Who is the character of the killer clown based on? How did she choose names for the characters? Which scenes were her favorite and which ones were the hardest to write? How much research did she have to do? How does this author balance her time between family, friends, and writing? What are her thoughts on self-publishing?
Note: This interview was first published several years ago on The News in Books.
What was your inspiration for this book? What first gave you the idea of writing about a boy with Tetrachromatic Super Vision?
I actually began writing The Color of Evil before I learned about Tetrachromatic Super Vision. I learned of this real-life power (which is still somewhat of a mystery) in approximately June or July of 2012, while I was writing the book. It just seemed to “fit.”
As for the inspiration for the entire book, that came from a short story within Hellfire & Damnation, the first short story collection. I had written about Tad McGreevy and his ability to see “auras” and his encounter with a clown based on John Wayne Gacy in a short story that went through several versions and names before coming to be called “Living in Hell.” (It was originally entitled “Pufferfish.” I felt sorry for poor Tad…at how I’d left him in that short story, so I decided to return and pick up his life after he recovers. And that led to many other ideas about, “What if…?”
Some reviewers have criticized the obvious comparison(s) and reference(s) to John Wayne Gacy. I purposely chose Gacy’s real clown name (Pogo) and I purposely chose Gacy because there is a very good book (being made into a movie now) entitled Defending a Monster by Sam Amirante, his defender at the time (later a judge known as “The Hugging Judge”). I went out to the Barnes & Noble store in Skokie when he and his co-author were signing books and interviewed Sam and his co-author for small things, mannerisms, or details that perhaps did not make it into their book.
And, of course, it is not fact that Gacy ever escaped after he was found guilty. Far from finding this Chicago connection a liability, I found it a real asset and a great touchstone. I should add that Gacy did work, for a while, in a chicken franchise owned by his father-in-law in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Is there any specific event that has happened in the lives of one the people who experience this unusual power that suggested the events of the story to you?
How long did it take you to complete Red is for Rage?
I am on a self-imposed schedule to try to produce a book in The Color of Evil series right after the first of each year, which will allow me time to publicize it during the year. The E-book came out at the end of January; the paperback followed in March. I may have the book in rough draft form written in 3 months, but there are beta readers who need to weigh in with observations and an editor who does her thing and the illustrator(s), of course, so I schedule a year for the process, but the rough draft is often done in 3 months.
I’m also usually simultaneously at work on a new entry in the short story series Hellfire & Damnation, which are shorter books at 40,000+, but need at least 9 stories focused on Dante’s “Inferno” and the 9 Circles of Hell. If possible, I like to put those out around Halloween or in the fall near Halloween.
Sometimes, I write something Christmas-y for my granddaughters, so I often have at least 3 irons in the proverbial writing fire. I’m working on a sequel to “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” for Ava and Elise, the 4-year-old twins, now. Don’t know if we’ll make it for this year or whether it will be a Christmas offering for the following year, but I have the story written already.
I wrote three short story collections of ghost stories, set along Route 66. Each book was written in a week, so the initial writing is not as time-consuming as the post-writing polishing and editing. However, with the Ghostly Tales of Route 66 short stories, written for a different publisher, I was constrained from going beyond “G”-rated writing There were pictures, as well, so each book was about 1/3 as long as one of The Color of Evil novels (which have no pictures). That, however, means about 20,000 words in a week, so, if you figure an 80,000-word novel, the rough draft could be done in as little as a month if I didn’t leave my Writers’ Lair at all. That hasn’t happened yet but never say never.
This was the second book in the series. How many books total will there be in this fascinating series?
I’m not being smart here, when I say, “You tell me and we’ll both know.” When I set out, I thought it was a trilogy. I now think I have at least four books of material—maybe more. It depends on reader reaction to the characters and their adventures.
Which character is your favorite? Was there a character you just didn’t like very well?
It’s a lot of fun to write the “bad” characters, just as actors say it is fun to play the bad guy(s). I was sorry to see Jeremy Gustaffsson go in Book #2, but it had to be done. Murder demands retribution. I like all the characters, for different reasons. Janice (Kramer) is beginning to grow on me. I think we’re going to learn a lot more about Heather Crompton and her cheerleader friend Kelly Carter (aka Kelly Jamison) in Book Three, the way things look. But the Main Characters (Jenny, Tad, Stevie, Charlie, Andrea) aren’t going anywhere for a while. Some minor characters (Officer Friendly, for example) are going to recur and have roles that are central to the plot. I won’t know, for sure, until the characters start interacting and talking to one another, as they are prone to do.
How did you choose the names for your characters?
