& A WITH BILL TAPPLY
As Judie put it, "CF, unfortunately, Bill has located the caps lock button <G>." Which means Bill's answers were all in upper case. Therefore, I employed a little creative license, and with the help of my handy-dandy Word 2000, put his answers into sentence case and made them a lovely shade of salmon. Sorry, Bill, it's the best I could do. I just couldn't find a color called "trout" :-).
Tamara: At what age did you decide it was writing that you wanted to do?
I started writing when I
was around 40, while teaching high school history full time, raising three
kids, and having a very full life. I
never thought it was what I wanted to do, really. More
like, I wondered if it was something I could do. I
wrote a non fiction story for Sports Illustrated and they bought it, and
I got hooked on writing for publication. I
wrote a lot of magazine stuff for a couple years -- mostly fishing and
hunting -- then decided it would be cool to write a novel. Didn't
have any expectation of getting it published. And
I didn't. It wasn't very good. But
I was encouraged enough by the experience of actually finishing it that
I wrote another, which became Brady Coyne's first adventure. That
was published in 1984. Muscle memory,
published this year, is the 16th. So
once I started, I just kept on doing it.
Tamara: What was the one thing that made writing stand out for you, as something that you wanted as a career?
Well, I discovered I was
pretty good at it, and I liked to do it (though I found doing it well to
be hard), and that people would pay money for my words. Besides,
I was burned out with teaching. Just
about the time I seemed to be making a living with my writing was the time
I got really fed up with public schools. So
I retired and became a full time writer. These
days I teach college writing part time. I've
always thought of myself as a teacher, and for those years when I didn't
do it I began to miss it.
CF: Do your books play as mind movies as you池e writing them?
exactly it. I visualize a scene. It's
a movie in my head, complete with setting, characters, dialogue. I
watch the movie and write down what I see and hear and smell.
CF: When you're working on a book, does the mind movie ever stop playing, and if it does, what do you do to get it rolling again?
Oh, sure. I
get stumped frequently. I always
have a general idea of where my story is going. I
don't start writing until I know whodunit, and why and how, but I don't
necessarily know specifically how
the story of detection is going to play out. I
have in mind a few key scenes and/or turning points in the story, but not
necessarily how to get to them. However,
when I知 in the middle of writing a novel, it's in my mind all the time. I知
forever writing myself notes and cramming them into my pockets . . . Ideas
about the next scene, the next twist, a new character, whatever. So
the mind movie is quite incomplete until the book is actually finished. It's
more a sketch than a fully imagined movie.
Tamara: You've written fiction and non fiction, is there a particular key to writing either one?
To me it's all story telling. Some
stories are true and some are made up, but the techniques are all the same. Most
of my non fiction is in the form of stories, or uses stories to make points
and convey information.
Mercedes: What books do you read? Who is your favorite author?
Bill: Well, these days I知 reading mysteries of all sorts because I知 on the mystery writers of America committee to pick the best mystery novel of 1999. Usually I don't read many mysteries. I知 hyper-critical of them, and I tend to analyze them rather than enjoy them. A few writers -- Ed McBain, Robert Parker, Lawrence Block, Tony Hillerman -- I do enjoy. Mostly I read non fiction -- biography, history, travel, true adventure. Also a lot about fishing, because I have to keep up. Hemingway and Mark Twain are two writers who I think have influenced me. I read everything John D. MacDonald wrote. Never even thought of him as a mystery writer -- just a writer who could really tell a story.
(Please note - when we originally
"interviewed" Bill it was last fall - thus the date 1999 - sorry we're
so hosed and took so long to get this going. *g*)
Mercedes: What authors are you currently reading?
Like I said, I知 reading
every mystery novel that was published in 1999!! Every
one by a different author.
Tamara: What do you like about them? Do you find yourself more critical of other authors or books because you are a writer?
I am definitely more critical. I
notice everything. I read like a
writer, probably like a musician would listen to music. I
have a fine-tuned ear for a misplaced word or false note. So
I keep getting yanked out of the story. The
wonderful writers are those who are so smooth that I don't notice their
writing or their tricks or techniques. I
Maggie: Is there a genre you'd like to try writing that you haven't - like horror etc.?
write what I like to write, and I don't think too much about genres anyway. If
a good horror idea came to me, I'd probably try to write it.
Judie: What changes, if any, have you observed in the genre (mystery) since you began writing?
There are way more women
authors (many good ones), a greater variety of sleuths and settings, many
more books that defy categorization that are nevertheless called mysteries
-- suspense, horror, sci fi, etc. Also
the market for writers has become much tougher. There
was a time when it seemed as if any old piece of junk would get published. Now
it's much harder. Partly, the reading
public has become more selective, I think. Also,
a lot of publishers have merged, meaning we have fewer publishing houses
competing with one another.
