Back in January 2012, I interviewed author P.I. Barrington for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the two hundred and sixty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre novelist P.I. Barrington. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. You can also read P.I.’s spotlight here.
Morgen: Hello P.I. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
P.I.: It kind of chased me down. I didn't want to be a writer—my first love and always will be is music. I actually started out as a journalist. But somewhere deep down I knew I'd end up writing fiction.
Morgen: I didn’t have a clue. I went to a writing workshop and was hooked. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
P.I.: I write in several genres actually. My first published short stories were urban fantasy. Very tongue-in-cheek those, but my first novel(s) published by a publisher were a futuristic crime thriller trilogy, I've written sci-fi romance, sci-fi military, cozy mysteries and a short horror-ish story. One day, I hope, I can write in my secret favourite genre' ancient historical! Oh, and maybe police / military procedural thriller.
Morgen: Like me then. I write whatever comes out although I met three agents in June 2011 who want more crime and I love reading it so I want to write more. Oh, and they also want more historical (not my subject at all). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
P.I.: I do almost all of it for both my sister and myself—we co-author books and write independently—and these days budgets from publishers are scant, understandably, so much of my time is spent marketing. P.I. Barrington IS a brand, lol!
Morgen: :) I think there’s only one interviewee I’ve had who doesn’t need to do any marketing, that their publisher does all the work. There is an upside, that we get to meet our readers. :) Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
P.I.: P.I. Barrington is a pseudonym. At times I publish under that name, others as I've said, I co-author with my sister under the Barrington name. My sister, Loni Emmert, has independently published under her name as well. Personally I do believe that pen names are a great help in more than one way. First as we talked about as a brand. P.I. Barrington is easily recognizable and memorable—it has a great rhythm to it; it's kind of 'catchy' in a way. Second, because of that, it's easier to market and brand because people immediately associate it with genre and style. Plus, pen names usually sound better than someone's real name. And then there's the golden rule of publishing: when you change genre you should change names, either with a pen or with initials and your real or devised name. That's why Nora Roberts also writes under J.D. Robb as a mystery author.
Morgen: As do a few other authors (Joanna Trollope, Ruth Rendell to name a couple). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
P.I.: I'm probably ripe or over ripe for an agent. I've been writing so much I haven't really had time to approach one and there are several great ones I'd love to submit to that I think could understand how and what I write and what my priorities as an author are.
Morgen: It sounds like you and your sister are doing well as you are. If it ain’t broke… Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
P.I.: Last question first: I do not read anything at all since I've returned to writing seriously. Not that I don't want to, but I have my own voice which is different and I'm very paranoid of absorbing anyone else's. Plus I've read everything from Milton to Mad Magazine during my life so that's given me a wonderful base for writing.
Morgen: I have a rubbish memory (author Steve Bowkett told me off once for saying that! :))
P.I.: Addressing the first two questions, all of my books, excepting the cozy mystery in print, are ebooks. As I said, my first real novel (trilogy) was with a new e-publisher, Desert Breeze Publishing, and that experience was beyond lovely! The process was both a learning experience and a joy. I truly am happy that I began with a publisher rather than self publishing since it prepared me for self-publishing later. I learned to work with a fiction editor, learned revision is not a horrible torturous process and that working with professionals makes you that much more professional yourself!
Morgen: I think any experience has got to be a good thing, even if something doesn’t work out (where some authors have had and let go of agents, for instance). Did you have any say in the title of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
P.I.: Yes I pretty much have the entire say, although for my first trilogy, the overall umbrella title of Future Imperfect was in collaboration with my Editor. I came with the individual titles of the books myself and pretty much any after that. Titles are HUGE. In any genre the title is the major hook of the story. That's the first thing a reader sees and triggers their interest. There are tricks to coming up with good titles, like keep it simple. There are others but talking about them would turn into a class, lol!
Morgen: I love titles and the quirkier the better, but yes, simple and clever is good. Apart from anything else they have to tell the reader what the book is about… or hint at. Who designed your books’ covers?
P.I.: All of my covers with Desert Breeze Publishing were done by the in-house artist Jenifer Ranieri who kicks major ass. Her covers are better than many of the big houses. She's the best out there I think.
Morgen: They are very striking. :) What are you working on at the moment / next?
P.I.: I'm too superstitious to talk about them—an old Hollywood habit I can't and won't break, LOL!
Morgen: No problem. :) Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
P.I.: I don't always manage writing every single day unless I'm on deadline with a publisher and then it's constant until I go to bed. I'm the type that needs deadlines desperately or I won't get anything done! I think the most I've ever written in one day was five thousand words.
