Author Bling

Monday, July 28, 2014

AR Simmons: An Author Interview

Image of AR Simmons

Welcome, AR Simmons.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I was born in Chicago where my mother’s family (recent German immigrants) lived. Dad was a country boy from the eastern Missouri Ozarks. After moving back to the hills, we worked a subsistence farm. My home today is on land cleared from the native forest by my grandfather. I worked as a carpenter and factory worker before entering the army at nineteen. I served a tour in the Far East. If I ever grew up, it was then.

My service experience gave me three important things: an appreciation of the cultural diversity of my country, an introduction to a world far different from my own, and the G. I. Bill, which paid for my education. In college (I was able to get Bachelor and Master degrees in four years), I majored in history and met a wonderful teacher from New Zealand who made my writing bleed. I refer to the red ink she used for corrections. 

I also met my wife and partner in college, where we had Art and Spanish classes together. We’ve been friends for a long time. She’s my first beta reader, my first copy editor, my illustrator, and my muse. She can be brutally honest. In fact, she told me (correctly) that my original draft of Bonne Femme was both over-crammed with scenes of dubious value, and totally unbelievable. While writing, I sometimes think Richard and Jill as us. Although I’m hardly Richard, she is close to being Jill.

What were you like at school?

I was smart and capable in elementary school, totally lost in high school, eager to get on with my life after a stint in the armed services in college, and a passionate teacher of history and spanish during my career in public education.

Which writers inspire you?

For simple style and setting, you can't beat Tony Hillerman. For passion of place and culture, you can't beat M.M. Kaye. Being an American, I have to mention the writer of the great American novel, Mark Twain.

Do you read much, and if so, who are your favorite authors?

I read a lot, but not as much as before I started writing. A body has to sleep sometime. Favorites? Mark Twain, Francis Parkman, Tony Hillerman, M.M. Kaye, Kipling ...  There are so many.

For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?

I like them all, but I'm really fond of reading my Kindle with white text and black background.

What is your favorite quote?

Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings.
It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts forever blowing through one’s mind.

—Mark Twain

What book/s are you reading at present?

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

What genre are your books?


What draws you to this genre?

I like mysteries because I think that the human mind is a pattern finding thing. It’s why we see pictures in inkblots and clouds. We like to figure things out. I like suspense because we all like to be scared. (Think roller coasters and bungie jumping.) I like to have the reader emotionally invested. I want some of my characters to become precious to them. Then, when they are put in peril, the tension increases. I guess I’m a vicarious adrenaline junkie. I think most suspense readers are. I always try to have an intense climax scene. 

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

To gain a loyal readership and to entertain them. I just love doing an “Aw shucks” when someone tells me how much they enjoyed one of my stories.

When did you decide to become a writer?

Well, not after my first English Comp class. I had just started college after returning from the army. I was asked to stay after class to discuss my first essay assignment. My professor, a wonderful lady from New Zealand whom I consider to this day as the best teacher I ever knew, had some unkind things to say about my efforts. She also suggested that I drop her class and take “bone-head” English. I remember explaining that it had been some time since I’d been in school, and that I was “just rusty.” “No, this is more than rust,” she said. I stuck it out, and she made my writing bleed. It was the first time I knew that blue pencils were filled with red ink.

I decided I wanted to write fiction seriously sometime during graduate school while writing research papers in history. Come to think of it, maybe that research work is where I developed a passion for the investigation which is the heart of mystery novels.

Why do you write?

I grew up listening to my parents and grandparents tell stories around the dinner table. Spinning stories comes naturally to me. I also read a lot. I think that reading good books slowly, and thinking about them to the point that you become lost in them is the best way to learn to write. The short answer is that I just love to write. I even like editing my own work. Then there’s the feedback. Whenever someone tells me something about one of my stories that hits directly on the idea I was trying to convey, that is such a satisfying rush. I just love it. That’s all there is to it.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

Ten. My favorite is the 11th (working title: The Other Law).

What does your family think of your writing?

My wife thinks it’s good. The rest of the family thinks that it’s only me.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

My first completed book, Men and Ideas; A History of Technology came when I was around 35.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Pay more attention to what she says. She's got better sense than you do.

Where do your ideas come from?

Musings, news events, and, believe it or not, listening to singer/song writers. A scrap of dialog from a movie, a television show, or another book may be the genesis. Of course, many of the ideas are the products of interaction between my characters: what would Jill do if Richard did that?

What do you think makes a good story?

All stories are about people and relationships. I have to have characters that mean something to me, and there has to be an interesting dynamic between them. Then there has to be a problem to solve (a victim to rescue, a criminal to catch, a love to win, a world to save, etc.) In the end though, it’s the characters. They have to come to life. If I don’t care about them and their plight, there’s really no point in reading (or writing) the book. 

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

A combination of the two. First, I develop an idea of the precipitating event, and then I imagine a conclusion. I develop central characters, the requisite minor characters (usually made up on the fly based on people I know, or amalgams of people I know). Then the story begins unfolding for me. One thing suggests another. At that point, it’s just go with the flow of ideas. Once the rough draft is finished, I construct a database of scenes. Since Richard is in all the stories, I usually include a field detailing when he knew what. Quite frequently, as in Call Her Sabine (RC #6) there are simultaneous stories going on. I need to coordinate them, so that requires two more fields. So it’s an outline/diary of the story. I hope that makes sense. 

