Here's part 2 of my interview with Spencer Quinn - bestselling author of the newly released Thereby Hangs A Tail - second book in the Chet & Bernie Mystery Series. As Peter Abrahams, he has written numerous books for adults and children. His most recent YA novel, Reality Check, was just nominated for an Edgar. His next YA novel, Bullet Point, comes out in April. Part 1 of the interview appears in the previous post (see below).
In the second half of the interview, Spencer talked about his daily writing routine, advancing the story, and his blog - written from the POV of Chet the Dog, Bernie's partner in the Little Detective Agency:
ChettheDog is a unique blog and a lot of fun to read - sort of a fix for your readers until the next book comes out. How do you go about writing it? Is that how you start your writing day?
I don’t think of it as part of my writing day – I think of it as part of what you have to do as a writer now. In today’s publishing world, there’s not a question in my mind that most writers have to pitch in and help. I actually enjoy doing this. It doesn’t take me long. Today there’s a thing about Martin Luther King and part 2 of a contest – the winner gets a copy of Thereby Hangs a Tail signed by Spencer Quinn and stamped with Chet’s paw print.
A redesign is happening. There’s a little button – Friends of Chet – where readers can post pictures of their dogs and whatever they want to say. I wanted to make it more prominent - the picture of the latest friend of Chet will appear on the home page. The default friend is my dog, Audrey. That’s part of the redesign. There’s another video being made now. It looks like a late night cheesey TV ad for a detective agency. There’s a business card for the Little Detective Agency - right now there’s no card but we’re having it made up.
I did a kind of mini-story on the movie Greed. When I do a book I have all the set-ups but with the blog, I almost lost track – very Chet-like. But it’s about the time. If all I did was the Chet and Bernie stuff – but I’m doing young adult too. So you have to be disciplined about the time.
How much do you write each day?
I have a goal – it’s not big. I’m a piece-maker (not a peacemaker - I’d be the very last person you’d want as a peacemaker ) but a piece-worker, as in an old fashioned factory. I try to produce a thousand words a day. At least, I try to produce something to advance the story. I think it would be depressing to sit down and not advance the story - I try to advance the story doubly.
What do you mean?
Every sentence has to push the story forward in some way – not necessarily in terms of plot – but move forward or add something. And if it doesn’t, it has to be cut. I never sit down to write and get up and leave it for the day with nothing done.
I remember you once saying you try to do something original on each page. I loved this idea. Can you talk about it more?
I try to have no boiler plate, ever - but without attracting attention to it – not the kind of being original that is just out there to show off originality - because everything has to advance the story. But that’s just me – it’s a protestant attitude. (And I’m Protestant to the core – High Church.) For example, with Chet and Bernie, the originality’s in the point of view, not the material. I’m not trying to do something where you’d say of the material, “that’s never been done before,” like I did with the earlier novels for adults, like Oblivion, and End of Story too - and some of the others.
With Chet and Bernie, I took the familiar music of classic mysteries but I played it on an unusual instrument. If I tried to take cutting edge material with a dog narrator, it just wouldn’t have worked.
Any inspirational advice for new or aspiring writers?
I just don’t know. There are two sides - one is the technical how to do this, and the other is character-related – which has to do with the amount of effort you’re willing to put in, how tough your skin is going to be and how good a judge you are of your own material. Those are the issues.
Publishers, readers – at least some of them - are always looking for something fresh and original, and I think there’s a disconnect there. Readers aren’t always looking for something new - they’re often looking for comfort. If we’re coming to the end of the gatekeepers, I’m not sure that’s a good thing in terms of the right stuff getting out there. It sounds a little paradoxical but that’s my opinion.
What are you working on now?
I’m almost finished The Peanut Case, the third Chet and Bernie book. I’m on chapter 29 now. It’s circus- related. The background of the book is the illegal trade in exotic animals. Peanut is an elephant.
When does The Peanut Case come out?
Early winter, 2011.
I can’t wait to read it - and Bullet Point, too. Thank you, and congratulations on the Edgar nomination.
Leave a comment, and you could win a copy of Thereby Hangs A Tail - signed by Spencer Quinn and stamped with Chet's paw print. Winner to be chosen by a random draw of all the names of people who commented on both parts of the interview.