Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Garry Abbott, Author

Garry Abbott, Author
THE DIMENSION SCALES AND OTHER STORIES
British author Garry Abbott brings us THE DIMENSION SCALES AND OTHER STORIES, 14 short “speculative” fictional stories. One reviewer said, “The overwhelming feel of the book… is the interconnectedness between the large and the small, the mundane and the fantastical, the personal and the political.” Abbott himself says that his stories are “concept driven” with a “what if” approach that require a setting in the future.

A professional musician, Abbott plays guitar with a band. He is a published poet and has written jokes for the BBC. He lives with his fiancée and two cats in Staffordshire in the UK, enjoys playing board games, and is currently working on a full-length novel and maybe another group of short stories.

Q: Your reviewers praise your short stories in THE DIMENSION SCALES for a different approach to dystopian science fiction. Do you agree? How are your stories different from the “typical” world-building stories? Where do you get your “creative” ideas?

Garry Abbott: It may be because I didn’t set out to write a ‘science-fiction’ collection as such and was more focused on concept driven short stories. As it happened, many (but not all) of those concepts required some kind of future setting, or just a ‘change of rules’ for a contemporary backdrop. So I never felt I needed to ‘build worlds’ in that way as the point of many of the stories is how the exaggerated and expanded concepts relate to present-day issues in our world. I also don’t deal with space exploration, planetary colonization or alien contact at all in this collection. I think that kind of science fiction tends to lend itself more to world-building than my more earth-bound ‘speculative’ fiction.

My creative ideas come from a ‘what if?’ outlook on concepts and stories that catch my attention in the media, in my life, or from conversations with friends and colleagues. I also study philosophy so I am concerned and interested in how we consider ourselves personally and as a species. I tend to over-think things!           

Q: One of your reviewers described your book as “forebodingly nuanced.” Would you characterize your stories as optimistic? Or pessimistic? Why?

Garry Abbott: I am pessimistic about many aspects of how things are currently in the world, especially the relationship between political and capitalist forces, inequality, and intolerance. Those themes motivate my writing a lot. However, I am optimistic that we have the power to remedy these problems and pick a better path as a species, and I believe that needs to start from individual introspection. Many of my stories show the extreme outcomes of our current trajectory in order to highlight them and hopefully provoke thought and discussion.

Q: How do you engage readers to care about your characters?

Garry Abbott: I try not to create characters that I cannot understand myself. Even if I disagree with a character’s ethos or actions, I try to empathize with how they came to be like that and find a spark of common ground to work with. I don’t think there is such a thing as being ‘normal’ but many of us do live similar lives, so I try to bring out the character by placing them in extraordinary circumstances.  

Q: Did you write these stories to entertain? To educate? To deliver a message? Do you think it’s important to both entertain and educate readers?

Garry Abbott: First and foremost it is about entertainment, and my stories are often described as ‘cinematic’ which I’m really happy about (as that’s what I intended). There are certain common themes that come up and relate to my outlook on the world, but I try to make sure these don’t get in the way of telling an engaging story. At best I hope my stories spark some new ideas and considerations for my readers, but I’m certainly not trying to educate them as such – they probably know more than me anyway!

Q: Is the concept of “villains” and “heroes” relevant to your stories?

Garry Abbott: I was happy to find that two of the longer stories ended up with strong female ‘heroes’ as the central character. This wasn’t intentional, it just turned out that these stories centered around female characters who take matters into their own hands. Mostly the true villains of the stories are unseen – some secret authority or other causing trouble! I did this to reflect the universally disturbing feeling that those in control haven’t always got our best interests at heart, and that we can never quite be sure who those people are.

Q: Reviewers were impressed with your writing saying that it created pictures, i.e., “vivid imagery.” Does this picture-building increase suspense and character development? How do you accomplish it?

Garry Abbott: It’s nice to get that feedback because I actually try and leave quite a lot of the imagery to the reader’s imagination, only prompting here and there with a few key details to set the scene. I really try hard not to over-describe, especially when writing short stories, so I hope that the vivid imagery they evoke is due to the active mind of a descriptively unconstrained reader! I also prefer a good novel analogy to minute detail. As a reader I prefer to be given the responsibility to see a world in my own way with just enough detail to get me started. Doing this well means you can focus on the characters’ journey, so hopefully it all adds up to increased suspense and development.

Q: How important is credibility or believability to your stories?

Garry Abbott: It really depends on the story! I try to make sure that the actions and reactions of the characters within all the stories are credible and believable. But as I am writing science/speculative fiction, sometimes the worlds and what happens in them are extraordinary, and in which case it is my job to bring the reader along and believe in that world for the short time they are there, even if it is a little crazy.

Q: Do your characters ever take over your writing and make you say something you never intended?

