Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interview of Kent Conwell

Wednesday Morning Author Interview readers are up for a real treat today. I caught up with veteran Avalon author Kent Conwell, who has 52 novels to his credit: 13 Tony Boudreaux mysteries for Avalon, 34 westerns for Avalon, and 5 westerns for Leisure Publications. And he has more due out this year! His latest release is Murder Among Friends, a Tony Boudreaux mystery. I picked Kent as my very first author interviewee because I was intrigued by the tag line provided with his book:

"Tony Boudreaux learns the hard way that murder is still murder whether in the dark alleys of
Sixth Street Austin
or the snow-carpeted mountains of the Sangre d' Cristos."

Seriously, how can that not grab you by the short hairs and make you want to plop right down and read it cover to cover?

So I asked Kent a little about his books, a little about his writing process, and a little about himself. Here’s the interview...

Me: You definitely caught my attention at the Sangre d' Cristos. My Spanish is not so great (I took French in high school....a long long time ago) but I believe that translate to The Blood of Christ. Does that have anything to do with the plot?

Kent: That’s where the story ends—‘Blood of Christ’ has an ominous sound about it—at least to me. I visited the mountains years ago.

Me: Do you consider it to be character driven or plot driven?

Kent: Most of my books are plot driven although I like to put in quirky characters. I might be wrong here, but I think it was John McDonald of the Travis McGee series who said something like “whenever things slow down, toss another body off the bridge.”

Me: That would definitely keep me turning pages! But you can’t have all plot and no character, so what can you tell me about your protagonist? Is Tony Boudreaux a professional or an amateur sleuth?

Kent: He’s a professional P.I. who attracts murders like a June bug attracts ducks.

Me: Has anyone ever told you you have a way with words? That is a great visual. So what gets Tony involved in this Murder Among Friends?

Kent: He is the king of Happenstance.

Me: What three words would you use to describe Tony?
 

Kent: Laidback, nosy, hard-headed


Me: Is he even the teensiest bit autobiographical? (It is my belief that all writers weave a little of themselves into their characters.)

Kent: You’re right about that, Jayne. Writers must fall back on their own feelings in some situations.

Me: Where on the mystery scale does Murder Among Friends fall, is it on the cozy side or more of a dark suspense?

Kent: I’ve always had trouble placing things in categories, but I suppose you could say it is a mystery with grit.

Me: Now can you tell us a little bit about your writing process, like where do you get your ideas?

Kent: Ideas are everywhere. I don’t know who came up with the ‘what if’ rule, but I use it often. Start with a tiny kernel of an idea, and ‘what if’ it into a full blown novel.

Me: How long does it take you to write a book?

Kent: I write every day. I can do a first draft in about two months after which I start a new story. At the end of that story, I spend two months or so revising the first. I like to write mysteries and westerns, so, obviously, I do a mystery, put it aside, do a western. By then, I can be more objective in revising the mystery—and so on.

Me: Are you a detailed plotter or do you let the characters lead you to the stories logical conclusion?

Kent: I’ll plot them out, but as most writers, once my characters take over, the story is usually changed to some extent. I know my premise. I know how it begins. I know how it should end. All that’s left is to turn my characters loose and fill in the middle.

Me: How do you keep track of your characters and plots, do you use a plotting board or a notebook or is it all in your head?

Kent: Following my outline, I write myself notes. 'So and so said this," or 'don't forget so and so rode a mule" or 'maybe so and so needs to say something nice here". I'll put in reminders for my rewrites. In the beginning, a writer should knock at the first draft without worrying about anything except getting it down on paper. Then they rewrite.

I believe after a few years experience, one sort of learns to jump back and forth as they write the first draft.

Two well-known friends of mine each do twenty pages a day. The next day, they revise the twenty before doing the next twenty. I’ve just modified their techniques to fit me for I learned early on that you can get all sorts of advice, but when it gets down to the bottom line, you have to do it the manner that most suits you.

Me: Do you have a strict "writing time" everyday, or when the muse hits?

Kent: I write every day—two, three, four hours- I try to get ten pages, but if I do not, I don’t fret over it.

Me: How much research do you have to do for each book? Do enjoy that part of the process or is it a necessary evil?

Kent: Do research that is necessary. I enjoy research, and I could get bogged down in it. I always have research I can’t use, and it takes a heap of willpower not to arbitrarily stick it in just to show off to the reader.

Me: Your settings seem to almost be another character in your stories. Do you visit the settings personally and then think "I want to set my next murder mystery here?" or do you pick a setting and then visit it for background or do you have other methods of researching a locale?

