Tuesday, October 10, 2006
David Skibbins On Writing, Promoting, and Living in the Most Beautiful Place on Earth
Hi, David! I’m glad to have met you at Bouchercon, because now I can picture you while I pose my questions. So here’s the first one: your very cool website offers Tarot readings, and of course your protagonist, Warren Ritter, reads Tarot cards. Why the Tarot connection? Is it a fascination of yours?
I always loved the Tarot. Oh, sure, I did astrology and I Ching and all those Sixties groovy explorations. But the Tarot stuck. I love the imagery, and the mysteriousness of the whole thing. Also I have a long and convoluted theory about how a particular spread of the cards is reflecting the chaotic patterns of the universe as they emerge every moment, but I'll spare you the pseudo physics.
Should I make life decisions based on my Tarot reading from your site? Or could Warren Ritter be wrong?
Well, I can't guarantee anything Warren says as truth, but in his next book The Star (coming Feb. 2007) he says about eating doughnuts, "Everybody knows the rules: maple bars are for depression, coconut is for focus and bran muffins are for losers who think eating 350 calories is a path towards health." And my wife tried it out this week and found out he was right.
Some folks have written my amazing stories about the readings they got on my site. Blows me away!
You won the St. Martin’s Best First Mystery Contest. How did you happen to enter?
I was reading everything I could about mysteries and ran across this contest surfing. I entered it knowing it was a stupid waste of paper. I was sure the only way to succeed was to get an agent. So six months and 47 rejected query letters later I was ready to give up. I'd almost forgotten about the contest. On Monday of a particularly bad week I swore I was going to give up if nothing happened that week. On Tuesday I got the call that I won.
Wow. Your novel, Eight of Swords, introduces the aforementioned Warren Ritter. How did you go about creating Warren? Did he just appear in your psyche one day?
No, I set about creating him very intentionally. I was determined to get published, after my great literary novel had been rejected by everyone. So I decided on mysteries, since they were the most stable genre. I loved Berkeley, California, so it was a perfect setting. But the only mysteries set there are about cops. Cops and Berkeley just didn't mix. So I made him a street vendor, and ex-revolutionary, and a manic depressive. Now he fit right in to the Berkeley scene. Heck, with credentials like that he could be elected mayor.
Warren Ritter has a therapist, and you yourself have been a therapist and are now a “life coach.” Okay, a few related questions:
How does your therapy background inform your fictional work?
I always look deeply into a particular psychopathology in every book: Bipolar Disorders in Eight of Swords, Sociopathy in High Priestess and Borderline in The Star.
What is a life coach?
I work with healthy, motivated people who want to attain specific personal goals in their lives. Together we craft a plan for doing that, and week-by-week I help them implement that plan.
Will you coach my life? How much of a fee must I pay for you to put my life in order?
I charge $350 a month for three half hour calls.
Okay. As soon as I have 350 dollars, I will call you. :)
You say you are a two-fingered typist. Does this mean writing is a slow process, or have you adapted so that you can type quickly with those two fingers?
I'm not in a big hurry. Slow typing lets me feel the sound of the words as they come out.
You live “on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.” This sounds very beautiful to me, and naturally my first response is envy. Is it pretty great living where you live, aside from hurricane season?
It is the most beautiful spot on Earth. I feel very close to nature (wild turkeys in the back yard, raccoons in the trash shed, red tailed hawks overhead as I walk along the bluffs. Soon whale migration season starts, and we can watch them breeching and spouting just off shore.) I feel the seasons change, watch the constellations move through the year, and always know what phase the moon is in, and when high tides are due. I'd never move!
Wow. It makes me want to move, though! What sorts of things have you done to promote the book? Are you pleased with its sales?
Of course, we all want a Da Vinci Code. But my books have done middling well. Eight sold well in both hard and paper, and the sales of High Priestess were very good. I spend my whole advance, and then some on promotion. I fund all my tours and conferences so far. I look on it like I am an entrepreneur, and the books are my products. It's up to me to get them launched. The more I do, the more St. Martin's is willing to do stuff on their side.
Tell us about your new book, High Priestess.
High Priestess tells all the secrets hinted at in Eight of Swords. We see how Warren's past as a bomb throwing revolutionary back in the Sixties comes back to haunt him, and almost kill him. The fun part was creating an imaginary devil worshipping cult that was sympathetic and believable.
You will be signing High Priestess at the Four Eyed Frog in Gualala, California. This is very cool and California-sounding. Is the Four Eyed Frog a sort of new age bookstore? And how do you pronounce Gualala? (I’ll be it’s not the way I’m pronouncing it).
"Wa la la." Four Eyed Frog is this amazing local bookstore that has sold hundreds of my books and loves to promote me at every turn. If, for any cockamamie reason, you have traveled up two and a half hours north of San Francisco on twisty Route One, stop by. It's almost worth the ride.
On your website you give advice about book tours, one piece of which is “Don’t go too cheap on the motels.” Did you have some bad experiences?
No bed bugs, yet. Cops outside the door, drunken crazed neighbors, Sad, pathetic scenes of dysfunctional families. But at least no bed bugs.
That is a small mercy. You were just at Bouchercon. Did you have a favorite moment from this event? A best panel, perhaps?
Hey, one of my high spots was dinner with you and some of the Killer Year folks. It was inspiring what you all are doing to promote each other's work! I love that about this Mystery Community. Folks are so helpful, it sometimes makes me want to cry. Not at all what I expected.
Well, I'm not in Killer Year, but I am always happy to help promote someone's work, and Killer Year is a noble experiment.
Tell us a bit about Murder Thursday. How did you put this promotion together?
I wanted lots of folks to be able to interview mystery writers. But in a non-chaotic way. I had taught classes on big phone bridges before, so I knew it was possible. So I designed this so that folks could listen in, but be on mute. They also could email me live and I would weave their questions into the interview. It's a lot of fun, and I get to chat with the greats of this field. My interviews are available to listen to or download on my web site. On Nov. 9th I' am talking with Jan Burke! Is that cool or what? At: 7PM Pacific (10PM Eastern) just dial in 646-519-5800 and enter code number 3867#. We chat for an hour, and you can send me questions ahead of time at firstname.lastname@example.org
Great! Your website is very cool. Did you do it yourself?
Heidi Mack the web designer at Xuni.com is a frigging genius. She specializes in mystery writers' web sites, and she is totally amazing!
How can readers find out more about you and your cool sleuth, Warren Ritter?
Well www.davidskibbins.com is a great place to start. Check out the cool pictures and quotes from the book to get a feel of the place. Get your cards read by Warren. Then go to a local independent bookseller and buy every book of mine in site. If they don't have any, beg. (Ditto for a chain store if there are no independent booksellers around you.) And for those in Antarctica, Amazon carries all my work. But if you like it, please try not to buy it used. Too many of my fellow authors get cut from the lists even though they have a big fan base. Used books don't count for publishers. Here is my rule of thumb. Buy the first book of the series used (Eight of Swords in my case) to see if you like it. But if you do like it, support the author and buy the rest of the series new.
Great promotional skills, David! And thanks for agreeing to the interview.