The first book, practically completed, is composed of traditional narrative alternating with news clippings, letters, and diaries and—my favorite epistolary gimmick—the exhibit signs in the Beacon Light Museum which shamelessly present bogus facts about everything on display. You could also describe the book as a hybridization of a travelogue or tour guide and a cheesy exposé. As always in my writing, caustic humor abounds. Every dire situation has an unexpected, often hilarious, outcome—there’s no shortage of over-the-top “comeuppance” on offer. And while I have some doubts about the effectiveness or plausibility of certain sections here and there, I’m unequivocally enthralled with the concluding chapter, which, I predict will come as a very pleasant surprise to the reader who remains on the bus for the entire tour.
The second book, Beacon City Concordia, will concern itself with the many love affairs amongst the various residents—including the springtime liaisons and matings of animals in the Beacon Zoo. It will also delve into the attempts made by municipal authorities to coordinate the lighthouse beam with a laser on the Concord Space Station as a publicity stunt. Everyone’s favorite character, the Devil, will make a guest appearance.
The final part of the triptych, Beacon City Centennial, is about the 2020 World’s Fair in Beacon City, coinciding with its 100th Year Centennial celebration, advertised as Beacon 20/20 Vision. In that final volume, I am going to attempt something very daunting: my intention is to script a resolution for every situation, every character—human and otherwise—and every object mentioned previously. No stone will be unturned, and every narrative thread will be undangled. The reader will finally find out what happened to the unopened fortune cookie that Provost Blank, star reporter for The Beacon City Beam, dropped from the top of the PharosWheel in Confidential.
Readers praise Sayville Tales for its attention to detail, wit, seamless transitions from one story to the next, among other things. What has been your experience developing your style? Any advice for writers still finding their voice?
My advice might not work for everyone, because I write what I dream about. I think that makes me a nocturnal panster cannibalizing my own dreams for material, someone who should be banned from giving advice because they haven’t a clue during daylight hours. I’d have to think about what it means to have a voice. Perhaps it’s one that you hear, rather than speak with, and by that I mean—this is a bit convoluted—maybe you’ve found your own voice when your writing speaks back to you. If it sings, that’s even better.
In the world of practicalities, I believe the best method for finding your true voice is through the crafting of short stories. Never mind that Shirley Jackson wrote The Lottery in two hours at her kitchen table—writing short stories is very difficult, much harder than the public realizes. It’s said by some writers that a great short story is harder to write than a good novel. I won’t weigh in, because to me it’s bananas and apples, but it’s something to be taken into account when embarking on a project and you don’t know what direction to go in.
After you’ve written a dozen different types of shorties, you will have a good idea of what works for your readers and what feels like a satisfying accomplishment to you. That last part is the most important because if what you’re doing is marvelous only in the eyes of others, you will not enjoy a lifetime of authorship. It will be no different than a job with a horrible boss. Most unfulfilling and not what fortune put you here for. Try to find your voice in the middle of this muddle, something that pleases some of the audience and all of you. My blog is featuring a series of articles about the ins-and-outs of the shortie universe. You might look there over the next few months and see if you find something helpful. And the blog enables you to ask me questions, which I welcome.
Audiences also comment that Sayville Tales features a brilliant personification of the Devil. Were there any must-have qualities you had in mind when creating his character in your book?
Like The Canterbury Tales (which Sayville Tales takes as its point of departure), Sayville Tales is about travelers who agree to pass the time telling stories—let’s say “just for the Hell of it.” The Devil is not a participant in Chaucer’s version, but in mine, he poses as a Professor of Folklore and prods the other passengers into joining his game of tale-trading. It’s an elaborate scheme to steal their souls, which are exposed and made vulnerable by self-revelation—think of a high-stakes poker game played with tarot cards, every card holding the secrets of one’s past and future. In this context, while he can’t stand out too much, he isn’t able to get a complete grip on his percolating braggadocio. Nor can he keep his cynical remarks fully in check. The key issue was—in answer to the question more directly—a certain degree of subtlety had to be observed by the Devil and by me. I may have taken the subtlety a bit too far—I know of a few readers who had no idea the Professor was the Devil de-horned! And, here, to amuse you, I will state for the first time publicly that my original plan was to have a twist at the end of the book that revealed that the Professor was just a loudmouth, and the real Devil was the Conductor. In an alternative universe, I guess that was a spoiler.