Do you write full-time or part-time?

Full time now.

How much research do you do?

My wife and I take road trips to the locations used in the books when possible. Of course I do fact checking. In Canaan Camp I had to do research on everything from the Posse Commitatus to the weapons storage at Umatilla. Above my computer is a shelf containing DSM-V, the FBI’s Crime Classification Manual, a book on drug interactions, Bullfinch's Mythology, and several books on the history and lore of the Ozarks. Of course, you can’t beat the Internet.

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I'm an early morning person. For years the time from 3:00 AM until 6:00 AM has been my best time for brain work and creativity. After that, it's when the mood strikes. I end up doing at least 60 hours per week.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

No. I ride a hot streak. If things are going well, I tend to keep at it. When I grow stale, I quit. I’m not a bean counter. I don’t have to be. I obsess. I usually set a timer so that I can take a break. Then I ignore the timer.

Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
Yes. My writing has to cool enough so that I can read what I wrote rather than what I thought I wrote.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Writing internal dialog not only of the main character, but of others including the bad guys. Sometimes nothing sets a mood better than intimate thoughts.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Find your voice. Write every day and please yourself. Creativity isn’t done by the numbers. Listen to criticism, but be true to yourself. If you don’t believe you, no one else will.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

From start to finish, I would say about six months. That takes me through to a “final” draft. Then the beta readers take over while I let it sit. The copy editing, cover work, and readying to publish usually takes another two to three months. I usually let the book rest long enough for me to be able to read what I wrote rather than what I thought I wrote. (For Bonne Femme that was several years.)

What is the easiest thing about writing?

For me, it’s writing dialog. I have a very good audio memory. I can hear my characters speaking. Believe it or not, I think I would recognize Jill’s voice if I heard it in the dark.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

Trashing all the “wonderful scenes” that really don’t belong in the novel is painful. I read somewhere that a pencil has two business ends, both of which should be employed liberally. Bonne Femme required about a 60% pruning job. Fortunate (or not), I’m a hoarder. I keep all versions in archives lest I inadvertently pitch out the baby with the bath water. I keep thinking that I can modify those scenes and use them in later stories, but I never do.

So, what have you written?

I have written 10 Mystery/Suspense novels, The Richard Carter series:

Bonne Femme
Cold Tears
Canaan Camp
Secret Song
The King Snake
Call Her Sabine
Road Shrines
Cold Fury
The Grass Widow’s Daughter

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

Richard Carter doesn’t consider himself brave, but he is. He always finds the strength to do what must be done. He is haunted by his Marine experiences in Somalia. He suffers from PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and bouts of clinical depression. Jill, his strength and lifeline, has made an uneasy peace with his law enforcement career, because she sees it as his vital therapy. She tries to tell him that things have just happened to him, but he insists that they are things he has done. Believe it or not, Abraham Lincoln is the emotional pattern for Richard. Lincoln was a man of immense sorrow and profoundly depressed most of his life. Yet, he was jovial and made almost everyone around him happier.
So don’t think that Richard is all gloom and doom. True, he carries a demon that cannot be exorcised because he refuses to write off to fate what he was forced to do in Somalia, but he primarily thinks of that only when he is alone. His wife and his job as a deputy keep him from the abyss. 

Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?

Colin Firth as Richard maybe, and Cate Blanchett as Jill?

Where can we buy or see them?

Bonne Femme, Cold Tears, Canaan Camp, Secret Song, and The King Snake are available as ebooks at Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes & Noble) and Smashwords (Kobo etc.)

Call Her Sabine and Devilry are available only in Kindle for the time being.

Road Shrines, Cold Fury, and The Grass Widow’s Daughter are presently undergoing copy editing.

Tell us about your book cover/s and how it/they came about.

My wife/partner/muse is my cover artist.

Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?

Yes, although it's still true that you can't judge a book by its cover.

What are you working on at the minute?

I'm redacting an intense mystery called Road Shrines that flashes forward from an abduction at a tribal store near Wounded Knee eighteen years ago. 

What’s it about?

1. A suspected serial killer.
2. A missing teenager.

Do you think that giving books away free works and why?

I believe that the importance of getting the book into the hands of readers cannot be overestimated. True, some of the freebies will be stored and never even opened, but who knows when one of your "gentle readers" might say the right word or make a recommendation that will pay off. Then again, remember that I write for the love of it, not to make a living.

What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

We need feedback and promotion. A good review makes my day because it is always nice to run into intelligent and discerning readers who appreciate good work, right? Bad reviews come. Ah well. Seriously, an author must understand that his story simply won’t work for all readers. A critical review often will point out something that fails or needs worked on. Learn from it. Also, don’t get all wrapped in the star system, or else you’ll forget what a gift a good review is.

Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers?

Yes. I get the book into as many hands as possible. I also (and this is very important) research and follow book blogs. If anyone can help you, it has to be the good folks who commit their time to reading and getting the word out on new books. Reviews are the lifeblood of Indies because they rely on word of mouth and recommendations instead of purely on marketing dollars.

What do you do to get book reviews?

I contact good people like the one who owns this site.

Thank you for answering these questions. Could you let the readers know where to connect with you?

My links:

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