Craig Terlson, author of Manistique, Surf City Acid Drop and a lot more besides answers a few questions for me on his reading and writing habits.
Surf City Acid Drop featured on the blog yesterday. Manistique is currently being enjoyed.
Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
After graduating art school in 1985, I started a 26-year career as a professional illustrator for books, magazines, and newspapers across North America. It was a great gig, but as the industry began to shift, so did my career. The day job now is lead designer at a small university full of wonderful colleagues. I still do a bit of illustration, and teach part-time.
Writing was always on my mind, but it wasn’t until about 2005 that I really started doing it seriously. With a full-time day job, I write in the morning before work, or in the evening, or just whenever I can fit it in. Vacation days often mean writing days for me.
*I’m about halfway through Surf City Acid Drop, your first Luke Fischer novel (and enjoying myself). The second Luke book dropped recently - Manistique. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less? (*Long finished now)
1970’s style anti-hero takes a road trip to Upper Michigan, where he teams up with tough local sheriff with a helluva spin kick. Together they try to solve a murder that never happened and find one that did.
(Hey, that’s 38 words, not bad.)Previously you've had a collection of stories published - Ethical Acts of Animal Husbandry, and three other novels - Bent Highway, Correction Line, and Fall in One day. Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader?
Would you class them all as crime fiction, or do they reach into other genres?
I have a long-standing problem with genre in general – I do know that publishers, agents, and booksellers need to be able to put a book in a category, so they can sell it. But classifying them as this way robs the reader of discovering someone they might love, but never go into that section of the bookstore. So sure, they’re crime fiction, but they are also literary, slipstream, and historical, and one of them even wanders into YA (Young Adult),
Maybe all authors think their newest is the best – but I do believe Manistique is my most accomplished piece of writing thus far. Though, I do have another waiting in the wings that I’m pretty excited about, too.
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
When I’m on schedule, it’s early morning before work for an hour or so—evenings are for editing. But the schedule is very flexible, as there are days I don’t write, and then days when I’ll go for hours.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?Not really – I guess some are amalgamations of people I’ve met, but I don’t really think of character like that. Fall in One Day is my most autobiographical novel, so for sure in that one there’s both family and friends from where I grew up. It’s funny, I’ve had long lost school friends contact me after one of my short stories is published. They always ask, is that me? I always answer, no.
Some of my characters come fully formed. Lawrence in Correction Line, Mostly Harold in Surf City Acid Drop, and Sheriff Sam in Manistique were like that. Not based on anyone, just a gift from the writing gods.
The term I’ve learned is “pantser”, as in writing by the seat of ones. This is totally my method. My ideas are very rough in the beginning, and it almost always starts with character. In the beginning, I follow the characters to see what they do. That may sound kind of weird, but if I’m honest in my listening, I end up in some fascinating places. Pantsers also write themselves into corners, so the method has its dangers. I have nothing against those whose outline, they just don’t work for me.
Are there any subjects off limits?
None come to mind. I guess there is violence in my work, but I’ve never been a fan of graphic descriptions, torture, or certainly any harm to children. In Fall in One Day, there are children in peril, but I walk carefully when I write about that.
How long from conception to completion did Manistique take?
I never know the answer to that question, as I’m usually working on a few projects at once. The first draft of Manistique lay dormant for a couple of years, before I picked it up and started working on it again. Probably somewhere between two and four years, but as mentioned, other work was completed within that time.
Has the end result mirrored your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?
I love this question. I’m not quite sure what my expectation was, beyond learning more about my main character, Luke Fischer, as he is part of a series. It’s hard to know if the book is different, though when readers comment on it, those are like mini-revelations to me.
Were there any bumps in the road along the way?
Truth in character is very important to me, so an ongoing “bump” was the question of what drives Luke to do what he does. I think I answered that in Manistique, but I’ve still got more books to explore this guy. Finishing a book is hard, but to quote Gloria Steinem, “Writing is the only thing that, when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”
Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Is anyone interested in a time-travelling Samurai who inhabits another body in 1980s Toronto? Oh, and remember what I said about genre? Yeah, well I’ve never figured out what this one is.
What’s the current project in progress?
I’m working on the third Luke Fischer book. It’s been exciting to have readers respond to him lately, and that’s driving me to create a new one. Hopefully this won’t take as long as some of the others.
What’s the best thing about writing?
I love when I lose myself in it. I often write first drafts to music, especially during action scenes. When Dick Dale is pumping surf rock, and Luke is dodging a punch to the head, I sit back and watch. It’s like I’m not even really writing.
I don’t mind the editing process, I like sharpening the prose, and making the structure work. But fixing those continuity errors is kind of draining. What kind of car did that guy drive in chapter three?
What are the last five books you’ve read?
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders. A couple by the UK crime writer Ed Church, Look Down and Probably Dead. I re-read Slow Bear by Anthony Neil Smith. And an unpublished great book by J.B. Stevens (that should be published), The Blue Silence.
Who do you read and enjoy?
I’ll read every word George Saunders writes. The list is long after that. A few notables, Richard Ford, Alice Munro, Joe Lansdale, Jennifer Egan, Elmore Leonard, Don DeLillo. I also read philosophy, theology, and a whack of film criticism. I’ll read anything
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
The Last Good Kiss, James Crumley
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
I do love film – I’m currently in a film studies class that I am loving.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
Sorcerer from 1977. A William Friedkin film that should have received a lot more acclaim.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Terlson household?
I don’t watch a lot of TV, except for maybe Colbert, and my wife likes those home-reno shows. I watch to be a good partner, but they just seem like an extended job list to me. Better Call Saul is one of the best things to ever appear on TV – the writing is stellar, maybe even better than Breaking Bad, which I thought was amazing. What the hell is Vince Gilligan drinking?
What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?
Those who know me would probably guess Wilco, Wilco, and Wilco. But let me check my spotify.. Brass in Pocket, The Pretenders, Smoke from a Distant Fire, Sanford Townsend Band, and Devil’s Haircut, Beck.
What’s your favourite vegetable?
Gotta go with the cucumber here. Is that weird?
When did you last have a fist fight?
Grade 4 (10 years old) – I recall getting my ass kicked.
Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club?
Um, yes. In Plentywood, Montana on New Year’s Eve. There was a bar fight going on, and I got swept up with the others. Hmm, I may need to change that previous answer.
Do you have any tattoos?
Nope. But I want one (low pain tolerance).
What was your first pet’s name?
Maurice. And yes, he was a French Poodle.
What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?
I loved my mom, but she was a really bad cook. Like really bad. I’m thinking one of her “casseroles”, if that’s what they were.
Do you have any irrational fears?
I hate heights. But I’m not sure that’s irrational – it’s dangerous up there.
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
Mexico. I can’t wait to go back. Particularly, a small town called Melaque.
When did you last tell a lie?
That question about the last fist fight.
Many thanks to Craig for his time.
You can catch up with him at the following haunts.....