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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Author Interview: Darryl S. Ellrott

Today I am pleased to present to you all the thirty-fifth in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with my good friend Darryl S. Ellrott and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
Darryl:  When I was a kid I could read a book with a rock and roll record blaring in the background, but now I need silence to compose. I keep lots of paper nearby, like a notepad and stickies, because I like to jot down notes, details, and even outline points while I’m at it. That probably goes back to my days as a schoolteacher, when I taught writing and did all my planning on paper. Though I love my computer, I don’t think I’ll ever get around to a paperless existence.

Paul:  What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why? 
Darryl:  First and foremost, Stephen King. I’m one of his faithful constant readers. Even though he doesn't write 'em like he used to, the man still has an incredible ability to draw you into the story and make you totally forget about the outside world. The late Ray Bradbury (God rest him!) was another early favorite. His lyrical, poetic prose showed me how to create mood and made me fall in love with language. “A Sound of Thunder” is one of the all time great short stories. I was a fan of George R.R. Martin before Game of Thrones, and of course, Professor Tolkien and his Middle Earth tales are some of my favorite repeat destinations. I never fail to discover something new each time I re-read LOTR.

Paul:  If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
Darryl:  Lots and lots of monkeys. Banging away on a thousand typewriters. All smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. I don’t smoke or drink coffee, by the way.

Paul:  What is a typical day for you? 
Darryl:  A typical writing day means up by 7:30am and going as hard as I can at my current project right after breakfast. Sometimes the words come quickly and I have lots of stamina. Other times my eyesight begins to blur and I can’t focus anymore. When that kind of fatigue hits, I take a short, one-hour break and then move on to other business. Occasionally I’ll write in the late afternoons or evening, but only if I’m feeling good. Otherwise, morning’s the time when my energy’s highest.

Paul:  Do you have a favorite character in each of your series, aside from the lead? If so, which one and why? 
Darryl:  Sergeant Hardesty in Rear Echelon is one of my favorite supporting characters. Sergeants are a lot like school teachers, in a way. They have to be tough so their charges will grow strong, but deep down, they care a lot for each and every one. Hardesty has to keep himself from becoming too emotionally involved, but he’s secretly pleased to no end when Struts and Numbnuts succeed. And of course, who doesn’t love Private Numbnuts?  Every gang needs a Scooby Doo, especially one who kicks so much ass. I also like Brian Mitchell from Longest Night.  He’s a good hero, a man with a lot of layers. You’ll see more Brian Mitchell stories soon.

Paul:  In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it? 
Darryl:  Don’t wait too long between books. Don’t wait a year for the sequel, like I did. Write a lot and publish a lot. The more stuff you have on the market, the more you’ll get known, and the more you’ll sell.

Paul:  How do you find the time to write?
Darryl:  You have to make up your mind and do it. I know about busy schedules. When I was a school teacher I regularly put in 12 sometimes 16 hours, and all day on Saturdays. I didn’t write as much in those days, but I’d find a few minutes at a time during planning or in the evenings. Now I work at home and have the freedom to block out the time, but that’s not for everyone. Don’t quit your day job.

Paul:  What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
Darryl:  That Brent Mitchell Wood is the real secret to my success. He’s my writing partner, and we’ve been best friends since we were teenagers. He’s an ex-Marine and a wood-worker. I’ll come into his shop with a new idea and if he likes it, he’ll go wild, spitting out plot lines, characters, and details. He takes my beginnings and tells me how to get to the ends. He’s a voracious speed reader who goes through at least two books a week, and he has an incredible head for the work. He’ll tell me what will work, what won’t work, and what’s been done to death. When I’m writing, he reads all my dailies and gives me support and feedback. He’s tough on me, and won’t let me do everything I want to. Only what he knows will work. He’s saved more than one story from my somewhat undisciplined flights of fancy.

Paul:  If you are self-published, what led to you going your own way?
Darryl:  The writing business is like any other part of the entertainment business. There are millions of us waiting around to be discovered, and the competition’s cutthroat. If it is to be, it’s up to me. I love calling my own shots, and Rear Echelon has sold almost 10,000 paid downloads to date. If a big publisher offered me a deal, I’d take it, but in the meantime, I’ll keep working.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Darryl:  I’m a school teacher, and school teachers plan everything. When I get an idea, I write it down while it’s still fresh. Some ideas are a paragraph long, some are a page long. When I get ready to write, I do extensive outlining and notes, planning every scene and chapter in detail. I’ll do background notes, character sketches, back stories, and even histories if I’m creating a secondary world. By the time I set pen to paper, I know exactly what I have to write, and I do it in manageable chunks. If I don’t have to think, “Okay, what happens next?” I can use my talents and energies to make the writing better, more vivid, and connect emotionally with my audience. Creating details out of whole cloth slows me down and wears me out. The guys who sit down and just go – I don’t know how they do it.

