Our latest release, The Movie Buff, comes from author Daniel Cassidy. He’s chatting with us today all the way the United Kingdom.
It’s a pleasure to be here with you today. Although I do find it a bit humorous to be interviewed by a mouse. No offense intended, my friend.
None taken. I get that a lot, actually. It helps liven up the interview. Is your tea still okay? I can heat it up a bit for you if needed. No? Then I’ll start right in. I know how busy life can be, especially on release day.
You’re doing a wonderful job, Mousey.
Thank you, Dan. Now, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and why?
I guess my love of writing goes way back to my early school days, and is very much tied in to my love of reading. From as far back as I can remember, I was always an avid and hungry reader, paying almost daily trips to our local library.
This in turn must have stoked up my imagination and I found myself utilizing that imagination to spice up the most mundane ‘English’ assignments that we were given – usually as homework – at school.
I can remember one of my earliest ‘compositions’, as they were referred to back in Junior school, filling an entire exercise book, and the mixture of pride and embarrassment I felt when my teacher decided to read it out loud to the rest of the class. It was a blood-and-guts adventure tale chronicling the discovery of a hidden jungle valley, complete with lost warrior tribes, dinosaurs and active volcanoes. (The books of Conan-Doyle and the (original) movie of King Kong, were both a big influence on me even at that early age, and, back then I couldn’t even spell plagiarism).
Another memorable piece of schoolboy writing was in my third year at Grammar school when we were set an essay for holiday homework and given ‘A train journey’ as the subject matter. I did consider relating my travel experiences counting cows and sheep on the way to West Kirby and other such exotic places, only it’s very hard to put such tedium into words, (I only hope you’re not thinking ‘Well you’re doing alright so far!’) so I elected to tell the tale of a bullion train puffing its way through the American West during the closing stages of the Civil War. The plot had everything a young boy could, and did, imagine – an ice-cool hero, villains galore and, best of all, lots of action. Six-guns and Winchesters blazing away, horses whinnying in terror as they crumpled to the ground in spectacular plumes of dust, tossing their riders to the sun-baked prairie, sticks of dynamite thrown from the train with uncanny accuracy by our granite-jawed hero – the resultant explosions wreaking havoc among the ranks of the pursuing villains. (Nobody went to sleep marking my essays!).
Sadly, once I stopped going to school I also stopped writing – after all, where was the need? My years at school had failed to teach me that it was possible to write solely for pleasure, and that one didn’t have to be set assignments in order to do so. To be fair, I suppose a young teenage lad does have more on his mind than sitting at a desk with pen in hand. Anyway, it is only in the last five years or so that I have re-discovered the joy of writing simply for the pleasure it gives.
Wow. That sounds fascinating. What makes a story “good” to you? What are pet peeves that make it not so good?
I think a good story is one that, not only has the ability to maintain the reader’s interest (via a good storyline), but that also has the reader identifying with and – more importantly – actually caring about some of the characters.
Pet peeves usually revolve around the lack of research into a certain subject. Given my background and my interest in military history and weapons development, I have to admit that for me this is usually related to glaring inaccuracies relating to the use or function of firearms.
For me, this is both laziness and a lack of respect for one’s readers.
People may think that these are only minor details, unimportant to the plot, but I do believe that making mistakes through lack of research (especially now when online research has made things so much easier) can only be detrimental to an author. When readers pick up on minor mistakes like this, the next obvious thought is ‘what else has he got wrong?’
What genre do you write?
Up until now, I have been writing what I am most comfortable with, and the kind of stuff that I like to read myself. I love Westerns – both films and books, and also crime and action novels. Military history would also be a great field for me – I am a massive fan of both Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden.
Sticking to just those genres is about to change for me though.
Is there any genre you refuse to write? Why?
Until a couple of weeks ago I might have answered ‘Chick-Lit’ or ‘Romantic Fiction’ to this question.
However, while talking with my wife – Evelyn – over dinner one night we began to explore the possibilities of my writing something maybe a little more romantic, and definitely a lot less action-oriented than my other books. One thing lead to another and before I knew it I was heavily involved in a joint writing project – with Evelyn providing most of the ideas. At the moment, it is a work in progress, and yes – I am enjoying the change.
I know you live in Europe, a place I dearly love. I lived in Germany for several years back in the day. What is your favorite place you have ever traveled?
Have to admit, I do have an ongoing love affair with Scotland – especially the Highlands.
The scenery is often breathtaking, and the weather unpredictable and can change drastically within minutes.
Travelling the A82 between the desolate wilderness of Rannoch Moor and the beautifully foreboding pass of Glencoe is usually enough to initiate a good crop of goose bumps.
The Glencoe and Fort William area is one of my favourite places in the country, if not the world. Anyone who has made the effort to struggle up into the ‘Lost Valley’ of the ill-fated McDonald clan, or made the tiring plod up to the summit of Ben Nevis to stand in a foot of snow in the middle of July will know exactly what I mean.