The “Professor” tells two stories in Sayville Tales. Here comes another confession—I admit that the first story he tells, while perhaps being the best in the book, is a complete blunder on my part (pace, dear readers) because the Devil would never, never, never tell that story—there’s just too much tenderness on display. His second tale, however, hits the nail squarely. It’s very clearly the Devil being the Devil in the second tale. So, yes, he’s hiding in plain sight, and he has his agenda, and he says some hilarious things, but even at the end of the book—his entire soul-sucking plan up-ended into a complete fiasco—he still doesn’t tip his hat and show his horns to the others.
Are there any versions of the Devil in fiction you think were exceptionally done? Not so much?
Any version of the Devil endorsed by organized religion is on my banned list, although I’ll confess that I do love the paintings of Bosch—I qualify that by saying that what I actually love about Bosch is the unrestrained mayhem he unleashes with his paintbrush.
Religion-generated Devils are strictly for the Gong Show and Saturday Night Live. That variety of Devil has gotten exceeding tiresome after hundreds of years—it’s like seeing the same horror movie over and over again and pretending to be scared. I gravitate to the French-style Mephistopheles, like the one in Gounod’s Faust. Dapper, likes the ladies, knows how to charm and flirt, can convince people down is up. Who’s more interesting to most writers and more entertaining to most readers? The serpent in the Garden of Eden or Keyser Söze?
Did any of the situations in Sayville Tales actually occur in real life?
Oh, yes! The first one that comes to mind is the story about the twins because it was a jawdropping, once-in-a-lifetime, can-this-really-be-happening? occurrence. Twin sisters run a talent agency for identical twins. One gets married and 95 percent of the guests at the wedding are their clients—identical twins. Mayhem on an epic scale ensues.
Another is the story about the Kennedy assassination. Yes, Kennedy was assassinated. Yes, despite what some fools say, there was someone who fired a gun behind the fence on the Grassy Knoll. Yes, there was a completely disgraceful Warren Commission Report, the greatest work of fiction America has produced since Moby Dick. But, no, Beaver Cleaver wasn’t there and he didn’t see what actually happened, and the commissioners did not give him a baseball mitt signed by Yogi Berra to keep his mouth shut.
Last is the story about the radio tower in Sayville. Kaiser Wilhelm did have an enormous radio transmitter erected in Sayville using Amerian labor. It was part of the largest communication network on the planet, the precursor of today’s internet. Espionage that occurred there, detailed in the story, directly led to the sinking of the Lusitania, and the outbreak of WWI. The story is real, most of the characters are real people, the news clippings are real. Only the dialog is invented.
In your work, do you prefer to build up to an ironic or humorous moment or lay subtle hints of it throughout your prose—or somewhere in between?
Most of the humor comes from subtle manipulations of language; well-crafted verbiage can expose the ridiculous nature of an ongoing situation—the joke is the 800-pound gorilla in the sentence that only you can see. These situations come about organically and unpredictably, sometimes in the editing phase. On a really lucky day, your writer’s pick-ax can strike an unexpected vein of gold or unearth a precious diamond. Most of the time, wearing your editor’s hat, you’re standing in muck and rummaging through lumps of coal. It’s all in day’s work.
Three things I’ve always been amused by in life that elbow their way into my writing are cluelessness, out-of-control behavior, and chain reactions. The second two require a certain amount of scaffolding to be fully effective. In particular, I love the completely outrageous conclusion to The Wife of Bathbaum’s Tale in Sayville Tales where a doting mother is forced by constant nagging into creating a snack out of… well, best not to give it away, but it’s not what you’re thinking. In Beacon City Confidential, there is a simple payback scheme that goes awry and becomes a runaway train of revenge with a gruesome and hilarious conclusion. That type of outcome has to be built up slowly and the moving parts need to be as meticulously laid out as they would be in a Rube Goldberg contraption. If not, you’ve got, at best, a comedy sketch. On the other hand, you can’t stir the stew too much without running the risk that it might end up tasting like a spoon.
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Check out his website here.