Garry Abbott: I’m not sure how much I go in for the idea that characters can transcend a writer’s intentions and control, but I do believe they can tap into unexpected aspects of an author’s psyche. It’s more of a feeling of “okay, let’s go with that, see what happens” rather than looking at the page and saying “where did that come from!?”. Maybe with writing short stories I haven’t yet spent enough time with one particular character to find out if this will happen. I’m open to the prospect!

Q: What’s next? Will you write more short stories? A novel?

Garry Abbott: I’m working on my first full-length unified novel. I’m writing it in first person perspective from several characters points of view, so it’s a challenge, but it’s coming together. It centers around two friends whose lives are being pulled in different directions by competing and powerful ideologies. There’s a touch of the surreal and more humor, but it still deals with dystopian fears, so I’m hoping my readers will take to it.

I’ve also built up a few more short stories, so there’s a chance that I might also put out another collection when I have enough that feel right side-by-side under one title. I quite like the idea of focusing on a paranormal and/or horror collection this time, but we’ll see!

Q: Tell us about Garry Abbott. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I’m a musician, both professionally and as a hobby. I play guitar and sing in an original band called ‘Gravity Dave’ (so called because our guitarist, Dave, fell through a roof once and we needed a name for the band). I also compose and produce music for arts and commercial projects and do some sound editing work for radio productions.

I’m just finishing a University degree with the Open University (a respected distance learning establishment here in the UK) in philosophy, creative writing, arts history and social science. That’s kept me quite busy for the last four years!

I live with my fiancée and my two pesky cats in Staffordshire in the UK. We like getting out to old country houses, castles and nature reserves when we have spare time (that’s me and my fiancée, not the cats).  

I’m also a bit of a board game geek and will happily while away an evening with friends playing Monopoly, Risk, Carcassonne – or just whatever I can convince them to sit down and play! I like games: games are good.

About Garry Abbott

Garry Abbott is a writer and musician who lives in Staffordshire in the UK with his fiancée and two cats.

Garry is a published poet, has written jokes for the BBC, scripts for major community arts projects, a children's story for an audio adaptation and now a collection of speculative fiction short stories: THE DIMENSION SCALES AND OTHER STORIES available from all major eBook retailers.

When Garry isn't busy writing words or music he enjoys beating his friends at a variety of popular board games and getting out into the countryside.


“A theory emerged, with testable predictions, and there, like a candy apple, hung the omega symbol that unlocked it all. He knew what he needed to do...”

Garry Abbott’s THE DIMENSION SCALES AND OTHER STORIES is a collection of fourteen short speculative fictions based around themes of malevolent and secret authorities, metamorphosis, survival and projections of contemporary fears into near-future realities.

From worlds inhabited by murderous animals, inept time travelers and clandestine, suburban social experiments—to the sentience, love and moral awakenings of artificial intelligences—THE DIMENSION SCALES invites you to explore the twists and perils of extraordinary moments in disturbingly familiar universes, linked together by one devastating epiphany:

“Something happened, and the world splintered…” 


Author and Purchase Links

Purchase Links:
B&N Nook (US)
Nook (UK)             

Author Links:
Twitter: @Garry_Abbott




Monday, May 19, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Deborah Garner, Mystery Author

Early version of Deborah Garner, Author
THE MOONGLOW CAFE 
ABOVE THE BRIDGE
Mystery author Deborah Garner recently released her second Paige MacKenzie “Cozy No-One-Dies Mystery,” THE MOONGLOW CAFÉ, reviewed as a “terrific blend of mystery, adventure, romance, and humor.” In this mystery, the NYC reporter travels to a small town in Montana to research the area’s sapphire mines, although she is also looking for her “handsome cowboy.” But “stolen sapphires” and “shady characters” soon interrupt her efforts.

When Garner’s not writing, she enjoys photography and hiking with her two dogs.  She loves to travel and divides her time between Wyoming and California. There is definitely another Paige MacKenzie mystery underway, and a few other books as well.

Q: Would you characterize THE MOONGLOW CAFÉ and ABOVE THE BRIDGE as typical mysteries? Cozy mysteries? Who-done-its? What makes them good mysteries?—for those of us who love a good mystery!

Deborah Garner: That's a question I had to think over when I wrote ABOVE THE BRIDGE.  It didn't fall squarely into one single genre, since it mixes history, adventure, mystery and light romance.  But as THE MOONGLOW CAFÉ developed, it became apparent that it most accurately fit as a "Cozy Mystery."  Or, as I tend to joke with cozy diehards who want a murder, it's a "Cozy No-One-Dies Mystery."  The Paige MacKenzie mysteries are clean reads, without any violence or explicit details, involving an amateur sleuth in a small-town setting - all hallmarks of cozies.