Morgen: I need deadlines – give me a Story A Day or NaNoWriMo and I write like crazy – I just find the time. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
P.I.: Some people think it doesn't exist but I experience it constantly. I think it comes from author insecurity—can I come up with something as good as my previous work? What if I can't? And most of all, can I come up with anything at all? I get literally "stuck" at points, even if I've got the plotline(s) all worked out except the details. I can't get out of it by walking away usually. The only thing that really works for me is to get up, put on my favourite music and blast the hell out of it. I don't listen to music when I write though. Many authors do but I cannot. I have to concentrate on one or the other but never together. Music takes me to another place and frees me from the frustration of writing. Yeah, I know I'm weird.
Morgen: If that’s the case then there’s a lot of us weird people out there. :) A question some authors dread: where do you get your inspiration from?
P.I.: Oh, I don't dread it at all. I do have a secret place (hmm, I seem to use the word "secret" a lot...) that I go to that always, always kicks me into gear and that I will never reveal. But so many things can trigger creativity—the weather does it for me a lot. Since I live in Los Angeles I don't get to experience a lot of rain and so I revere it when we do get some! Travelling also triggers things and also gives a wider experience of casual 'research'—it's difficult to set a story somewhere you haven't been. Pictures from magazines help too.
Morgen: And I’m sure the internet helps considerably. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
P.I.: I'd say half and half these days. I used to just "pants" it (writing by the seat of your pants rather than plotting it out) but how I picture my plots is a double rainbow. The top rainbow is the overall theme and plot of the novel or novels and the lower rainbow is the details and actual story itself.
Morgen: So many interviewees have been ‘pantsers’ (as I am) – I guess it’s what works for most writers because their characters take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
P.I.: Many times the name comes first. In my latest novel, Isadora DayStar, came from the term DayStar. I used watch a show called "CreationScapes" which showed astounding landscapes with Biblical quotes. The channel itself was called the DayStar network. I thought "what a great last name for a sci-fi space character!" The first name Isadora just popped up and voila it fit perfectly. I was trying to see if I could create a heroine that I hated (long story about another author) so I was trying to make her repulsive as possible. That didn't happen and she became a labour of love for me (I have a definite thing for losers, lol). As if destined, I happened to be looking at a website of hairstyles, not really thinking of anything and in the middle of a page of about 75 head shots of men and women with styled and glamorous coifs was a picture of an extremely thin woman, perched on a column and a softly spiked haircut. It was Isadora come to life. Other times the picture comes first. For Crucifying Angel, my heroine Payce Halligan, came from a shot of a woman doing target practice in uniform. I loved the picture and kept it thinking I'd use it someday for something. When Future Imperfect began, I knew she was Payce. I LOVE casting my characters with pics of actors or in the case of Isadora, some unknown woman. One day I'll post that shot and I'll find that woman whoever she is! I generally know what they look like, but pictures gives me their physical details. I give my characters names that are both memorable and unique and try not to go over the top with too odd names. As for them being believable, I give them lots of guilt. Lots of it. It's their psychology that makes them real. People deal with guilt and for the most part it's a universal experience. Plus the more intense the internal conflict, the more intense the plot. Suspense is a big thing and that guilt drives it along.
Morgen: I quite often use pictures in my Monday night workshops and it’s amazing what we come up with from just a photo of someone random. I love it. You mentioned earlier that you write short stories. Apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
P.I.: Novels differ from shorts in that in a novel you can expand on the story, include subplots, generally take your time in writing it and make it as complex as you want. In a short, you've got to establish the characters, their problem, the plot and resolution and make it all make sense in the end and within a set amount of words—it can be more of a challenge than a novel in those ways. As for more difficult getting short stories published—I've never really had a problem with that. I once heard an adage from an editor at a major publishing house (before I even started writing seriously) that publishers / editors are hesitant to publish short stories because they are afraid that the author lacks the discipline to write an entire novel. I have to admit that I'm a tight concise writer, probably from being a reporter, and word count is difficult for me but not because I can't sit down and write something the novel out fully—I can but I tend to use say, five words rather than twenty-five, a definite word count killer.
Morgen: Which is certainly no bad thing… especially for the likes of (being a short story writer more than anything else). Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
P.I.: I belong to major writing organizations like Sisters In Crime and previously Romance Writers of America. They are major support systems for writers of all levels and great for mingling with other authors.
Morgen: A few authors have mentioned Sisters In Crime and every time I say I’ll check them out and then get distracted. :( Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
P.I.: Believe it or not my mother. She's honest enough to point out weak spots but incredibly supportive.
