Margot Kinberg, author of Past Tense (on the blog yesterday) has a new novel out today - Downfall.
Margot was kind enough to submit to a bit of gentle questioning from me.....
Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job? Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
The writing’s not full time (although I hope someday it will be). By day, I’m a hardworking
egghead Associate Professor at my university. I’ve been in higher
education for most of my career and taught at large and small schools in three
different parts of the US. Does that sound too much like a job
application? By night, though, I’m a
What’s your typical writing schedule?
Well, I fibbed a bit. I usually don’t write at night unless I get a real brainstorm. I’m more of a morning person, so I write early in the morning. I’m the one with the home office light on long before the first joggers and dog-walkers get going. I don’t always have a set number of minutes or hours that I write, because that depends on my ‘day job’ obligations for the day. But I generally try to get in an hour or two of writing during a working day. When I’m not teaching, it’s much more.
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’m more of a plotter. Since I write crime fiction, my stories generally have at least one victim. I start with that, and then work out who that person was and why anyone would want that person dead. The story then builds from there.
That’s not to say, though, that I don’t add things in as I go along. More than once, I’ve found myself adding in characters or events as the story evolved. I think that’s the way real life is: you start with a plan for your life, or the next few months or years of it, and things happen as you go along.
Are there any subjects off limits?
That’s an interesting question. My first thought is that it’s not so much a matter of subject as it is the way the topic is handled. For instance, an author can write about rape or domestic abuse without it becoming ‘torture porn.’
That said, though, I don’t write stories in which animals are killed or brutally treated. And I don’t write stories in which young children are treated brutally. I know that there are authors who can write effectively about those topics. I’m not one of them.
I’ve recently finished your third Joel Williams book – Past Tense (very enjoyable by the way) and I understand you have the fourth due shortly – Downfall – can you pimp Downfall to me in 50 words or less?
Thanks for the kind words – so glad you enjoyed Past Tense. In Downfall, Joel Williams and two research colleagues do a study of Second Chance, a for-profit alternative school program in Philadelphia. In the process, they uncover some ugly things, including the death of one of Second Chance’s students. Just how far will someone go to cover up the truth?
How long did Downfall take from the seed of your imagination to this point in time? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way? Did it turn out how you imagined?
Downfall actually has a bit of a weird history. I wrote the first draft of it about five years ago. But that draft was all wrong and had a lot of problems with it. So, it languished in the ‘I’ll get back to it’ file for quite some time. In the meantime, I wrote Past Tense. Last year, I got the draft of Downfall out again, shook the dust off, and re-wrote it. So, although it’s the fourth published Joel Williams novel, it’s actually the third one I wrote. It’s a bit like the Beatles’ Let it Be and Abbey Road. It didn’t turn out the way I first envisioned it, but that’s for the better.
Without any spoilers, is that Joel’s adventures done and dusted or is there more in store for him and your readers in the future? Any writing plans for a non-Williams book?
I’m not quite done with Joel Williams – or, should I say, he’s not quite done with me. I have ideas for a couple of Williams novels. They’re just in the ‘what if” stage, so nothing really planned out and written yet. But I’m thinking...
As for other writing, I’ve two novels in the works at the present. Both are (at least at the moment) standalones. One features a character from B-Very Flat and follows her story. The other is completely different, with no connection to the Joel Williams series.
You have four Joel Williams' books now to your name. Is there one of your books you are more proud of than the others? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader?
Hmm...that’s an interesting question. It’s a bit like being asked which of your children you love most. I’d say either Past Tense or Downfall (although I am proud of the other two). The reason is that I think I’ve learned a few things as I’ve worked on the series. I think the more recent novels are richer – at least I hope they are! It wouldn’t say much for me if I didn’t get any better at writing over time.
What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?
I’d have to say it was when I read a really positive, supportive review of B-Very Flat from someone who had no reason (not a family member, etc..) to be nice about the book. What was especially meaningful about that was that the review made it clear that I’d made a sort of connection with that reader. It sounds sappy, I know, but I really do like connecting with and communicating with readers. I love it when people who read my work ‘get’ the points I’m trying to make.
With regards to your earlier work – one title remains elusive – Publish or Perish, what’s the story with this one? I understand B-Very Flat is readily available.
