Thursday, July 10, 2014

"The Corruption Of Innocence, A True Story Of A Journey For Justice" by Lori St. John





Today I welcome attorney and author Lori St. John to talk about her book The Corruption Of Innocence, A True Story Of A Journey For Justice.

Madame Perry: Welcome to Madame Perry’s Salon, Lori. We met last year at Book Expo America and I was delighted to see you again this year. I believe you are on another book tour at the moment.


LSJ: Yes, it was lovely to meet you last year at the Book Expo and again, this year. I am promoting my book in Australia and Japan where future publication and speaking opportunities are opening up for me to share my life’s work.


MP: The Corruption Of Innocence is a powerful non-fiction legal thriller documenting your steadfast resolve to prevent the execution of an innocent man. The story begins when you are at a crossroads in your life after years of marriage, motherhood, and a career as a CPA. Shortly after you began working as a volunteer for Centurion Ministries you are assigned a case that took you halfway around the world and set in motion a journey of discovery you could not have expected. Did you have even the slightest clue in the beginning of the effect this case would have on your life?


LSJ: I had no idea what I was about to embark upon in this journey. At the time I was simply a volunteer looking to do something meaningful to serve others. Some of our most rewarding gifts in life are when we step out of our comfort zone and follow our heart through a mission. Had I known the extent of the battle I came to take on I would have possibly run the other way. However, it is these moments that define us by challenging and inspiring in us an inspired purpose. As you know, this case consumed my life for almost four years and took me on a roller coaster ride through a very powerful and corrupt legal system.

Lori St. John And Sister Helen Prejean
MP: Joseph Roger O’Dell, III had been arrested and convicted on charges of rape and murder. Though he had a criminal record prior to this, it seemed that even an armchair detective who never got closer to a crime scene investigation than a television set could have ruled him out in the beginning. Why do you think he was pursued and evidence pointing in other directions was ignored?

 
LSJ: This is not unusual in cases in wrongful convictions. In the United States, the National Registry of Exonerations reports 1,281 known exonerations during the last quarter century, with over 363 documented cases in which DNA was used to exonerate the innocent. This is significant. I have said, and will continue to state, that as long as we fail to address the core issues in cases of wrongful convictions we will continue to see them unfold in our country. Truth, integrity and accountability are essential components to a fair and just system. It is not unusual for prosecutors and/or Governors to seek higher political aspirations, as in the O’Dell case, where the prosecutor was seeking a judgeship nomination and the Governor sought a seat in the Senate. A wrongful conviction would look bad on their political belt. It has been documented that once the police focus on an individual, and there is a heinous crime being publicly debated, the government is pressured to solve the case. Sometimes truth is not at the core of the game. It should be. Whether a prosecutor or defense attorney, our system is designed to discover the truth- but only if we share ALL evidence, don’t intimidate witnesses and if we afford indigent defendants competent defense attorneys. It was clear in the case of Joseph O’Dell that the truth was not an issue in an otherwise wholly circumstantial case, and that personal motives by those in authority took precedence over justice.
 
 
MP: Among the harsh tragedies in this story seems to be that O’Dell was doomed on all sides. His own attorneys appeared to not be working in his best interest, the justice system didn’t seem to keen on getting the actual facts straight, and even family and friends were out to condemn him. It’s amazing he had the strength to continue fighting for himself. Can you explain how he managed even a tiny glimmer of hope through this?



Joseph Roger O'Dell
LSJ: You touch upon something quite compelling. That fact always amazed me as I walked the journey with him for almost four years. When you are innocent you never give up hope. Faith is what carries you through the hell you live on a day to day basis. It is the only thing that can
sustain the human mind through such mental torture. I was astonished at the roadblocks which challenged Joe every step of the way; not incidental roadblocks, but massive and continuous roadblocks strategically placed in the path of justice. It was mind boggling to me, a novice prior to my having studied the law and litigating as a criminal defense attorney myself. I have always thought it was not only O’Dell’s innocence, but mine, that drove this case to international proportions. I, too, always believed the truth would prevail. 


MP: During the time you worked on this case, you also were attending law school and expanding the reach of your battle against the justice system. Your commitment develops into an international cause in which you and O’Dell receive public support from Sister Helen PrejeanMother Teresa, the Pope, and both the Italian and European Parliaments. How did it feel to bring together such high profile support?

