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Sunday, 2 January 2011

Interview with Author, P. I. Barrington

After a long detour through the entertainment industry, author P.I. Barrington has returned to her creative roots of fiction writing with a crime thriller series, a sci fi novella, a cozy mystery and several short stories under her publishing belt. She lives in Southern California and loves to hear from readers here.  

Tell us about Final Deceit in a few sentences.

Final Deceit ends the Future Imperfect series which is a crime thriller/romantic suspense set in 2032 Las Vegas, Nevada that also has a sci fi current running through it. Desolation and desperation have hit Las Vegas, the ecology and economy is basically destroyed and the city officials are doing whatever they need to do just to keep Vegas functioning. Ex-DCI Gavin McAllister is hired as part of that dispensing with protocol and he is paired with Payce Halligan. They pursue a serial killer who may have ties to a quasi-religious cult as they try to deal with their torturous pasts and growing attraction to one another.

How did you come to write this particular book?

As I said, it is the final book in the Future Imperfect trilogy that ends the series.

If you have a favourite character in your novel, why that particular one?

I have several actually. My absolute favorite is Gavin McAllister. He's no superhero and he just gets into situations that are hard to explain but he also carries a lot of baggage around too. I've always loved the fact that he's British and completely out of his element in the desert. His love interest & partner Payce Halligan is a very sweet character.
I've also come to love Nick Kincaid and Amy Strand. They're a secondary romantic line that just sort of developed in spite of me. They're both sarcastic smartasses no matter what happens. They're the comic relief in all the stressful situations.

Where and when is your novel set and why did you make these specific choices?

I didn't intend it to coincide with the awful housing nightmare that has plunged the economy in the USA and has hit Las Vegas especially hard but it all just kind of fell together. For a time, the new casinos being built along The Strip just halted construction in the middle and the iron framework beams and girders stood like skeletons abandoned in the desert heat. One of the main reasons I chose Vegas just a few decades from now was the fact that I wanted to play with the police rules and procedures yet make the story still have verisimilitude. Also, and I swear this is true, I thought "Area 51" was in New Mexico—I guess I got Roswell and A 51 confused. I set the abandoned military research center and The New Creation cult built over the top of it in the general location of the real Area 51 without realizing what I'd done, lol! 
Besides all that, I love Las Vegas! I've been there countless times (it’s only a three-four hour drive from my house in CA) and that city just fascinates me.  It's so oddly drab in the daytime and so wildly alive at night. The Strip at night literally pulsates to a beat, the lights, the cars, the people, the music all throbbing out a rhythm as it snakes through downtown. Such a complete and incredible dichotomy between the day and night!

How can people buy your books?

My books are available through my publisher Desert Breeze Publishing,, Kobo, Some of the links are here:

What qualities make a successful writer?

Authors are going to hate me, but I personally think that you have to be your own harshest critic. Don't indulge yourself in thinking that your work can't be improved upon or that you've written the great American or British novel hands down.  Don't allow yourself to think that you can't learn anything else because you can. There are things that writers blog about that I've never even thought of but that can make a tremendous difference in your writing quality. And please, please, please read different genre' as well as your own. You'll never grow as a writer if you don’t expand your exposure. You may never ever write a horror story, but reading Stephen King will teach you a hell of a lot about internal dialogue of characters and how to create descriptions that cause nearly every reader to picture the same image. I write futuristic crime thrillers but my favorite genre' to read is ancient historical—non romance—Christian and non Christian. Another tip is to try to write every single day. There are women authors who have four or five children, work a day job, come home and make dinner and still crank out quality novels like machines! If they can manage it, so can all writers.

How do you set about writing a piece?

 I always have the first and last lines of the novel before I start. Then, I just start at the beginning and go straight from there. I stop if I'm stuck or have errands or just have to sleep. Then I pick it up the next day where I left off and keep going again. In November hundreds, probably thousands of authors participate in NanoWriMo where they don't do anything for a month but write all day long or as long as they possibly can without breaks for making dinner, shopping, cleaning, whatever. I presume some British authors participate as well. But I cannot, I write daily anyway and I'm a "pantser" but not to the extent of NanoWriMo. It's mainly just an exercise for authors to actually finish a book. Published and non-published authors participate but I don't like the idea of having to report or have constant contact with another author to keep tabs on how much I'm writing. I work alone or with my sister when we co-author novels.

Beginning writers make many mistakes; what do you think is the most harmful?