Q: Your reviewers appreciated your back story in THE MOONGLOW CAFÉ: “I was so interested in the mines and sapphires I had to look them up online to find out more.” Why? How did you integrate the back story of mines and sapphires into a mystery to intrigue your readers?

Deborah Garner: I think it’s important for readers to identify with a main character.  When that happens, the reader begins to walk in that character’s shoes.  So when Paige's curiosity sends her exploring, the reader follows.  Of course, it needs to be interesting subject matter, so that is tricky.  But that’s all part of how a plot evolves, choosing material that will intrigue the reader.

Q: Both THE MOONGLOW CAFÉ and ABOVE THE BRIDGE are set in small-town areas in the West. How helpful are your chosen settings to telling your stories and creating your characters?

Deborah Garner: I’ve always been fascinated by small towns, which often have unique histories that haven’t made it into the mainstream media. They are perfect settings for mysteries because their isolation sets up opportunities for secrets to be exposed. This type of location lends itself easily to creating characters because rural areas tend to have interesting mannerisms and speech, unlike large cities with more of a melting pot population.

Q: Your reviewers like your characters and say they are “interesting, fleshed-out.” Why do readers engage with Paige MacKenzie? How do you make us care about her and those around her?

Deborah Garner: Paige is very real.  She has good qualities.  She has faults.  She pushes the limits, but still tries to use common sense, usually succeeding in balancing the two.  So I think readers can relate to her.  Surrounding characters are often more eccentric and remind us of people we know or have known in the past.

Q: “The author mixes suspense with a sweet romance” How do you balance romance, humor, mystery, suspense, background information to tell a compelling story? How important is dialogue in this mix?

Deborah Garner: I think dialogue is extremely important.  It provides a means of conveying individual character traits and dropping tidbits of plot information without revealing too much at once. It’s also a great vehicle for balancing different elements of a story. One character might be funny and open in conversation, whereas another is reserved and secretive. Town locals and visitors might have varying accents and speech patterns. Dialogue is a perfect way to give clues to readers, or to create uncertainty, which helps build toward twists as the story unfolds.

Q: How relevant is the concept of “heroes” vs “villains” to your books?

Deborah Garner: It’s funny, I don’t think of any of the characters as villains, though I suppose they are.  I always like them, in spite of their shortcomings.  I see them as people who might have been heroes, but took a wrong turn somewhere along the way in life.  As far as plot development goes, they form a necessary barrier, something that must be overcome in order to solve a mystery.

Q: Do you write your stories to deliver a message, to educate, or for pure entertainment?

Deborah Garner: My intention is entertainment, but I have a fascination with history and make a point of researching carefully, making sure details are accurate.  Often the plot works itself out during the research, rather than the other way around.  So THE MOONGLOW CAFÉ developed around the Yogo sapphire mining history (until Paige found that pesky diary and sent me off in a second direction!) and ABOVE THE BRIDGE was formed around research on gold prospecting.  The travel writer in me also hopes to take readers “to” different areas, providing a bit of armchair travel.

Q: Why did you write a second book with the same character, i.e., the beginning of a series?

Deborah Garner: I didn’t think ABOVE THE BRIDGE would become a series when I wrote it, but Paige wouldn’t leave me alone. She wanted to go to Montana, so I had to follow. She’s bossy that way. It’s not easy to say no to her.

Q: What’s next? Will you continue to write more Paige MacKenzie mysteries?

Deborah Garner: There’s definitely another Paige MacKenzie adventure in the works, which should be out next spring.  She’ll be up to her neck in hot water in that one, literally and figuratively.  I also have a fall release coming up that I haven’t announced yet (Shhh…don’t tell!) that is not a Paige MacKenzie mystery. It’s a standalone that forms a springboard for another series. But Paige will still be around. Like I said, she’s bossy.

Q: Tell us something about Deborah Garner. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Deborah Garner: I love photography.  When I’m not writing, I often head out with my camera equipment to track down wildlife or nature shots.  I also love languages and can spend hours studying Italian vocabulary or conjugating German verbs.  Aside from that, you’ll find me being pulled along mountain hiking trails by two canine companions.

About Deborah Garner
Deborah Garner is an accomplished travel writer and photographer with a passion for back roads and secret hideaways. She splits her time between California and Wyoming, dragging one human and two canines with her whenever possible.


New York reporter Paige MacKenzie has a hidden motive when she heads to the small town of Timberton, Montana. Assigned to research the area's unique Yogo sapphires for the Manhattan Post, she hopes to reconnect romantically with handsome cowboy Jake Norris. The local gem gallery offers the material needed for the article, but the discovery of an old diary, hidden inside the wall of a historic hotel, soon sends her on a detour into the underworld of art and deception.

