from the 2012 mag 7 interview event
As the author of one of my favorite novels, it's an honor to have you here... (in a strange cyber reality sort of way). As with the other guys here in The Magnificent 7, there are questions I'm dying to ask you! But I guess we should cover the basics first. Can you tell us about yourself and how you got interested in writing?
Who the heck am I? I often ask myself that question. I was born in Pittsburgh four years after World War II ended and am the middle kid in an Irish Catholic family of five children. My father and mother were married during the war and started their family after Dad came home in 1945. I have their wedding photo. He was in uniform and my Mom was in a beautiful dress - her mother’s wedding dress. Things were very different then. People were happy to be at peace again after that terrible conflict and struggling to rebuild their lives, always hoping for things to get better. There were no personal computers, no Internet, we shared a phone line with the neighbors. TV - if you were lucky enough to have one - was black and white. And if you were a writer, you used a pencil and paper.
Since about seventh grade, I have been in a constant struggle within myself over moral and existential issues. About twenty-five years ago, this inner struggle started bubbling over into writing. I write fiction, but it’s really about my own exploration of the concepts of sacrifice, redemption, and self-worth. One of these days I may figure it out, and that’s when I’ll stop writing.
So you've been writing for twenty-five years? Do you have anything published besides the Ryan series? In what ways did your writing manifest itself throughout that time?
My earlier works went the traditional route of publishing: author - submission - trashcan. My first novel was written on a Northstar Advantage computer (one of those all-in-ones with a little green screen, a 5 meg hard disk, and 64k of RAM - yes, that was "K") and printed out for submission on an Okidata dot matrix printer. That was in the early 1980s. Called "The WindShaper Chronicles," it was a fantasy of epic proportions if measured by the cost to ship the voluminous manuscript to agents and publishers.
After that amazing failure, I was fairly discouraged and piddled around for years before getting on to another work. At that time, I was working for the Federal Government in Philadelphia, so I wrote a story of a man who, coincidentally, worked for the Federal Government. It was called "Forestwalker." He was a real sad sack, and addicted to an online video game called Everquest, which was one of the first and most popular at that time. That addiction played heavily into what was ultimately a mystery of love and betrayal. I thought the story was actually pretty good but the execution lacked in every category except "it stinks."
I went many years after that without a serious effort until Four Years from Home, and that was written, put on the shelf for a year, dragged out and reworked, burned, reconstructed from the ashes and then published. I went with self-publishing - I couldn't handle the rejection and I figured I didn't have the guts to reject myself.
My writing has always been a reflection of where I am in life. I was heavily into Dungeons and Dragons at the time I wrote "WindShaper." I was dabbling in the online video game craze when I wrote "Forestwalker." And Four Years from Home was written over a span of years during which I was missing things and feeling regretful. A King in a Court of Fools and Buffalo Nickel Christmas are primarily nostalgia pieces. I was trying to recapture feelings from my childhood (as opposed to actual memories).
Any chance you might bring back either of those other books, or have you completely disowned them, flushed them away to the Land of Misfit Stories forever?
I might resurrect them, but they would have to be rewritten. I was very tempted to adopt a pseudonym like "Dumptruck Jones" and just publish them under that name. Then I thought better of it - after all, I wouldn't want to give dump trucks a bad name.
Regarding the three published works you've penned (some would actually call them masterpieces), how much was based on your own childhood?
Other than the settings and some incidentals, nothing of my three published works is factual. Of course, my own experiences were a natural jumping off point for some interesting "what ifs," but none of those crazy things I wrote about ever happened, for all intents and purposes, as far as you know, to the best of my recollection, I take the fifth.
You did a great job of capturing the nostalgia of that particular day/lifestyle - at least as far as I can tell. I didn't experience it, myself. I got the sense though that you miss those days (you made me miss them, and I wasn't even alive!). In a general sense, was that what life was like growing up in the Enright family?
