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A. P. Greenwood Answers 20 Questions
1. What motivated you to begin a creative writing career?
Two things. First of all, over the years I’ve been told how well I write, whether it was a marketing research report or merely a letter. I suppose people gravitate to what they feel they’re good at. Second, I wanted to be in the entertainment business, but can’t carry a tune, can’t act, and am not a proficient musician. So writing was my best option.

2. How would you describe your writing style?
Simple. Easy to comprehend. Many years ago a professor at graduate business school said that to be a good writer of research reports, that everything should be understandable by a sixth grader. It’s not that I’m dumbing down my writing, or that I consider my readers to have only a grade school education, it’s just that I want to communicate as clearly as possible.

3. You’ve said that you use your marketing research experience in your writing. How do you do that?
First I research the competition—other popular books and authors in the genre. How long they are, what themes seem to work best. For instance, my Random Sample detective novels are all under 400 pages in length, repeat the lead characters, have heroes who are ordinary people thrust into situations they’re not trained to deal with, and have unambiguous endings. I also survey my readers to find out what they liked most and least about my books.

4. Are you Rhett and Toni detective novels based on your life as a marketing researcher?
I always wondered if the thousands of people interviewed in my surveys or who were participants in my focus groups were ever victims or perpetrators of crimes. So, yes the first three are loosely based on my life as a marketing researcher. But the novels are complete fiction, and the lead character has a lot more courage than I have. As these novels evolve, I guess I’m more influenced by the Thin Man movies of the 1930s and 1940s, where the man and woman detective team work well together, have fun together, and in telling the story there’s suspense as well as a bit of humor.

5. Your fourth novel was a major departure from your previous works. Why’d you write Lakota Dreams (now known as Lakota Betrayal)?
I’ve always been interested in Native Americans, especially the Sioux, and especially in the years just after the Civil War. My wife and I have visited the Black Hills of South Dakota several times over the past ten years, and I have found it one of the most enchanting and beautiful places I’ve ever seen. And I like creating an alternative explanation of what may have happened there in the 1870s with real characters like Crazy Horse and George Armstrong Custer.

6. Your fifth novel, The Final Tour of Duty, was also different. What’s it about?
When I was in the Navy, my primary job was to track Soviet submarines as part of our Cold War effort. This story is about a naval officer, nearing retirement, who is sent to the kind of facility where I was stationed. It involves murders of sailors with local civilians as the primary suspects, although one murder may involve a CIA cover-up of something related to a top secret Navy mission.

7. Have you written any short stories?
Yes. Four so far and they are all detective or mystery stories. Two involve the same lead characters from the Random Sample novels, and another involves an FBI investigation of a serial killer in the Black Hills area of South Dakota. My favorite short story I’ve written though is a story of an clandestine private hunting club in the Big Bend area of Texas, where the game is illegal aliens crossing the border. It’s pretty gruesome.

8. Have you won any writing awards?
I’ve been told to be wary of writing contests. That some are scams. But I still entered a few, and won an Eric Hoffer Award for being one of the best new writers of commercial fiction for my second novel, Random Sample: An Uncertain Suicide. I also won second place in the Green River Writers national short story contest, and placed second or third in other minor competitions.

9. Why don’t you have an agent or major publishing house?
I’ve tried to attract both, with what I believe were very creative queries. People in the business tell me to be patient, that it takes years of trying to land the big deal. I met Mary Higgins Clark, who told me it took her several years to find a publisher. But I mostly want an agent who would peddle my writing to Hollywood, both my novels and short stories.

10. How did you manage to write and maintain a career in marketing research?
I set aside specific times and days to devote to my writing. It was scheduled like any other business meeting or work task. When I’m not writing, and not really working, I think about the stories I’m creating and take down notes. When it’s time to write, I pretty much know what to put down because of those notes which outline the next chapters. I never sit at my keyboard and wonder about a story line. When I sit down, I know what the story or “scene” is and just describe the action.

11. Some of your readers say you write good dialogue. What’s the secret?
A conscious effort to play “make believe.” I visualize the characters who are conversing with one another. In my mind I see them and what they are wearing, how they’re positioned --standing or sitting -- and where they are. I understand what kind of mood they’re in. Understand their special way of talking -- their vocabulary. And in some cases, I’ll role play the conversation aloud. Hopefully nobody is around when I do this.

12. Your first novel was evaluated by the William Morris Agency. How’d that go?
I was angry at first. They said it wouldn’t make a good movie because 1) there wasn’t enough danger, 2) that the lead couple’s relationship was too healthy, and 3) that it wasn’t believable that a “civilian” would get involved in solving a murder. Then I evaluated whether I should respond and change my stories by adding graphic and unusual violence instead of merely murder by hand gun and kidnapping, or by featuring a couple with serious character flaws such as drug addiction or abuse. I discussed this dilemma with book clubs and individual readers, and they wholeheartedly supported my original approach. I also like the idea that a man and a woman can have a loving, respectful and trusting relationship, and that many everyday individuals do get involved doing the right thing regardless of the personal risks.

