Trace Conger, author of the Mr Finn series and the standalone novella, The White Boy was kind enough to submit to a few questions.....
Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job?
The writing is full time, but it’s not always fiction. I’m also a freelance copywriter. Most of my clients are pretty well-known brands—I’ve written for Exxon, John Deere, Morton Salt, Prudential Insurance, and many others. I specialize in long-form copy, so basically anything except ads. James Patterson was a copywriter before making it big, so obviously, I’m destined for great things.
What’s your typical writing schedule?
That really depends on my client demands. If something is due to a client that day, then I have to prioritize it, but my goal is to spend at least two hours every day writing fiction. Sometimes it’s less and sometimes more. If the corporate work is slow, I might get an entire week to work on my current work in progress, but there are also times when I’ve had to shelve fiction for a month of longer because of client demands. At the moment my clients pay much better than fiction, and I like to eat. As do my wife and kids.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
Yes, but I always tell my family, friends and colleagues that I don’t! Most of my characters have some personal traits in them. It’s like I’ve got this well in my basement and it’s filled with everyone I’ve ever known or every experience I’ve ever had (that I can remember, anyway) and when I need an idea or a character, I go down in the deep, dark basement and crank up the bucket. I think this also lends itself to more believable characters and scenes. As a writer, if I can recall how something affected me personally, it makes for more vivid writing. I’ve also killed off two ex-girlfriends in my books, which was immensely satisfying.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
I plot out all my novels, but I know that the story will likely change once I start writing it. Before writing novels (and freelancing) I was a copywriter at an ad agency, and everything had to be outlined because it had to be approved by a client. So, I’m comfortable plotting, outlining and structuring the story because I’m used to that process. That said, often the story goes a different direction once I’m in the middle of it. Some characters I thought would die in one book, end of having a reoccurring role in others. Some plot points I thought were great at the onset, end up on the cutting room floor. For me, it’s a very (ALERT, CHEESY WRITER PHRASE COMING) organic process, and that keeps it fun. If I had to stick to the outline for the entire novel, I’d feel very constrained, but having a roadmap of sorts is a nice crutch.
Are there any subjects off limits?
Yes and no. If you want to make a living at fiction, you have to have a business sense, and that means knowing that some subjects are off limits from a publishing perspective. (If you don’t believe me, try to pitch a bestiality- or pedophilia-themed novel to a publisher and see what happens.)
Outside of those, I wouldn’t shy away from much as long as it fits in the story. My debut novel THE SHADOW BROKER has a few scenes that might be tough to stomach, but I felt they were important to the story. They weren’t gratuitous, in my opinion, anyway.
In my third novel, THE PRISON GUARD’S SON, I include backstory about a child who had been kidnaped and murdered. That’s really touchy stuff, especially since I have two young children myself. I don’t linger too much on that backstory, but the context is vital to the novel, so I have to address it.
Can you tell us a bit about your published books so far? I believe you have three in your Mr. Finn series, plus a horror novella; is there one you are more proud of than any of the others? Which and why? Which would you press into a reader’s hand ahead of the others?
As of this interview, yes, I’ve published four books (THE SHADOW BROKER, SCAR TISSUE, THE PRISON GUARD’S SON, and THE WHITE BOY). I love them all for different reasons.
I wouldn’t say I’m more proud of any one of them more than the others (you gotta love all your kids the same, right?), but SHADOW will always hold a special place for me because it was my first book. It also won a Shamus Award from the PI Writers of America, which was pretty cool. WHITE BOY also holds a special place because it was a very personal story to me.
I typically promote SHADOW the most simply because it’s the first in the Mr. Finn series and I want readers to start what that. PRISON could read as a stand alone, but readers will get more out of it if they start at the beginning.
I’ve only read the first Finn book, The Shadow Broker and have the following two to look forward to, without any spoilers is the series over or will we be seeing more of our man in the future?
So, the series is on a hold for the moment, while I complete my current novel, BEYOND THE SYCAMORE TREES. That’s a paranormal suspense novel, very similar to WHITE BOY. Those two stories are connected, but SYCAMORE is longer and explores deeper themes.
I do plan to return to the Finn series at some point, but it might take a turn from what is currently out there. I know there are a lot of fans of that series, but to be honest, I don’t think I could stick with one series, simply because I believe it would get very formulaic over time. I love Finn as a character, and I’m pretty certain he’ll be back, as will some of the other characters from the series.
What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?
I think completing and publishing SHADOW was the most satisfying at the moment, simply because I’ve had that goal for a long time and by completing the novel I fulfilled a promise to myself that I was going to see it through.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Not in my bottom drawer; that’s where I keep all the cables to things I no longer own.
Seriously, though, no unpublished novels, but several short stories. They’re unpublished, not because they are garbage, but because I’ve been too lazy to pitch them to magazines or anthologies. I’ve been so focused on the novels that the shorts kind of get neglected. Maybe there’s a story idea there… All the characters from an author’s short stories conspire against him because he’s too focused on his novels to pay them any attention. I call dibs on that.
What’s the current project in progress?
SYCAMORE is about half complete. Maybe a little more than that, but once I finish the draft, it’s got a long road to publication. I don’t currently have a literary agent, and I’d like to use SYCAMORE to try and land one, and all that takes oodles of time.
What’s the best thing about writing?
It’s being in control of my own life. If I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I don’t have to. That said, I’ve gotten out of bed every day since I started writing full time because I have this annoying voice in my head that makes sure I’m responsible and that I act like an adult. He’s an ass.
Writing is also a fantastic way to spend your time. Sure beats accounting or working in IT (no offense to any readers in those professions, they just aren’t for me). Life is much too short to spend it doing anything except what you love doing.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say an inconsistent paycheck. Luckily, my wife has a “real job” not to mention health insurance, so that helps tremendously, but I never know how much I’m going to earn month to month. Some months are great and others maybe not so much, so you have to be fiscally aware and responsible if you’re going to make a go at this.
Shine Out of Bedlam, Jeff Hilliard
Many Genres, One Craft, Michael Arzen and Heidi Miller
Joyland, Stephen King
The Horror Hall of Fame, Joe Lansdale
Fever, David Kettlehake
Who do you read and enjoy?
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Not really. It’s cliché, but while I’m totally jealous of certain authors, I can’t say there is a story that I wish I had written. They’re too personal, and I believe that every story comes from the right author.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
I’m an avid woodworker. I also play golf, badly.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
That’s easy because I just watched it last night. “Diana: 7 Days that Shook the World.” I live in the U.S. and was in college when Princess Diana died, and to be honest, while I knew a lot about her, I didn’t know the sheer impact she had on the English people or the immense impact her death created across the pond. It was a tremendous film, and I learned a lot about some of the things that were happening behind the scenes and the impact her death had on the monarchy. Very interesting.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Conger household?
Unfortunately, yes. Guilty as charged. My wife and I just finished Game of Thrones, and now I’ll be depressed for the next 1.5 years as I wait for the final season. I got rid of satellite TV last year because I found that I’d sit down at night and just surf the channels until I found something. I hated that and thought I was spending way too much time watching useless crap just because I couldn’t find nothing better that was on. Now, we’re pretty selective about what we watch. Game of Thrones is a must watch, but so is Last Week Tonight, with Jon Oliver. It’s the smartest show on television. You Brits be hysterical.
In a couple of years’ time…
…I’ll still be doing what I’m doing, but hope to be less reliant on client work and more focused on fiction. I’ve got a lot of stories yet to tell.
Many thanks to Trace for his time
You can keep up to speed with him at the following haunts.....
Thoughts on The Shadow Broker appeared here.