13 June 2007

Author Answers with Charles Kelly

This week's author is Charles Kelly, whose first novel, Pay Here, came out last month. In addition to being an author, Kelly is a working journalist with the Arizona Republic.

For more on Kelly, check out his website.

WN: You’re a reporter with the Arizona Republic with your first novel coming out in August. Is this the classic story of a reporter with a novel stashed in the bottom desk drawer? When and how did you decide to try your hand at novel writing?
KELLY: Actually, I've got six novels stashed in the bottom drawer. I first started writing novels 21 years ago, when I was 40. I wrote six, had three of them agented, but PAY HERE is the first one that has been accepted for publication. I had always wanted to write a novel, but the real springboard was a class I took in combat pistol shooting at Gunsite, a world-class training facility in central
Arizona. Another Gunsite grad and I tried our hand at a sort of "Death Wish" novel. I wound up doing virtually all of the writing, and I eventually finished the book. Didn't sell it, though. It was pretty bad. I went on to write several thrillers featuring women as main characters, including one based on Grace Humiston, a real-life lawyer in New York City who solved several spectacular murder cases in the years leading up to World War I.

WN: What is “Pay Here” about? What kind of reader should put this book on future To be read lists?
KELLY: PAY HERE is the story of an Irish-born reporter who doesn't drink but still gets in bad trouble with a woman. It's really a kind of experimental novel, if I can say that without sounding pretentious (which I probably can't). It's a re-telling of "The Third Man" story, but set in modern
Arizona rather than postwar Vienna, with all the genders and character roles shuffled around. Though it plays out in August 2000, it's really about the kind of old-time newspapering I recall going back to the 1970s, when reporters and photographers sometimes carried guns on assignments, journalists got WAY out of hand (like the Arizona Republic copy editor who robbed a bank, then was reinstated in his job), and reporters had very little respect for the efforts of editors to please advertisers. My target audience is nostalgic journalists, including laid-off journalists, so I think I'll get a lot of readers.

WN: How has your background in journalism helped you as a fiction writer… is one harder than the other?
KELLY: My background in journalism has helped me as a fiction writer because I've seen a lot of things that are potential fodder for fiction—the murder of a couple of fellow reporters (one was killed by a local businessman, another by Russian troops in Afghanistan), the bank fraud trial of one of Arizona's governors, the AZSCAM law-enforcement sting operation, missing-heir cases, etc. But I've had a hard time switching from the quick, punchy rhythms of newswriting to the long, leisurely rhythms of the novel. Fiction for me definitely is much harder than journalism. You must write fleshed-out scenes. You must have a good deal of description. You must consider point of view. Novel writing is much less forgiving than journalism.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
KELLY: I was a voracious reader as a kid. I grew up on a farm and went to a one-room country school, and I read everything in the big bookcase in the back of the schoolroom and everything I could get the teacher to bring me from the library in town ten miles away. I really didn't like the farm much, and reading took me to other worlds.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
KELLY: The best part of being a writer to me is going into the trance of writing, exploring the music of sentences and paragraphs, coming up with images and working and re-working the writing until it makes the images come alive. The most challenging part of writing for me is lengthening out the rhythms of my writing to fit the flow of novel writing. My natural style is still the quick-hit piece of journalism.

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
KELLY: I'm working on a biography of the hard-boiled writer Dan J. Marlowe, who wrote such novels as THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH and THE VENGEANCE MAN. He was fascinating guy—a city official and a Republican, a sometimes-professional gambler, a spanking fetishist, the friend of a bank robber. After churning out 30 novels, he got amnesia and forgot everything he had written. It's a story that beats anything he ever wrote, and he wrote some great stuff. I haven't found a publisher yet. Anybody out there interested?

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
KELLY: I've read lots of wonderful novels that inspired me. I suppose the book I keep coming back to is THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder, because it has a spiritual element in it that lifts the characters beyond the story. That's important to me as a failed Catholic. You may fail, but you never are able to adjust to a life without spirituality.

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