Each of the town's residents holds a key to untangling more than one long-buried secret, from the hippie chick owner of a new age café to the mute homeless man in the town park. As the worlds of western art and sapphire mining collide, Paige finds herself juggling research, romance and danger. With stolen sapphires and shady characters thrown into the mix, will Paige escape the consequences of her own curiosity?


When Paige MacKenzie arrives in Jackson Hole, her only goal is to complete a simple newspaper assignment about the Old West. However, it's not long before her instincts tell her there's more than a basic story to be found in the popular, northwestern Wyoming mountain area. A chance encounter with attractive cowboy Jake Norris soon has Paige chasing a legend of buried treasure, passed down through generations.

From the torn edge of a water-damaged map to the mysterious glow of an antler arch, Paige will follow clues high into the mountainous terrain and deep into Jackson's history. Side-stepping a few shady characters who are also searching for the same hidden reward, she will have to decide who is trustworthy and who is not.

Links

Book Purchase Links for THE MOONGLOW CAFÉ

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You can find Deborah Garner at:

Twitter @paigeandjake



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Leslie Liautaud, Author, Literary Fiction and Contemporary YA

Leslie Liautaud, Author
BLACK BEAR LAKE
Reviewers praise Leslie Liautaud’s latest novel, BLACK BEAR LAKE, as an “enjoyable, easy read about the many forms of love, family, and finding oneself.” Liautaud has focused much of her writing on families because she believes you can learn about people by “hanging out” with their families. Although her latest novel is a coming-of-age story, she – and reviewers – recommend it to readers of all ages.

A playwright and novelist, Liautaud enjoys spending her non-writing time with her family of a husband, three teenagers, and three dogs. She grew up in Kansas City, MO where she was in the performing arts, and currently divides her time between Key Largo, FL and Champaign, IL. She loves to travel, and she and her family enjoy the outdoors, especially fishing, snowmobiling, skiing and hiking.

Q: Many of your stories focus on families and the events that drive them. How do you select these events? What is it about the family that inspires you to write about them?

Leslie Liautaud: For the bulk of my stories, I couldn’t begin to tell you where I find the actual storylines or main plot. It’s like a bizarre streak of magic occurs. I can be walking down the road and a wild thought will pop in my mind and I’ll say, “YES! That would be interesting…” However, Black Bear Lake was a different experience. It’s based on true events and I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to write about it.

Family is definitely a strong theme…the main theme…in most of my writing. I find families fascinating. You want to really get to know a person? Hang out with him for a while with his family. For better or worse, people’s guards go down around their family. It’s where we are safe, where we come from. And everyone…EVERYONE…has some secret kept in the family.

Q:  Reviewers praise your most recent novel, BLACK BEAR LAKE, as an “excellent job of delving into the angst-ridden psyche of the adolescent.” How do you connect with the “psyche” of a teen-ager? And how do you entice the reader to care about your adolescent character and those around him?

Leslie Liautaud: I think having three kids…ages 14, 15 and 20…helps with understanding angst! We all go through it but to be able to stand back and observe it from afar gives me a different perspective. And I truly empathize with the angst. I’ve never been one to say, “That’s not a big deal! Get over it!” It IS a big deal when your first girlfriend breaks up with you. Your heart IS broken. It’s a big deal to not understand when a friend stops being your friend. It’s scary when your parents, people you love, are fighting. That’s all VERY real and I think it deserves the respect to be acknowledged as valid emotions. I’ve read so many YA books that sugar coat or are very bubble gum, pop princess oriented. I think that genre is awesome and can be very entertaining (and that’s why most people read it!). For me, I get more satisfaction of what the reality is for most teenagers. It’s scary, it can feel lonely, confusing. As human beings, we have ALL felt those emotions and to splay those feelings out on the table can make us feel vulnerable and exposed. So to face them vicariously through a character, I believe connects the reader to the adolescent.

Q: Although BLACK BEAR LAKE concerns the coming-of-age of your key character, would you recommend it to older-than-adolescent readers? Why? Or why not?

Leslie Liautaud: I would definitely recommend it! I’ve had a few book clubs read BLACK BEAR LAKE and I’ve been shocked how connected they became with the story and characters. It’s a coming-of-age first but it also is heavily weighted with the theme of family and family bond. I had readers tell me they connected with Adam and how he dealt with his feelings towards his mother’s illness. I heard stories about readers’ families and their own annual reunions together. The theme of family bond seems to strike a note with many people in other ways, as well. They related to leaning on family for support during hard times, to fighting and making up with family members, to dealing with the differences in generations.

And if you grew up in the 80’s…it’s like totally tubular to hear the old slang!

Q: How, if at all, has your upbringing influenced your writing? Was your family important to you?

