Wally Wood is the author of Death in a Family Business; here is a link to his blog:
Q: When did you realize you were a writer?
A: When I was in the 8th grade, my class was assigned to write a story. I wrote what I thought was a humorous sketch about my city-bound family driving into the country to cut our own Christmas tree. The teacher thought it worthy of reading aloud to the class, which laughed when they were supposed to. I read it to friends’ parents and they also laughed. I realized my words could entertain adults which gave me an enormous sense of power and satisfaction—neither of which I’d had a lot of until the 8th grade.
Q: What is your educational background?
A: I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the School of General Studies, Columbia University, where my major was philosophy and my language was Japanese. I have Master of Arts in creative writing degree from City University of New York.
Q: How did you come to teach writing in a prison?
A: The state had opened a maximum security men’s prison in Newtown six months before my wife and I moved to town. Two inmates escaped and rival gangs rioted—confirming resident fears of the prison’s existence. Prison officials held an informational meeting in a local church during which the prison’s head of Volunteer Services said the staff would welcome any volunteer help from the community. My favorite uncle had taught safely and successfully as a volunteer in a Michigan state prison for years, so I raised my hand. I eventually taught writing in two different state prisons for more than 20 years.
Q: What is Death in a Family Business about?
A: Tommy Lovell, 29, at loose ends after the collapse of his restaurant and his marriage, goes to the Berkshires with Tom, his father, to help Otto Jonker, a family friend. Otto—like Tom—is an appliance/TV retailer, but his business is failing and has called for help. Before Tommy and his father can begin to help turn Otto’s business around, a motorcycle accident puts Otto in a coma and he dies. It seems to be an accident, but was it? When Tommy’s suspicions are raised he begins investigating, putting himself and his father in danger.
Death in a Family Business is about a couple of things: Relations between fathers and sons; business management (almost everyone has bought an appliance or a TV set; this story suggests what’s going on behind the scene); and the effects of a death on a family and a business.
Q: What makes Tommy Lovell a compelling character?
A: Tommy, who is a decent guy if somewhat shell shocked by his business failure and impending divorce when the book opens, becomes a much more active and resourceful character over the course of the story. He has something of an attitude, but he remains likeable. He’s curious and willing to take risks to satisfy his curiosity.
Q: What makes Massachusetts a good place for a murder mystery?
A: The small Berkshires city in which I set the story, Pittsfield, was in fact at the time (1986) in dire economic straits. The city’s major employer was laying off hundreds of workers and in the process of shutting down its factories. The direct and indirect effects of this had to affect virtually everyone in town. Fortunately, the city is in much better shape today.
Q: How would you describe your style of writing?
A: I don’t consciously work on a style, and what style I have, I think, differs from book to book. I believe that if a reader is conscious of a writer’s style, whether positively or negatively, the writer has failed. I want my readers to focus on the story, not on the writing, and if they are conscious of my style, I’ve failed. So I guess my style is clear, engaging, unobtrusive, and varies.
Q: You went to Columbia University. Is the Ivy League really better or is it overrated?
A: The school I went to at Columbia was one of three undergraduate colleges in the university. General Studies is co-educational and designed for adult learners; the vast majority of the students lived off campus and worked full time. As a result, it was not an “Ivy League” school with all that implies, and I have no idea whether Columbia, Princeton, Harvard colleges are better or worse than, say, Pomona, Oberlin, Middlebury, or any other fine liberal arts college.
Q: What was the most challenging ghost writing job you ever had?
A: The most challenging ghost writing job was turning a research-heavy, passive-voiced, marketing doctoral thesis into a breezy and chatty—or at least readable and comprehensible—book. It was like trying to run through a swamp.
Q: What is the oddest thing you have done to promote yourself?
A: I participated in a library-sponsored farmer’s market. Another author and I sat under a tent in the 95-degree afternoon, our site shoehorned in between fresh corn and homemade jams. Unfortunately, most visitors were more interested in feeding their families dinner than feeding their souls with creative writing. Nonetheless, I made a friend of my co-exhibitor and had interesting chats with the shoppers who did stop.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)