 
LSJ: I was functioning on pure adrenaline during that time, simply fighting with all I had to get the world to listen when the prosecutor threatened to sue the newspaper, ultimately shutting down the only median to expose the truth in the U.S.. It seemed logical to take Joe’s cause to the world. I did not look at it in that form at the time. In retrospect it was quite amazing the way it unfolded. I believe that when you have truth in your pocket and are authentic, an inspired woman on a mission is a force to be reckoned with, as the Richmond Times Dispatch wrote when they referred to my tenacity.


MP: I’m certain I am one of a huge number of people with great respect for the hard work, perseverance and sacrifices you made on behalf of Mr. O’Dell and your belief in his innocence. As I continued reading I imagined times when you were utterly overwhelmed. Still you could have pulled back and handed the work over to someone else, but you didn’t. How did you manage to keep the strength, of body and mind, to continue for so long?

 
LSJ: Thank you so much for you kind words. It was not easy, and yes I was overwhelmed to say the least. In the end I was mentally and physically exhausted. But as I mentioned earlier, when you are on a mission you will embrace both support and challenges equally. You don’t give up. I was determined not to give up because what I saw was so very unfair and was a distinct concerted effort to dust the truth under the carpet of the grave. The harder the opposition fought me, the harder I fought back, the greater my perseverance allowed me to find strategic ways to sustain the battle. More than once I felt I was “chosen,” so to speak, to do this work, as I did not know where my strength came from. I was simply a vehicle of justice for O’Dell and the hundreds of others who have been wrongly imprisoned for decades and decades of lost years.
 
Lori St. John In Front The Vatican
MP: It has been such a pleasure to have you here. I wish you much continued success, and hope you’ll return.

LSJ: Thank you for having me and for caring about this issue.
It is in fact a worldwide issue, not contained to the United States. It is my goal to continue to pursue my mission to expose the backstory of this highly controversial case, both to inspire and to educate others with the knowledge and experience I acquired over the past quarter century. Thank you using social media to reach millions of people around the world. Together we make a difference.

MP: This interview was more difficult for me than most because I wanted to ask questions to share the intensity and magnitude of the entire story without giving too much away. After interviewing many authors of true crime books I was accused once of glorifying criminal actions. I was grateful for the question so I could explain that though I'm rather curious about human behavior I had quite another motive. The authors reveal, in every book, incidents where people had an opportunity to intervene and prevent a crime but did not. A frequent excuse is not wanting to get involved, yet I believe strongly that if you see something, or know something, you are already involved.

The Corruption Of Innocence has a similar lesson. Many people had the opportunity to stop this heinous miscarriage of justice before it went off the rails, but did not. Many had the opportunity to do what was right morally, but chose to do what took the least effort.

Joseph Roger O'Dell III was an average man who went about daily life as a middle class American. He worked, had dreams of better things but dealt in reality, made some bad decisions, had regrets and still maintained a measure of optimism. In other words, he was a real, feeling human being, and he mattered.

Lori St. John did not have to spend years of her life researching law, taking apart the case against O'Dell, knocking down brick walls and going where she wasn't wanted in order to stand up for an innocent man whom she'd never met. Beautiful, intelligent, talented, and from an upper class background, she surely could have enjoyed those years playing tennis, lunching with the ladies, being a trophy wife and such. Once you've read The Corruption Of Innocence you will understand why I am one of the vast number of people who greatly admire and respect Lori St. John, and why I wanted all of you to meet her, too. 

Please follow Lori St. John on www.facebook.com/loristjohnauthor and www.loristjohn.com

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Troy Blackford - Book Signing with Nobody There





I'm a Troy Blackford fan. Do you think he would visit Madame Perry's Salon?

Blackford is undoubtedly a good writer, and I appreciate people who can amuse themselves, just as he is doing here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Author BA Goodjohn Skillfully Enchants And Haunts Us In "Sticklebacks And Snow Globes"


Welcome again to my salon! Lately I've read some marvelous books where the authors let the story be told in a refreshingly different way. One that I'm about to share had me hooked before I realized the clever technique used. It is an honor to introduce you to BA Goodjohn.