Photo credit: Lawrence Jay Switzer
Matthew Duggan is a poet from Bristol UK, and composer of several collections including The Modern Orpheus, Avalon, Scenes From the Big Society, and Woodworm. His work has also been featured magazines such as The Dawntreader, Seventh Quarry, Chimera, Outlaw, Neon Highways, First Time, Cutting Teeth, Roundyhouse, and many others.
His work is praised for its unique voice that evokes bold, vivid imagery while delivering the much-needed truths of contemporary society. He is also praised for giving great interviews. Like this one.
Congrats on the release of your poetry collection Woodworm. How have things been going since then?Thank you, yes it's been going really well I must admit. I’ve been taking a little break from writing and reading at various invitations from my new collection, and the response has been epic so far, I’m really pleased how this year has panned out. I also found out that I was one of the winners of the Naji Naaman Literary Prize (Honours for Complete Works) with a new collection “Flesh & Bones” and will be attending the award ceremony early next year.
Maria Castro Dominguez praises Woodworm for “revealing a space of truth behind the frontispiece of lies we live in.” What do you find are critical components of authentic writing?
In my writing I balance understanding of a poem to challenge the reader by using imagery that an eye can see and behold and I like to experiment with various forms and stay well away from strict and childish rhymes, though some of my work does rhyme and I prefer the cadence within a line to tackle the mind’s eye and unsettle the reader into another dimension.
When writing poems, how do you balance challenging the reader's understanding with meeting their needs?
I do think that sometimes a beautiful sound and sometimes the sheer decay within the human condition so the reader can decide on its own interpretation, which means they will read a poem again and again you don’t want to hear someone read and simply forget everything they’ve read. A poem shouldn’t be a puzzle, a poem should stimulate the imagination with the eye, and be memorable to the listener/reader. A poem becomes a painting with words that you’ll always remember, for me these are the critical components for authentic writing.
How would you describe your performance style? What has the road to refining that style been like?
I believe the reading of a poem should be different with each poem, the voice needs to deepen and engage an audience, but not in an actors voice and sometimes it should be quick and snappy and sometimes slow and direct, yet making sure the audience can hear every word and every image, eye contact is a must when reading to an audience, I’ve heard some poets who are brilliant at delivery and others that have made me cringe with embarrassment especially those that walk a treadmill of the same voice where every voice sounds the same and every delivery sounds exactly the same and when delivery is taught in a classroom it certainly will show, 9/10 I tend to switch off. Let me put it this way imagine you heard a new song by a new and upcoming pop/rock band and you loved one song, you would go and buy their latest C.D. and then you are horrified that every song sounds exactly the same, every lyric is similar, would you go and buy another C.D. from them? No… you wouldn’t would you, you might not listen to the one song you like, and then move on to the next new band. Poetry is not a commodity and we are certainly not pop stars, even though some might think they are.
Is there anything you do before a performance that helps you get in the zone?
It all depends on the event and the audience for me, I’ve been known to get in the zone by listening to music and breathing exercises, again, it depends on the poems I’m going to perform. I’ve listened to opera and jazz to calm my nerves and then again, I’ve listened to AC/DC and The Prodigy before events, that also helps me to be calm before I start my set.
When you're working on a standalone piece or a project, do you show your work in progress to anyone?
No, but then I do send poems out for consideration to journals so people can read samples from an upcoming new collection. I prefer not to plaster FB or TWITTER with poems only when they’ve been published in online journals as certain editors wouldn’t take them because they class them as being already published.
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?
My second full collection Woodworm came out in July 2019 and the feedback and reviews so far has been fantastic. The new book has sixty new poems and a 3D cover (3D glasses come free with each order). The book is available through bookshops and amazon but I would prefer that people buy direct from me which they can via http://www.paypal.me/MattDuggan0 or via my website http://www.woodwormpoetrycollection.com where you can read reviews and find out more about the book and projects and collections. I have a few new projects that I’m working on, and have a new collection “The Kingdom” (Maytree Press) due out in April 2020 which will coincide with a third reading tour in Boston and New York. I’m also working on a third full collection and am in the middle of organizing a collaboration with another poet for a small collection of ten poems on the theme of TRUTH.
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Photo Credit: Matthew Duggan
Janine Caroline is a contemporary romance and women's fiction writer with a background in film. She is the author of novel I Look at You and Smile released in 2018. She also gives great interviews, like the one below.
