Monday, May 02, 2016

The Thoughts of a Master - An Interview with Author Glen Craney


Personal site

Glen Craney is an American author, novelist, journalist and lawyer with degrees from Hanover College, Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. He has taken to writing novels with more of a historical penchant, such as The Virgin of the Wind Rose and The Fire and the Light.
Good day to all our fantastic readers! We've recently had the opportunity to conduct an E-mail interview with Glen Craney author of The Spider and the Stone as well as The Yanks are Starving, both of them received with exceptional critical acclaim. And so, taking our change, we picked his brain a bit in regards to his relation with literature, and here are his (very detailed) answers, hopefully you'll enjoy and learn from them as much as we did!

Q: As is known in the biographical elements made public, in addition to being an author you are also a journalist and a lawyer. When and how did you decide to turn your life towards writing fiction rather than fact?

GC: Thanks for hosting me, David. I came to fiction later than most novelists. Following stints as a trial lawyer and political reporter, I had a flirtation with the movie business after winning the Nicholl Fellowship, an award given by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences for best new film writing. Readers often tell me my novels have a cinematic feel.

Maybe that's because I learned screenwriting first. I discovered how difficult it is to get any movie produced, but particularly an intelligent, sophisticated one that stays true to historical events. The original writer's vision usually gets lost in the shuffle of multiple writers and studio demands for taking dramatic license. So, I decided to write my historical stories first as books.

Q: In what ways do you think your careers have impacted your writing in terms of its subject, style and quality?


GC: I’m a sucker for a great story, regardless of era. I blame my journalism background for never being satisfied staying within a particular time period. Authors tend to fall into two categories: nesters and butterflies. I’m in the latter, better at flitting across history, drawing the nectar from one flower and moving on to the next.

I didn’t start writing the historical novels with a particular philosophy, but as I look back, I can see a thread championing the dark sheep of history and of Christianity in particular. In my opinion, there is no higher calling for a historical novelist than to rattle the cages of the powerful and expose history's encrusted myths and hagiographies. I prefer to accuse the victors and comfort its losers. And I never forget Shakespeare's admonition: "It is an heretic that makes the fire, not she which burns in't."

Q: What made you take an interest in penning historical novels specifically? Have you considered giving another genre a shot?

GC: I’ve always loved history. I had my imagination fired as a boy when a great uncle took me to the Kentucky battlefield where his father, a Union captain, had fought during the American Civil War. Yet I never dreamed I’d one day be writing historical fiction. In college, a history professor suggested I become a medievalist. I laughed, thinking the idea was absurd. But a legendary Hollywood writer, Harry Essex, who became my mentor and friend, encouraged me to convert my screenplays into novels.

Historical fiction gives one the freedom to fill in gaps and explore new explanations and theories. As for other genres, I've also written mystery-thrillers with historical themes. My most recent novel, The Virgin of the Wind Rose, is a dual-period thriller in which two global conspiracies, half a millennium apart, dovetail to expose the true identity of Christopher Columbus. Some stories are better told as traditional historical novels, others as mysteries and thrillers.

Q: Your first novel, The Fire and the Light, was a critically-acclaimed success, receiving numerous honours and being named Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards. What was that initial process of writing and publishing like for you? Did your experience as a journalistic writer help or hinder you in any way?

GC: The first novel took ten years of blood, sweat, and tears. I was naïve enough about publishing then to try something outlandish, and I got lucky. I sent a copy of the book with a handwritten note to the head fiction buyer for Barnes and Noble.

A week later, my distributor called to tell me that the B&N buyer loved the book and had placed the largest order the distributor ever received. Days later, the novel was sitting on B&N’s new hardback fiction shelves in the front of the stores. As for my journalism background, I’ve always considered historical fiction to be journalism practiced on the past.

Q: With there being innumerable plains to cover in history, how do you go about selecting the subject for your next project?

GC: The inspiration for my first three novels came in dreams. In the dream that led me to The Spider and the Stone, I was a mounted knight caught in a death struggle along a stream with a black-robed hag who attacked me with a sickle. The scene then shifted to a celebratory photograph of seven knights standing around a seated monarch. Below this tableau, a caption appeared: “Americans Aid the King at Bannockburn.”

