Thursday, April 19, 2012

Authorsday: Dennis Collins

1.How long have you been writing?
Back in the early 70's I belonged to a boat racing club and I complained at one of our meetings that our newsletter was boring. The editor told me to submit a story if I wanted to liven things up. Hmmm. I wrote a story about a colorful character who helped me in my early racing days. Somehow my story wound up on the desk of the president of the American Power Boat Association and he submitted it (in my name) to Propeller Magazine. They published it as a feature article. I didn't know a thing about it until a copy of the magazine found its way to my mailbox. So I guess that was my debut, my first publishing credit.

2. Do you plot or do you write by the seat of your pants?
Most of my books have begun with just a tiny germ of an idea. "The Unreal McCoy" began with an obituary that I read in a newspaper. "Turn Left at September" was born because I had a great line and I needed a story to put it in. "The First Domino" was inspired by the of a legacy left by my uncle in the second world war but not discovered until 2009. "Nightmare" is the product of a wrong turn made during research for one of my earlier novels. My process is usually to just begin writing and see where it goes. When I reach a certain point, usually around 40,000 words, my writing pace picks up because I want to see how the story will end. Some people call it "Stream of consciousness."

3. What was the best writing advice someone gave you?
Just do it. Sit down and begin writing. Let your imagination run wild. You're the only person who will need to see your failures and you can proudly share your successes. As Loren Estleman puts it, "Sometimes you're just writing for the wastebasket."

4. What do you consider your strengths in terms of your writing?
I am a story teller, pure and simple. I've made up tales as long as I can remember. When we were kids we had almost nightly bonfires on the beach and I loved scaring everyone with my stories about monsters that came up from the swamps at night. I was the only boy and there were five girls.

5. How many rejections have you received?
I want to say thousands. My query letters were very sterile, by-the-book type letters. I was warned not to deviate from the standard formula. I received rejection after rejection without anyone reading even one word of my manuscript. Out of sheer frustration I sent out five query letters beginning with the sentence, "The worst thing about instant gratification is that it takes too long." Four of those agents asked to see the manuscript and I sold the book.

6.What was the hardest scene to write?
I've been told that I need more romance in my stories. Maybe it was eight years under the influence of nuns followed by four years of Jesuit Priests but I'm just not comfortable writing about male/female relationships. When I have to write a love scene, the only thing I seem to be able to do is take to a higher plateau and describe the emotion and the heartache. I leave the physical part to the reader's imagination.

7. Tell me one thing about yourself that very few people know.
My background is not in literature. I'm an engineer who spent well over thirty years in the automotive industry. My only formal training in writing was a freshmen level creative writing course that I took back in the 60's. It's difficult to sell your work without credentials. I usually try to sell myself as a world adventurer... first civilian skydiver in the state of Michigan, active shipwreck SCUBA diver, in the record books as an inboard (automotive powered) hydroplane racer, motorcycle racer, etc.

8.What authors do you admire?
I've been influenced by many but none more than Ernest Hemingway. His ability to say so much and evoke such emotion using simple everyday language is amazing. He once wrote a short story in six words. "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." I also admire Herman Wouk for his knack for making the reader feel as if he's part of the story. Mario Puzo manipulated millions of readers into sympathetic feelings for a cold blooded murderer in The Godfather. Herman Melville invited me into Moby Dick with his opening statement, "Call me Ishmael." There are lots of great writers out there.

9.What do you do when you're not writing?
I live in a resort area on the shore of Lake Huron at the very tip of Michigan's Thumb. In the summer I spend a lot of time on the beach soaking up the sun. When it gets too warm I run back to the house and pull on a pair of jeans, boots, and a tank top and then jump on my big Harley and ride a couple hundred miles, always looking for a new ice cream stand. . It's a rough life but I survive. On rainy days and in the winter, I write mystery novels.

10.What drew you to the subject of "Nightmare?"
As I said in an earlier question, I took a wrong turn while researching something and wound up on a web page that talked about shark attacks. As I read along I found an article about Bull Sharks and how they have a unique gland that stores and re-circulates salt and they thrive quite nicely in fresh water. They are also the most likely species to attack humans.
I live in a resort community and my local town (population 970) host the biggest Jimmy Buffett festival in the world. It's a ten day festival called "Cheesburger" and the local population swells to over 150,000 during that time. The town has an enormous bathing beach that attracts thousands of people during that time.
So now I have a setting where hundreds of people are out swimming in the lake at any given moment of the day. All I need is some lunatic a couple miles down the shore who has managed to transplant a bunch of hungry bull sharks and has built an underwater cage so that he can tow them over to the bathing beach and then open the gate. Go get 'em, fishy.

11. One more please??? What's your favorite word?
I write a lot of dialog and I always look for a place where I can say, "Tooken."

Dennis Collins

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