Madame Perry: I am so delighted to have you here at last. Come in, take a comfortable seat, and let us talk about your work.
 
BA Goodjohn: Thanks, Jennifer. Don’ t mind if I do.

MP: Sticklebacks And Snow Globes, set in the 70s, is about a group of working class girls growing up in the UK. The story is rendered mainly through the point of view of children. They may not understand adult talk and problems, yet they know it has power over their lives which they can not control. Their knowledge of adult affairs is gained empirically and from rumors, and some deal in adult situations. How did you decide to write from the children’s perception instead of the adults?
 BA Goodjohn

BAG: I wrote the first chapter as a short story, and the predominant perspective was Donald’s, a thirty-something male. I found it interesting to inhabit this man’s body—I can’t write a character unless I somehow become the character: I have to want what he wants, be scared of his monsters, lust after his loves. If he’s addicted to something, I have to somehow feel that same need at the same intensity. If I can’t become the character, I can’t write the character. So Donald—a little overweight, scared, and living a “ghost note” of a life—was tough: I’m a skinny woman who at times is far too stoic for her own good. But when I got to Tot, his daughter, the writing wasn’t tough. I could sense her almost comfortable isolation and the ease with which she deals with her own adversities. She felt like a loose jacket draped around my shoulders.

When I finished the story, I discovered Tot wasn’t finished with me. She kept reappearing—in the cereal aisle of Kroger, on the sofa as I watched tv. She had more to say and I found it easy to assume her voice. I was intrigued by how Tot might react to the events of my own life—both past and present. So a revision of that piece of fiction became the first chapter—not of Donald’s story, but of his daughter Tot’s.

MP: Were any of the characters or situations based on people that you knew?

BAG: Yes, everything is based on people and places I have experienced (which scares the s*#t out of my mother—she’s convinced someone will sue!). But I don’t know how I could write in any other way. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not memoir—it’s absolutely fiction. However, the landscape in which my characters move is very real: Stanley Close is the road I grew up on; the dump is the dump at the bottom of my parents’ garden; the hedge around Tot’s garden is the hedge around the garden of my best friend’s house; But the characters are all composites—fashioned from the ragbag of my past—and their situations are the stuff of imagination. And yet the “situations” are real in so far as they are real to my characters: Tot and Stacey are best friends. Tot’s mother is ashamed of living on a council estate. Mr. Damson has lost his job. Once the characters—ragbaggers or not—are on the page, they live real lives.

MP: I especially like the way the story feels it is being revealed rather than narrated. What writers do you believe had the strongest influence on your own style.

BAG: Carolyn Chute is by far by biggest influence. I first met her work in an undergraduate fiction class. We were looking at her short story “Lizzie, Annie and Rosie’s Rescue ofMe with Blue Cake” and I was excited by how Chute used child voice. I realized that if you could get that child voice dead right, you could take a reader back …maybe not to her own childhood, but definitely to a real place in her memory: she’s back in the sandpit, on the sofa watching cartoons, at the dining room table forcing down cold cabbage and fatty bacon. It’s like time travel. Or it’s like one of those girls’ nights out when you all have a few drinks and start doing the “do you remember when” thing. They’re always fun. I think we can’t help ourselves but look back. Even if looking back is difficult.

MP: You have an impressive list of awards for your poetry and fiction. Do you enjoy writing in one style more than another?

BAG: I’m blessed to be able to do both, and I prefer whichever one is working best! For me, poetry is the miniature…like an exquisite meal served in one of those Japanese Bento boxes: the words are carefully arranged inside the poem’s container. It’s tiny and meticulous...but it has to be satisfying. The Bento box demands the care and attention of both the preparer and the consumer. I think the same can be said of a poem. So if the poem is the Bento Box, fiction is like one of those huge pot luck suppers! Everyone turns up with the best thing he or she can create in the kitchen--macaroni cheese, tuna casserole, strawberry cake, summer vegetables in aspic, pound cake—and somehow by the end of the evening, the partygoers are full and have had a great time. If you’re the organizer, you’re bricking it because you’re worried everyone is going to bring chicken and raw vegetables and there’ll be no mayonnaise. That’s how I feel when I’m writing novels. My characters are all turning up, and I’m hoping we’ll end up with the magic mix of dishes that create good story. I’m hoping one of them will bring the mayonnaise !