Leslie Liautaud: My family was a HUGE influence on me growing up. My mother was the one who first introduced me to theatre. She did quite a bit of acting and her circle of friends were all actors. I remember big get-togethers with this group when I was 4 or 5. Lots of singing, piano playing and reciting lines from plays, it was a very bohemian group. My mom also read Shakespeare to my sister and I at night for bedtime stories. I don’t know if we always understood the meaning but it definitely taught me the rhythm of words, sentences and phrases. There is an ebb and flow that is very musical, lilting, in good writing. My father is a very quiet, almost Buddha-like, man. He taught me how to meditate and how to quiet myself, and my mind, enough to focus in a productive way even when things are spiraling all around me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve been VERY lucky to still have them champion all my endeavors. My sister is a visual artist and is extremely talented. Although I can’t draw a straight line, her work inspires me every time I look at it. We also proactively take time to nudge each other to make solid time to work in our art and to continue to find joy in it all.

Q:  Did you write BLACK BEAR LAKE strictly to entertain or did you intend to educate readers or deliver a message?

Leslie Liautaud:  Strictly to entertain. My only goal is to tell a story the best I can and hope it brings the reader enjoyment. It’s a wonderful and pleasant surprise if the reader is able to pull something deeper out of that.

Q: How relevant is the concept of “heroes” and “villains” to your stories?

Leslie Liautaud: Great question! I actually love the concept of heroes and villains…because in my view, we are all both. I try to make all of my characters human. Even the character Ron is not 100% a villain. He’s a shmuck. He’s a jerk. But he’s a loser and he knows it. He’s got really low self- esteem and he acts out in inappropriate ways. That’s not a villain, that’s someone who is greatly flawed and feels misunderstood. Tennessee Williams once said, "There are no 'good' or 'bad' people. Some are a little better or a little worse, but all are activated more by misunderstanding than malice. A blindness to what is going on in each other's hearts; nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos." And man, do I believe that! We all come from our own place of understanding and when we don’t understand what someone else does, it’s very easy to label it as “bad”. For sure, there are a handful of people throughout all of history that could be labeled “hero” or “villain”…but most of the time? Nah.

Q:  How important is humor to telling your stories?

Leslie Liautaud: Oof, it’s so important but so hard! People need to laugh, especially when there is a lot of drama going on, or they get nervous or uneasy. And no one wants to feel like that. That’s why in movies or plays you’ll always find a comic relief character. It’s a RELIEF to laugh when things get tense. But for me, writing humor is very difficult. Being funny on command is HARD!

Q:  You have written plays and novels. Which do you prefer? Do you find that writing one helps to create the other?

Leslie Liautaud: They are apples and oranges. I love writing dialogue, it comes very naturally to me. So, once I have the storyline of a play set, I can whip a full-length drama out pretty quickly and with solid results. But I also love the process of writing a novel. Descriptive writing is much harder for me but I’ve found that I really like the trance I go into when the story starts to flow out of me. I also am a huge fan of editing. I know, it’s a strange one, but I love to go back through and cut and cut and cut and condense. Like cutting away at a stone until you have a beautiful diamond.

Q: What’s next?

Leslie Liautaud: I’m currently working on a new novel about a group of college age friends. That’s all I can tell ya!

Q: Tell us something about Leslie Liautaud? What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Leslie Liautaud: I love spending time with my family! We’re spread out across the country right now…my oldest son is in college in Salt lake City, my daughter is at a college prep boarding high school in New Hampshire and my youngest son is at home finishing his 8th grade year (and then off to join his sister next year). We all love the outdoors and spend a lot of time fishing, snowmobiling, skiing and hiking. I love to cook with my husband. He’s in the restaurant business (Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches), so we love to do as much food research as possible. I also really love to travel. I’d say my favorite spot so far has been Botswana in Africa. The nature is still so wild…it’s almost spiritual, it’s so raw…and it puts you right in your place…in the food chain! I’m planning a trip to Tibet next year and am counting down to that!

About Leslie Liautaud

Leslie Liautaud is the author of Midnight Waltzes (2006), He Is Us (2008), The Wreck (2009), SALIGIA (2011), The Mansion (2012) and Summer Nights and Dreams (2012). She is also the author of the coming-of-age novel BLACK BEAR LAKE (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014).

Leslie is originally from Kansas City, MO where she worked in the performing arts. Currently, she divides her time between Key Largo, FL and Champaign, IL with her husband, three teenage children and three rambunctious dogs.


Adam Craig, a forty year-old stock trader in Chicago, finds his marriage teetering on the rocks and his life at a standstill. Desperate and on the edge of personal collapse, Adam takes the advice of a therapist and travels to his childhood family compound on Black Bear Lake with hopes of making peace with his past. Stepping onto the northern Wisconsin property, he relives the painful memories of the summer of 1983, his last summer at the lake. 