I really can't pick just one. Disregarding grammar, unprofessional attitude, not learning your craft are the biggies but as I said not forcing yourself to finish the book or novel goes without saying. You can't pitch, sell, or publish a book that doesn't exist or that doesn't exist in a viable form.

To what extent are grammar and spelling important to a writer?

Well, aside from the fact that my editor recently told me I have a "deep seated fear of grammar", it is incredibly important especially when you are submitting a manuscript to a professional in publishing. Their first thought if they see bad grammar or spelling is "this person isn't taking this seriously enough to be professional and take the time to polish it" and that is a lot of the reason some writers get rejected. Really paying attention to grammar and spelling shows the editor or agent that you are intent on being successful and are willing to work hard for that success.

How much revision of your MS do you do before you send it off?

Okay, now it's going to sound like I am contradicting myself but editors have picked up my stuff without too much revision—until the editing rounds start after the novel is finished. I try to edit as I go and I'm one of those people who will stop and look up a word or its spelling or meaning in the middle of a sentence. I used to be a newspaper reporter and back in those old Pleistocene days I also had to do some proof reading and headline writing so I'm used to self-correcting. I still do try to be as correct grammatically as I can no matter what stage the manuscript is in (prepositional phrase ending).

To what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?

I am just amazed since I've returned to writing at how genre' have crossed over each other and generated so many sub-genre' like Steampunk, dystopian sci fi, paranormal, fantasy, urban fantasy, time-travel, paranormal/fantasy/sci fi time travel, historical paranormal etc. It's just astounding. I sometimes have difficulty in categorizing my books because they're a blend of crime thriller/romantic suspense/sci fi. In fact one of the first stories I wrote that got published in paperback was actually "time-travel pulp fiction!"  Back in my reading heyday categories weren't so specialized and fractured. Fantasy was fantasy, science fiction was sci fi and crime novels were crime regardless they had flavors of other genre'. 

How do you know where to begin any given story?

Most of the time, before I start actually writing, I know the first and last line of the book, strange as that sounds. When I started the Future Imperfect series with Crucifying Angel I used three words with a period after each. That kicked off the story and allowed me to set it up without a lot of wordy exposition. They say to start in the middle of the action and that's true in my experience. And you don't have to start with a vehicle exploding either. The action has to be action but it doesn't have to be violent, just something pertinent happening. I almost always start with the main character performing some action, even if it's dialogue.  As I said, I pretty much always know the first and last lines and that helps me construct the story from one point to the other. I do have a different way of handling timelines and sagging middles but just knowing those two lines gives me an easier idea of what needs to happen from point A to point B. Usually, it all starts with a picture, place, setting, object or mostly, action, one singular thing that inspires that first line and/or gives me the basis for the character's personality and experience as well as the plotline.

What sort of displacement activities keep you from actually writing?

Most of the time, it's taking my mom to the doctor or having major errands to take care of to keep the house and cars running. I do get terribly distracted by social media—Twitter to be exact—as well as email. Social media is the bane of the novelist, at least this novelist, in my opinion!

Do you have support, either from family and friends or a writing group?

My family supports me in everything. My sister is an author also and co-author of at least one book and so we bounce things off each other constantly. One thing that we do have which I am appreciative of is the fact that we are brutally honest with each other. If something is bad or cliché or doesn't make sense, believe me we tell each other. We've always worked that way, that's how we survived both in the entertainment industry and in publishing. We both worked in entertainment—she still does—and there wasn't time for niceties. We're both driven personalities and classic overachievers.
          When I first returned to writing, I joined Yahoo online writing groups and they were very helpful and supportive too. I still belong to the first one I ever joined and drop in every so often. Very many authors will find other author "critique partners/groups" online and in person and they say it helps enormously. I don't do that but then I'm rather hard on myself. I've been lucky with having my sister. As far as professional associations, I'm Sisters In Crime, Los Angeles chapter and Romance Writers of America. They are supportive but are very large organizations.

Is presentation of the MS as important as most agents and publishers suggest?

I'll tell you a secret. Most agents and editors don't have time to wade through a big impressive package. You need to be able to get your major information to them in as brief, tight, concise manner as humanly possible. Not only does that help them, but it also makes you better at selling your work effectively. They're going to be more kindly disposed toward a package that saves them time and shows you're professional enough not to waste time—yours or theirs. And it shows you're mature enough not to expect them to be impressed by some big, dramatic presentation that you think is different or cute.