So I teach, and therefore the academic calendar tends to govern my writing. During the semester, poetry—given its “Bento-ness” works well: I can write in short bursts. I can snatch an hour or two here and there, and return to early drafts. The precision of formal poetry (I love the sestina and the sonnet) allows me to move in tight and to focus for a hour or two on language and on the strange and wonderful energy words create when they bump against each other in the tightness of the line. Once the summer break arrives, I feel able to stretch out and consider the marathon of fiction: the summer affords me the time to let my characters form on the page and to ask questions of them. I can play the “what if” game with each of them and that takes time. I might end up writing for a few days straight but keep only one or two paragraphs. I may keep nothing. I may keep it all. That kind of creative uncertainty demands time.

MP: I see on your blog that you have a novel, The Beginning Things, and a book of poetry, Love, Love – all that wretched cant, ready for publication. What bit of sneak preview can you share with us and when will we see them?

BAG:The Beginning Things will be coming out in May 2015. Underground Voices, a great independent publisher in Los Angeles, read the manuscript, loved it, and wanted to publish. I’m all for first-rate small publishers, so, of course, I said yes. Do you remember when I said that Sticklebacks and Snow Globes came about because that short story’s child refused to shut up? Well, The Beginning Things came about because even after I gave Tot an entire book to run around in, she still wasn’t finished. But I need to be clear on this: The Beginning Things is not a sequel: I hate sequels! However, it does deal with Tot and her family. Four years have passed and twelve-year old Tot, in the absence of role models, is struggling to make sense of love—both romantic and sexual. Her grandfather, Dan, has recently moved in and is struggling with his own bad decisions. Both have much to learn…and—unbeknown to them—much to teach the other.

MP: Thank you for sharing generous samples of two forthcoming works. Because I read them several times, and was quite speechless after, I'd like to go ahead and say how glad I am that you could visit.  Please visit again, soon.

In the Amazon carousel widget (top left) I have included Sticklebacks and Snow Globes. Dear readers, I believe you'll also love her website where our author has been keep many of us in tears from laughing over a 'catfish' experiment. It is pure gold!


 

Previews (just for us!)

Two weeks ago, in the hangover of bad news, Dan had stood in the doorway of his granddaughter’s bedroom clutching a portable record player, a man bearing gifts. Today, he stood by her window holding a vodka bottle by the neck as if it were a wild animal: unpredictable, irresistible, dangerous.
“You could tip it away, Dangrad,” Tot said again.

She stood on her bed, gathering up the snow globes from the shelf, and dropping them one by one, allowing each time and space to settle on the pink chenille bedspread. He watched her sit cross-legged on her pillows to arrange the globes in two neat rows. They were snapshots, strange events caught inside glass, each dome home to a frozen object: castles, animals, cartoon characters, pop stars. One was home to the moon and the Gemini spacecraft. Another contained a blue unicorn pawing at a rock. Each scene waited for snow, however unlikely, however impractical. She picked up the globes in quick succession and shook them hard until the entire bed was a flurry of obscuring snow.

“Dad drank,” she said. “Not much, but he drank.” She picked up the unicorn globe and spun it in her hands until the snow was an eternal blizzard around the blue, horned creature inside. “Mum used to tell him he had a P.R.O.B.L.E.M., but dad said the only problem was her.”

Dan fiddled with the curtain. “It’s not a problem, Tot. Just a drink now and then. It helps me sleep.”

“It’s blue,” she continued, “because it’s a unicorn and that’s okay. If it was just a horse, I wouldn’t like it being blue. But unicorns are magic. They can be any colour they want. This one has green hooves. Look.” She held it up for him to see.

“I’ll keep the bottle on top of the wardrobe. Inside the piano was stupid. I didn’t think.”

She handed him the unicorn globe and he took it, putting the bottle down on the rug. “You can wish on it,” she said. “You just close your eyes, wish, and shake it hard. If the snow falls on the bits you thought it would, your wish comes true. It’s my magic.”