I wish I knew. If I knew why I kept naming some characters with “the same letter,” I’d quit doing it. I was asked about Tad McGreevy’s surname. I think it crept into my consciousness from the Editor of a local newspaper whose name is Todd McGreevy. I was not aware that I had a lot of “J” names and a couple of “D” names, and I began changing some names after the fact, and that, I find, is often the Kiss of Death for Yours Truly. In my first novel (“Out of Time,” a sci-fi romance), I carefully selected Bella (beautiful) and Renee (Rebirth) for names of major characters, but these are more All American names and, sometimes, the name is a real person, like Don Denkinger (but not Samuel Denkinger). I tried to find names that were “popular” or prevalent in certain time periods, and, in some cases, I had a specific former student in mind for a character but I would never use that person’s real name and characters are usually composite characters, anyway.
How completely do you develop your characters before beginning to write?
My characters develop themselves pretty completely as I write about them and they interact. I’m pretty sure what they are like when I start, but some of the smaller realities tend to fill themselves in the more I see how they are behaving.
Which scene is your favorite? Which scene was the hardest for you to write?
I like the Target sequence a lot. It was fun to write. I also liked the Andrea/Charlie sequence during the Abraham Eisenstadt death and the Shoot-Out at the OK Corral scene at the football game. The autopsy scene required several calls for advice to experts, so that one was more difficult to compose, and I had a hard time deciding exactly how I wanted to end this book.
In fact, at one point, the wrong e-book version was posted, which had to be taken down with the one with the “right” ending in place. Writing, in general, can be easy or hard, depending on what is going on in your life at that time. Book Two was harder to write than Book One, because I didn’t know how much repetition of the plot points in the first novel I needed to integrate and repeat, and I asked for advice from some writers I respect who write serial novels, like Jonathan Maberry.
So those of you who complain about repetition can chalk at least some of it up to the advice I received from the writers of other serial novels. Keep in mind: this is only my third novel, and the first one (now out of print) was not my plot (a sci-fi novel entitled “Out of Time”) and was supposed to be a collaborative venture, which meant that I got to write all of it, except the timeline, and that part immediately got messed up.
How long did it take you to decide on a title for your book? Were there many other possible titles you had picked out?
I always wanted to call it The Color of Evil. I did not know that Stephen King once wrote something with that title. I probably would have selected that title, anyway. I think it fits.
When did you first have a desire to write? How did this desire manifest itself?
I started writing for pay at age 10 when I won an Archdioceses of Dubuque poetry contest and was then asked to interview subjects for my hometown newspaper. I think it was sort of a gimmick, but the exposure and experience proved invaluable. I later attended the University of Iowa on a full ride Ferner/Hearst Journalism Scholarship and took Writers’ Workshop classes (audited with the 19 Journalism number) while in school there. And I’ve taken some classes since 2003 at the University of Chicago, as well as teaching such classes at 6 IA/IL colleges beginning first in 1985.
Do you plan the entire book before writing it? Or do you just sit down and write?
I have a method that works for me. I call it “blocking.” I have “blocks” of characters I want to introduce (or re-introduce) and I actually write a “block” with their names in it. I know, in my head, what happens with each “block.” But, sometimes, the blocks interact in ways that surprise even me, once the dialogue starts. And I’m big on dialogue over excessive description. I could also quote John Irving, who says he always knows the first line and how the story will end. I usually know the first line. I do not always know how the story will end, but neither did Francis Ford Coppola when he shot Apocalypse Now, so I’m in good company.
Do you have a set time to write each day? Or do you wait to be inspired?
If I can make myself sit down and do it, I can write anytime, anywhere. I started Book 3 while on a cruise ship floating around New Zealand. I am a streak writer and like to write till I’m done, which might mean writing all night if I am in a white heat of creativity. I wish I were more like Stephen King or Randy Wayne White, both of whom have said they write every single day. I do try for a certain number of words in a certain number of days, and I usually exceed that goal, but my hat is off to those writers who “go to work” daily. I’m not that disciplined. I went to work daily for 33+ years, so now I get to pick and choose my work schedule and that may mean all-night sessions and it may mean working smarter, not harder (or whatever that old saying is that I just mangled.)
How much research, if any, did you have to do for this book?