Morgen: Oh so’s mine but she dislikes most of what I write because it’s too dark (she likes Pam Ayres light and fluffy poetry). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
P.I.: I try to edit as much as I can while writing, again the journalism background, but I did once have an editor who told me I had a "fear of grammar" lol! She was right of course.
Morgen: :) How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
P.I.: Since most of what I write is futuristic I'm freer to create and make rules up as long as they have verisimilitude (look it up authors and readers). I occasionally do some research usually for setting and protocol if it's a military based story such as Future Imperfect or Isadora.
Morgen: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
P.I.: First the trigger happens to give me the initial idea. Most of the time I'm running errands so I have time to let the idea percolate in my head—setting, characters, a premise that's workable or unique or interesting. I pull out my pen and pad collection and try to write up a little scenario if I can maybe a motive or two. Then I think about the characters—who they are, what they want, how many of them there should be, what type personality my main characters have and how they feel about each other and how they interact. How the setting affects each character and the story. It's all in very general terms at that point however. Plus, I've been trying to get a ritual before I write like other authors do but I can't. I have to just sit down and write, damn it!
Morgen: That’s my trouble – too many distractions. I’ve just been invited to join a group called Tuesday Tales which is great as it gets me writing a short story a week. I can find the time – I’ve written more than 50,000 words each November the past four years for http://NaNoWriMo.org (and http://StoryADay.org last May) as I mentioned earlier. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
P.I.: You know I do get the occasional urge to write out a scene on paper. It finally came back to me a few weeks ago—that urge to pick up a pen or pencil and just scribble. I prefer the computer because it's faster and it makes creativity move faster. But I really worry when teachers say they think that teaching cursive writing should be stopped. It's how mankind learned to first communicate and has always been at the base of civilization. If they stop teaching children this, I believe their tactile learning will diminish or disappear altogether and we'll have future generations of regressed intellect because they won't have the capacity to write, communicate or advance intellectually. Their foundation of learning and advancing will be gone. If you look at all man's eras of civilization that were developed successfully, they all had some type of writing by hand or rock when necessary that allowed ideas to develop, communication to occur and history to be written and remembered. If we remove cursive writing we're doomed. Okay, that's my little soapbox.
Morgen: Oh no, carry on, I like a good soapboxing. :) Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
P.I.: I like to have silence but I don't get much. My desk sits in a corner of the living room and the television is constantly on in the background. I've lost some masterpiece phrases or sentences because a commercial comes on and invades my brain and distracts me. Music I never listen to while writing and as for a coffee shop? No way in hell. I've tried it several times but I get more distracted by the people there than I do with the TV blasting in my ears!
Morgen: Oh so would I. It takes me forever to concentrate when there’s something going on, to the point when I sometimes stop, which is not good. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
P.I.: I only write first and third. I don't really like any of the others to write or even read. Some I even find annoying and off-putting as a reader.
Morgen: Second is certainly an acquired taste. I love it but then I did say (agree with you earlier) that I’m weird. :) Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
P.I.: There should be some type of rule that prologues and epilogues should never be over a page and a half and that's sometimes too long! I've used both and love them but I try to keep them short and as a teaser in the prologue. Pages and pages of prologue lose me and pretty much everyone I've ever spoken to, lol! That's the key to the problem with prologues; authors think they have to explain things that should be taken care of in the book and plot. Epilogues the same way; they should tie up any loose ends not explained away in the novel. But again keep it short.
Morgen: Absolutely. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
P.I.: Oh my God, yes! But at least I don't burn them in the fireplace like I used to when younger—which may not be a good thing, lol. Some of them should deserved to burned!
Morgen: No! You’d never know whether you’d change your mind. Sometimes I go back to stuff that I think was rubbish and realise that it’s not that bad (other times, of course, I don’t :)). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
P.I.: Favorite is when I have a character(s) that I literally love and writing scenes that I particularly love even though those may be hardest to write. Isadora had scenes like that where I had to reduce her to utter desperation and humiliation. That was both agonizingly difficult but also the most intense and rewarding. Oh, and casting my characters—that is the most fun of all for me!! My least favourite things I'd count as doing promotion and marketing myself mainly because it takes so much time and energy.
Morgen: This has been one of my most consistent questions / answers. We all want to write and let someone else do the marketing. :) If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
P.I.: I think it would have to be my dedication to it and the professionalism and discipline that I've learned and hopefully mastered.
Morgen: Because you want to do it. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
P.I.: They're going to hate this but I tell everyone the same thing: be your own harshest critic because then no one else will have to. Be brutally tough on yourself without beating yourself up. But you have to be honest: if something isn't working or is trite and clichéd you have to be professional enough to admit that and to fix or remove it without whining.