You've got your second novel Don't Forget Me in the works. Can you share any details with us?
Yes, I’ve been working hard on this novel and I’m excited about publishing it next year. Don’t Forget Me is about two people drawn together by a tragic incident and their search for answers. It’s a raw, emotional story about love, hope and truth with themes of mental health, childhood abandonment and loss. The book blends together romance, mystery, suspense and psychological thriller, but it didn’t start out that way. This story pushes me as a writer, leads me where it wants to go and I’m enjoying the journey it’s taking me on.
What got you into writing? Any advice to folks wanting to pursue the dream?
At eight years old I won a school writing competition and remember thinking “Yeah, this making stuff up and writing it down is cool!” I was always writing short stories, poems and song lyrics after that, but it was more of a hobby. During my film and media degree I got into writing screenplays which sparked the desire to write a book. It took me quite a few years to pursue the dream but I’m so glad that I did.
My advice for anyone who wants to pursue writing is to just go for it. As much as I love writing it takes hard work and discipline, and self-doubt can stop a lot of writers from finishing a book. Push through it, write for yourself and if it helps pretend no one is going to read it. This allows you to open yourself up, lose any inhibitions, listen to your characters and remain true to the story you’re writing.
Readers applaud I Look at You and Smile for its suspense and emotional impact. Many elude to a twist they didn't see coming. How did you go about building up to this twist? What helps you keep readers guessing?
I built suspense around the main characters (Jess and Ethan) from the beginning so readers would anticipate something bad was going to happen. Jess has recurring dreams in which she sees herself in danger and Ethan is troubled by something in his past, which is slowly revealed throughout the story. A good twist guides you into thinking one way and then flips on you. I didn’t intend I Look at You and Smile to be all about the twist though; it’s a love story with friendships, family bonds and loss. People who guessed the twist have commented on how they fell for the characters and enjoyed Jess and Ethan’s journey to love, and I can’t ask for more than that.
In a genre where chemistry is critical in more ways than one, the relationship between Jess and Ethan is praised for hitting all the right notes. What are your must haves in creating that bond between characters?
The characters must be relatable with traits and predicaments that make readers want to root for them. There has to be an initial spark even if it’s subtle. I like my characters to gradually learn more about each other, to laugh and cry together, feel empathy and show raw emotions. Of course, sexual attraction and intimacy is vital. I’m also a sucker for a good HEA.
In the summary of your first novel, the line "Especially when the past isn't ready to let you go" has been buzzing in my mind since I read it. Are there any lines/quotes you've come across lately that have stuck with you?
“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” Maya Angelou
As someone who writes romance this quote has stuck with me. I like the idea of never giving up on love no matter what you’ve been through in the past, of being open to finding love, and trusting in love again.
With your experience and knowledge of film, are there any skills you've picked up that help you with novel writing? Do you come across any big differences between writing for the screen vs print?
Screenplays taught me about plot development and dialogue which has helped me with novel writing. I often visualize what I’m writing as if it’s a film scene, which also helps if I’m having trouble getting the atmosphere right. With a screenplay you don’t have the luxury of getting into a character’s head and the time to explore things in the same detail as you do with a novel.
If I Look at You and Smile was being adapted for the silver screen, who'd be your dream cast? Director?
This question isn’t as easy to answer as I first thought. I’d be honoured if even one of the following actors were in the movie version of I Look at You and Smile. Some are on the list because I think they are cool but I’m not sure what character they would play: Naomie Harris, Lititia Wright, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Idris Elba, Jason Momoa, Zac Efron and Amma Asante as director.
As a film buff, what are some of your favorite movies?
My taste in film is so varied, anything from The Godfather to It’s a Wonderful Life. Some random goodies are: Set it Off, Pulp Fiction, Love Actually and Muriel’s Wedding. I have a thing for old movies; I like a good Hitchcock film and anything with Audrey Hepburn in it.
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?
I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read/review my books and I love receiving feedback. I’m looking forward to releasing Don’t Forget Me in 2020 and if you’d like to keep up to date with my work you can follow me on social media.
I Look at You and Smile is available from Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FKX8SYZ
Photo Credit: Janine Caroline