Ten Quick Questions for Kevin Wignall

Last year a number of my favorite authors had books published.  I had big plans for a round of reviews and interviews with all of them to kick off their respective book’s publication.  It didn’t happen. Life intervened and I wasn’t able to get things done.  I managed to review most of them at least.

Well, things have slowed down a little bit so I thought I would try to rectify this by catching up with some of these authors this year.  Some will be via email and some I hope to talk with on Blog Talk Radio.

Kevin Wignall kicks things off.  Besides having a great first name, Mr. Wignall is an author whose work I always find both entertaining and thought provoking.  His latest novel Who is Conrad Hirst? was published last November by Simon and Schuster.  For more on his work see my reviews of Among the Dead, For the Dogs, and People Die.

You can also catch Kevin blogging over at Contemporary Nomad.  My ten questions for Kevin are below.

1)  If you had to shelve your latest novel at the bookstore or library where would you put it?  Espionage thriller; mystery; literary, general fiction?

Can I say all of the above? I think most literary fiction is fraudulent so I’d rather go with general.

2)   I wrote that Conrad Hirst, as most of your books, was an exploration of identity, the nature of morality, and the dangers of self-deception.  Is that fair?  Accurate?

Yes to both. I’m interested in the fault lines between who we think we are and how others see us. And one of the inherent premises of all my work is that we live in a time of fluid morality, a time in which people are drawing their own boundaries, so I think it’s interesting to explore how people deal with that process, particularly people on the edges of society.

3)  There seems a moral ambiguity or vacuum involved in your work.  Is this philosophical, aesthetic, or both?

It’s certainly not aesthetic in intent, and I dislike the kind of fiction (in print or on screen) that is morally barren because it somehow seems cool or stylish.  Following on from my answer to the previous question, it’s a response to the moral ambiguity of the times we live in.  For most of the Western world (the USA being a partial exception) secularism has become so entrenched that the moral absolutes of Christianity merely form a backdrop to our moral processes.  At the same time, the authority of the state has been undermined in favour of individualism.  If you had asked people fifty years ago what they should do if they found a bag full of diamonds, most would have answered automatically that they’d have handed it in to the authorities.  For various reasons, I don’t think the response would be so unequivocal today, and at the very least, people would think long and hard before coming up with an answer.  It’s that sense of forming morality on the hoof that I find interesting.

4)   How would you describe your career or reputation to this point?  Has this book changed your trajectory?  What were your expectations pre-publication?

I would say that, despite some very nice notices and the attention of quite a few people in the film world, I was flying under the radar until January of this year. You always hope your new book will be the breakout novel but frankly, this wasn’t, to begin with. Then it got an Edgar nomination and a little blip appeared on people’s radar screens, and that’s been very gratifying.  Again, impossible to say how things will go from here on in but I’m quietly optimistic.

5)   Why are your books published here in the states but not where you actually live and write?

Two reasons. I was published in the UK to begin with but by the publishers’ own admission, they messed up on the campaign to sell and promote me and the sales figures that resulted still hang over me. Interestingly though, British publishers also seem to struggle with my books because they fall between two stools – too short and philosophical for their crime lists, too pacy and violent to fit in the “literary” lists. Fortunately, the American mystery publishing environment is a much broader church.

6)   You don’t seem to be one of the “a book a year” types.  Why?

I wish I knew. I’m sure my publisher wished I knew, too! I find it hard to write to order. I usually wait until I’m absolutely certain of a story, until it’s eating away at me, then I’ll write it. For example, I started thinking about a book at the end of last summer, made some notes, but wasn’t certain of it and put it to one side. I experimented with a few other plots before the first started creeping its way back into my mind, and I’m just starting work on it again.  If it goes well, I’ll write it in 2-3 months, but there’s no guarantee yet that it will be my next book.

7)  How involved are you in the publicity end of your work?  Do you find this aspect frustrating?  Do you think publishers do enough for non-bestselling type authors?

Not very, but that’s partly because I don’t live in the US. Honestly speaking, I accept that publishing is a business and they have their priorities. That also applies across the board. For example, people are quick to lambast newspapers for cutting review coverage, but if you ask the same people how they read those papers they’ll often tell you it’s online, for nothing – we’re all part of the current business environment, so it’s hard to complain about businesses doing what they need to do to succeed within it.

8)  You have been blogging for a while now, what do you find satisfying about it?  What frustrates you?  Is it good for your writing?

I owe all of that to Olen Steinhauer who set up Contemporary Nomad in the first place and asked me to be part of it. I like that it gives us an outlet to talk about whatever takes our fancy. People respond most readily to posts about writing, but the stats suggest our political or wider cultural posts are all widely read. If there’s a frustration, it’s in finding time to post as often as I’d like – doubly so for Olen at the moment because his wife’s just had their first baby.

9)  You have had your work optioned for film. What is that process like?  Do you think we will eventually see a film based on your work?

Glacial!  It can move really quickly sometimes, but the whole system seems geared to slow things down.  People I’ve come to know in the film industry have so much patience, it’s hard to believe. Having said all that, I think we could see movement on a couple of projects this year and I’m certain it’s a matter of “when” rather than “if” a film will appear.

10)  What is your next project?  When can we expect the next Wignall book?

Well, if it’s the book I mentioned above, it will be called “The People You Know”, it deals with a lot of the themes you’ve mentioned, doesn’t feature a hitman, and will deal in a tangential way with the 9/11 attacks.  I’m hoping it will be published next year, as long as I don’t encounter any roadblocks.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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