He looked at the globe. The unicorn had one green hoof up on a rock, the other lifted in air. The rock was wide and low. That’s where the snow would fall. On the rock. He put the globe down carefully on the bedspread.

She picked it up before standing and—catching her balance for a moment—returned the unicorn carefully to the shelf. He helped, handing her the others one-by-one. As she reached up towards the ledge, her sleeve fell back, revealing a line of tiny, round purple bruises, each one fading into brown around the edge like an old flower. He took her by the wrist, pulling her arm out straight and pushing up the sleeve of her cardigan.

“How did you do this?” he said. He gently pressed one of the bruise-flowers with his finger. “Does it hurt?”

She looked at him for a long moment, saying nothing.

“How did you do this?” he repeated.

“I didn’t. You did.”

“Me? When?”

“When I asked you about the boy in the woods. When you were in bed.”

“Why would I do that? What boy?” Dan couldn’t understand what she was telling him. “That Keesal from number seven? Did he do this?”

She shook her head. “You did it,” she said again.

“I don’t understand,” he said, tentatively matching his fingertips to the bruises on her arm. “Why would I do this?”

She retrieved the unicorn globe from the shelf and held it out to him “Shake.”

He took the glass ball, closed his eyes, and shook it. When he opened his eyes, the rock was bare, the unicorn’s back legs lost inexplicably in a drift of silver snow.

** 

The poetry manuscript is currently doing the contest rounds. No takers yet, but my hope is it finds a home soon. One of my favourite poems in the collection is called “Association Time at the Blue Ridge Women’s Correctional Facility” and is published with SouthernWomen’s Review (Volume 7, Issue 7)
I wrote it for a good friend who died from complications following an operation for appendicitis. We shared much: she was an alcoholic, an addict and an inmate. I was not an inmate—purely through good fortune.

Association Time at the Blue Ridge Women’s Correctional Facility


For Vicky 1962—2010

Deaf Brenda’s telling us about the time

her husband smacked her with the cockatiel’s

cage stand, how sound closed down that night,

and yet her memory holds the parrot’s scream.

She recalls slow feathers—tiny gray curls—

landing on her yellow fun-fur slippers.

We lean in: she’s telling our story and we love

how they all start happy with sass and drinks.

She threw his sorry arse outside, piled furniture

against the door, then took her whiskey

and the kids to bed, slept sound despite

the ricochet of words against the trailer’s siding.

There is no recollection of clubbing him

with the iron, but there it was –bloody

and shining—on the deck. “What can I say?”

she said, her yard full of police and plastic toys,

her hands already clasped behind her back.

“Drink brings a crazy bitch to fuck up my life.”

My turn for tales, but I’m just here for plain old

DUI. So I tell the girls of Rita, Patron Saint

Of Suffering, whose mouth was home to bees

that buzzed behind her teeth, but left her tongue

unstung, a saint I’d forgotten till Deaf Brenda

described her tinnitus as bee song.

The rec room hums and we’re all lost

to joining drunken dots of our own

blacked-out biographies. We’re haunted

by mouths that have always swarmed with bees,

homesick for a time when we were too blessed

—or young—to know the treachery of swallowing.







 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Killer Girlfriend is a Killer Book!

I met Josh Hoffner at Book Expo America 2013 where he barely had a chance to look up while signing copies of Killer Girlfriend, The Jodi Arias StoryHoffner and co-author Brian Skoloff take us into the proceedings of Arias' trial for the murder of former lover Travis Alexander, and put some light on the lives of the couple before and during their relationship.

Hoffner is the Southwest News Editor for the Associated Press and an aspiring screenwriter. Brian Skoloff is an Associated Press reporter, writer, video journalist and author. 


 
Josh Hoffner


After learning that friend and author Angela Bradley followed the story daily until the trial ended, I invited her here to the salon to join the discussion. We only have Hoffner here today, but Skoloff felt that his co-author had done a magnificent job and he hopes we all enjoy the book. 


Madame Perry: The trial of Jodi Arias for the murder of Travis Alexander was this decade’s O.J.Simpson trial. Were you surprised at the amount of attention it received not only from the media but the massive audience of people following the story and trial? When did you both know that you were going to write Killer Girlfriend?

