Author Colin Conway has become a firm favourite over the past couple of years. The first in his new series, Strait Over Tackle was enjoyed recently.
Colin was kind enough to submit to a bit of gentle questioning ....
It’s not full-time, but I’ve learned I’m the type of person who likes to do multiple things at once. During the day, I’m a commercial real estate broker. I stumbled into this career later in my life (at forty) and was fortunate to do so. It helped me turn my life around in so many ways. Not only was it a career I looked forward to every day, but I now invest in commercial real estate because of it.
Prior to this, I’ve been a police officer, a property manager, and a soldier. I’ve also owned a laundromat, invested in a bar, and ran a karate school.
I’m about to read your latest offering – Strait to Hell. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?
snowbirding detective travels south for the winter and quickly finds murder, mystery,
That’s fifteen words. Bam!
Yes. A third book (Strait Out of Nowhere) is already finished and will come out in ninety days. I waited until I had three books written in the series before releasing the first one. I’ve learned that it’s best for me to have a few ready to go before launching. Readers (and count me among them) tend to want the next book in a series after they finish the first.
Do you have a favourite out of the pair? Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader?
Oh, man, that’s tough. I love the latest for several reasons, but I’d say read Strait Over Tackle. Even though the series can be read in any order, if you have the option, always start at the beginning.
2021…… 3 books so far,
2020…. 7 published books/pieces/collaborations
2019 …. 6 assorted
Do you sleep ever?
Ha! I do, but it’s regimented. My girlfriend bristles at it since she’s a night owl. I go to bed around 10 p.m. every night (except the occasional Friday) and get up at 5 a.m. every morning to get my writing done (weekends and holidays included). That allows me a solid two hours of quiet time before the rest of the house wakes up to start their day. If we have an early day planned, I will get up at 4 to get my writing in.
Developing this habit changed my productivity level and made my life immensely better. Previously, I would try to write at night (starting about 8 or 9 p.m.). The writing was chopping since I was distracted. I learned that I used the best of my creativity on others earlier in the day.
Standalones – tick
Cozy series – tick
Charlie-316 – collaborative series with Frank Zafiro – tick
509 series – tick
Solo vs collaborative efforts – which do you enjoy more?
I like them both for different reasons.
Writing solo is about complete control and who doesn’t want control? Each world is my own. I decide what happens, where it occurs, and the ramifications of every event. Especially when building a world like the 509 Crime Stories, that’s a heady feeling.
I’ve only collaborated with Frank, but those writing experiences were like playing with a friend. Prior to the actual work, we brainstormed ideas with a lot of “What if this happened?” followed by “Then this could happen!” There were times we brainstormed ourselves into a corner and thought, “That’s great.” Because a character under immense pressure might do bad things. Readers saw this in the Charlie-316 series with the actions of Tyler Garrett, Ray Zielinksi, and Tom Farrell.
Working in a collaboration means giving up control, but it resulted in more fun.
How does the collaboration work?
After the initial brainstorm, we created an outline of the story then defined who would write what. In one book, I wrote the opening chapter and sent it to Frank. He then edited my chapter and wrote his chapter. When I received the document back, I either accepted his edits to my first chapter or commented on them, then edited his new chapter, and finally wrote my new chapter. When I sent it back to him, he started the process over again.
By the time we finished the book, it was as if we were already finished with the second draft due to the amount of editing we’d done.
You and Frank – 4 books. Was it easier or trickier or just different to working alone?
Actually, we’ve written five together. We also wrote Some Degree of Murder—a book that exists in his River City series.
I would say working with Frank is easier than working alone.
First, it’s faster—way faster! We can write a book in half the time. It’s crazy how quickly the Charlie-316 books were written.
Second, we have learned a shorthand language when editing each other’s works. We don’t take anything personal now. Everything we say or do is to make the work better and to protect our brands. It’s better that he kicks me in the nuts and calls me out for making an error in police procedure than a first-time reader.Who is the better writer?
When we started, Frank was far better as he had many more years of practice. I believe I’ve caught up recently, though. A lot of that has to do with the habit of everyday writing and our editing of each other’s works. We’re always trying to help the other guy improve. I’m incredibly thankful to Frank.
Who is better looking?
Me. I already gave him the better writer although I did say I caught up. Okay, so maybe he’s catching up in looks. I’ll give him that.
Any disagreements along the way?
The only disagreement we had was for the title for book two of the Charlie-316 series. I can’t
remember what the initial title was, but it was weak. Then we bandied about equally lame replacement titles and never could come to agreement. We eventually settled on Dark Intent. We both hated that one, but it seemed the least offensive of the replacement options.