In August 1983, a self-conscious fifteen year-old Adam carries a world of worry on his shoulders as he arrives at Black Bear Lake for a month long family reunion. Between anger and fear of his mother’s declining health as she quietly battles a quickly spreading cancer and his cherished cousin’s depression over her parents’ bitter divorce, Adam is swept up in smothering familial love among the multiple generations and heartbreaking misunderstanding and betrayal. The arrival of a sensual but troublesome babysitter throws the delicate balance of his family into a tailspin. Blinded by his attraction to the newcomer, Adam fails to see his cousin's desperate cries for help and the charged electrical current running through his family's hierarchy. Crushed in the middle of it all, Adam is forced to learn that there's a fine line between self-preservation and the strength of family blood, all the while unaware of the impending tragedy that will ultimately change his life forever.

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Twitter @labtoad









Wednesday, May 7, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Scotch Wichmann, Performance Artist and Author

Scotch Wichmann, Performance Artist and Author
TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS KIDNAP
THEIR BOSS AND DO THINGS TO HIM
Scotch Wichmann, comedian and performance artist,  lamented the lack of a definitive novel on performance art and wrote TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS KIDNAP THEIR BOSS AND DO THINGS TO HIM to fill the gap. Set in San Francisco, the novel tells the story of two performance artists who become so annoyed with their jobs that they kidnap their billionaire boss to turn him into a performance artist. Reviewers say it’s “possibly the funniest caper novel ever,” but also applaud the “heart” in the book.  It was a finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.

Wichmann, a performance artist for 23 years, is a fan of  “madcap” comedy films like “A Fish Called Wanda,” “Ghostbusters,” or “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” When not performing or writing, he enjoys going on walks with his dog, writing software, reading, and drinking.  

Q: You are successful as a performance artist and comedian. What caused you to write TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS KIDNAP THEIR BOSS AND DO THINGS TO HIM?

Scotch Wichmann: One day it occurred to me that nobody had yet written *the* performance novel—that is, the kind of novel about performance art that a performance artist would write.

There were a few books out there that had incorporated performance art into their plots, but all of them were ultimately more focused on other themes—a sleuth solving a mystery, for example, or maybe somebody's recovery from emotional scars—and that's not what I was looking for.

I wanted to read a real performance art novel—one that captured the grit and unbridled creativity of the performance art world from someone who'd actually been there—a book that would answer questions like, What is performance art? What makes a performance good or bad? What's it like, doing an art form that in America that's sometimes viewed as a cultural punchline? Why is a performance artist driven to strap meat to herself, or drop razorblades into his underwear—and how does somebody become like that?

That was the novel I wanted to read, but it didn't exist. Finally, in late 1999, I couldn't stand it anymore; that very night, I sat down and started outlining the book.

Q: One of your reviewers was pleased with your “everyman hero one can get behind.” He was surprised by the “heart” in a book about performance artists and the “generous and good humored heart beating at the center of all of the carefully orchestrated zaniness.” "Zaniness” and “heart” don't always mix. How were you able to create characters that engage readers in the midst of telling a zany story?

Scotch Wichmann: I'm a huge fan of madcap comedy novels and films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies, 9 to 5, Silver Streak, National Lampoon's Vacation, Ghostbusters, and Ishtar.  Although not all of these were exactly blockbusters, they were successful for me in their comedy and creativity, and in how earnest their characters were.  That earnestness, and their characters' oblivion toward how ridiculous a situation might be becoming, endears us to them; they're hilarious and loveable precisely because they're walking disaster zones—clowns walking straight into chaos while whistling happy tunes.

For TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS KIDNAP THEIR BOSS AND DO THINGS TO HIM, I aimed for that same target—to create characters who were flawed, but with earnestness, and who can't see their own shortcomings and failures objectively, until, maybe, they catch a fleeting glimpse when it comes time to walk comedy's bouncy tightrope high up over the jagged canyon of Tragedy.

Q: When writing this type of over-the-top humor, how relevant is the concept of “heroes” and “villains?”

Scotch Wichmann: In any novel or film, conflict is key.  But in comedy—especially when working with clown archetypes—you don't necessarily need a typical villain. For the clown—who, in his or her earnestness, becomes the hero—pretty much anything can become villainous—a short-term obstacle, conflict, or game that needs to be won before the plot can continue.  In National Lampoon's Vacation, Clark Griswold can't continue driving toward Walley World until he figures out what to do with Aunt Edna, who has just died in her sleep.  Ever the bumbling clown, Clark goes for the "obvious" solution: just tie her to the car's roof and drive on!  Likewise, when Hank and Larry, the protagonists in TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS KIDNAP THEIR BOSS AND DO THINGS TO HIM, encounter an obstacle, they reach for what's "obvious" to them—which, in many cases, is performance art—with madcap results.

