This is a first for me. Actually 2 firsts. One, I’m introducing you to a male author today – something I’ve never had the pleasure or opportunity to do before, (yay!) and two, he doesn’t write romance – but mainstream mysteries and thrillers (Yay, squared!) Gary Guinn is a fellow Wild Rose Press brothah, not sistah, and he’s got a new book out titled SACRIFICIAL LAM. He graciously answered all my nosy questions recently and agreed to be featured here today. After the interview, he’s sticking around to give you a little sneak peek at his brand new release. So, let’s get to know a little more about Gary….
Gary Guinn, The Writer
- What drives you to write?
I wish I knew. The rewards are there. When someone tells me about their emotional reaction to something I’ve written, it makes me happy. A woman once told me she gasped when she read a particular passage in my first novel. That felt really good. But there have to be intrinsic motivations that keep you coming back day after day, sitting there alone, pecking out words in a narrative. For me, the most intrinsic motivation is a beautiful line, in which the language itself makes me smile. When later I read a passage I wrote, and that little emotional bubble of joy trickles up my spine, it makes me want to sit down at the computer and do it again.
- What genre(s) do your write, and why?
I write both mainline literary fiction and mystery/thriller fiction, and occasionally I write poetry. I write literary fiction because I like to get lost in the language and let a couple of characters go wherever their yearnings take them. No formulas, no expectations except that they will act like predictably unpredictable human beings. I write mystery/thriller fiction because I love working out the plot, creating the thrill of discovery, the intensity of the action scenes.
- What genre(s) do you read, and why?
I read the same genres that I write, and mostly for the same reasons. I read Louise Erdrich and John Irving to get lost in their beautiful language and to fall in love with their crazy characters. I read Georges Simenon, Colin Dexter, and Hakan Nesser to be mesmerized by murder and the quest of the inspector who finds the murderer. I have a special affinity for what is called Nordic Noir, the dark Scandinavian crime fiction that reflects in its ambiance the land in which it’s written.
- What’s your writing schedule? Do you write every day?
I try to write every day, but I average maybe five days per week. I wish I were an early morning person, who got up before the house stirred and wrote for two hours in the beautiful silence. I do get up fairly early every day, but there are other things I do to start my day—yoga, exercise, Tai Chi. And so I might get a little writing in before lunch, but most days I write for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and if I’m really in the flow of a piece, might write into the evening. I do have to stop for Happy Hour, of course, even then.
- Give us a glimpse of the surroundings where you write. Separate room? In the kitchen? At the dining room table?
My writing space looks pretty traditional. Being a retired college English professor, I have a study, with bookshelves covering most of the walls. Desk by the window. Persian rug covering most of the floor. There’s not much wall space because of the bookshelves, but on the little bit that is available, I have a black-and-white print of the Eifel Tower. Hanging at the corners of the second window, a Keffiyeh I brought back from an archeological dig in Jordan and my old doctoral Tam, the only piece of academic regalia I kept when I retired from teaching.
- Are you the kind of writer who needs total quiet to compose, or are you able to filter out the typical sounds of the day and use your tunnelvision?
I prefer total quiet. Occasionally I put on music that reinforces a particular mood for a scene I’m writing. But I usually have no trouble filtering out extraneous sounds, except for excited conversation with loud laughter.
7. How did you come up with the plotline/idea for your current WIP?
Fairly early in my career at the university, a disturbing incident occurred, which stuck with me through the years. Three of my colleagues at the university, who were all liberal, progressive professors like myself, received anonymous threats couched in violent terms. The university was a very conservative place, and liberal professors like ourselves were in a real minority and sometimes found teaching there an uncomfortable fit. At the same time, we felt a sense of purpose in being the source of divergent, more open, views in the areas of politics, social issues, and religion. The threats created a tense environment, and though nothing could be proved, there was a pretty strong suspicion of who was responsible. As it happens, nothing further came of the threats, but that situation became the kernel for developing the series of mystery/thrillers featuring English professor Lam Corso, a liberal who teaches at a small, conservative southern college. Sacrificial Lam is the first in the series. The second, which I am about halfway through, has the working title A Lam to Slaughter.
8. Which comes first for you – character or plot? And why?
I would say usually character comes first. In most of my short fiction and in my four novels, I begin with a character that intrigues me and build a plot around the character. The reason is simple. I find certain people, and certain character types, fascinating. When I come across someone who grabs my attention, and when that person sticks in my mind and keeps popping into my thoughts, then I have a character for a story. I begin to imagine that character in a situation, and the story builds from there. The exception to this rule is that for several of my short stories I have been attracted first to a news story that becomes the catalyst for a work of fiction. The best example of that is a story published in Carve Magazine about ten years ago, titled “The Scar.” It grew from a newspaper story about a pickup truck that ran off a curb and drove through the back wall of a country church
9.What 3 words describes you, the writer?