Then one afternoon, I heard a news commentator say something like, “It’s never the crime that brings them down, it’s the cover-up.” Well, that was exactly what the second book was about! And Never the Crime was born.
Can you remember what your first published piece was and when?
I wrote for my high school newspaper and then my first college’s newspaper. After that, my first published piece was an article in GameRoom magazine (December 2003). It was about an arcade I built in my basement along with my friend and my daughter. It was a special experience and I wanted to share it with the small world of arcade game collectors. Seeing the article in the magazine felt very special.
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
Every morning, I wake at 5 a.m and write until 7/7:30 a.m. My goal is 1,000 words a day. Some days I really crank and get almost 2,000. On the weekends, I can write a little longer because the rest of the family sleeps in. Those days I can get closer to 2,500 words.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
Not really. My family and friends are so well known to me, I think I fail to notice the odd things they do. Usually, it’s something I’ve noticed in strangers that piques my interest. If something catches my eyes, ear, or nose, then I will make a note. I’ve got little notes all over the place about odd or interesting character traits.
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
About half the time.
In all the Charlie-316 stories, we knew how they would end before we started. For collaboration and the road map of the series, it had to be that way.
A couple of my 509 Crime Stories have been written this way. The Blind Trust, for example. I knew the mechanics behind that story, what happened to the family involved, and who the killer was before I ever sat to start writing. The same with The Value in Our Lies. There were too many things going on not to know what would happen at the end.
Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
Part of the joy of writing is experiencing the discovery along with the characters. However, a road map is necessary at times. So, outside of collaborations, I’m a part-time plotter. And it works like this.
For some works, I’ve plotted the initial half of a story because I know how I want it to start. I get to writing then once I reach the end of that road map, I let the story take me where it wants to go.
On other works, I do the opposite. I write about halfway. By then, all the players have been exposed and I see a general direction in which the story should move. I’ll plot the course to the end and knock it out.
Serial killers. They’re so boring and played out. Ugh. If the world had as many serial killers as modern media likes to believe, we’d be in complete and utter anarchy. Blood would fill the gutters of our streets. Grow the fuck up, people.
I’m more interested in the crimes that
normal people commit—the random act that folks do in a moment of passion that
they suddenly regret and must hide from others.
Now, that’s real life.
Not some genius serial killer who eats a person’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Puh-lease.
Of course, now that I said that, I’m going to want to write a serial killer novel and this will come back to haunt me. So be it.
How long from conception to completion did
Strait to Hell take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the
road along the way?
It took roughly three months, and it was as smooth as any other book. I will occasionally loop back into a current work and edit from page one to where I stopped. I’m a fan of the editing process. I like tweaking things to add clarity or to speed up the prose. It’s about keeping the story on the freeway. If anything takes the reader off into a neighborhood of boring exposition, then it needs to go.
Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?
Strait to Hell is very close to what I
imagined it to be. Sam Strait is
different than my 509 characters in that he’s laid back. He does have some
demons he’s working through, but everyone does. That’s what makes them
interesting to read. That’s what makes
us interesting in real life.
Was there one spark or germ of imagination which started the story off in your mind?
The title was behind this story. In developing the series, I came up with the character name Sam Strait and started playing with titles. Strait to Hell was an early one. Not to give too much away, but I wondered if there were any towns in America named Hell. Guess what? There were!
And why in Hades would someone name their town Hell? Did they think so little of where they were living or how they were living? If you were going to start a town called Hell, wouldn’t you say screw this, let’s go find someplace we might call Heaven? Even a town called Adequate would be better than a placed named Hell.
Makes you wonder about our ancestors.
Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
There is a three-book arc about an amateur sleuth that has been in that bottom drawer for seventeen years. They were the first books I ever wrote, but they were terrible. Not the concept, just the execution. I’ve pulled them out repeatedly over the years and reworked them. Yet, I was never happy with how the character acted. I recently reworked his backstory and renamed him to John Cutler. That set all the stories up to be the way I wanted them. I finally got the three novels to a place where they feel good, and they will be released later this year.
Cutler will fit nicely into my world. He’s angry at the world for the choices he’s made. He’s immature like Sam Strait but in an entirely different way. The initial three books show him growing, but he’ll still have opportunity to learn more the hard way.
What’s the current project in progress?
