This month the interview is with Jeffrey J. Mariotte. An author, like most of us, writes across genres. He co-wrote a story about Joaquin Murrieta and has a new series he has started. I do hope you enjoy Jeff's interview, I know I did.
*. What decided you to start writing for publication?
I’ve aspired to writing for publication since early, early days. I was rejected a couple of times in high school. In college I took third place in a San Francisco Bay Area short-story competition, earning my first money—a big $30—for writing. I also had some journalism published, which only whetted my appetite. My first actual fiction sale didn’t come until I was in my thirties, though, to a science fiction anthology. After that, I wrote some comic books and graphic novels, and my first novel was published when I was 44. Since then, I’ve stayed busy.
*. Do you like to write short or longer stories?
I lean toward novel length. I’ve written a handful of novellas and maybe a couple dozen short stories, but more than fifty novels. I like to have the space to stretch out and tell a big story that a reader can get lost in for a while. My longest book was published last year by Sundown Press. Blood and Gold: The Legend of Joaquin Murrieta, which I wrote with Peter Murrieta, a direct descendant of the Gold Rush-era bandit, clocked in at nearly 600 pages. I don’t anticipate going that long again any time soon, but anything’s possible.
*. Where did you get the idea for your latest release? What is the elevator pitch for it?
Inside a Confederate prison camp, a dying man tells a young Union soldier is told where a cache of stolen Confederate gold is and asks him to deliver it to the man’s beloved after the war. He finds the gold and—12 years later—finally finds the woman. But in doing so, he walks into a town at war with itself and discovers that the woman has taken up with the mysterious figure at the heart of that war. If he’s going to do his dead friend’s bidding and deliver the gold, he’s got to bring the war to an end—if he can survive it.
I don’t remember where the initial impulse came from. All I had was the young man in the camp and the promise to a friend. I was on a long car ride with Bob Boze Bell, the publisher of True West Magazine, and I told him that part. He said, “What happens next?” I didn’t know. So I had to sit down and figure that out, and that became O’Meara’s Gold, the first book in the Cody Cavanaugh series from Wolfpack Publishing.
*. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m definitely a plotter. I’ve written a lot of tie-in fiction, in which you’re writing in an established fictional universe owned by somebody else, and you have to have an outline approved by the license-holder before you can write. Then you have to stick pretty close to that outline. I have written a few books without an outline, but it’s harder going for me. I’m much more comfortable with a roadmap that tells me where I start, where I’m going, and the main points of interest along the way.
*. Do you ‘interview’ your characters before or at any time while telling their story and what do you do if they don’t cooperate with your story idea?
I have done that. I first learned about it in a writing book by my friend David Morrell, and it’s helped me out of a number of tight spots. That said, I don’t do it as a regular practice, just when I can’t figure out what comes next and need my characters to tell me.
*. Do you write in other genres?
I love many different genres—mystery, thriller, horror, western, fantasy, science fiction--and have written in all of them, as well as having written for different media, including comics and graphic novels, games, newspapers, magazines, and the backs of trading cards. I’ve been a member of writer’s organizations for just about all of those genres, but I’ve let some of those memberships lapse. I’m currently a member of Western Fictioneers, the Western Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, Sisters in Crime, the International Thriller Writers, and the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers because I still occasionally write in all those genres. At the moment, I’m working on a series called Major Crimes Squad: Phoenix, a police-procedural series for Wolfpack Publishing. I don’t know that I could ever pin myself down to just one genre.
*. Research, do you find it important?
Research is definitely important to everything I write. When possible, I like to stand where my characters will, so I can see what they’d be able to see, smell what they’d smell, etc. When writing in a historical era, I need to know what the technology was like, what the prices of things were, what the characters would wear, and so on. Some writers who’ve written lots of western fiction might know those things cold by now, but I’ve fooled around in so many genres that I have to do a lot of reading and a lot of digging, and traveling when I can, to get it right. Or close enough to right that I can tweak it as the story demands.
*. What books or authors you grew up with that inspired you to take pen to paper?
I’ve always been surrounded by books, from Dr. Seuss and the Hardy Boys to today. I’ve managed and owned bookstores and been a publishing executive. I have a massive collection of thousands of books, mostly first edition hardcovers, many of which are inscribed to me thanks to my decades in the book biz. The single book that was most influential in my youth was Mystery of the Haunted Mine, a juvenile novel by Gordon D. Shirreffs. That’s the book that introduced me to Western fiction (though I had been a fan of western TV, movies, and comics since my earliest days), and steered the direction of my life and career.