It is, and so is Past Tense. The story is all about the world of publishing. To make a long, frustrating story short, I was somewhat naïve when I started trying to get my writing out there. So, I agreed to work with publishers who, as it turned out, did not have my interests as any kind of priority. After a long time, no promo or other help from those publishers, and constant reminders that I would only get support if I paid extra – a lot extra – for it, I decided to get my rights back. I was successful with B-Very Flat. It hasn’t happened yet with Publish or Perish. I’m hoping that will change.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
I’d hardly call them gems! I’m working slowly on a short story collection. Some are originals, and some are expansions of some of the flash fiction stuff I’ve put up on my blog. I don’t know when the project will see the light of day. I do know it’s very good for my writing skills to do the short story format. I like stretching those writing muscles.
What’s the current project in progress?
I’m working on two novels at the moment, both (for now) standalones. One continues the story of Patricia Stanley, one of the characters from B-Very Flat. I’m picking up with her life a few years after the events of B-Very Flat. The other is unrelated at all to the Joel Williams novels. It’s an expansion of a flash fiction story I wrote. The characters wouldn’t leave me alone, so I’m working on that one, too. We’ll see how each goes.
What’s the best thing about writing?
The best thing about writing is getting to tell the stories that I have inside. They don’t really give me peace unless I do. I love sharing those stories. That’s what makes writing a joy. Besides, how many people do you know who get paid for making stuff up – and aren’t later indicted for it? Plus, there is no dress code for writing.
Writing takes a toll, both physical and mental. It takes a lot of physical discipline to keep writing, even when you simply don’t want to that day. But the fact is, you don’t get it done unless you sit your hind end in that chair and do it. It also takes a lot of mental discipline to focus on getting better and keeping your optimism. That’s especially true when there’s a negative review, or when you notice a stupid mistake you’ve made, or.... or... But you have to let it go and keep writing.
Not to play coy, but a few of the books I’ve been reading are candidates for this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award For Best Crime Novel. So I’m waiting until the lists are announced to talk about them. But I’ve also been reading other things. For instance, there’s Erin Moore’s That’s Not English, a really interesting discussion of the way the same language is used so differently in the UK and the US. It’s all bound up in history and culture, and I find that fascinating. And there’s Paddy Richardson’s Through the Lonesome Dark. Admittedly, I read that one a few months ago, but can’t resist the chance to plug it. It’s a powerful historical novel that takes place just before and during World War I. Oh, and folks, if you haven’t read Sarah Ward’s D.C. Connie Childs novels, please do so. You won’t regret it.
Honestly, I don’t have just one, or even a few, particular authors to list. My main reading focus is crime fiction, but that’s such a broad genre that it’s impossible to choose just a few authors. I will say, though, that I’m (not so patiently) waiting for Angela Savage to give us a new Jayne Keeney novel (a-hem, Dr. Savage!). I’m also trying to catch up with Mark Douglas-Home’s work, among a few other authors I’ve discovered in the past few years. The trouble is, there are so many talented authors out there, that it’s very hard to focus on just one or a few.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
I admire a lot of authors and their books, so this isn’t an easy question to answer. Let me approach it this way. I wish I had half the talent of the authors I admire most. And there’s a list of them. I’d love to be able to write even a quarter as well as they do. I know, not a real answer to your question, is it? But it’s my honest response.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
I love music. And I’m fairly eclectic in my tastes. So, a ‘music break’ is always welcome. I used to play, myself, but I haven’t done that in a while. Still, I love listening, singing, going to a once-in-a-while concert, and so on.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
Hmm....most recently it was was Joe Wright’s The Darkest Hour. I thought Gary Oldman did a fine job as Churchill, and the rest of the cast were up to their roles, too. It’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Kinberg household?
I’m not an addict, really. I do watch TV, and have been catching up (thank you, Netflix) on a few series like Peaky Blinders and Hinterland/Y Gwyll that I enjoy. But I wouldn’t honestly say there’s ‘must watch’ TV around here. Oh, wait, there was that Super Bowl mania last month. But the Philadelphia Eagles were in the game (and won). So there really was no choice...
In a couple of years’ time…
...I would love to have my Joel Williams series really established and be working on my next series. I don’t know how well that will go, but I would love to be able to write full time.
Thanks, Col, for hosting me!-------------------
Many thanks to Margot for her time.
You can catch up with Margot Kinberg at the following haunts.
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MargotKinbergAuthor/
Google plus https://plus.google.com/117657646966294299664