How long does it normally take you to write a book?

Less time than I'd like, LOL! I've written the three books of Future Imperfect over one year, a book written and released every four or five months and then my sister and I co-wrote the cozy mystery in four days, no joke—I told you we're overachievers—and then I wrote a novella for my publisher in September for their Borealis sci fi anthology just released in October all in the space of about 14 months! It's just been crazy! I was hoping for some down time to work on my other projects but this book (Final Deceit) had more re-writes than the others.

Who or what inspires you?
My sister, my mom, my nieces and nephews. They're all very loving and kind and self-sacrificing. I'd be dead without them.

If there’s a single aspect to writing that really frustrates you, what is it?

Argh! Word count. I was a newspaper reporter so I tend to write very concise and tight and it can be a challenge trying to slow down and get a little more depth to the story with more scenes and more descriptive prose. That I think, for me at least, is the most frustrating part of fiction writing. Oh, and writing the damned synopsis.

Is there any aspect of writing that you really enjoy?

I love when I'm "in the moment" as actors say. Writing a novel is like watching a movie unfold in front of you and inside of you—you're seeing through the characters' eyes but also seeing them as well. I think a lot of writers will tell you that. I'm watching the scenes as they happen and as if they are being edited—cutting from one scene to the next and making sure they make sense when they do.  And, I think, that's what you're trying to have your readers experience: that sense of watching the story happen. I've had several readers tell me they are still upset with one character's behavior (American spelling) which tells me I've done my job as an author. If I can make a character so alive that the reader gets angry at them, I've done what I was supposed to do. That is a very rewarding response from readers! I love to hear that.

Do you think writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?

I think it's a bit of both. Almost all writers will tell you they read from a very early age and still do read voraciously. Just the reading itself teaches writers a lot about the skills—one absorbs it so to speak. And the more varied your reading, in terms of genre', styles and point of view, the more varied your ability to write well and vary your style and technique. Top that off with classes or courses and it can be the perfect storm of writing.

What single piece of advice would you give to writers still hoping to be published?

Finish the book. When I do panels, I always tell authors to finish the book because once you finish and type THE END, something changes inside your head. You've literally taught yourself how to write a book. You've dealt with the sagging middle, the characterization, the dialogue, and managed to get to the end. And, you can now polish and submit. People have all these platitudes about being a writer; that you're a writer the instant you pick up a pen, that if you write a private journal you're a writer, published or not but until you have something viable to submit for a professional to seriously look at, you're not a novelist. Otherwise, call your writing a hobby. People are going to get pissed at my saying that but I'm sorry. If you want to be taken seriously you have to be professional and that means having enough discipline to finish a book, take a good hard look at what you've written and if it's not top notch, make it that way.

What are you writing now?

I'm very superstitious about talking about things before they happen. I will say that I have a fantasy underway that may turn epic or at least into a trilogy I hope and a quirky dystopian science fiction, and then I have a militaristic sci fi romance I'm doodling with right now. I love militaristic settings and I know other women do too. Maybe it's because we have a fantasy about having both power and men in uniform at the same time, LOL! I'm a sucker for a man in a uniform…

Do you have a website or a blog that readers can visit?

Yes! My sister and I have one:
It has info on our books, reviews, where to buy, photos and occasionally we'll review music if we have time. Everyone is welcome to email us directly

Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?

I would love to have two offices—one at home and one in an office building.  One at home so that I can work deep into the night and one in a downtown building to keep me in professional mode during the day.

Where do you actually write?

About six months ago I bought myself a new huge desk and stuck it where my old monstrosity sat in the corner of my living room (we have a big house) and my old computer died around the same time so I also bought a new one and managed to save about ¾ of my old work. I'm able to concentrate on writing full time and that's why I can produce so many books in a fairly short amount of time. It can get distracting with the television in the room, but if I’m really into the story I can manage fairly well. If I really need to I can toss my family into the other wing of the house but I try not to do that. Some writers have to have music on and atmosphere lighting, etc, but I don't. I'm one of those writers that when the urge comes to write, I'll get those words out if I have to write on my own skin, in the restroom of a store! I'm just happy if I have a place with a lot of sunlight, a couple of trees and good lighting at night. Oh, and I don't have a laptop so I still write in longhand about a third of the time. (And yes, I write in my pajamas 70% of the time lol!)

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