Monday, June 03, 2013

Interview with John Mantooth, author of The Year of the Storm - June 3, 2013

Please welcome John Mantooth to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Year of the Storm, John's debut novel, will be published on June 4, 2013.  You may read John's Guest Blog here.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery.

John:  Thanks for having me! I’m excited to be here.

TQ:  When and why did you start writing?

John:  I started writing just after I turned thirty. It was something I’d always wanted to do. In fact, I thought about it all the time, but for some reason, I lacked the maturity and self-discipline it took to actually do it. I think hitting thirty made me think, “okay, it’s now or never.” Like many new writers, I jumped straight into the great American novel without even trying a short story first. I finished the novel, printed it, and put it away. It was terrible. Luckily, I believed the next one would be better. Fast-forward six months. Another terrible novel finished. That’s when I decided to try my hand at short stories. I fell in love with those, and they taught me the way stories work, and maybe more importantly, they allowed me to find my voice. The next time I went back to the novel (nearly eight years later), I wrote The Year of the Storm.

TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

John:  I write in coffee shops, a practice I’ve seen other successful writers mock. Some people tend to see it as pretentious, but whenever I try to write at home, I invariably fall asleep. At a coffee shop, there’s enough background noise to keep me focused, and I’m not likely to fall asleep in front of all those people.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

John:  I’m a pantser who respects plot. If I plan everything out, I tend to lose interest in the story. Somebody famous (I can’t for the life of me remember who) said that the reader wouldn’t be surprised if the writer wasn’t first. I sort of adhere to that, and work within a very loose framework of what I want to happen. Hopefully, that framework allows me enough room to still surprise myself. Of course, during revisions, I plot much more in order to make it all fit together.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

John:  Figuring out what story to tell. Sometimes, I waste a lot of time trying to decide how to treat a story, which way to tell it, where to take it. There are so many decisions: point of view, narrative voice, narrative distance, genre, audience. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. Sometimes I try to do too much. Other times I finish and wonder if I did too little.

TQ:  Describe The Year of the Storm in 140 characters or less.

John:  Nine months after Danny’s mother and sister disappear in the woods behind his house, a tortured Vietnam vet shows up at his door claiming to know their whereabouts.

TQ:  What inspired you to write The Year of the Storm?

John:  When my grandmother died, I ended up with a very old painting that one of her sisters had done years ago. The painting was of a little cabin at dusk. The cabin was surrounded by lush trees and what looked like swamp water. It was a really gorgeous piece of art, and it captivated my imagination, got me thinking about what could be inside that cabin, how it ended up out there in the middle of the swamp. This sort of fell into place with something else I’d been obsessing about—people that disappear and are never found again. This is how stories work for me—two inspirations collide and I’m off.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Year of the Storm?

John:  Nothing very exhaustive. There was some fact checking and a little reading about 1960’s Alabama (one of the storylines takes place in the early sixties). I asked a friend that teaches history what life would have been like in rural Alabama back then. Since a lot of the novel takes place in the woods, I was able to rely on my own experiences and my imagination.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

John:  Easiest was the main narrator, Danny. In a lot of ways, his voice is my voice, his concerns my concerns. I don’t know if that’s a first novel type of thing, but his voice and character came pretty naturally to me. I had a harder time with Rodney Sykes. He’s the antagonist of the novel, and he’s a pretty rotten human being. I didn’t have a problem with making him rotten; that was easy. It was much more difficult to let the reader glimpse a little of why he might have turned out to be a rotten human being. I hope I succeeded.

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Year of the Storm?

John:  This is a scene near the middle of the book when Danny, the narrator, gets his first glimpse of how dangerous Walter Pike might be. Danny and his friend, Cliff, are at a convenience store leafing through the comics rack when Pike comes in.