That is a good question. You would think the book would not require much research, but, among other things I had to research were: Tetrachromatic Super Vision; Target Stores (aisle width, terminology, corporate culture); In-Home Pregnancy Kits; how to conduct an autopsy; heart attack symptoms and causes; cheerleading rules in the states of Iowa and Illinois and statistics on accidents associated with the sport; the Cedar Falls University of Northern Iowa UNI DOME; fetus viability at how many weeks?; immigrants in the meat packing industry and the history of meat packing plants in the state of Iowa; guns; and some crimes of the past that I remembered and wanted to remind myself of the details of, to use as springboard(s) for plot points. Not to mention Cedar Falls, Iowa, itself, which is more fiction than fact—although I did grow up quite near the area.
Do you ever become bored with what you are writing? If you do, how do you get past that point?
I took a screenwriting class back in 2007 in Chicago from the Chicago Screenwriting School (no longer extant) and soon learned that writing in 23-word bursts was not for me. I was so frustrated and bored with the entire scenario of writing for film (and I LOVE movies) that, in desperation, I literally had all my characters jump in the river.
My instructor, Dan Decker, an AFI Film School grad much better at this sort of writing, helped tremendously—and, in fact, Dan is going to make small films of some of my short stories from the Hellfire & Damnation series, which I think will be cool.
But I did not enjoy writing my sole screenplay, based on the book Out of Time that I had written, and I soon just gave in to my temptation to end the misery. The screenplay went on to win an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Screenplay Competition that year (2007), which always amused me. I’m pretty sure it amused Dan, as well. It was good up until the point that I didn’t care about doing it anymore, and, at that point: into the river! (lol)
Are you successful enough to write full time?
I gave up full-time work for Lent in 2003. I taught for 33 years at levels from 7th grade on through college—6 colleges, 5 newspapers, 11 blogs. I also wrote during that time, serving as Film & Book critic for the Quad City Times newspaper and writing a humor column for the Moline “Dispatch” and conducting interviews with local celebrities. I was successful enough establishing 2 businesses in 1986 and 1995 (that I sold in 2003), a Sylvan Learning Center and a Prometric Testing Center, that it enabled me to be able to write full-time now, in early retirement. Or part-time. Or not at all. My livelihood is not dependent on writing, as far as earning money, but my intellectual livelihood and my natural curiosity is dependent on writing.
So, I continue to write, and, hopefully, some readers will like what I write enough to tell other readers and I’ll be “successful” to that extent. My goal has always been pretty modest. I’d like to make enough money to pay the monthly mortgage on the Chicago Writers’ Lair, so I don’t have to rent it out. That amount isn’t in the same ballpark as some of the famous writers I’ve mentioned.
Will I ever achieve their levels of fame and fortune? I don’t know. Will I continue to write? Yes, because it’s what I do, and it is what I’ve done for most of my life. And some people think I’m good at it, and they’ve told me that I have been good at it for a long time. Other people may hold differing opinions, and that is their right. I guess I’d have to point to the awards won and the work, itself, and say that there are “different strokes for different folks.” But if you like what you just read, or if you like short stories with unusual and interesting plots and settings, check out the Hellfire & Damnation series, too. I hear the film adaptation may be called Mind’s Eye. Not sure when it will surface.
What is your favorite genre in which to write?
I like to write thrillers with suspenseful noir content. I am currently writing YA (Young Adult) for the age range high school through adults, which means that I think the readers should be old enough to handle the content, which is PG13 (18 to 24 is the new Young Adult Reader range, I heard). I like writing short stories more than writing “long,” but apparently readers want novels, so I soldier on. I am a member of ITW (International Thriller Writers), AWP (American Writing Program, literary fiction), MWA (Midwest Writers Association, nonfiction), MWC (Midwest Writing Center, which named me its Writer of the Year in 2010), IWPA (Illinois Women’s Press Association, which named me the recipient of their Silver Feather award on June 6 of 2012) and I am an active voting member of HWA (Horror Writers’ Association) where the book was on the preliminary Stoker® ballot of 10 YA novels this year and where the first in the series won the E-Lit Gold Medal.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I like genre fiction where something happens and where the emphasis is on action and plot and characters and not on description so that is what I read and that is what I write.
Has your writing created any new opportunities for you?