Life was very structured and dependable, which is huge for a kid. We could always count on our parents to be there for us, and let us know what the expectations and boundaries were, and we always knew where we stood, even if it was in the doghouse. They were very consistent and very clear in their beliefs - very religious, very pro-country, very family-oriented - and we were expected to grow up in the same mold. And yet our play time was our time, so there was a world of freedom that parents today are afraid to expose their children to. Who today would allow a bunch of grade school kids to go outside and play unsupervised for hours knowing they could stray miles from home? And expect them to come back in one piece? Parents today expect the worst. Back then they expected the best and held their children responsible for transgressions. I know this is a generalization, but I do believe it was a different world back then. I miss the simplicity of it.
What inspired the fantasy aspect of Buffalo Nickel Christmas?
Put together the imagination of a child, the magic of Christmas, and mix in a hint of reality, and voila! The take-off setting of Horne's Department Store's Christmas Village was perfect. I remember that place growing up and how special it was for us. I remember riding the escalators, playing with an entire floorful of toys. I wish I had met the Professor, but sadly, he only exists in Buffalo Nickel Christmas.
When you wrote King in a Court of Fools, you were publishing the chapters on your site as you completed them, right? So people got to tune in like a TV show? How did that go? Do you think that helped or hurt sales?
A King in a Court of Fools was published as a free weekly serial from April through August last year. In addition to posting the weekly "episodes" I also recorded them and played original intro and outro (is that a word?) music. The videos were posted to YouTube. Once it caught on, (about three weeks into it) there were about 1,800 people a week reading/listening to it. All of the audios are still on YouTube and this link https://sites.google.com/site/akinginacourtoffools/audio-book will take you to the book's webpage that links to all of them for those who would prefer to listen to the book for free.
Did this hurt sales? Probably, but even if those 1,800 people chose not to buy, 11,000 others have chosen to. That's almost 13,000 who have read it. I'm happy with that. I just want people to read and enjoy my stories. I keep telling people I'm not in this for the money. If I were, I'd be a very unhappy camper as just as poor as I am now.
Wow... That's a lot of books! What advice can you give people like me who sell more like 1 copy of their book a day? How did you get the bestseller status? What's your secret (outside great storytelling, which is obviously the most important)?
The hardest thing to do for me is to market my work. I'm just not very good at it and I don't enjoy it. Most of the Indie writer world is fantastic at connecting with other writers, and that is an amazing and wonderful thing, but ultimately you need to connect to readers, not writers. (Yes, I understand that writers are also readers, but that is a different thing from the person who only reads.) To that end, you need to get noticed on sites that cater to readers. I am not a huge fan of the Kindle Select program for personal reasons, but one thing it will definitely do is give you the chance to connect with readers, and lots of them, but you have to be willing to give your book away. You are able to make your work free for up to 5 days (you pick the days) during a 90 day period. If you pick a nice mix of days and get your friends to help, and post on all the Facebook pages that do deals on eBooks, you can expect thousands of downloads of the freebie. Naturally, only a portion of those will actually read your book. Anyone who has a Kindle knows that you load that sucker down with a thousand books, many of which are free, and end up with a lifetime supply of reading hit-or-miss. But, the rankings jolt from the free downloads might just create enough of a wave to keep your work visible on Amazon longer and maybe, just maybe you'll get lucky. That's not how I did it with my books. I just got lucky. But the number of people in the mix now is growing exponentially and I'd say if you want that incredible rush from seeing thousands download your work, go Kindle Select.
Thanks for sharing that. It seems like a lot of indies are having success with the Select program. I know that it has helped my sales... still waiting for the first review to come in though:) So is the new Ryan book another spinoff from FYFH, or could it actually be a... sequel?
I am writing a sequel to Four Years from Home. It's going well, but with misgivings. The misgivings I have revolve around the twist in FYFH. If someone reads the sequel first, they will know the plot of FYFH and will never get the full impact of that story should they choose to read it after the sequel. On the other hand, it seems a bit unfair to ask someone to read one book before they read another. I guess I'll go with que sera sera on this one.
YES!!!!! I was hoping for that!!!!Tell us about your music. Seems you can play!
I do play acoustic guitar and perform occasionally. Here's a couple Youtube videos of me from the past couple years.
I also have a music FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/MiracleMopMusic where a lot of my stuff is collected in one place. I've been playing since about 1964 and have a Martin D-35 from 1975. I did the background music for the audio version of A King in A Court of Fools and have done several videos where I play in the background of an old movie or a tractor dance (yes, I actually did over-dub one of those I found out on the Internet.)