       Pike turned and saw me. His eyes scanned me quickly until recognition dawned on his face. He placed a six-pack of beer on the counter and reached into his back pocket for his wallet, while I stood frozen to the spot.
       “Earth to Danny,” Cliff said. “Don’t you want the new Hulk?”
       I shook my head. The only thing I wanted at that moment was for Pike to turn back around. Then I wanted him to tell me how to find my mother and sister.
       “Howdy,” the cashier said. He was an old-timer, Mr. Grayson or Granger or something. Most people just called him Cap, though I didn’t know why. What I did know is that “howdy” was his standard greeting. He liked Red Man tobacco and was partial to overalls, and he wasn’t particularly impressed with my or Cliff’s love of what he called “funny books.”
       “Afternoon,” Pike said, keeping his eyes down, his wallet ready in his hand, anxious to complete the transaction.
       Cap rang up the beer and said, “Four dollars nineteen pennies, my friend.”
       Pike pulled out a ten.
       Cap picked up his spit bottle and deposited a long brown strand of dip into it. “Got nineteen cents?”
       Pike shook his head.
       Cap nodded and took the ten. He opened the register and began to count out change. He was about to hand Pike his money when he stopped, pulling it back. “Wait a minute,” he said. “I recognize you now. You’re Preston Pike’s boy.”
       Pike nodded and reached for his change.
       Cap pulled it back. “Hell naw.” He dropped the change back into the register and pulled Pike’s ten out, flinging it at him. “We don’t do business with your kind.”
       A thin smile creased Pike’s face. “My kind?”
       “I know about you. You might think people forget, but Cap don’t never forget. You and that Sykes boy. Both of you disappearing like you did. I don’t forget.”
       “You don’t, huh?”
       “Go on. Take your pretty ass on out of here. Don’t care to do business with a queer.”
       “You heard me. Go on.”
       Pike reached for the six-pack. Cap did the same, pulling it away from Pike just before he could get his hands on it.
       That’s when I saw a different side of Pike, a side that gave me pause.
       He moved quick, grabbing Cap’s shirt in both fists and pulling him across the counter. The old man grunted and made a face like he was in pain. Pike jerked him again, the old man’s belly pressing against the counter. “Let’s me and you get a few things straight. I don’t care what Cap remembers. It don’t make it true.”
       The old man tried to pull away, but Pike yanked him so hard, I heard Cap’s T-shirt rip. “I’m going to drop this ten dollars on the counter . . .” Pike opened one fist and let the damp bill flutter to the countertop. “. . . and I’m going to let go of you and take this beer. If you try to stop me, I’m going to give you something to remember, and this time, it won’t be some made-up shit that none of you ever will understand. You got all that?”
       Cap looked like he wanted to spit on Pike or hit him in the mouth or maybe even kill him dead, but all he did was nod, his face set in stone.
       Pike let go and took the beer. He said something under his breath and turned to walk out. “I hate you had to see that,” he said as he walked past me and out the door.
       I whirled around and saw from the look on Cliff’s face as he stood by the comics rack that he had witnessed the whole thing.
       “Don’t do it,” he said, but I was already moving.
       When I got outside, Pike was getting into his truck. He stopped, the door half-open. “Come with me.”
       His voice was cold and hard but low enough to make me realize he didn’t want anyone else to hear him.
       “Only if you promise to tell me how to get my mother and sister back.”
       “No promises. Only a story I think you might be interested in.”

TQ:  What’s next?

John:  Next is a second novel, which I’m hard at work on now. I’m one of those superstitious writers who doesn’t like to talk about a book at least until the first draft is done, so that’s all I’ll say for now.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

John:  Thank you! I was very happy to be here.

About The Year of the Storm

The Year of the Storm
Berkley, June 4, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages

In this haunting, suspenseful debut novel, John Mantooth takes readers to a town in rural Alabama where secrets are buried deep, reality is relative, and salvation requires a desperate act of faith.

When Danny was fourteen, his mother and sister disappeared during a violent storm. The police were baffled. There were no clues, and most people figured they were dead. Only Danny still holds out hope that they’ll return.

Months later, a disheveled Vietnam vet named Walter Pike shows up at Danny’s front door, claiming to know their whereabouts. The story he tells is so incredible that Danny knows he shouldn’t believe him. Others warn him about Walter Pike’s dark past, his shameful flight from town years ago, and the suspicious timing of his return.

But he’s Danny’s last hope, and Danny needs to believe…

Broken Branch
Berkley, May 7, 2013

Broken Branch, Alabama, serves as a refuge for the God-fearing, a shelter from the evils of the outside world. But who will protect them from the evil within?

Trudy first met Otto and James after World War I, two traveling ministers, preaching the good word to anyone who’d take the time to listen. Together, they founded Broken Branch, a hideaway in Alabama where the faithful would be able to isolate themselves from the impurity of the rest of the world and live blessed lives in the eyes of God.

But then the storms came, tearing apart their small compound, God’s punishment for hidden wickedness in their hearts. And when an old man wanders into Broken Branch, ranting about a secret hideaway and uncovers an old storm cellar that’s been hidden for years, Trudy begins to wonder what other secrets lie under the surface of their safe haven…

Includes a preview of The Year of the Storm

About John

John Mantooth is an award-winning author whose short stories have been recognized in numerous year's best anthologies. His short fiction has been published in Fantasy Magazine, Crime Factory, Thuglit, and the Stoker winning anthology, Haunted Legends (Tor, 2010), among others. His first book, Shoebox Train Wreck, was released in March of 2012 from Chizine Publications. His debut novel, The Year of the Storm, is slated for a June 2013 release from Berkley. He lives in Alabama with his wife, Becky, and two children.

Website  ~  Twitter  @busfulloflosers


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