13. Why have you chosen to not include graphic sex or violence in most of your novels?
Partly because I don’t like it that much myself in the novels I’ve read or the movies I’ve seen. But I think it’s about my readers using their own imaginations. In my stories, sex and violence are implied and that’s enough for most people. I think an author who uses graphic descriptions of anything is telling his or her readers how to feel. The way I write, I want the readers to make their own interpretations, and I have to trust that the story itself and the suspense or mystery will be enough to involve the readers. I did try a little gore and sex in The Final Tour of Duty, and it worked okay. It was well-received by most readers.

14. Without an agent or major publisher, how do you market your writing?
As a self-published author, I have to do all the marketing myself. I seek out independent book stores and schedule book signing events. I’ve even sold many through grocery stores which have book sections. I’ve done direct mail and e-mail campaigns to people I know and have been able to do talks at local book clubs and charity luncheons. I’ve sold books at Christmas shopping boutiques, some at large country clubs. I always keep a box of book in the trunk of my car, and it’s amazing how many people I’ve met, when they learn I’m an author, wanted to but a book on the spot. I plan to sell my ebooks through a campaign designed for radio audiences

15. How have book sales gone for you.
Financially, I recovered all of my out of pocket costs associated with self-publishing, and maybe a little more. But sales have not been enough to say writing has replaced my “real” job. I’ve sold over 5,500 books, which according to the Houston Chronicle is more than any other self-published fiction author in Texas. That’s more than John Grisham sold when he was self-published, so that’s comforting. I still understand I need a break to get the number of sales to the level where I’d like it to be.

16. How long does it take you write a novel?
Even with my research background, including a passion for quantifying everything, I can answer that question only partially. Because I’m prepared to write (with notes about upcoming chapters and scenes) when I sit down at my keyboard, I write about 750 words per hour. A 400 page book typically has about 100,000 words, so such a book would therefore require me 133 hours to complete the first draft. Then I go through the book at least four times reviewing and editing each page. I can edit a 400 page book in about twenty hours. So to have a finished product would take me between 200-250 hours. My experience suggests that I only work on my writing and average of 7-10 hours per week because of other commitments to the real job, family, etc. So it took me about six months to complete a first draft and then three or four months to complete all of the required edits for my Random Sample novels. However, Lakota Dreams was 640 pages, and I did ten edits, so that novel took two years to complete.

17. What do you think about the advent of E-books and electronic readers like the Kindle.
Personally, I want to see and hold a real book in my hands. But I’ve heard that about half of all books sold in America are now electronic so e-books are the trend. The margins for a hardback book for me have been between $12 and $20. The margins for a Kindle version are about $3.50 per book. That’s bad news for major publishers and book stores. But, I look at the e-book as a genuine opportunity for increased sales as well as increased revenues.

18. What are your writing goals, and how long will you pursue them?
My goal is to be a famous writer, known for creative stories, who has novels on the New York Times Best Seller List, and whose writing is used as the basis for films, TV miniseries, and/or TV episodes. I think my best chance is to have one of my novels or short stories picked up by Hollywood and transformed to the big or small screen, and then all of my work would have a chance for wider distribution. I’ll pursue that goal until I drop. I love writing, I have more stories to tell. And every week someone I bump into at a store or at the golf course tells me they enjoyed reading one of my novels. I very much like it that people were entertained by something I created.

19. You’ve written what you call formula detective novels, and epic frontier saga, and a Cold War suspense/murder story, and some short stories. Why don’t you stick with one genre?
If a major publishing house signed me up, paid me a fortune, and ordered me to stick with one genre, I’d probably cave and do what they said. But in all honesty, I have felt the same passion creating all of my stories, regardless of the genre. Maybe I’m weird that way. But I love country music, classic rock, and classical. I like pizza, lasagna, shrimp Creole, steak, fried chicken . . . I could go on. I have loved visiting New York City, L.A., Santa Fe, the Black Hills of South Dakota. What I’m suggesting is a conviction that variety is the spice of life. So why not in writing, although I believe my Rhett and Toni detective novels will be my mainstay for the foreseeable future.

20. Personally, what do you do for fun? Do you read a lot?
I used to read pretty much, but hardly at all since I began writing. If I have spare time, I devote it to writing. I play golf about once a week and genuinely enjoy the game and have some friends with whom I play regularly. I spend a lot of time with my wife. We love to cook and enjoy road trips. We also work in our yard as much as possible. Whenever we can, we dance, and she’s quite good having excelled in ballroom competitions in the recent past. If I had more time, I’d spend more time visiting with my adult daughters or going fishing.

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