I admire people who can successfully juggle important and demanding roles. So, I must admit being in some awe of John R. Lindermuth when I started interviewing him. In my mind, John qualified among the very first emancipated men: He took on the role of both father and mother to two children, raising them on his own, while managing a full-time career.
His children have grown well and, now, have their own families. Of his parenting experience, he says:
When they were young, their needs often took me away from my writing. I do think being a single parent does make one more aware of those needs and demands a higher degree of resilience. Looking back, I believe that gives a person a broader outlook on life and creativity in dealing with problems.
That broader outlook and that creativity are reflected in John’s other persona in a world surrounded with words—as a former newspaper editor and a writer with 11 novels to his name. Now, a librarian for a county historical society, helping people with genealogy and research, he still writes a weekly historical column for the local newspaper. And, oh yes, he also draws and paints—yet another form of communication.
We could all take something from the wisdom John has drawn from a lifetime of living with and loving “words in all their variety—even one I may not understand.”
Tell me briefly about the books you have written. Of these, which is the one (or two you yourself would read more than once and why?
I’ve published 11 books to date, a mix of mysteries and historicals. Five of those novels are part of an ongoing series which originally focused on a single investigator (Sticks Hetrick) but now feature a recurring group of characters. The series has proven popular with a small and vocal group of fans who are helping to increase readership. Any writer is bound to improve with practice and I’m pleased with the response Sticks and his crew get from readers.
On the other hand, the book of which I’m most proud would be Watch The Hour, a novel set in the 1870s in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region where I was born and raised. It deals with a variety of issues which are as relevant today as they were in the 19th century, except the players are different. It involves the clash of cultures, economic interests and individual wills. Throw in a bit of romance, some mystery and colorful characters and I believe you have an interesting stew.
Watch The Hour was published in 2009. It’s consistently had good reviews and continues to sell, though sales haven’t been as strong as I might have liked. Still it was one of those books a writer has to write because the characters/plot grab you and won’t let go. Some of it was based on stories I’d heard from family growing up. Many of my paternal grandmother’s family had been miners and one of my ancestors was a coal & iron policeman. WTH is not the only one of my books to reflect influences from the coal region.
Do you think there has been a change in the tastes/interests of readers? How has it affected the subject matter, style and/or form of your novels?
I think the generations raised with television are less patient with long passages of description than readers of the past. That said, I still think a certain amount of description is necessary to draw a reader into a story, its characters and setting. Look at the difference between, say, James Lee Burke (art) and James Patterson or Stuart Woods (ad copy). Except for some specific cases, there also seems to be a liking for shorter novels. Personally, I think a novel should be just as long as it takes to tell the story. As to subject matter, there are fads that come and go. Do you write a vampire story because they’re hot today or because that’s what you want to write? My choice is to write the story I want to write.
Do you inhabit your characters’ psyches when you write about them?
I’m not one of my characters, and I wouldn’t want to be—their lives are generally too stressful. That said, I think all our characters contain bits of us as well as parts of people we know or have come in contact with. We may create them, but they also seem to have idiosyncrasies separate from that. I believe as John Fowles did, our characters allow us entry into another world where we live a dual life. As he so aptly put it, “They are mine and yet I am theirs.”
You straddle two nearly distinct periods in book publishing: 1) when most books were traditionally published and 2) the period now being called the indie revolution. How have these affected your writing, publishing, and promotion of your books?
The main difference is that writers now have more options than ever before. Save for my first two books, all of mine have been traditionally published (though with small publishers). When rights to one of my books returned to me, I took advantage of the opportunity to self-publish it in Kindle format through Amazon. I may do the same with some other projects.
The indie revolution is providing an opportunity for many writers who would never have been published in the past, which is wonderful. If there’s a downside, it’s that some who fancy themselves writers are in too big a rush to publish and fail to adequately learn their craft and ignore the importance of editing. The tawdry result is a blemish on the process. But, ultimately, I hope readers will sort the wheat from the chaff.
None of my publishers to date has been large enough to assume the burden of promotion. Today even the largest publishers seem to have passed the buck to the writer. How you choose to promote may depend on whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert. My years in the newspaper business made me what I choose to call a reluctant extrovert. I enjoy signings and dealing with people on a one-to-one basis and can manage with speaking engagements if the crowd is not overwhelming. Virtual activities are less stressful. You do what you have to/can do.
What would you counsel beginning authors?
I’ve said this elsewhere, but I think it’s worth repeating. When I was very young and my aspiration was to be an artist I asked Thomas Hart Benton for advice on how to succeed as a painter. His reply was one word: “Paint.” The same advice applies to writing. As another writer we all know put it, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” (Stephen King in On Writing)