I’m working on book five of the Cozy Up series. Book four (Cozy Up to Trouble) is done and in the queue.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Everyone should have some sort of creative outlet. Some are good mechanically while others can build things out of wood. I can do neither. I’m also a terrible cook—unless you like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich then I’ve got you covered. But I can string together words to create worlds and that’s a damn satisfying venture. It’s almost addictive. If I miss a morning of writing (due to travel, for example), I will feel antsy for the remainder of the day.
You touched on it above. People see shadows of themselves or others in my work that aren’t there. That can lead to hurt feelings even when I insist that I haven’t based a character on anyone.
People believe what they want to believe. Just check the astrological charts or any upcoming U.S. political election for proof of that.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
Great question! In reverse order:
One for the Money by Janet
Evanovich. This is the first book of
hers I’ve ever read, and I think I now have a crush on Stephanie Plum. I will
definitely read more in this series.
Be Obsessed or Be Average by Grant Cardone. I reread this one to juice my output. The guy is a master motivator.
Artifacts of Death by Rich Curtin. This was a mystery set in Moab, Utah. I picked it up while visiting the area and loved it. Fantastic ending.
Land of the Blind by Jess Walter. Loved this one! Set in Spokane, Washington—my hometown and also the setting for my 509 Crime Stories. Jess is a superb writer.
Who do you read and enjoy?
My top three are Lawrence Block, John D. MacDonald, and Richard Stark. They are masters of the craft.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Harry Potter. I hate fantasy, but I’d love the money associated with it.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
Disc golf. It’s laid back and I’ve never met an unchill person while playing. Probably because most of them are stoned.
While on the other hand, golf is full of arrogant guys standing around bragging about their drivers. Dr. Freud is holding on line one.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
Rocky. And yeah, I’ve already seen it more than a dozen times. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started choking up at different parts. I used to get emotional at the fact he went the distance with Apollo. Now, I get emotional in the quieter scenes with Mickey and Adrian. It’s funny how a movie can grow with you.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Conway household?
I love TV, but I try to limit myself. Otherwise, I’d be glued to it like an addict. My must-watch is The Republic of Doyle. It was a Canadian TV series that ran from 2010-2014. I recently finished it and can’t stop raving about it. It was a feel-good show in the vein of Psych (fantastic!) I loved the characters and their interactions, and the scenery made me fall in love with St. John’s, Newfoundland. To visit there is high on my vacation priority list.
What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?
Another great question! I’ll just list the last three complete albums I listened to.
Dirty Honey’s self-titled EP – these young guys are fantastic!
Greta Van Fleet’s From the Fires – another group of amazing young musicians.
Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil – got to listen to the champs every now and then.
RANDOM TRIVIA FUN QUESTIONS
What’s your favourite vegetable?
Chocolate chip cookies.
When did you last have a fist fight?
An actual fist fight? That would probably be grade school.
And before you ask, I lost. Thank you for bringing up this painful memory. My therapist is going to get an extra session out of it.
Had I fought with my fists as a grown man, then maybe I could proudly answer this one. But no, I had to be a well-adjusted male who could talk his way out of problems. Thank you for outing me once more. My counselor is going to get a new car out of this interview.
What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?
My father told me to never complain about a meal unless you’re willing to cook it yourself. I’m a terrible cook so there won’t be any complaining coming from this direction.
I know it’s ridiculous, but that’s the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. Cookies are nature’s perfect food. I think if we had to, we could all survive on cookies and love.
And that’s why my girlfriend refuses to allow me to cook. She says we’d starve to death.
At least, there would be love. And snickerdoodles.
Anywhere with a hotel and a bar overlooking the beach. I’m hoping St. John’s, Newfoundland has one of these.
Many thanks to Colin for his time.
You can catch up with him at his website - www.colinconway.com
Check out his latest book ....
Strait to HellRule #2 – No attachments.
Sam Strait didn’t want to leave home early for the snowbird season, but the rules he lived his life by demanded it. When a relationship turned sour, the rules dictated he pack his bags and get out of town.
He could have gone anywhere in the world, but Sam picked Phoenix, Arizona. With its beautiful women, fall baseball league, and warm winters, what more could a single guy ask for?
When the death of a new friend brings violent strangers into his life, Sam is forced to make a choice—run out of town or find a killer.
If he were smart, he’d adhere to the second rule, but there’s a beautiful woman in the mix. Soon, Sam is racing across the California desert with a band of outlaws on his heels. He’s must find the killer quick before there’s never a chance to leave.
Strait to Hell is the second book in an exciting new series from the author of the 509 Crime Stories and the co-author of the Charlie-316 series. If you like your crime fiction with a dose of humor, then pick up this book today.