Q: Hello Peter. Thanks for visiting L’Artiste. Can you give us your writing background. I see you use the word “beat” to mean a pause in the dialogue. I generally see this word in playwriting. Are you a playwright, as well as a novelist? Or does this “silent beat” come from your music background?
A: Hello Diann. Thanks for having me. It’s a real pleasure. As early as Jr. High School I’ve been writing short stories. I had a reading/writing teacher who introduced me to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury, and I fell in love with the short story form. So much so, in fact, that I continue to write them to this day. Although I have never written a play, I have dabbled a bit in screenwriting. I’ve written a couple of full-length scripts and a few teleplays. It’s a fascinating and useful medium.
As for the use of “beat” to mean a pause in the dialogue, it is actually a combination of the two reasons you mentioned. I’ve read a number of scripts over the years, and their use of “beat” appealed to me. Often writers go out of their way to come up with some innocuous action for the speaker to perform in order to have that brief pause during dialogue, but it always appears forced and out of place to me. I don’t like to put anything into my stories that doesn’t have a specific purpose. That being said, my musical background definitely does play a role here. I agonize over dialogue in order to get the flow right. When I hear it in my head, I hear it musically, as if it’s a melody or march of sorts, there needs to be a fluid cadence. If that fluidity of speech isn’t there, the reader will trip herself up and stumble. I don’t want that. Unless, of course, I want the character to have awkward speech patterns.
Q: There are as many heroes in your story as antagonists. Very few of your characters seem to take on minor roles. Is this intentional, as part of your style? Or do you use this as a method for creating the novel’s pace?
A: I think the best answer to this question is yes and yes. We’ve all read books in which the writer has introduced a few characters who prove inessential to the story. Number ten in Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing reads: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. This is the absolute best advice for any writer. I always ask myself Who cares? The answer to that simple question tells me whether something stays or goes, whether a character has earned his place in the story or not.
I’d like to say that everything I do in my novels is intentional, but that would not be completely true. For example, Toni Lee was initially intended as a minor character. I suspected she would only appear in two or three chapters. However, once she walked onto the page she proved herself to be an entertaining and valuable force to be reckoned with. And while I care about all my characters, in regards to Shelter From the Storm, I would say two of my favorites are Toni Lee and Lawrence Blackwell, both of whom began as minor characters.
Q: Pacing…you start off with a bang…twist…twist…then we’re off! The reader races toward the end. How do you keep such a fast pace going without missing important plot support?
A: I mentioned short stories earlier; they play a major role in my writing style. When you’re working on a short story, you have limited space, maybe fifteen to thirty pages, depending on the market. There’s no time for fluff or excessive exposition or tangents, you have to know where the end is and begin writing toward it from word one. I see novels the same way, only on a grander scale. I always know the end before I begin to write, so when I start on page one I’m already working toward the finish line. The plot support is already in my notes, I just need to keep my eyes open for the best places to plant the seeds. And sometimes those seeds grow into much more than I had originally anticipated, thus demanding that I restructure the original road map and take the story in a different direction. I nearly always end up at the same place, just not always by the route I had originally mapped out.
Q: Like a good movie, I was sitting on the edge of my recliner the entire day reading your book. I come away knowing your characters more by their plot motives more than their emotions. Except for maybe your major protagonist, Miranda. Would you say that you are less motived by character than action?
A: Thank you so much! I think this is something every writer hopes to hear regarding the books he or she writes. In regards to character versus action, I think it would be safe to say both are equally important to me and each plays a significant role in my writing. Let’s look at Lawrence Blackwell for a moment. While writing a number of his scenes, I literally had tears in my eyes. The fragile relationship he has with Gillian, his second wife, at times makes me feel sorry for him. There is a lot he needs and feels, little of which is actually fulfilled by his wife. But then Miranda comes into the picture and he once again feels alive, has suddenly gained greater purpose. It’s a delicate balancing act. First and foremost, the character must move the story forward, so he or she needs to play an active role. But without a certain amount of character development and emotion, those characters will fall flat.
Q: Okay, I do know about your music background. How does your musical muse speak to you when you story write? Or are they two separate muses?
A: The two muses definitely mingle. For example, when I’m writing dialogue I can hear the rhythm in the speech patterns, so I’ll edit to make sure the dialogue has a nice, comfortable flow. This is very important to a novel’s pacing. If your reader is gliding along smoothly, there’s less to get in the way of flipping those pages. There is another equally important role music plays in my writing: it influences my mood. When I know I’m about to write a sad, emotional scene, I’ll play certain songs I know will put me in a melancholy mood. This works the other way, as well. I might play the same song on repeat for an hour or two while I’m writing a particular scene. It drives my son crazy.
Q: Will you be branding yourself as a Thriller author, or do you plan to also write in other genres, too?
A: I think it would be safe to consider me a thriller writer first and foremost. Most of what I write, or see myself writing in the future, could be categorized as thriller. That being said, one of the best short stories I have ever written was a tragic love story. I suppose the short answer is: I’m very happy to continue writing thrillers, and I feel quite comfortable in that sub-genre. However, should circumstances afford me the opportunity to write a full-length love story (or anything else) down the road, I’d be happy to do that. Honestly, so long as it’s a story that I’ll enjoy writing that readers will want to read . . . anything’s possible.
Q: Are you working on something new?
A: I am, thank you for asking. I’m currently working on the first book in a series of cop thrillers called Mercy Street which features a female detective named Angela Poole. I’m very excited to introduce Angela to the world. She’s an interesting woman with a troubled past she had to conquer in order to survive and achieve all she has. The youngest woman to make detective in her department, she’s thrown a major curve in Mercy Street when she discovers she’s pregnant. Reluctantly, she prepares to leave a career she loves in order to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. Alas, as they often do in real life, tragic circumstances conspire to cause Angela to reevaluate once again, and by the end of Mercy Street we see her digging into the career she loves, the career that, in a very real way, saved her and gave her life -meaning and purpose.
Q: Tell us where your next book signings are so that readers can meet you.
A: My next signing appearance will be Sunday, July 1. I’ll be the Featured Reader at the Sisters in Crime/L.A. meeting at the Pasadena Public Library, 1115 El Centro Street, South Pasadena, CA 91030. My reading begins at 2:30, followed by a signing. This event is FREE TO THE PUBLIC.
Thanks for your time, Peter.
A: Thank you very much, Diann.
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