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.