Josh: It was definitely hard to anticipate what a gigantic following the trial was going to have. Yes, it was a salacious case with juicy elements and a defendant who did some bizarre things and courted the media spotlight. But it wasn't until a month or so in that we knew this trial was a monster. We decided to write the book about a month before the case wrapped up, and we published the ebook right around the verdict. Our mindset was that there was a big following in the case, so why not publish when interest is at its highest?


Angela Bradley: Do you believe because of Travis Alexander's Mormon based childhood, that he suppressed his sexual desires as a man, only to find that he could explore them with Jodi Arias? Her background made him feel he could explore his desires with her without judgement or shame?


Brian Skoloff
Josh: It's hard to know what his desires and motivations were with the Arias relationship and how it related to his childhood. I don't think anyone disputes the fact that Travis had two sides: The devoutly Mormon side and the more freewheeling, anything-goes Jodi Arias side. Their relationship went places that wasn't in the same ballpark or league as his relationships with his wholesome group of Mormon friends. So he most definitely felt more uninhibited in his time with Jodi.
 
 
 
Jodi Arias
MP: Travis’s childhood couldn’t really be described as Dickensian because that would have been a step up. The eight Alexander children lived with drug addicted parents, domestic violence, physical and verbal abuse, filth and hunger until they were taken in by their grandmother when Travis was ten years old. He was making a good life for himself. Do you see a connection between the lack and need of his childhood and his voracious appetite for success and sex?
Josh: I think voracious appetite for success, yes. I don't know about the sex part. His rough upbringing helped fuel his motivation to succeed, and his life story of overcoming the odds really endeared him with his work colleagues. That, in turn, made him more successful. In terms of how his childhood might have led him to find Jodi, he obviously didn't have the mother and father figures that are the core of traditional families and can help people make better relationship decisions. (Although his grandmother took on those nurturing roles) So maybe if he weren't around drugs, violence, abuse, filth and hunger, he would have ended up in a better place relationship-wise. But that's all speculating because he's dead.


Travis Alexander

AB: Do you believe Travis allowed her to hope of a deeper relationship, including marriage, for the sex?
Josh: I don't know if "led on" are the right words, but there's no doubt that Jodi had a much different interpretation of their relationship than Travis. Sure, they broke up at various times, but he kept going back to her for sex and secret trips together. Jodi badly wanted a long-term, serious relationship with him, and those types of rendezvous definitely fanned the flames.

Angela Bradley
AB: Maybe Jodi snapped that day because she knew she had lost the battle and she had always won when it came to men? Travis was the only man that had turned her away and how dare someone to that to her! Jodi felt used and mistreated.

Josh: Completely impossible to get in her head about what happened on that fateful day in 2008. She had been turned away by other men, so I'm not sure that argument holds up. But she was definitely more fond of Travis than the other men in her life.

MP: It wasn’t only the grizzly murder that seemed to keep people following the trial, but Jodi’s behavior which ranged from nonchalant to downright bizarre. The spotlight seemed a comfortable place for her, as though she were starring in her own reality show. This was the inverse of her mother, Sandi Arias, and the grievous pain she suffered. Tell us about observing the families and friends on both sides during the trial.

Josh: Without a doubt, her behavior contributed to the soap opera-like obsession. You're also right that she was comfortable in the spotlight. She embraced it from the very beginning, doing TV interviews on shows such as 48Hours. She did a round of interviews after her conviction, including one with Brian and me, and she had a polish and poise in front of the camera that really stood out. But yes, the emotion on the part of the families of Arias and Alexander was very raw and almost painful to watch. Case in point: Travis' sisters and brothers testifying in the penalty phase of the trial. They loved their brother so much and he meant so much to them; there was this outpouring of emotion that flowed from them. The jury even got emotional. The whole ordeal was tough on Jodi's family. Her mom was there almost every day, her dad was there some of the time. Jodi told us (I never corroborated it) that she lost her job at a dental office because she spent so much time at the trial. I also believe her father lost the family restaurant that he owned in the town.


MP: Thank you both so much for visiting Madame Perry’s Salon to discuss Killer Girlfriend and this extraordinary case. Angela and I wish you both much success. Do you have another book in the near future for our ‘To Be Read’ lists?