Q: Let's talk setting. I lived in the Bay Area for 25 years, and The City is a favorite (New York has Broadway—so it's King.) I also worked in the corporate environment during that time and comprehend its downsides. How helpful is the city of San Francisco to telling your story? Do you consider corporate environment a “villain” or a setting for your story?

Scotch Wichmann: I could see having set TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS KIDNAP THEIR BOSS AND DO THINGS TO HIM in New York's Lower East Side, especially in the 1970s or mid-1980s, but I don't think it would've been the same novel.  For one, NYC just seemed too big.  I didn't want the city to feel claustrophobic, necessarily, but its edges needed to be within reach so Hank and Larry could exert their influence over it more thoroughly, and exhaust its possibilities more quickly—in order to arrive at conflict—than NYC might've allowed.  Also, although San Francisco is gorgeous, its hills are uniquely imposing, especially if you're on foot.  They push against you (and harder if you're in a hurry to get anywhere).  The wind, especially downtown, will blow you clean over.  And if it's raining, the hilly streets become lethally slick. The City seemed to offer ways of working against Hank and Larry to create a pressure cooker whose pent-up energy might've dissipated in a larger setting like NYC's.  In SF's seedy Tenderloin district where I lived, I could walk toward Polk Street on a Friday night, and in a four-block stretch, pass liquor stores, pan handlers, people of every color, a blowjob in progress, art galleries, a vet in a wheelchair, mom-and-pop restaurants with flies buzzing in the windows, psych ward escapees, a gay salon, the rich, the destitute, software geeks on kick scooters, a gaggle of transvestite prostitutes checking their hair, drug hustlers, and drunks—and with little fear of getting mugged. People were accepting and got along mostly, like in NYC, but with the city space feeling even more compressed.

As for Hank and Larry's computer jobs, the environment definitely works against them. Their office building is a half-mile long, so a walk to the restroom takes forever. The endless rows of carpet-walled office cubicals enforce uniformity (and boredom). Work is punctuated by long walks to the breakroom to buy soggy vending machine burritos. The office walls are plastered with communist-style posters designed to inspire work and consistency with mind-numbing slogans like TOGETHER WE WILL ACHIEVE.  Hidden cameras make privacy impossible.  And all of this came from my experiences working at Fortune 1000 companies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orange County, which was brutally soul-sucking at times...I'm sure a lot of people can relate.

Q:  How important is believability to your story? How do you get readers involved with the “over-the-top” story?

Scotch Wichmann: Readers—being TV and Internet viewers—have become accustomed to seeing hard-to-believe action unfold right before their eyes, thanks to TV shows like Jackass and Internet sites like YouTube.  So, I didn't see any reason to put a cap on what Hank and Larry were allowed to pull off during their performances, as long as it was physically possible in the real world.  Set a full-sized bull swinging from the gallery's rafters with tequila and a cigar in its mouth?  No problem!

As for the believability of Hank and Larry's motivations, I made sure to spend plenty of time building their disdain for corporate life, and their frustration over not being able to survive economically on just art alone. 

And as for the kidnapping itself—snatching a billionaire from a computer convention—the scenario seemed plausible, given the circumstances and planning. Part of what made the scenario possible was simply that it was outside the realm of what the billionaire and his protective detail thought possible—which, of course, is exactly what performance artists are good at: doing what nobody has ever thought of doing.  That's their specialty, in fact.  So, it's not much of a stretch to think they'd make good kidnappers, given the enormous amount of detail (and surprises) they bake into performances.

Q:  The art (or science?) of writing humor is tricky. You have spent a career making people laugh. How? Do you target a specific group? If so, who will most enjoy the humor in TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS KIDNAP THEIR BOSS AND DO THINGS TO HIM?

Scotch Wichmann: TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS is geared for anyone who likes action, capers, madcap or dark comedy, edgy art, buddy stories, or learning more about creativity.

Comedy is a craft. Sure, you'll come across the occasional person who is just naturally funny and quick—or who has great comic physicality—both of which are hard to teach.   But the vast majority of the time—and if you want consistency—comedy comes from writing and understanding how to craft a good joke. There is a structure to it, a theory to it; Google "joke writing" and you'll find books and classes that teach you how.  I studied and performed at the San Francisco Comedy College for three years; after writing thousands of jokes—and critiquing others' acts—you learn how to articulate why something is funny.  When I watch a comedian perform, knowing comedy theory lets me see how she or he is getting laughs, just like a film editor can watch a movie and tell you why certain cuts are effective.  And here's a secret: anybody can learn to be more funny.  Get yourself a book on joke writing, or take a class, and get to writing.  Try out some jokes at a comedy open mic near you.  Once you understand how jokes work, you can write comedy on any subject, and extend joke structure to longer projects like sketch writing or even a novel.

