October's Author of the Month is Wayne Arthurson. Wayne joins us from our Ravenstone imprint and is our first genre writer to be featured as part of Turnstone's AOTM series. A journalist, freelance writer and the author of over a dozen books, Wayne Arthurson is the 2016 Writer-in-Residence at the Edmonton Public Library. Fall from Grace, the second novel in his popular Leo Desroches series, won the 2012 Alberta Readers’ Choice Award. The Sergeant Neumann Mysteries is his latest mystery series that looks at the intrigues of a POW camp near Lethbridge, Alberta during the second World War. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Wayne Arthurson (below) he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.
Wayne Arthurson's books with Ravenstone:
When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?
In Grade 8 when I convinced a social studies teacher to let me write a fictional adventure story set in Africa rather than the typical non-fiction report. I got an A.
You are well known for writing mysteries. What is it about the genre that you drew you in?
I’m not entirely sure. I read a lot of mysteries, as well as other genres, but one day I was writing a story about an ex-journalist with a gambling problem living on the street. I needed him to get up from his panhandling position so I got him searching for a missing friend. Soon it became a mystery and that’s where it all began.
Many novelists have “day jobs” and fit their writing in when they can. As a full-time writer, on the surface, for many, you’re living the dream. What challenges are there to making one’s living solely on writing? What do you have to fit in amid all the writing?
The biggest challenge as a freelance writer is lack of a regular paycheque. There are times when there are a lot of projects and money coming in. But there are more times when jobs are few and so is the money. But that lack of regularity, especially the need to go to the same job day in and day out for years is a huge positive.
Your work ranges from feature writing in magazines to nonfiction and fiction projects. Do you have several works on the go at any one time or are you single task oriented, head down on one project until it’s finished before moving on to another?
Good question. And that varies because the job is so varied. If I have plenty of projects with close deadlines, I have to be flexible, I can’t just say I have to wait till I finish this job before I start this one because there are moments in all projects when nothing’s happening, when you won’t get an interview till next week or something. So you can go onto the next job and see what needs to be done there.
How do you balance your workload?
Please describe your typical writing routine.
I don’t really have a typical writing routine. Sometimes, especially with fiction, I go back and forth on the project, writing continually for weeks and then nothing for more weeks because something else has come up or I’ve written myself into a plot corner that’s hard to get out. I usually do get out but it can take time.
What inspires you?
What inspires me to write? Or what inspires me overall. If I’m looking for inspiration to write, I just start writing. If I’m looking to be inspired by life, I hang out with my kid, my wife.
The idea for your first Sergeant Neumann mystery, The Traitors of Camp 133, came out of research for a different project. How does your writing in other areas inform your mystery writing?
Not just my writing in other areas but everything I do informs my mystery writing. I joke that no matter what I’m doing, watching TV, playing video games, eating, hanging out with friends and family. etc., I’m writing. But that’s true because when you’re actually writing, I mean sitting down and writing stuff, ideas can come from any part of your mind, any part of your experiences and it’s best to accept those ideas and use them, for story, dialogue, descriptions, fights scenes, anything in my novels, in order to make the story and characters more alive.
In terms of your novels, do you create an overlying outline of the story you hope to tell before drafting the narrative, or do prefer the story to organically evolve as you write? Do you know how it ends before you begin?
No. And no.
How does planning vs evolving figure in with a writing a series, where readers will get further adventures from some of the same characters they meet along the way?
I try not to plan too much with my characters, especially in a series, because characters, like real people, usually evolve over time. There are things you can do, such as plan what time period you’ll set your next book in a series, or what themes you might want to tough on. But I think it’s best to let the characters evolve naturally.
Some writers prefer the process of composing a first draft while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?
I’m not a fan of editing but realize it’s part of the process. But my editing usually occurs when I’m writing the so-called first draft. Sometimes I’m stuck and need to go back and edit in order to move forward. And what usually happens is that I’ll do this while writing the “first draft” so that once I’m done that I’m actually finished. Although there will be another read through for clarity and proofing.
As a mystery writer, you are very well known for the Leo Desroshes series. Your newest protagonist, Sergeant August Neumann from The Traitors of Camp 133 is as far from Leo as possible. Leo, is an unreliable narrator, he has a passel of personal issues, etc. whereas Neumann is very solid, a war hero, trusted and respected in the camp community, even feared at times etc. When you set out to write Camp 133 did you consciously try to separate your new protagonist from what fans had come to know and love about Leo? How easy (or difficult) was it to keep his voice out of this narrative?
I specifically set the POV for the Leo books as first person, so the readers could get into his head and realize that he is an unreliable narrator. As well as a person with a lot of personal issues. In the Camp 133, I specifically picked third person because I knew I really couldn’t get into the head of a German soldier in WW2. And it wasn’t that hard to keep Leo out because Leo is a totally different character who lives in a totally different time.
Do you enjoy participating in public readings? Why or why not?
I like participating in public literary events although I prefer not to read that much. I like to tell stories about my life as a writer and then, if necessary, read for about 5 minutes or for however long it takes to read the first chapter of the book I’m promoting at the time. I’m not a fan of writers reading for longer than 10 or so minutes unless the writer is a very engaging reader, but that’s very rare.
You are the Writer-in-Residence at the Edmonton Public Library, consulting on projects and mentoring new writers. Any words of wisdom to emerging writers out there?
I’m usually asked how people can become writers. And while there are educational and networking opportunities out there that people can try, I always say if you want to be a writer, you just have to start writing.
And now a few fun questions:
Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?
No. I’m not a superstitious guy.
Do you draft first in longhand, or on a computer/keyboard?
Ask, I have terrible handwriting so keyboard has always been my choice of instrument.
Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write? How about when you edit?
No, not really. Sometimes I need liquid so I might grab a Coke, or some tea, water, or even a glass of milk. I don’t usually drink alcohol when writing except the odd time I’m at the Banff Centre for the Arts on a retreat. At night I’ll go to the pub there and have a beer or two while writing.
Favourite music to listen to while you write?
I like most kinds of music so it all depends on what comes up on the shuffle or what kind of mood I’m in.
If you couldn’t be a writer, what occupation might you have?
To be honest, I have no idea. It’s not something I’ve really thought about.