Josh: Glad to share my thoughts. No books in the near future, but we are big believers in what we call the "true crime off the news" genre. I think there's a strong appetite for the back story on these trials that are playing out across the country, so maybe there will be some more opportunities.

You may have followed this sensational story and trial daily yet I assure you there is much more to learn in Killer Girlfriend. Follow Josh Hoffer on Twitter and GoodReads, and his AP home page, also Brian Skoloff on Twitter, GoodReads, and his AP home page. And of course, buy Killer Girlfriend!
 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Wickedly Clever & Talented Danny Gillan Writes Books, Music, And Delights In Teaching Unsuspecting Yanks To Use The Word 'Wanker' Often

Once again I'm delighted at the power of the cyberworld to connect us with interesting and extraordinary people we might never meet otherwise. Such is the case with Scottish author and musician Danny Gillan, and I must include his housemate Jake. The wickedly clever and talented Gillan grabs you on the first page and yanks you into the story like that video by A-Ha. Yes. He's that good, and I am elated to welcome him to Madame Perry's Salon.
 


Mme. Perry: Will You Love Me Tomorrow has an unlikely beginning with one of the main characters planning their own death. Every character is thrown into situations where they must deal, for their own purposes and with no real experience, with the shady individuals from the record label, media and the various inevitable flotsam in their periphery. You have quite a nimble hand at rendering all of these people with their agendas and interactions. Obviously you are very familiar with the business side of music.
Danny Gillan: Not really, to be honest. I certainly have plenty of experience with the business of being an unsuccessful musician. I did have some dealings with managers, producers, record companies etc when I was a lot younger, but nothing like the characters in the book experience. One of the joys of writing is that you get to lie so much.

As you say, I threw most of the characters into entirely unfamiliar situations, so I guess it makes sense that I had no idea what I was talking about either.
As for the opening – I’ve always said every good comedy should start with a suicide. It sets the tone nicely.
MP: Hmm, I suppose it does at that. Was there a particular story, or incident, that inspired this book?
DG: I was at an age when I began writing it where I had to accept I wasn’t going to make a living as a musician, so the story grew from that. I know lots of creative people who haven’t made it, be they musicians, actors, writers or artists. Dealing with that lack of success in your chosen field was what I wanted to explore. There are two musicians in the book, Bryan and Adam, and neither of them get the career they hope for (at least not while they’re still alive to enjoy it). Bryan takes this badly – he can’t imagine doing anything else and it causes him serious emotional trauma when he realises it’s not going to happen. On the other hand, Adam is pragmatic about it. He tried and it didn’t work so he moves on.
We’ve been conditioned by fiction to believe that if you try hard enough your dreams will eventually come true.  Most of us actually continue to accept this as truth, despite life constantly showing that it’s bollocks. For every underdog success story there are thousands of failures – that’s just a fact. I know and care more about those failures because I’m one of them, basically, and so are most of my friends. Their stories are more interesting to me, and that’s what I wanted to write about. How do you deal with that? What do you do after the dream dies? How do you pay the rent?
MP: Reading Scratch was fun because it also moved quickly with characters I could see, hear, and even imagine their behavior when they weren’t talking.
DG: That’s great to hear, thank you. I wanted Scratch to feel like a conversation with real people.  Normal, everyday people are, generally, hilarious. I have friends who would never consider putting words on a screen who can make me laugh harder and more consistently than my favourite stand-ups. They’re certainly a lot funnier than I am. Like most sensible folk, they just don’t happen to want to be writers or performers. They’ve got proper jobs. Scratch is intended to celebrate that. It isn’t heightened, there are no car chases or frantic, last-minute dashes through the city to win the hand of a one-true-love. It’s just about people being daft and sad and happy and funny and miserable and drunk and everything else we all are most of the time. 
MP: The ending of Scratch totally blindsided me, and I like that. What authors do you feel had the greatest influence on you as a writer?
DG: Ah yes, that ending. Some like it, some don’t, and I understand both views. I opted for realism over cliché but I get that some readers like their tropes and aren’t happy when you don’t follow them. That’s entirely fair, and perhaps it was a bit cruel of me to set the book up as a traditional relationship/romance story when actually it’s nothing of the sort.
Subverting expectations is one of the joys of writing, it’s what makes it fun. Some of my favourite writers are masters of the art. Coincidentally, many of them write for TV or film, even comics, rather than novels.  Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Robert Kirkman, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, those fellas.
Then you have the novelists – ElmoreLeonard, Christopher Brookmyre, Iain Banks, David Mitchell. Too many to list, really.
If I’ve read it and enjoyed it, it’s influenced me, simple as that. 
MP: Do you have a special ritual, time of day or night, genre of music that inspires you to write?
DG: Not consciously, though writing is an evening activity for me, definitely. I don’t do mornings. Mornings are a hellish invention and will be banished from the Earth when I’m The King of Everything. I always have music playing when I write. I have a hard-drive full of music I know I like and tend to just play it on random while I work. Or while I play, drink, sulk or do anything else. Anything without a drum machine that isn’t jazz (shudder) generally fits the bill.
MP: Do you ever read to Jake?
DG: That would be ridiculous, he’s a dog. He has his own Kindle.