Kent: At one time or another, I’ve visited the places, but I still research them if it has been a few years.

Me: Do your books ever get "stuck" during the writing process? If so, what tricks have you developed to get them moving again?

Kent: More often than I would like to admit, but I never forgotten a remark made by Jack London when he responded to a similar question. “Sometimes you have to go after inspiration with a club.”

His advice helped me discover the simple trick of attacking ‘writer’s block” by simply start writing—anything—and soon the juices start flowing.

Me: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, like are you a full-time writer?

That would have been nice, but no, I retired from forty-one years in education. Ended up with a Ph.D.—wonderful career-at least I think so. I’ve written off and on all my life, but never got serious until the mid-eighties.

I grew up in the Texas Panhandle around ranches, horses, cows, etc. I read westerns, the old pulp westerns. And I always like mysteries. I really began mysteries because my editor at Avalon whom I met when she was a guest at our conference suggested it.

Me: What are your hobbies?

Kent: I used to hunt a lot. My wife and I fish some. And we baby-sit our grandchildren and swim with them in the pool outback.

Me: Do you read a lot?

Kent: I’ve yet to know a professional writer whose first love was not reading.

Me: Who are your favorite authors?

Kent: I read them all. I grew up admiring Hemingway and Steinbeck. Faulkner was a little too confusing for me or maybe I wasn't perceptive enough to understand him.

Me: As far as the futures goes, is there another Tony Boudreaux mystery in the works?

Kent: I’ve another Tony Boudreaux coming out. I think it’s later on this year, but I believe I have a western, Reckoning at Dead Apache Springs, coming out first.

Me: Any plans to write a stand alone mystery featuring a different character or maybe even begin another series?

Kent: I’ve toyed with it.

Me: One final question. I'm sure you have done a ga-zillion interviews over the course of your prolific writing career. Is there one question you always wished someone would ask? if so, what is it, and what is your answer.

Kent: The one question I’m waiting to hear is “Will you take a hundred thousand for movie rights?”

Me: I think I know the answer to that one. So, who would you pick to play Tony Boudreaux in the movie version?

Kent: A young Harrison Ford, or the guy who played Danny in Pearl Harbor, Josh Hartnett.  Wait, I just had a better idea who could play Boudreaux, Billy Crystal--with hair!


Me. I have no doubt Mr. Crystal could really sink his teeth into the role of laid-back, hard-headed nosy role of Tony Boudreaux in the gritty mystery, Murder Among Friends.   Billy, if you’re available, have your people call Kent’s people!

Obviously, I could “chat” with Kent all day, but cyberspace is at a premium so will close now.  Kent doesn’t have a website...yet...because he prefers to focus his time and energy on writing books. But you can learn more about Kent on his blog, kentconwell.blogspot.com, where he stores columns he’s written for the local papers in Texas. Some are political and some are family-related. As he told me, his blog is “a poor attempt to write down my family’s history so grandkids might see it.”

Thanks, Kent!

8 comments:

Carolyn Brown said...

Kent! Loved your interview and getting to know you better!

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Kent, great truisms -- "He’s a professional P.I. who attracts murders like a June bug attracts ducks," and others. Enjoyed meeting another fellow Western author.

Beate Boeker said...

I'm so impressed by the sheer number of the books you have written, Kent - and yet, you started in your mid-eighties only?? If I wanted to do that, I'd be at least one-hundred-and-thirty years old!

Sandy Cody said...

Nice to meet another mystery writer, Kent. It sounds like you have fun while maintaining a disciplined approach to writing. That's a nice balance. Kudos to you too, Jayne, for a great interview.

mulligangirl said...

What a fun interview! I love this: “whenever things slow down, toss another body off the bridge.” --I'll have to remember that could be useful in other genres too.

Jayne Ormerod said...

Beate, I think Kent meant he started writing in the mid 1980s, or 30 years ago, not when he was 80 years old. But still, 52 books in 30 years is way impressive! Especially since it has taken me 10 years to write one book that is publishible! (I've written many that aren't!)

I know the interview ran long, but I had so many questions for the veteran writer. I'm still so new at this, that the thought of me writing three books boggles my mind! Fifty two! Still amazed.

Thanks again Kent for your willingness to participate and your insights into the writing process.

Elisabeth Rose said...

I nearly fell of my chair laughing, Beate at the mid eighties thing! And Kent looks so young for 130. LOL Must be the writing shearing those years away.

Hope Chastain said...

Thanks for the great interview!