Ruth: I understand John D. MacDonald is a writer you admire. I have all his Travis McGee books. About every two years I feel the need for a 'McGee fix'. *g* So I drag them out and read them all again in sequence. I think McGee is one of the great fictional characters.
My question to you is how do you think the McGee series compares to his other writings and how did MacDonald influence your writing?
Bill: John D. was a wonderful old-time writer. He wrote when you could make a living writing short stories for magazines (in the 40's and 50's), when every magazine published lots of stories. Now, of course, there are very few well-paying markets for stories. John was a great story-teller. He wrote something like 80 novels, and I've read every one of them. There's not a clunker in the bunch. The Travis McGee yarns are my favorites. Trav is a great character, a lone-wolf "salvage expert" who gets these jobs trying to recover things for people. The stories are quite hard-edged, but full of humor and sharp social observations. I think today's readers might find them a bit old-fashioned, particularly Travis's macho, knight-gallant persona. He often "saves" women by making love to them, for example.
Brady is a lot like Travis in certain ways -- they both live alone, they both have adventures with women but can't seem to settle down, they both welcome the chance to have adventures and help people, they both live near the sea. Brady has a job, which Travis didn't, but Brady is usually pretty bored by his job. Travis had Meyer to give him advice and represent other points of view; Brady has Charlie McDevitt and Julie and Zerk.
One of my favorite John D. MacDonald stories concerns a McGee novel that was made into a television movie (the only one, in fact, that ever made it to the screen). In the books, Travis lived on a houseboat (the busted flush) in a marina in Florida. In the movie, he lived on a sailboat in California. The movie was nothing like the book, either in the plot or in Travis痴 character, and it was a terrible movie. An interviewer asked John: "so how do you feel about what they did to your book?" And John waved his hand at a shelf of his books and said, "there's my book. They didn't do anything to my book."
His point, of course, was
that a movie's a movie and a book's a book, and he was happy to get the
Judie: Bill, you quote Henry David Thoreau and refer to him in your writing a lot. Can you tell us what the connection with Thoreau is - how it came about and what about him is important to you?
I read Thoreau's Walden when
I was way too young to understand much of it. But
I was very taken by the idea of living independently and alone and in the
woods, close to nature. I always
loved the outdoors. Walden Pond was
close to where I lived growing up, and I used to fish there a lot, and
I kept rereading the book as I got older, always finding new things in
it about life and what's important and nature. I've
read everything Thoreau ever wrote -- not only about his years at Walden,
but about his travels into the Maine wilderness and on Cape Cod and his
voyage down the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.I
lived in his town, Concord, Massachusetts, for about 16 years, too. I
suppose what Thoreau did is a kind of modern man's dream -- to go off somewhere
by yourself and escape responsibility and all the pressures of civilized
society and just think and write and walk in the woods. Brady
has that vague dream, and I guess I do, too.
Judie: Do you prefer writing Brady fiction or your non-fiction books and articles in Field and Stream etc.?
Well, I do like writing,
and I find all of it challenging. The
novels are long-term propositions. I
live with those complicated stories for months at a time, whereas my non-fiction
-- the books and articles -- I can dip into and then leave for a while
if I have to, because the continuity isn't such a challenge. I
think each kind of writing taps into a different place in my brain, and
I can't imagine only doing one kind of writing. Having
said that, I should also say that writing isn't fun. It's very hard
work, and every day I dread it a little. But
I love having written something good. I
love the idea of working very hard and accomplishing my goal, of seeing
characters and events and ideas that existed only in my mind appearing
on paper for other people to see. I
take great pains to write clearly, and that requires a lot of revision,
whether it's fiction or non-fiction. Every
word and phrase must be exactly right, and I love getting it right.
Judie and CF: What is a usual day for Bill Tapply like and how much of it do you devote to writing, how much is taken up with lecturing at the university and so on?
Bill: Well, my typical day depends on whether I知 teaching or not. I teach in the fall and again in the spring. The terms are about 13 weeks long, so that makes half of a year. So if I have classes in the afternoon, I write in the morning, and if my classes meet in the morning, I write in the afternoon. Plus weekends, of course. Generally 4 or 5 hours of concentrated writing is the maximum my poor old brain can handle anyway. When I知 working on a novel, I work on it just about every day. I try to write a scene every sitting, which might be anywhere from 3 or 4 to 8 or 10 pages. Of course, I have lots of other writing to do -- my magazine articles and outdoors books and other odd jobs I pick up along the way.
Unless I have morning classes
to teach, my typical day goes like this: up around 7:00 and I go straight
to my desk (armed with a big mug of coffee). I
have in my head from the previous night what my writing goal for the day
is -- that scene, which I've thought through, or the article or whatever. If
I知 working on a book, I'll go back over what I wrote the previous day,
editing and revising as I go. This
helps me get back into the "flow" of the story. Then
I write a draft of the next scene. Then
my mind is pooped anyway. If I don't
have to go teach, I do less demanding things like email, telephoning, research
. . . Or I go fishing.