I’ve been writing for publication for over half a century. I’ve been allowed inside, on the floor of the DNC (Democratic National Convention) to hear Ted Kennedy’s last speech (as well as Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s and Joe Biden’s and others). I was also allowed inside the RNC (Republican National Convention) in 2008 and was named Content Producer of the Year (by Yahoo) for my political coverage. Even this month just past, I was among the Top 500 authors read on Yahoo, which is cool, considering I spent most of the month on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, where I got to have a book signing at the Galaxy Book Store (131 York Street) in Sydney. I’ve covered film festivals and met stars like Ed Burns, Gary Cole, Forest Whittaker, Guillermo del Toro, Ron Perlman and others during my coverage, with press passes, on the Red Carpet or at After Parties. (This year’s opening stars were Al Pacino, Alan Arkin and Bon Jovi). I’ve interviewed writers like Kurt Vonnegut, David Morrell, Joe Hill, William F. Nolan, Anne Perry, Frederik Pohl, and many, many others. I’ve been asked to speak in Hawaii at a national writing conference and served on panels in Chicago at writing conferences more than once, and attended many others, including the BEA at least 3 times, signing books. I also have been invited to speak at Route 66 events and have been interviewed on several radio shows. I don’t know if these constitute “new” opportunities since I interviewed Kurt Vonnegut when I was only 18 and a student in Iowa City, but “writing has been berry, berry good to me” as the old Saturday Night Live skit put it. Maybe not as lucrative as I would like, with how hard I have worked to put out a good product, but very rewarding in many ways.
How do you manage to balance your time between family, friends, and writing?
Apparently not well enough. I’m behind on my self-set timetable for Khadi=Killer, the tentative title for Book 3 after leaving for Cancun for two weeks in the sun on April 6th. But, if you live in Chicago, you can’t fault me for that. It’s been miserable here this winter.
If you could spend one hour with just one person, dead or alive, whom would you choose? Why?
I’d like to have my mom and dad back. It’s the old “Dance with My Father” song message. I’d tell my mom I was sorry I was such a difficult, obstinate, stubborn and willful child and she was (usually) right, and I’d tell them both I love(d) them very much. I’d advise readers to tell their parents they love them while they still have their parents in their lives. I miss them both very much.
As for famous people, I’d like to meet and speak with some really creative minds like Robin Williams and Jon Stewart and I’d like to speak with some actors who have interested me for years, like Richard Gere and Michael Pare (“Eddie and the Cruisers”) and, among women, it would be great fun to meet and speak to Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. Ideally, it would be a dinner party with their spouses present, so I could meet all four of them. Wouldn’t that be neat?
What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
I think self-publishing, even by “name” authors, is the wave of the future, and authors had best be prepared to ride that wave. I think there is still a place for the big houses, but the control you give up to get their promotional perks is significant. I just had a lengthy conversation on self-publishing with David Morrell in New Orleans in December. Many established well-known authors are beginning to put up their own back catalogs. Those, like J.A. Konrath, who had a significant following to begin with, are no longer content with being at the mercy of the glacial pace and sometimes arbitrary nature of larger houses. Big houses expect their authors to do more and more self-promotion, anyway, so why not be doing it for yourself and calling the shots on things like your cover? And the pace of publication seems really slow when publishing with a big house. The only significant reason remaining to go big seems to be the expense of promotion. And, IF you can learn the ins-and-outs of online promotion. …(finish that thought). The Vanity Press stigma is dying or dead, although it is readers who will separate the wheat from the chaff (and there’ll be plenty of chaff). I know that Morrell has written (on his blog) that he thinks agents, in the future, will have a changing role, as opposed to the one they now occupy. It’s an exciting time to be a real live author in captivity who has been writing for pay for over half a century…57 years, to be exact.
Do you have any advice for writers who are striving to be published?
Keep writing. Learn the basics of good grammar and punctuation and spelling, (which, I’m sad to say, are not as prevalent amongst today’s crop of writers, sometimes). Get a good education. Be determined. Learn all you can about e-publishing. Go to conferences. Learn to suck up to influentials; I never did, and it has come back to haunt me. However, it makes me proud that I never sycophantically told people untruths just to get ahead. If I say you’re a good writer, I mean it. Try to do your best. Don’t let negative people drag you down. Ignore them and persevere. Your chances are as good as anyone else’s in today’s topsy-turvy publishing world. “And never let the bastards see you sweat,” as someone much more famous than me once said.
Where can your fans find you on the Internet?
I’m on Twitter as Connie Wilson Author and, last time I checked, I had 28,000 followers. I have a dedicated Facebook page that just went up a day ago, and I need “x” number of people to “like” it, apparently. I’m learning how that works now. I have a personal Connie Corcoran Wilson page on Facebook and a website at ConnieCWilson.com which will soon be updated, and many books have their own dedicated websites. (HellfireAndDamnationTheBook.com; TheColorOfEvil.com; RedIsforRage.com; ItCamefromTheSeventies.com; GhostlyTalesofRoute66.com). You can find me on Yahoo as Connie Wilson and follow my reporting of various events. (I tend to focus on movies, entertainment, and politics). I also have a blog that has been around since 2007, WeeklyWilson.com.
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