Paul:  Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Darryl:  I used to teach writing, and I have a pretty simple editorial philosophy: shorter is always better. I had a standard anecdote I always told my students about how the first draft of Steinbeck’s The Black Pearl was probably 500 pages long, but after he whittled it down and whittled it down, he had 250 pages of pure gem. I’m also a huge fan of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and I try to live by its precepts. Write in simple, declarative sentences. Hemingway got it right. Shorter is better.

Paul:  Do you have to do much research for your stories?
Darryl:  As much as I possibly can. Brent and I are fans of realistic details. I loved the recent movie Captain America, but there was a tiny technical error that absolutely ruined it for Brent. At one point our hero caps off 22 rounds from a 9-round pistol without reloading, and that drove my writing partner crazy. I try to do enough research to make sure those kinds of mistakes don’t happen.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it
Darryl:  Our latest thriller is a piece of short fiction called Vengeance.  It’s a “mouse that roared” story of a lifelong pacifist who loses everything and is forced to confront the terrifying darkness that lives in the heart of every man. When a psychopath posing as a policeman murders his wife, Nathan Cotter has to choose between acceptance and vengeance, and also bear the costs of his decision. Who’s to say what any of us would do in his place?

Paul:  What inspired you to write this book?
Darryl:  Vengeance is a loving homage to all those great, twisted short stories Stephen King used to write, like “Donlan’s Cadillac,” “Children of the Corn,” “Survivor Type,” “The Running Man,” and many others. It’s tightly plotted and all action, but with a heart. You won’t believe what happens to poor Nathan Cotter at the end, and it’s worth investigating to find out.

Paul:  Do you also write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Darryl:  You know, when I was a teacher I used to love teaching poetry, but I’ve written very little. I also used to love playing guitar in a garage band, but I could never write lyrics worth a damn. I love and respect the form, but I think in prose, not verse.

I have written one non-fiction book, 30 Secrets to Recruiting Middle School Wrestlers, made up of wisdom and advice from my twenty years as a wrestling coach. I also have another short story, Longest Night, about a man who has to kill his way out of a European castle to save his wife and child. My biggest work so far is a short novel in the military science fiction genre called Rear Echelon. It’s about a group of rag tag support platoon mutts who go from being in the rear with the gear to the forefront of an interstellar conflict during the course of an aborted rescue mission. I’m busy writing a full-length sequel right now, and eventually I’ll expand the original novella before completing the trilogy.

Paul:  Do you have any pieces of work that will never see the light of day?
Darryl:  I’m about to begin another story called Snuff that’s so dreadfully violent I’m considering a pseudonym. Somehow, though, I think I’ll end up putting my name on it.

Paul:  Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Darryl:  I used to submit my kids’ work to student competitions, but I haven’t put my own stuff up for judgment yet.

Paul:  How much marketing do you do for your published works or for your ‘brand’?
Darryl:  I have a small side business as a social media account manager, and for the past 2½ years I’ve been diligently studying that trade and figuring out how to make the engines of commerce run in my favor. Even now I’m working on a major revamping of my blog page, which will feature writing tips and social media instruction for the novice. I’ve got over 3,000 Twitter followers now, and soon I’ll be opening a Facebook page, a Pinterest account, and maybe even a YouTube channel in addition to a monthly e-newsletter. I do so much marketing now I have to block out specific times, days, and hours to get the writing done. Well, I wanted to be a writer…

Paul:  What’s your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Darryl:  Well, sometimes I’d like to have that regular, monthly teaching check back, but I don’t regret any of my decisions. As a teacher, I loved making plans, solving problems, and calling my own shots. Now I work for myself, set my own hours, and I’m not a slave to any man’s clock. I thought for many years I might have the chops to “go pro” as a writer, and now I’m proving it. People are paying me for what I write, and that tickles me to no end. I find creating and writing stories to be immensely gratifying in a deep-down, primal way. Working with Brent just makes it so much pure fun. It’s like being a kid again.

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
Darryl:  Like former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, when I’m not writing I eat cold eels and think distant thoughts. What the hell does that mean?  I don’t even think Johnson knew.

Paul:  Thanks, Darryl. That was great. Here's to a successful future!

About Darryl S. Ellrott: As a child, Darryl S. Ellrott used the sport of wresting to rehabilitate his body and spirit from the effects of cerebral palsy. This led to a twenty-year teaching and coaching career that culminated in his 2009 induction into the Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He’s the author of 30 Secrets to Recruiting Middle School Wrestlers, the military sci-fi novella Rear Echelon, and the short stories “Longest Night,” and “Vengeance” with Brent Mitchell Wood. All are available from Big Rock Publishing and Amazon Kindle.

Darryl's Blog: Darryl S. Ellrott
Darryl on Twitter: @DarrylSEllrott
Darryl on Facebook: Darryl S. Ellrott
Darryl's latest book: Vengeance (Amazon)

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