Tamara: Have you ever completed writing a Brady Coyne mystery, re-read it and found discrepancies, and had to re-write?
I find lots of plot discrepancies,
but I don't remember ever contradicting myself about Brady. I
know this guy really well, remember. I
know his life as well as I know my own.But,
of course, every book requires a lot of rewriting. That's
part of the job.
Mercedes: What kind of woman would be able to keep Brady Coyne interested beyond just having an affair? (Merc thinks this was her question)
Now listen. Brady
doesn't have affairs. He has relationships. They
just don't seem to last very long. He
was really interested in Alex, he's always loved Gloria, and he'll always
love Sylvie. Others have come and
gone, sure. But they seem to dump
him more often than he dumps them. He
just has bad luck, poor guy.
CF: Why do you fade to black so often on the sex scenes? Don't you know we want the details (little voyeurs that we are)? YEP, NOW YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO SEE THE PATTERN OF THE DEEP, THOUGHT-PROVOKING QUESTIONS I ASK. This was actually ME, and not Judie. :-).
Bill: Now Judie. Behave. Truth is, I often put a lot more, um, detail into the first drafts of these scenes than I end up with. I like to write that stuff as much as you might like to read it. But, to be serious, remember that this is a first-person narrative. It's Brady talking to you. He's not the kind of guy who'd tell you all the details of a sexual encounter. I don't think readers would like him if he did. So I end up being discreet and suggestive rather than explicit. We don't want Brady to sound like he's bragging, do we?
Judie: I TOLD you it wasn't me, Bill. :-)
Judie: Brady likes Dinty Moore stew? Do you?
Where'd you get that silly
idea? (of course I do . . .)
Judie: Do YOU smoke Winstons?
I did 20 years ago. Now I smoke Old
Golds. I've switched. Brady
Mercedes: Is it too hosed to wonder if Brady will ever get hitched?
That is very hosed indeed. I seriously
doubt it. I like writing about his
encounters, falling into and out of relationships. If
he's married, he'll have to be a good boy. What
fun would that be?
Judie: Do you think Brady and Julie will ever become lovers?
unless Julie's marriage breaks up. Brady
and Julie settled that matter back in the first book. There
was obvious chemistry between them. But
she was his secretary. She told him
they had a choice -- she could be his lover or his secretary, but not both. They
decided on secretary. Smart decision,
don't you think? Now Julie is happily
married to Edward and has a lovely daughter named Megan, who calls Brady
Judie: Bill, I Loved the description of Brady's apartment in SEVENTH ENEMY:
This sounds SO like my office! :-) Is this what your place is like in real life? :-)
Bill: Oh, no, that's not me at all. I知 not what you'd call a neat freak, but I like things to be in their place where I can find them. I guess I sort of admire people who can be more relaxed about it. This is one example of how Brady is not me, but rather my alter ego. This sloppiness is Brady's compensation for being married to Gloria and his way of being "free" in his single life. When I lived alone the way Brady does, my life was quite different (and less interesting) than his.
Judie: Bill, it's been great having this chance to talk with you and ask you questions. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do that for us. We're so glad to hear that you are a hoser *g*, and, we wish you all the best with future books and sales! In closing, I'm just wondering if there is anything you'd like to say to your fans out there."
I've enjoyed chatting with you, Judie. I hope you and the other ladies will keep an eye out for Brady's next adventure, which should come out in the Fall of 2000. At this point I'm in the middle of revising it, and I'm still fooling around with its title, so I don't know what I'll end up calling it.
We'd all like to thank Bill for taking time out of his busy teaching and writing schedule to hang with us and answer these questions. It's so exciting to find people whom you admire a LOT, right here on the internet, and to be able to actually COMMUNICATE with them! After reading Brady's adventures at least three times over, it was very special to me to be able to exchange e-mail with Bill and to get to know him - but more importantly, to discover that he, too, is truly hosed!
Unfortunately, most of Bill's earlier novels are no longer in print, although if you look in used book stores they can be found. His most recent books ARE available at Amazon Books and Barnes and Noble, though. And, he would be very appreciative if anyone reads his books if you make an online comment at Amazon or Barnes and Noble online. All PR helps. And one can only HOPE for reprints one day. When the world WAKES UP to this talented author. :-)
Bill's newer books are harder to find in the smaller book chains, but if you ask, they can be ordered in. Actually, you would also be doing Bill a favour by ordering his books from the smaller book stores because it then gets his name out there and in the future hopefully the bookstore owners will pay more attention and start ordering in his upcoming books instead of waiting till people ask for them. I know that I would be very happy to see such a wonderfully talented author get the recognition he deserves!