For today’s post I am thrilled to talk with my friend who is also one of my favorite authors, Todd Foley. He is a fun, super intelligent writer (and editor) who has really been a mentor to me. As I really think about it, I think it was after reading his first novel and having him tell me about self publishing that I decided to travel down this path myself.
Jim: First off, I have to say your latest book Charades really surprised me. I thought I knew what was coming, but I wasn’t close. I’ve been studying story structure a lot lately too. Regardless, I really was surprised. I read the ebook so I wasn’t aware how far into the book I was. Man, you totally got me!
Todd: Thanks Jim! It’s funny, the entire arc came to be all at once around four years ago, including the ending. But as excited as I was to draft that final chapter, I made myself write the rest of the story first. That was my main motivation to keep writing and developing the characters.
J: Todd, this is your second book. How was this book different for you than the first?
T: With my first book, Eastbound Sailing, I really wrote it blindly, not knowing where it was going, and I only had the protagonist and three supporting characters to develop. With Charades, I mapped out the whole story and character profiles all in advance but had to develop twice as many characters in half the word count. So it was a great exercise in learning to be concise.
J: I found that your book was really easy to read. That made me think of the quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne where he once said that easy reading is damn hard writing. Do you have any idea how many drafts you went through for the book? What did the rewriting process look like for you?
T: Oh man, I live by that quote, because it’s so true! I probably went through at least six drafts of each chapter, and then another three or four of the entire manuscript. I had to make myself wait several days before editing a chapter so that I could be a bit more removed from the text. That helped me say, “Wow, this is great, develop it more.” I also had to say, “Wow, this is terrible, cut it all out” far more times than I would have liked!
J: Is there a backstory for how you came up with the title Charades?
T: I’ve always been fascinated by the “lives of others” concept – observing people, watching how they interact with others, and wondering why they do what they do. Also, having grown up in a small town and worked in customer service, I love the interaction that comes with the “regular” customers. So that setting and theme came together, and I ended up with Charades as a fitting title.
J: What would you say for someone who is writing their first novel?
T: Read a lot and watch a lot of films and TV shows. Learn by consuming, allow yourself to be influenced, and then slowly discover your own voice.
J: Finishing a book is really, really hard. And I find it is even harder with fiction vs. nonfiction. How do you know when you’ve crossed the finish line?
T: That’s a really tough question to answer, because there’s always more that can be added. Stories really are just “snapshots” of a larger narrative that lives on beyond the pages. I’m a huge fan of ambiguous endings, so that inclination helped me make peace with how I finished this book.
J: A while ago you told me I had to read Requiem By A Dream by Hubert Selby Jr. The book not only wrecked me but also changed how I view all fiction really. Has that book stuck with you like it has me?
T: That book was a real game changer for me. I don’t think I had ever cried while reading, and I haven’t again since. What really got me is how Selby literally broke every single rule and convention – no quote marks, commas, attributions or paragraphs – but it was without a doubt the most visceral, physical reading experience I’d ever had. He really created a sense of chaos which brought the horrific subject matter to life.
J: Do you have any other books you highly recommend?
T: I’ve become a fan of more transgressive fiction – Less Than Zero, Requiem For A Dream, A Clockwork Orange, We Need To Talk About Kevin. But I also love commercial thrillers. J.K. Rowling’s crime series she wrote under a pseudonym – The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm – were delicious page-turners.
J: Any must-haves for you when you write?
T: Access to a power outlet in case the laptop battery is running low! Nothing like losing power when you’re on a good streak.
J: Lastly, it’s confession time. Do you have any writing quirks? It’s okay. You’re among friends here. Tell the truth.
T: I’d like to say something hip like writing with a craft beer in hand or at a cool urban cafe while listening to an indie playlist, but honestly I love sitting on the couch in my sweats next to a salty snack and in front my Netflix cue. I’m equally inspired to write while watching House Of Cards and Bloodline as I am with Gilmore Girls and Friends. I like to balance the grim with some grins. And yes, I am fully aware of that awful pun! All of those shows make me feel something, which is my ultimate goal as a writer.
A special thanks to Todd for sharing his thoughts. I highly recommend you pick up his new book Charades. You can pick up a copy on Amazon by clicking right here. If you’d like to connect with Todd (you should!) he’s @tiddy1234 on Twitter.