Morgen: :) What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
P.I.: Oh, man, I've read everything on the planet! But my personal taste in fiction is ancient historical; Christian is okay but it doesn't have to be religiously themed. I love Taylor Caldwell even though she's not contemporary; Colleen McCullough and her Masters of Rome series is my current favourite and she's my latest hero, a genius and a great writer! Stephen King although that might seem clichéd but I always recommend him for new and experienced authors—pay attention to the way he treats inner monologue.
Morgen: Stephen King’s book ‘On writing’ has been the most recommended so not clichéd at all. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
P.I.: From Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave: "The gods only go with you if you put yourself in their path." It's never failed me.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
P.I.: I'm crazy over flower gardening! Music is my life and always will be and travelling is a must for a half-breed Rom Gypsy LOL!! Parties? I LOVE hosting them because I love cooking!! You have to be creative, inventive and be gracious enough to make every visitor feel they're the only one there! One day I'm going to invite all the authors I know to a huge party!! It may even be a costume ball or party!! Yeow! I'd love that!
Morgen: Oh so would I (you know me now :)). Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
P.I.: Yes as a matter of fact!! I'm a great believer in random generator sites especially for science-fiction, fantasy and even historical assistance!! I did an entire two-part blog post on them! Below is a list of the best ones I've found though I'm sure there are tons more!
- Seventh Sanctum: This is one of the best for science fiction and magic and if you have some development skills you can even contribute your generator for others to use! Highly recommended!
- ChaoticShiny: This is the other best generator, especially for fantasy based on RPG and is for "people who write game or live in fantasy worlds of their own creation". Highly recommended for fantasy & alternate history writing.
- ScaldCrow: Interesting but limited and limited to actual RPG rather than directed at writers.
- Squid: Intense generator with real and imagined world generators (Afghanistan, Egypt, France, Japan and Congo to name just a few!). Definitely worth checking out!
- Serendipity: Revamped and based a lot on Les Mis but specifically for fantasy authors! Serendipity has name generators from French to Japanese and bonus villain names. Recommended.
Morgen: I could add http://scriptfrenzy.org to that list. :) In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
P.I.: I'm USA born and bred so to speak. A thorough American, lol! I live in Los Angeles and of course my career was mostly in entertainment—radio, record labels, films, TV—where else could I be? It's a definite help because you learn what is commercially viable and what isn't and what works and doesn't and how to keep abreast of trends. Plus it's the craziest industry on the planet Earth!
Morgen: So I’ve heard. If a form of travel is invented that’s quicker than planes and it’s impossible to get travel sickness on, I’ll be there. :) Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
P.I.: There's nothing better for a new writer than a Yahoo writing group! The best and first one I ever joined led me to my first published novels! My favourite is still writingandpublishing (no spaces). Search Yahoo Groups & tell AlleyPat I sent ya'!
Morgen: I’ve signed up to Yahoo and these interviews are automatically posted but I’m not sure where to – I’ve not investigated yet – I’m such a slacker, aren’t I? :) Where can we find out about you and your work?
P.I.: Several places: my official website: http://thewordmistresses.com, http://desertbreezepublishing.com, http://Amazon.com, http://smashwords.com and finally my blog: http://www.pibarrington.wordpress.com (Future Imperfect). If anyone would like to communicate with me directly: email@example.com
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
P.I.: Yeah. How the heck do you manage to do all this stuff? You're a SuperHero!!
Morgen: Ah, thank you. I started these interviews in June 2010 and it’s snowballed from there. I love doing it but the only way to fit everything in is by sleeping too little. I rectified that – quit my day job as of Christmas Eve eve but am still trying to escape! Thank you P.I., lovely to speak to you again.
I then invited P.I. for an excerpt of her writing and the following is from ‘Isadora DayStar’:
After she’d serviced him, she stood fluffing the Mohawk ridge on the top of her hair in quick nervous movements before a small mirror, glancing back at him and her black bag with her gun inside it, waiting for the chance to kill him. He stood up and began pulling on his clothes and she walked to the table where her bag lay, sliding a hand into it and grasping the gun to slowly pull it out. Before it was halfway out he yanked it out of her hand, spun her around to face him and lifted her up, slamming her against the wall making the mirror jump. He thrust the gun up against her crotch.
"Let me give you three pieces of advice on assassinating people," he hissed at her. "One, never get close enough to your mark to give them an advantage. Two, never put down your weapon, and three, always, always, get half the money up front."
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know. :)
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.