Rational, Patient, Empathetic (Peggy here: I think those are fabulous qualities for a professor!!)
Gary, The Guy
1.Tell us one unusual thing about yourself – not related to writing!
I brew beer. Good beer, all-grain, from scratch. I hand-grind the malted barley. For my two grandkids, I brewed a strong beer, a barley wine, that will age until they come of age, at which time the family will celebrate their birthday by drinking it. Of course, I have to drink a bottle once a year to be sure it is progressing satisfactorily.
- Who was your first love and what age were you?
Truthfully, the first woman I remember being in love with was the oldest of my three older sisters. She was beautiful, popular, the homecoming queen, the whole nine yards, and my best friend and I, who were six years old at the time, were always asking her for a kiss. When she left home a year later, I was broken hearted.
Then there was my second grade teacher, Mrs. McElvane. Every boy in the class was in love with her. Many years later, her daughter was a student in one of my first-year English classes at the university, and when I met her mother at a school function, my heart still fluttered just a bit.
But when it comes to a real first love, the one that made me toss and turn and sigh at night, it was the typical high school sweetheart story. Pursued her, had to beat out my best friend for her, spent every waking moment with her or wishing I were with her. We planned our lives together, named our kids. Then we graduated from high school and, like most high school sweethearts, drifted our separate ways. ( Peggy here – as a romance writer, I can see 3 potential books from these answers. Bravo!
- If you could relive one day, which one would it be? Think GROUNDHOG DAY, the movie for this one– you’ll have to live it over and over and….
For our twenty-fifth anniversary, my wife and I spent a month in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District in England and in Paris and the surrounding area and finally the French Alps. One of the days in the Alps, I might be able to live again and again. We stayed in the little town of Chamonix, at the base of Mont Blanc, popular with skiers and climbers, the highest mountain in the Alps and marking the border with Italy. We spent a full day in the mountains, ascending to the Aiguille du Midi, a stark, forbidding, and stunningly beautiful peak, by cable car, then descending halfway again by cable car and hiking along gorgeous mountain trails, stopping for a picnic lunch with broad views of the Chamonix Valley, and finally descending in time for dinner and wine at an outdoor café in the village. Our room at the little hotel opened out onto a small balcony with Mont Blanc rising across the valley. As dusk settled over the mountains and the lights of the village came on around us, we might have agreed to do it again. And again.
4. What three words describes you, the person?
Rational, Introverted, Impatient (grandkids call me Grumpy Granda)( Peggy here: awwwwwwwww!)
5. If you could sing a song with Jimmy Fallon, what would it be?
“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
6. If you could hang out with any literary character from any book penned at any time line, who would it by, why, and what would you do together?
I love this question. Thanks for asking it. There are so many beautiful characters in fiction who have stuck with me for so many different reasons. John Irving’s character Owen Meaney, with his strange voice and crushing guilt. Nicole Karuss’s character Leo Gursky, from The History of Love, waiting to die, trying to connect with the son who doesn’t know him. Lewis Nordan’s unforgettable alter-ego Sugar Mecklin, living in Arrow Catcher, Mississippi. The list goes on, but I’m convinced that, if I were going to spend a day with one of my favorite characters, it would be with one of three great detectives—Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret, or Hakan Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren, or Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. All impatient, thoughtful, quiet people, they catch the killers more by sitting in a pub drinking beer and thinking than by chasing them through the countryside. I’d choose Inspector Morse because he drives an old restored Jaguar and listens to recordings of the great operas. We’d sit in an English country pub and drink draft beer, then drive to the station listening to Verdi’s La Traviata.
- Favorite sound: The silence after I mute a commercial (Peggy here: my husband agrees!)
- Least favorite sound: A sitcom through the hotel room wall
- Best song every written: Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin
- Worst song ever written: Christmas Don’t Be Late, by Alvin and the Chipmunks
- Favorite actor and actress: Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca; Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.
- Who would you want to be for 1 day and why? ( It can be anyone living or
Barak Obama because now that I am no longer president I could forget about the world and spend the day with Michelle at the beach and then take her out to dinner at a great little restaurant at the end of the pier and eat lobster sautéed in butter and garlic and drink a really good Pinot Noir and then walk the boardwalk hand in hand and then, well, and then see where it goes from there.
- What turns you on? The moment just before my lips touch her earlobe and then her neck. (Peggy here: are you sure you’re not a romance writer???!!!!)
- What turns you off? Belching
- Give me the worst 5 words ever heard on a first date: My mother’s coming with us.
