A FREE DIGITAL COPY of, Gary Stark’s, In The Shadow of Lust, is available to anyone signing up to my blog and messaging me the name of the catalyst who inspired Gary’s writing career.
NOTE – THERE IS A PARENTAL ADVISORY ON THE BOOK and the author suggests 18+ only.
Welcome to the latest in my series of author interviews from talented writers around the world. Today I am pleased to introduce the extraordinary talent that is, Gary Stark, author of the thriller, In The Shadow of Lust. Gary is published by BookLocker.com. I’ve really enjoyed this interview and Gary’s unique take on responding to my questions. Please be aware he has asked me to place a parental advisory on some of his answers.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thanks, Mark. Okay, straight up, I can’t play guitar. Or sing. And I’m profoundly in love with an entity that doesn’t exist. Forever and ever, you know it? She’s here with me now. Lucille. We both like pizza and winter mornings and oral but you can talk to her later. This is about me, not my muse, right?
So, I lie about my sex life at the pub and I’m a hopeless gambler. I love the taste of bourbon but because I’m an alcoholic I can only sniff other people’s drinks when they’re not looking. I could take this opportunity to tell kids that drugs are bad but I’m not a hypocrite and this ain’t a pulpit. What else? I like gardening and think most politicians are dickheads. And I adore faded purple. I was a failure at school, but so what. School teaches you how to earn enough money to do the things they don’t teach you in school.
Like how to play guitar. Which I can’t do. Not yet, anyway.
2. What do you do when you are not writing?
I read. And think about writing. And construct abstract sentences in my head – I assume they’re what some people call thoughts – and then scrabble around cursing for a pen and paper to make notes. I suppose all writers do this – wake up and before their dreams even fragment they begin working on yesterday’s chapter. With that shit of a thing sitting fat and contented between your ears, saying, “Really? You gonna end with a preposition?” and suggesting edits to your grocery list even though you’ve only written ‘milk’.
Other times I eat and occasionally I bathe, nothing unusual. Same as you but somewhere else.
3. Do you have a day job as well?
Hell yeah. I earn nothing from writing, it’s a hobby. Like some people watch television, you know? Only writing is a cerebral skill and you gotta concentrate.
I used to work in hospitality but that industry has a use-by date. Working nights, weekends, holidays, eventually you gotta leave the night-owls and boozehounds and try going to work at dawn rather than watching the sunrise thinking about maybe one more beer.
So these days I’m learning construction, like how to renovate a house. Lotsa work painting houses too, cos nobody enjoys boring shit. Moving heavy things around on building sites, stuff like that, jobs so I can write in my head without concentrating on what the rest of me is doing. Anything that’s different from yesterday, I suppose. I don’t understand how people get one shot at life and decide to do the same job every single day for years. Madness.
4. I understand this is your first book? And you recently celebrated turning 50, so tell me, what was the catalyst for writing at this stage of life?
Stephen bloody King. You may have heard the name? Christmas day, I was given his manual – ‘On Writing’ – cos I was never without a book in my hand. But I’d never even considered writing one. I took his advice, read Strunk and White’s ‘Elements of Style’ and on New Year’s Day, sat down to describe my literary masterpiece. And wrote a bunch of unreadable shit. You know how other people make something look easy? And then you try it? Like that. I found out right there and then that it was actually painful to read my own prose. Anyway, I kept going, wrote a dozen short stories, dragged my illiteracy outta the mud and washed it off. One of those stories wouldn’t go away, and that’s when I met Lucy. She was the voice behind the words, my muse. And that’s when we wrote the prologue. Incarcerated in this ancient cathedral, surrounded by the occupants of Perdition, being judged by Death. Always a nice way to start the day, you know? So, not knowing why we were dead, or what we’d done wrong, Lucy took me back to the beginning. And for the next six months, she recounted our life together. Hard to imagine that I’d forgotten such debauched abasement, but there you go. Selective memory, I suppose, or too many drugs.
5. How did you choose the genre you write in and where do you get your ideas?
That was easy cos I wasn’t aware there was a choice. Your first sentence will probably tell you your genre. I wrote ‘Spread-eagled in chains against the wall of this monolithic cathedral, my spine tight against a marble statue of the Holy Father, I observe my unbreakable shadow.’ Then sat back for weeks wondering what the hell that meant. No shit, the thousand word prologue took a month to write. I didn’t know what I was talking about.