So when are you going on tour? Larry Enright and the.... Band. Has a good ring to it! Have you thought of doing an indie album through Amazon?
People keep telling me to make a CD, I should.
Is there any particular period of history that fascinates you, besides the one you write about in the Ryan series? One that you would maybe someday set a new series in?
I am a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan, though I haven't played the game in many years, and have always love that ill-defined time period of chivalry and magic. I would like to do something again with that.
Ooh, Larry Enright does Krull? Or Ladyhawke? Something like that? Have you ever seen Tom Hanks' first movie, Monsters and Mazes? With your familiarity in the Dungeons & Dragons world, would you ever consider doing something like that?
I actually have that movie on VHS. I did write two novels (unpublished) that involve fantasy - Forestwalker and Windshaper Chronicles. I'll revisit them someday.
Can you share what a day in the life of Larry Enright is like? Now that you haven't been playing Dungeons & Dragons, you're working on two books, playing music, and answering a bunch of dumb questions:-)
I get up anywhere between 7 and 8, shower, eat, make coffee, and start writing. Mornings, I work on the Four Years From Home sequel. I break a couple of times during the morning to get more coffee and during the breaks I do house chores. After lunch, I read and exercise, then write some more until my wife gets home from work. She and I make dinner together and after dinner she, my older son, and myself do a crossword puzzle. Then my wife and I exercise and hang out until it's about 9 or so. Cicely (my wife) goes to bed then on work nights and I stay up and work on my other writing project - a novella that is near completion and should be out in a month or so. That's pretty much my routine. I do the laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, mowing, fix things, etc. when I'm not writing. Maybe it's not exciting, but I like it.
Sounds pretty exciting to me. I'd love to be able to write every day! When young Larry was growing up, did he play any sports or have any hobbies?
I was tall for my age when I was younger, and played basketball in grade school and freshman year in high school. By sophomore year, everyone else had gotten a lot bigger and I, having peaked in 6th grade, was officially a shorty. I played on the high school golf team sophomore year and did okay, but it wasn't fun so I stopped. By then I was into music and the coffee house scene and most weekend nights was playing guitar in coffee houses around the Pittsburgh area.
Do you remember the stuff you were reading throughout any of that time? Any inspirationals, favorites, or just fun stuff in general?
That was a long time ago, Shawn. I remember people more than I remember specific books.
Haha. So what people inspired you to be who you are today? Who would get the acknowledgements in the beginning of Larry Enright: The Autobiography?
I think the man I most admired during that time period was Pete Seeger. I liked his music and I liked what he stood for. I met him only once in the mid-60s at a local coffee house, but it made a lasting impression on me. I have since washed the hand that shook his (many times) but it carries the memory.
Other than recording intro music for your episodes, have you thought about maybe joining your knowledge of music and writing through a story? You know, "The Coffee House Murder Band" or something:-)
Sounds like a great idea. Maybe I'll steal it.
Go for it! If you were offered a record label or a big publishing contract, which would you take?
That's the same as asking me what I'd do with the money if I won the lottery. Neither will happen, so I'll take the publishing contract and use the money from that to make a record.
Ok, well, I want to thank you for being part of this interview. Your sense of humor certainly added to the experience. I hope a lot of people will check out Four Years From Home as a result of this interview. So last question, if you were to write on a topic that would define your legacy in this world, what would the topic be? Any specific issues you feel strongly about that you would put to paper if you could?
That's an interesting question. My three novels are actually stories about some of the things I feel about most strongly - brotherly love, sacrifice, friendship, honor, and faith. I'm not sure I could ever write a direct essay on any of these because I am no authority on an particular subject, but if you have read my fictional stories you know that I have some strong feelings about these issues.Thank you for the wonderful interview, Shawn. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into this. I must confess that I was somewhat reluctant to be included as part of anything "Magnificent" but it's just a word, right? By the way, if I were cast in a role in the Magnificent Seven, I'd like to be that has been gunslinger (played by Robert Vaughn) who could still catch one of the two flies in his hand - kind of old but still got some of the old stuff left.
Click here for the interview on Larry's newest novel, 12/21/12