I awoke and wrote the dream down, even though none of it made any sense. If I had heard of the Battle of Bannockburn, its significance had long since been lost to my school days. The caption and photograph were even more bizarre. Robert the Bruce won his unlikely victory against the English in 1314, nearly five hundred years before the United States was even an idea. Two months later, I was in Scotland walking along the burn of Bannock with Stirling Castle looming in the distance. That stream looked similar to the one that had appeared in my dream.

Q: In a historical novel, do you believe the entertainment or accuracy factor to be more important? In other words, would you say readers benefit more from verified facts, or their distortion in the name of pleasure?

GC: To borrow from Shakespeare, the story’s the thing. Of course, that doesn’t mean the historical novelist should ignore the facts, but history itself is a fiction. If you don’t believe me, read historian Thomas DesJardin’s marvelous book, These Honored Dead: How the Story of Gettysburg Shaped American Memory. By retracing the hours and days immediately after Pickett’s Charge, Desjardin demonstrated that much of the battle’s lore in fact never happened. Eyewitness accounts were found unreliable and twisted by hearsay, to such an extent that many Union and Confederate veterans went to their graves years convinced they had participated in events that never occurred. Desjardin’s book should be required reading for historical novelists.

My favorite maxim was set by Tim O’Brien, who wrote novels about the Vietnam War: “A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” If you can offer a plausible alternative to the traditional historical narrative, simply alert the reader to the variances in your author’s note and justify your reasons for adopting them. That’s why it’s called historical fiction.

Q: With your years of experience as an attorney as well as a journalist (who covered the Iran-contra situation no less), it has to be assumed that you've witnessed your fair share of interesting events. How do you feel about the idea of drawing on your real-world experiences for a novel, whether they be recounted in every detail or simply used as inspiration?

GC: I suppose every author subconsciously draws from his or her own experiences. But I’ve written stories set in times so far in the past that events I’ve witnessed rarely come into play. I read more non-fiction than fiction, largely because of the amount of research I must do. And I prefer historical novels that strive to yoke real characters and events, rather than using history for a backdrop.

Q: With every writer having his/her own way of creating a novel, it is interesting to learn about their processes... how would you describe yours? Any steps in particular you tend to follow?

GC: I spend a lot of time mucking around in libraries and mulling ideas and potential plots. I liken the process to that of the sculptor who hunts the finished statue in the unhewn stone. The incubation process is very important; like fine wine, no good novel before its time. Once I decide on a project, I try to travel to the locations to get a feel of the land, instill the spatial surroundings in my mind, and invoke the ghosts. When I start the manuscript, I usual write in the morning and edit in the afternoon.

Q: With every writer having his/her own way of creating a novel, it is interesting to learn about their processes... how would you describe yours? Any steps in particular you tend to follow?

GC: I spend a lot of time mucking around in libraries and mulling ideas and potential plots. I liken the process to that of the sculptor who hunts the finished statue in the unhewn stone. The incubation process is very important; like fine wine, no good novel before its time. Once I decide on a project, I try to travel to the locations to get a feel of the land, instill the spatial surroundings in my mind, and invoke the ghosts. When I start the manuscript, I usual write in the morning and edit in the afternoon.

Q: Some might say there is a writer hidden within most of us... the problem is getting him to blossom. What would your recommendations be to writers who are having trouble leaving the starting block?

GC: Get a job on a daily newspaper or weekly magazine. Then, tell your editor that you’re suffering writer’s block that day and don’t feel inspired to write. If you still have a job after that, I promise you’ll quickly be cured of your writer’s block. Seriously, producing the first drafting is always a miserable, humbling experience. It’s pouring the concrete and lugging the bricks for the foundation of the house. Just get it done and move to the editing as soon as possible.

Q: When can we expect your next novel? Any hints for us avid readers?

GC: I’m currently working on a novel set during the American Civil War. I’m a great believer in not talking about one’s work in progress for fearing of chasing the jealous muse away, so I’ll beg your understanding.

More of the Glen Craney book reviews:
The Virgin of the Wind Rose
The Spider and the Stone
The Yanks are Starving

No comments:

Post a Comment