wielding a band saw working through the wee hours of the night to conceal her crimes. I also love nonfiction books whenever I'm working on a new book, which is nearly all of the time. When I find myself in between my own books, and I can risk steeping in another author's voice, I love to read in my genre – which is crime fiction – or dive into really beautifully written books that are beyond my skills. I find the craftsmanship inspiring.

Katy Munger is the author of 14 crime novels. She currently writes under the pen name Chaz McGee. She is also the author of the Casey Jones series, writing as Katy Munger. She began her career writing the Hubbard & Lil series as Gallagher Gray. All of her books can be purchased in various e-book formats. Her new Chaz McGee, Angel of Darkness, will be published in early 2012 by Severn House."

1 comment:

  1. Going to be gadfly, a bit, just because I like so much of what you write here this little (to me) incongruity is fascinating.

    You ask and answer:

    What do you hate most about other writers? "People who judge the talents of other writers without actually reading them, and that's most of the time"


    "All books would come to me, and I would scan the first three pages of it and then I would toss it into one of two piles: the “off with its head" file or the “okay, this is worthy and may live” pile"

    Just a friendly jab, good stuff here...Cheers.