Tuesday, April 5, 2011

[Interview] Scott B. Pruden

Scott B. Pruden is a longtime newspaper and freelance journalist. He has written for a number of newspapers and magazines throughout the United States.

He made his debut as a novelist with the publication of Immaculate Deception (Codorus Press, 2010).

In this interview, he talks about his writing:

Do you write everyday?

I do write every day, but it's not always on fiction. Many days the responsibilities of my freelance writing takes precedence.

On the days I'm actively working on a fiction project, I begin between 5 and 5:30 a.m., sitting at the computer with a few cups of coffee. I simply write straight through until around 7 a.m. or when my children wake up. I might do some editing later in the day if time permits, but I've found burning through an initial draft lets you get all your main ideas recorded so you can go back and hone and organize later.

How many books have you written so far?

Immaculate Deception is my first novel. It was published in April of 2010 by Codorus Press of New York. It's a near-future thriller with comedic, satirical and metaphysical elements.

It's really two stories that run parallel - one, about Jon Templeton, a disgraced investigative reporter who ends up dead and is intercepted on the way to the afterlife to complete one last assignment for Eli, an elderly Rastafarian surfer who claims to be the supreme being. Eli is suspicious of the third-in-command at a popular new megachurch that incorporates sex and drugs into mainstream Christian traditions.

The other story follows Mako Nikura, the heir to a weapons and aerospace empire who is trying to track down those resposible for killing his father in a car-bomb explosion. Their paths eventually intersect when it's revealed they are after the same person with the same nefarious goal.

How long did it take you to write Immaculate Deception?

All in all, it took a little more than 20 years from the first lines that were put to paper (yes, real paper) to the final publication in 2010.

Publication is through Codorus Press, which is a publishing collective formed by my former newspaper colleague and good friend Wayne Lockwood. He suggested in the late 1990s, when I was initially searching for a traditional publisher, that because we and our colleagues had many of the same skills as those at publishing houses, we should form a publishing group on our own.

That arrangement has turned out better than I could have imagined, because we have produced a well edited, well designed product that can stand alongside any other piece of fiction on the shelf. The challenge of being part of an independent publshing house is convincing retailers and reviewers that this is not a vanity project and that it has genuine literary merit.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

As with many authors, the hardest part was revising and honing the manuscript to get it to the point where it's tight.

When you're writing early drafts, you have a tendency to put in stuff that really doesn't belong but sounds great at the time. I had to do a lot of personal introspection and inner reassurance to get the confidence to just cut entire sections, characters or chapters that just didn't belong. The payoff to that came when people who had read earlier drafts read the final version - they were floored by how much I had cut without being told to do so and how positively those cuts had affected the story.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

The process of creating characters is a lot of fun to me, because they end up leading your story in directions you didn't initially anticipate. And now that I'm at the point where I have a published novel in hand and people are getting to read it, it's truly gratifying to find that they've enjoyed it.

What sets Immaculate Deception apart from other things you have written?

Since this is my first novel, I guess the big difference from other things I've written is that after a career in journalism, this is the first piece of work that has sprung completely from my imagination. Everything else - other than a few short stories here and there - has been completely fact- or opinion-based.

Are there any similarities?

Some of the most important skills you learn as a journalist are observation and fact collection, and I made tremendous use of those in gathering material over the years. Also, some of the voice I developed as an opinion writer and columnist has carried over into the writing of this novel - somewhat sardonic without being too harsh.

What will your next book be about?

It will also center on a journalist, but will be set in the present day and reflect more of my experiences as a young reporter at a small-town newspaper in South Carolina.

It will also be a thriller, but will deal less with metaphysical elements and more with bits of the occult, conspiracy theories and the paranormal - sort of like Fringe and the X Files meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

My goal is for the next book to be the beginning of a series based around the central character relunctantly covering stories that deal with the fantastic.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

At this point, it would have to be seeing this entire project through, from inception to completion, and not giving up along the way when things looked pretty hopeless. That, and knowing that others are having the opportunity to enjoy what I've been working on for so long.

When did you start writing?

I remember doing my first bit of writing with childhood friends as we put together screenplays for Super 8 movies we planned to make but never did. I was about 10 years old at the time.

When did decide you wanted to be a published writer?

There wasn't really a defining moment. I had always been good with words, and when I joined my high school newspaper, it became clear writing was something at which I could make a living. And though I knew journalism could pay my bills, I grew more and more interested in writing a substantial piece of fiction.

If you consider every sort of publishing, I've really been a published writer since I was 16, but the urge to create a full-length novel came when I was a sophomore in college around 1989.

I spent lots of time in the university library study areas, scribbling ideas in a spiral-bound notebook when I probbly should have been studying for class. At that point it was all just noodling around with ideas, really. Overall, the novel was probably re-written at least five times during its 20-year creation, during which layer after layer was added (with some stripped away eventually), with portions written after work hours, during commuter train rides and, once my children came along, in the early morning hours before they woke up.

I really just committed to the process. I was always picking up time to write here and there, while also collecting ideas about characters and the story from everyday life. Also, working as a copy editor during a good portion of my newspaper career gave me access to unfiltered Associated Press wire stories, which provided a lot of story ideas and small details the edited version of the daily newspaper never could.

How would you describe your writing?

At its most basic level, it's thriller writing, I suppose. But there are elements of satire and science fiction throughout.

Who is your target audience?

To be brutally honest, my target audience is me. I write things that I think I would enjoy reading.

My tastes are pretty broad, so I'm writing to a wide variety of readers. And I really do believe that unless an author is writing something that he'd enjoy reading, he's doing a disservice to the readers themselves.

Which authors influenced you most?

Robert A. Heinlein was a huge influence during my teen years, as was Douglas Adams of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series.

Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series and Ian Flemming's James Bond books were also major influences, as was the work of Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut.

More recently, I'm inspired by Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, Carl Hiaasen, and Michael Chabon.

Why did these writers influence you the way they did?

First off, they've all approached genre writing in really specific but different ways, and they all do it with their own special styles and voices.

The writers that influenced me most during my teen years did so because they were writing genre literature while creating great stories and mythologies. The writers that influence me most now are the ones who transcend genre and still manage to tackle that freaky, ridiculous sort of thing I love.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

We all bring our personal experiences to our work, and I believe in my writing it comes out most in the clarity of place and character. These are places and people you can sink your teeth into because they're pulled from life, then embellished beyond recognition.

Obviously I've drawn from my experiences in a number of newsrooms and covering lots of odd stories through the years, but in crafting good characters you have to reach back into your own emotional experiences to make them ring true.

I've also had the good fortune to live in several very disparate parts of the United States, which allows me to incorporate lots of specific details about different regions.

In addition, I've been an amateur actor since I was a teenager, and knowing how to speak dialogue on stage helps in writing it so it sounds genuine.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

The same as with any writer, I suppose: time and money.

How do you deal with these concerns?

Start early, work late and take every opportunity to market the novel while still getting my "paying" work taken care of.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The decline of the independent book store is a major challenge, as is the dominance of the "big box" book store. The way to overcome that is to market, market, market.

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