Targeting a specific group requires research. If you're doing topical comedy, you first study your subject, and then begin cranking out jokes on that topic. I was once hired to perform for the psych ward staff at a California prison, so I mined psychiatry topics for jokes; for example, the labels people use for different kinds of crazy, dealing with shrinks who are crazier than their patients, and so on.  If you're targeting a specific demographic, then you study that demographic to see what experiences they're having—what they like, what they hate—and then write jokes about that.  Unfortunately, most demographic comedy has an expiration date; what was funny years ago won't necessarily be funny today. Once in 2008, I took a paying gig doing standup in front of 200 San Francisco teenagers. While setting up an opening joke, I made a reference to the original Star Wars movie—and my joke tanked.  Why?  The kids hadn't seen the film! Crazy! I suddenly felt so old.... So, always know your audience.

Q: Did you write TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS purely for laughs or were you also trying to tell your readers something?

Scotch Wichmann: It began as a love letter to performance art, and also to caper comedies, which I adore.  Combining the two seemed like a dream, and once I started writing, I couldn't stop—I had to find out how the book would end!  That passion and curiosity is what kept me going from my start in 1999 until the first full draft was finished in 2006.

But most of all, I wanted to put everything I know about performance art into TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS—including art lessons handed down to me from my teachers—and show why it remains a powerfully shamanic and political art form that can convey ideas in ways ordinary language cannot.  Performance art has remained controversial because it's always rejecting its own conventions—it remakes itself into something new, something you don't expect—thus always carrying with it the shock of the new deep within its DNA.  The novel shows how to make performance art, but more, how to grow a performance art way of looking at the world.

As an example of performance art's power, in November of 2013, a Russian performance artist walked into Moscow's Red Square, undressed, sat down nude, and nailed his scrotum to the cobblestone.  The implied message was this: If you, our corrupt Russian government, is so intent on extending your iron-fisted power over us—and even our *bodies*—then here, I'll offer you mine.  The artist had literally made himself part of the State.

The Western media, of course, always hungry for sensationalism, portrayed his performance as salacious: "Look at this crazy dude's impaled scro!"  But the Russians in power?  They understood the message perfectly. To read more about it, visit: www.scotchcomedy.com/square

Q: Why did you choose to write your book from first person point of view? Did you find its use restrictive?

Scotch Wichmann: I chose first-person because I wanted the novel to have a strong POV about performance art and the action taking place, with as little distance between the narrator and the action unfolding as possible. Also, Larry, the narrator, spends a lot of time alone, so using first-person gave me opportunities for him to hear and critique his own thoughts.  I didn't find first-person limiting at all; I just made sure to plot the novel with the idea in mind that my narrator's knowledge would be limited to whatever was present at the locale at hand.

Larry's narration also breaks a cardinal novel-writing rule: during action sequences, he switches to present tense.  Why?  Because action moves so much faster in the present—that's why screenplays use it—and that's how we often speak when recounting action: "So. I go to his house. I knock on the door. And he runs!"

Q: What's next?

Scotch Wichmann: The rest of my national book tour!  See: www.2p4m.com/tour

Q: Tell us about Scotch Wichmann. What do you like to do when you're not writing or performing?

Scotch Wichmann: I love watching movies, making short films, looking at art, sketching and painting, going on walks with the dog, swinging kettlebells, writing software, reading, and drinking. 

About Scotch Wichmann

Scotch Wichmann's comedy novel, TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS KIDNAP THEIR BOSS AND DO THINGS WITH HIM, was published in April by Freakshow Books.  A first-round finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, Kill Radio called it "possibly the funniest caper ever written...what you'd get if Fear and Loathing, Office Space, and Jackass made a baby." A performance artist for 23 years, Scotch and his troupe were nominated for Best Comedy and Best Stunt at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival.  And in a strange turn, Scotch's writing was plagiarized by Hollywood actor Shia LaBeouf in January 2014 (www.2p4m.com/shia).  For more about his book, visit www.2p4m.com



TWO PERFORMANCE ARTISTS KIDNAP THEIR BOSS AND DO THINGS WITH HIM is a caper comedy about Hank and Larry, two performance artists in San Francisco who hate their jobs so much that they cook up the ultimate performance: to kidnap their billionaire boss and turn him into a performance artist.  A first-round finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest—and the first performance art novel by a performance artist—Two Performance Artists is a madcap art adventure about best friends determined to tackle the American Dream with bird feathers, duct tape, and a sticky AK-47.

For an excerpt, readers can visit:  http://www.twoperformanceartists.com/read/



Links



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