And then of course, there is the malt whisky – mustn’t forget that. Oh, and did I mention the excellent Heather Ale?
What is the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you?
I know this is going to sound corny, but for me it was opening up my e-mails, just prior to leaving the house, one morning last November, only to discover that my first novel – Pistol Man – had been accepted for publication. (God bless you Whimsical!)
I spent the rest of the day alternating between a state of near-ecstasy and bouts of doubt-laden anxiety, as I contemplated the possibility that it might be some kind of wicked practical joke.
From what I hear over at Whimsical, your story is what pulled them in and led to being accepted. Well done! If you could bring any of your characters to life, who would you choose and why?
Probably Jim Clarkson, as he’s the one who scares me the least. Even the heroes of some of my other books can be a tad intimidating to say the least.
Also, Clarkson seems like a guy who shares the same kind of sense of humor as myself, and is also a fellow ‘Movie Buff’. Strange that, huh? We could argue about the pros and cons of our favourite movies over a beer or two. Or maybe we wouldn’t actually argue – I kind of feel he likes exactly the same kind of movies that I do.
What is your creative process like?
I know that most writers – especially the ones who write books on the subject of ‘how to write books’ – will probably disagree violently with me on this one, but for me most of the process and planning takes place in my head. I am lucky enough to have a fairly good memory, and I can think about plot lines etc. while doing other things and file them away for future reference.
I know that there are a lot of really great writers out there who spend a considerable amount of time and effort putting their ideas onto paper and then creating a complex plan of plot development and chapter outlines etc.
This does not work for me. I have a (very) basic idea and outline in my head of the story in general – usually (but not always) the beginning, middle and end – and then simply jump right in and start writing.
About the only time that I will commit some notes to paper is when I come up with a piece of dialogue that I don’t want to forget.
Once I start writing – and I know that other writers have also said this – it is not unusual for the storyline and characters to simply take over and develop themselves. There have been a couple of times when I have finished a particular chapter or incident thinking to myself – ‘well, I didn’t expect that to happen’.
I hear that a lot too. For you, what are some pros and cons of being a writer?
On the plus side it is the pleasure it brings to be able to do something that you really enjoy, and then obviously the enormous satisfaction of having somebody – even if it is one of your own family members – tell you how much they enjoyed reading it.
To actually have the opportunity to have complete strangers read – and hopefully – enjoy the stories that you have created is pretty much mind-blowing.
The negative for most people is it such a lonely experience – just yourself and that little black keyboard for hours at a stretch. Have to admit that doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not saying I’d make good ‘hermit’ material, but I do get on quite well with myself. Well, there was that time when we had that massive falling-out last year – but we won’t go into that. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t my fault.
For me the biggest negative (as I’m guessing it is with most others) is the old ‘writers block’. You know where you want to take the story, you know what the next step in the storyline should be – you just don’t know how to begin that step. I don’t know how other writers cope, but for me the best solution is usually just to admit defeat and find something else to do – take a walk in the park, sit in the garden and read for a while, do some of those odd jobs that the wife has been nag – sorry – asking you to do. On second thoughts I’ve just had a really great idea on how to carry on.
That is some great advice concerning writers block. What do you hope readers will take away from your stories?
Exactly the same things that I do when I read a good story. Total immersion in, and belief of, the story line. Emotional involvement is important too – an empathy with some of the characters, being able to share some of their emotions and laugh and cry with (or for) them. Maybe too, a little education – it is always good to pick up a few new facts or ideas.
Mostly though, it would be the hope that when the final words were read, the reader would give a sigh of satisfaction as they closed the book and simply think – ‘Now that was a bloody good read!’ That really would make it all well worth the effort.
If you could offer any piece of advice to new writers, what would it be?
Write for yourself – not what you think other people want to read. Write a story that you yourself would like to read. Your interest in, and enjoyment of, the subject will–hopefully–shine through. Don’t worry too much about punctuation, spelling and grammar – especially when writing dialogue. They are not as important as some would have us believe. (Oh dear, is that the sound of numerous editors teeth I can hear grinding away in the background?) If you doubt me on this just pick up a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ or ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ by Hubert Selby Jr.
Do you have any news to share with the readers? Where can we find you on the web?
I have already mentioned one of the (joint) projects that I am working on at the moment – a (sort of) romantic story with (Evelyn’s idea this) a bit of the supernatural thrown in. No there won’t be anybody sitting at a potter’s wheel and covered in clay while a cheesy song plays in the background, I promise.
Also, watch out for the release of my book Pistol Man – an historically accurate Western, which for me was a real work of passion.
I have to admit I am totally lost in the world of ‘Social Networking’ etc. I am willing to learn though and, hopefully, will soon have a web page up and running. Who knows, I may even learn how to twitter and tweak and hash tag my way through life. (I wouldn’t place too much money on that particular wager though.)
We hope you have enjoyed our chat with Daniel Cassidy. To learn more about him and his book, The Movie Buff…
To learn more about The Movie Buff by Daniel Cassidy, click on the link below.