Seriously? You know I can't turn pages.
Get my Kindle!
MP: Have any readers, besides me, asked for a short glossary to translate the Glaswegian terms or phrases?
DG: Surprisingly many, yes. I’ve yet to compile one but maybe I should get on that. I am quite proud of the fact that I’ve introduced the term ‘wanker’ to a lot of previously innocent US readers. I’m especially gratified when they let me know their children have used it in school.
MP: Could you tell the readers about Words With Jam?
DG: WordsWith JAM is an online magazine for writers. It’s written by writers, for writers, about writing, produced mainly using words that have been written down on writing machines.
It was founded in 2009 by JD Smith, an annoyingly talented author and acclaimed book cover designer who, having only three small children and about seventeen other jobs, decided to start a magazine because she just wasn’t busy enough.
 She gathered together a group of reprobates and asked us all to be funny and informative. Sometimes we manage it. Having a talent for talent spotting, she also found a few folk who had the sheer gall to go out and intimidate massively successful authors and publishing industry professionals and force them to participate in revealing interviews.
Actually, if I have one piece of advice for other writers, it would be to make a friend of JD Smith. Or at the very least, don’t make an enemy of her. She scares the hell out of me. 

MP: You wrote and recorded songs attributed to Bryan Rivers, the character in WYLMT and created music videos for these tunes complete with quotes from Rivers. As a musician yourself, what kind of challenge is there in creating music that is to be considered someone else’s song?
DG: Actually most of the songs attributed to Bryan Rivers were ones I had written and recorded as myself, before I began writing the book. Given that no one was interested in hearing or buying them though, I retroactively fitted them into Bryan’s back-story because it was easier than writing new ones.
I wrote many if the other lyrics in the book specifically for Bryan, though. Each chapter begins with a verse or chorus from one of his songs. This was a device for keeping Bryan ‘alive’ in the reader’s mind after the events of the opening, but I also wanted them to reflect the action or theme of each chapter. Some were from songs already written back in my ‘I want to be a rock star’ days, but many came later, after the main story was there. The biggest trick to making lyrics seem authentic is, by far, getting them to rhyme.




MP: Do you have CDs, as Danny Gillan or Bryan Rivers, that we can purchase?
DG: Nothing for sale, no. However there are some videos on youtube under Bryan Rivers’ name, and I have also put several of his songs on Soundcloud.

MP: After reading Scratch and Will You Love Me Tomorrow, I'm constantly checking your site for the next novel. I also downloaded A Selection Of Meats And Cheeses, your short story collection. Since you write, work on a magazine, write music and play out live I am honored that you could spend time here talking with me. Thank you again, Danny, and I wish you much success.

DG: Thank you for inviting me, it’s been a pleasure. I hope you enjoy the short stories. Some of them experiment with new genres for me, including the traditional Scottish writers’ realms of crime, violence, guns and misery. Hope that’s not too much of a shock. There’s even one that should probably be classed as sci-fi - it’s terrible.  A few of them are still just about daft idiots, mind.

MP: You, dear readers, have many options available by which to follow Gillan's books and music. You'll find him on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, his blog,  Not enough? Stalk him on Twitter and Facebook, too!

And of course the last word goes to Gillan's long suffering, unselfish, always supportive pal, Jake.