- What’s your version of a perfect day? An island. Yoga on a deserted dock before breakfast. An egg, bacon, onion, cheese omelet with fresh pineapple and coffee. A walk on the beach. Reading a good book under the palm trees, the fronds moving gently in the breeze off the sea. Lunch from a street vendor—jerk chicken, grilled plantain, rice and beans, beer. A nap. Writing on the front porch of the cabana, a cold beer at my fingertips. A dinner of Red Snapper sautéed in olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, with maybe a touch of Allspice, and a good Merlot. Watch Casablanca for the hundredth time with my wife. A few minutes back on the front porch, a fingernail moon with Venus close by. Bed.
When English professor Lam Corso receives a death threat at work, he laughs it off. A liberal activist teaching at a small Southern conservative college, he’s used to stirring up controversy on campus. It’s just part of the give and take of life. Even when violently attacked, Lam is convinced it has to be a mistake. He can’t imagine anyone who would want to kill him for his beliefs.
When his home is broken into and his wife’s business vandalized, Lam is forced to face facts. The police can’t find a single lead. Lam’s wife—a passionate anti-gun crusader—is outraged when Lam brings a gun into the house for protection. Left to their own devices, Lam and Susan must examine their marriage, faith, and values in the face of a carefully targeted attack from an assailant spurred into action by a different set of beliefs.
What will it cost to survive?
The sudden shock of something hitting him hard from behind knocked him into the bike and the rack. His glasses fell to the pavement, and his stocking cap came down over his eyes. His first thought was that someone had tripped and fallen into him, and he pushed away from the bike rack, sat up, and turned.
He shoved his cap up, but without his glasses, he saw only the shape of a person standing over him and reaching down toward him. “That’s okay,” he said, “I can get up all right.”
When he rolled to one side to try and stand, a sharp blow struck him in the back of the ribs, and he grunted in pain and went to the pavement face down.
A distorted, almost metallic voice said, “You don’t get it, do you?”
“Jesus!” Lam groaned through gritted teeth. “Get what?” The pain in his ribs and the strange sound of the voice disoriented him.
Then came the kick to Lam’s thigh, and he yelled with the pain. “What the hell are you doing?” But he knew the answer to his question as soon as he asked it. This was it. Someone was attacking him. No matter what he had thought or felt over the past few days, the threat had not been real until that moment. Fear shot through him at the sudden clarity that this person was carrying out the threat. He said between tight breaths, “I’m Dr. Corso…from the English Department… Settle down and…we can clear this up.”
The distorted voice said, “You think I don’t know who you are? The mighty Lambert Corso, who thinks he can stop the earth from warming? Well, suck it up, and take what’s coming, Dr. Corso.”
Lam patted the pavement for his glasses, but he was grabbed by the back of his coat collar and jerked up and thrust hard back down on the ground. His head bounced on the pavement, stunning him. He kicked out at the dark figure, who picked up a bicycle that wasn’t chained and slammed it down on top of him. Lam roared at the pain, the bike pedal digging into his stomach. The attacker threw the bike out of the way, grabbed the front of Lam’s coat, and punched him hard three times in the face before he could raise his arms in defense.
When he dropped Lam back to the pavement, he said, “You dodged a bullet Friday afternoon. My bad. I won’t miss this time.”
And then the attacker stepped away and waited, breathing hard. Another shock of fear and clarity ran through Lam. The car had been trying to kill him. He’d been a fool. He thought of Susan, sitting with the boys on the sofa, watching TV and sipping a glass of wine. He couldn’t let go of her, he couldn’t bear to leave her and the boys, the thought of himself lying dead in an empty parking lot. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He had imagined dying hundreds of times—cancer, car wreck, drowning, plane crash—but never this, beaten to death by a lunatic who didn’t like his politics.
A desperate sound, short, high, and strained, broke from him. Blind without his glasses in the dark, he was helpless, but he refused to lie there and be killed without a fight. He tried again to stand. But as he struggled to his knees, a blow to the side of his head sent him sprawling against the bike rack, and he thought he was passing out.
The voice came again, “Time’s up, Lambert.”
When Lam looked up, the man stood above him with something—a knife Lam thought—in his hand. The voice said, “You were warned.”
Laughter came from the far end of the parking lot, and a girl’s voice yelled, “Last one to the bike rack buys the lattes!” Racing footsteps echoed on the pavement.
A split second later the figure standing over Lam slipped the knife into a side pocket, turned, ran over the lip of the hill behind the cathedral and was gone.
Gary Guinn taught literature and creative writing at a small private college for more than thirty years. His short fiction and poetry have been published in literary magazines and anthologies. His first novel, A Late Flooding Thaw, was published in 2005, and his second novel, Sacrificial Lam, is scheduled to be released March 3, 2017. He loves traveling, dogs, and brewing beer.
You can connect with Gary here:
Peggy here: Gary, thanks so much for agreeing to be tortured – I mean INTERVIEWED – today! It was my pleasure hosting you and getting to know about a fellow Wild Rose Press writer. Be well and happy writing!