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Interview with Austin Scott Collins



 
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Aelin Galathynius


Austin Scott Collins

St. Petersburg, Florida

“A writer is a person who habitually opens the wrong door, then just stands there, allowing curiosity to override mortification.” -Austin Scott Collins, Oct. 2014

After earning a degree in English from the University of Central Florida, Austin Scott Collins spent 13 years as a cargo pilot and flight instructor for a company which no longer exists before retiring from commercial aviation to concentrate on sailing and writing.

He now lives on a sailboat with his wife Trish. (http://www.austinscottcollins.com/index.htm)

Mr. Collins is the author of the The Victoria da Vinci novels. The first novel in the series is  'Dicing Time for Gladness.’ His work is a blend of historical fiction, sci-fi and adventure-fantasy. Having personally read 'Dicing Time for Gladness,' it perfectly captures the conflict of turn-of-the-century America. Set in Chicago in 1899, it perfectly portrays the danger and mystery that must have been found in the city at that time. 

Enjoy! 

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to become an author?

A: I have always wanted to be a writer, since long before I knew anything about it. I have a laminated newspaper clipping from when I was ten years old in which I told a reporter I wanted to write novels.

Q: What/Who is your greatest inspiration to write? 

A: Story ideas are everywhere, all around us, all the time. So the challenge is not finding them; that part’s easy. They find us. The difficult part is picking the one that is so interesting, so compelling, and so persistent in your consciousness, that you just can’t let it go. That’s the idea that you might be able to turn into a finished manuscript, because you will be willing and able to let it dominate your life for the next two to five years. For every manuscript I finish, I have ten or twenty potentially great ideas that just aren’t quite strong enough for me to make that kind of commitment.

Q: When did you start writing? 

A: I guess that depends on what you count. I wrote a “book” with crayon and construction paper in kindergarten, and my teacher read it out loud to the class. I finished my first real full-length novel manuscript when I was 17, but thankfully it was never published, because it was terrible.

Q: What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

A: Clarity is critical. Also, good authors have faith in and respect for their readers. Let the actions of your characters speak for themselves; don’t over-explain things. I trust my readers to be smart enough to figure it out without me bashing them over the head with exposition. Obviously, a firm grasp of the principles of spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation is indispensable. (An editor can only fix so much.) Variation in sentence length and structure gives richness and rhythm to one’s prose. You can tell when an author reads a lot. Bad authors don’t read much, and it shows.

Q: What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?

A: I read a lot of non-fiction, and I think it really helps give my stories a sense of realness and factuality. I love the work of Mary Roach, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Erik Larson. On the fiction side, Robert A. Heinlein, Douglas Adams, Woody Allen, Gregory Mcdonald, Mark Twain, Richard Bach, Clive Cussler, and Piers Anthony were all strong early influences on me. (I actually met Piers Anthony once.) They all do different things well, and they all have their flaws and shortcomings. One of the greatest writers of strong, clear, simple, powerful stories is Judy Blume. I am in awe of her ability to tell a deeply engaging story that really sticks with you, and she does it using short sentences, short paragraphs, and brief descriptions. Her novels are a great example of the power of restraint.

Q: If you could choose any actor/actress to play your main character in the Victoria da Vinci series, who would it be? 

A: Christina Hendricks.

Q: What is some advice you could give to any aspiring authors? 

A: Read, read, read, read, read. Read as much as you can. Study the classics of literature, but also read anything and everything that captures your attention. If you plan to write within a genre, read currently popular books within that genre to understand the stylistic and narrative conventions, and also to wrap your head around the bundle of expectations that your readers will bring with them. If you want to be commercially successful, well, first of all, good luck. But you will have to research the market and find your niche, and you will have to spend at least as much time promoting your work as you spend writing—that’s not an exaggeration. I really want to emphasize, however, that you don’t have to write for money or to get published. You can just write because it’s a mentally stimulating, creatively satisfying activity. That’s perfectly valid. I write tons of stuff that I never intend to publish. It’s just a way to organize my thoughts, play around, and cleanse my brain. It’s sort of like dreaming, or solving a puzzle. It’s a healthy psychological activity. Keep a journal. Write poems on the back of cocktail napkins. Have fun. Enjoy yourself. Everyone should read, everyone should write.

Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge for you when writing a novel? 

A: Finding the time. Writing is extremely time-consuming. Writing well is even more time-consuming. Going from the initial spark of an idea to a finished manuscript that’s ready to show an agent usually takes at least a year, and two to five years is more common.

Q: What does your creative process look like? 

A: First I summarize the entire book, from beginning to end, in a single paragraph. I have to do this to make sure I understand what story I’m trying to tell. Then I write an outline that consists of one-sentence summary of each chapter. (My philosophy is that if I can’t summarize it in a single sentence, then it needs to be more than one chapter.) I absolutely have to know the entire story, including how it ends, before I can start writing. I don’t like improvising. I feel like stories that are made up as the author goes along rarely have truly satisfying resolutions at the end; they just sort of stop. You can tell when the author never had a plan, and as a reader I hate that. I also put together a separate list of all the characters, including a description of what they each look like, and any pertinent details about their background. If the story takes place over a long span of time, I build a year-by-year timeline of events. After all that is done, and I feel like I have a really good handle on where this is all going, then I sit down and begin the process of fleshing it out. I compare this to hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree. I spend several months on this phase, just writing as much as I can, as fast as I can, whenever I have time, just to get words in the box. Once I have a finished first draft, that’s when the hard part begins: I go back to the beginning and start making tweaks and adjustments. That’s where most of the effort goes: just making it flow. This part of the process is not glamorous at all. It’s a slog. It’s stuff like, “they were in the living room, now they’re in the dining room, I need to put in a line or two that moves them from one room to the other without breaking the action or disrupting the conversation.” Or, “I already used the word ‘recalcitrant,’ I need a different synonym for ‘stubborn’ in this paragraph.” It’s very, very slow and tedious. This is where most authors stumble and never finish. It’s just too hard.

Q: What kind of research do you do for your novels? 

A: I spend a lot of time on Google and Wikipedia, and I order a lot of weird, obscure books that relate to the time and place I’m writing about. I collect a huge amount of fun, useless trivia, but a great deal of it never makes it into the final draft. It has to logically fit in with the story, or else I don’t use it. For example, I found one really hilarious true anecdote from the late nineteenth century Midwest, which is where Dicing Time for Gladness is set, but it wasn’t compatible with the rest of the plot. So I posted about it in my writing blog instead. You can read about it here https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7640538-crazy-people-in-history-1 if you are curious.

Q: Where can our players order your books/ follow you online? 

A: My main web site is www.AustinScottCollins.com, and it has links to all of my other pages. I’m on Instagram, I have a Facebook author page, an Amazon author page, a blog on Goodreads, a Twitter account, a Tumblr blog etc. I also do a podcast called Drinking With Authors with fellow novelist Erika Lance, which I would like to invite everybody to check out. We interview local writers, get drunk, and talk about writing. And of course you can always just search for Austin Scott Collins on Amazon, and you will find my books there.
December 16, 2019 10:57 am

Dr Van Helsing

Very cool indeed!

December 17, 2019 08:57 pm

Dexter Gein

This is brilliant. May 05, 2020 03:27 am

Quinn Whitmoore

Very interesting

August 25, 2020 12:50 pm
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