‘My shadow has a name and her name is Lucille’.
‘She is my Poet, Priestess, Lover and Muse.’
Excuse me? My shadow is female? Okay. Tell me more. And she did and has never left. Lucy is Ancient, and just then, or whenever I talk about her, I get cold shivers prickle my skin. Maybe you’ve met her too. They say she walks on graves, but I’ve never seen her do that. Anyway, if your shadow narrates the story it’s fair to say that’s where the idea came from. All those voices in your head, telling you their version of the truth, wanting to be the narrator of the next idea.
That, and has anyone with an imagination not wondered if a bunch of flowers is drowning when we put the stems in a vase of water?
6. Do you ever experience writer’s block?
That’s never happened. Probably the complete opposite – Writer’s Diarrhoea. And the only natural cure for pathological verbosity is the wholesale slaughter of innocent words. I culled about ten thousand by the third edit and it made me wonder why I bothered initiating such an extensive breeding program if I’m gunna choose my favourites and only keep the ones I like.
I shouldn’t get emotional and it’s not personal. But you look at some sentences and just know they don’t belong. So you kill them and put them back in storage for later.
But no, I cannot admit to writer’s block. Sometimes I don’t know the next sentence, but usually if I throw a few words at the page they already know what to do, where they wanna go. We like to pretend the arrangement of language is ours to command but that’s just so much bullshit – this sentence was simply waiting patiently for me to write it. And it’ll still be here when I’m gone.
7. Do you work with an outline, or just write?
Just write. I don’t know enough about writing to plan ahead. It might sound weird, but I had absolutely no idea, at any stage, where the story was going. That should’ve been a bit disconcerting, but it was the complete opposite – it was almost as good as getting high.
Each chapter, I found myself writing the opening paragraph, then walking away and thinking about it, wondering at the intent. Usually, those few opening sentences were all I needed to know what came next. I’ve seen musicians do it in jam sessions – someone introduces a riff, maybe a backbeat, whatever. It builds on itself, one instrument at a time, everyone intuiting when to add another layer. Remember this is the first attempt at writing, so everything was unfamiliar and interesting. Like I watched myself build a house made of words.
8. Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Too many to name, but I admit to having favourites, those authors who write with ridiculous clarity – Barker, King, Dostoevsky, Straub, Leonard, Nietzsche, Wells, Lovecraft. They’ve all got something different that fascinates me. Style, structure, syntax, the rhythm of honest dialogue. There’s an individual precision in their prose, something unique that makes their writing identifiable without actually knowing the author’s name. Every writer is restricted by the same dictionary, the same finite choice of words, but by their subtle arrangement on the page, some writers step inside the shell of your mind and draw pictures on the walls. That’s the story I want to read again and again, the one that leaves graffiti or scars on your imagination. Like the author has gifted you something personal, something priceless only the two of you share.
9. Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Sure. As per usual, I was utterly clueless. The book was done, now comes the easy part, parading my efforts before a gobsmacked publisher. Strut and preen, bask in the glory, listen to the thunderous applause and watch the street parades in my honour. Toss bouquets from balconies, right?
Wrong. On every account. Shit, I almost felt sorry for myself. Such an idiot.
Seriously, imagine finding yourself not only on another planet, but in another dimension. Where they speak a different language. Then assume the species inhabiting this alien environment wants your soul, cos that’s all you brought with you (you might have your book, but these creatures read it BEFORE you even wrote it, such is their elegant sophistry). You agree to sell your soul but what’s lost in translation is they actually want your virginity. And you’re a man who has forfeit his chastity years ago. It’s fascinating, but also quite disturbing when you recognise how much you don’t know about somebody else’s job. I still don’t know how it works.
10. If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
Easy. I would start off rich, and only then would I write a book. And afterwards, employ people who knew what they were doing to compensate my ignorance. Kind of like the world works anyway, but without me having any wealth. And after writing the first and second draft, I would engage someone to do the third, so I never had to read the bloody thing ever again. That’s yet another thing I didn’t see coming – you come to hate your own words with a passion. Not just simply dislike them, but would rather chew broken glass than Read Them One More Time. And you can’t see your mistakes. Says much about how we lie to ourselves, huh? Ten times I read the same sentence and refuse to see any errors.
So, to avoid the struggling artist syndrome, sell your soul, get rich, write a book, pay someone to do everything else. You’re not doing it for money, so you also keep your integrity. If you have any. I think it’s probably unnecessary to a writer. Kind of limiting.
11. Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences or purely all imagination?
Hmm, maybe I should get a lawyer before answering that one.
Seriously, I’d have to confess to a combination of both. I wanted to address the line between reality and delusion. There’s domestic violence, which I’ve never suffered but happens every bloody day. Drug abuse, with which I’m intimate. Social segregation, the outcasts on the fringe and those dispossessed. Homelessness and poverty. Shit that happens everywhere, constantly, but we, in the general context, feel either unable to change it or worse, are inclined to indifference.
This is no secret – I’ve slept on the street and been a junkie. I’m prone to excess. In everything.
I spent three months in rehab, been clean now for a decade. So, having been an outsider, the story is told from an insider’s perspective.
Everybody knows or has seen someone living rough or with a problem, be it booze or drugs or mental issues. Do you ever put yourself in their shoes? Imagine what it’s like to be so fucked up you don’t know what year it is? Or what town you’re in? Or when you last ate?
And that’s not patronising or preaching. It’s our disconnect that I find interesting – you read the newspaper and it’s all bad news. Then you throw the paper in the bin and go back to work. Even for those with empathy, it’s background noise. For a junkie, EVERYTHING is background noise.
Okay, now I’m sounding preachy. Suffice to say, there’s truth behind the story and I’ve never tried to have sex with my shadow so I probably don’t need a lawyer. Yet.
12. What project are you working on now?
Book Two of the Trilogy. I thought I was writing a stand-alone novel and I was wrong. Confirmation, if needed, of my own lack of awareness. The story has an epilogue, for crying out loud, and I pretended that was it, done. No conclusion, no wrapping the loose ends and walking away. Instead, I left the door wide open. The difference is this one I’m taking my time. The first book was approached as a challenge in both creativity and skill – could I invent a coherent story, and more importantly, was it even worth telling? Outside the walls of psychology, does anyone want to contemplate having sex with their shadow? Should you tell someone, ANYONE, if one day in the sunshine you heard your shadow speak, and found it arousing? I’ll leave that to the individual’s kink. It’s none of my business. But one book wasn’t enough.
It’s human nature to feel slighted, whether manifest or imagined, so I thought about revenge, and keep writing. And wonder why people are strangely obsessed with pointless shit.
13. Will you have the new book coming out soon?
With luck and grace, the second book will be out next year. The third, probably the year after that. Bit presumptuous of me to predict the future, and those deadlines could NOT get any looser, but as the weeks and months go by I feel a certain panic settling in – I’m the type of person whose mind finds distraction in everything. Give me a task and I’ll either do it immediately or never. No middle ground, another endearing characteristic of bipolarity. And there’s that charming parasite we call Doubt, asking me why I think anyone would read the crap I write. I comfort myself with the idea that if I was confident in my ability, I probably shouldn’t be. The parade of lies I afford my delicate ego is endless.
14. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
I mentioned earlier that Lucy was here? Okay, I’m gunna let her take this one.
“Salve hominibus. Fiat mihi incipere . . .”
Lucy? In English, sweetheart. Nobody speaks Latin anymore, remember?
“Really, babe? Huh. Okay.
You wanna know about critics, right? Fuck that, and fuck them.
Writers don’t need critics. You think they live in ivory towers? Bullshit. They live in basements and make shit up. None of the stuff they talk about ever happened, you know it? In any other universe they’d be locked up and medicated. You don’t let kids drive cars or drink beer but you let writers do it? They spend hours alone playing with their imagination and pretend it’s hard. We tell kids to grow up, spoil the whole Santa Claus routine but ignore it when these lunatics grow into adult bodies and keep believing that if they’re good, they’ll be rewarded. You can’t criticise children and expect them to pay attention. They sulk. And go to their ‘writing room’. With their ‘friends’. Shit. It’s insane. But some people give them money. And smile at them. Tell them to keep going. You don’t encourage that sort of behaviour. Well, you don’t, but I do. See, if I don’t keep my man writing, I don’t exist. I’m his muse, amongst other things. You really think we need some smug self-satisfied prick telling us what they think? We. Don’t. Care. And another thing . . .”
Umm. Thanks, babe. I think that’ll do.
It’s enough to say we appreciate criticism. It makes us a better person.
Let’s move on, hey?
15. Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
No. I’ve written one book. I still know less than nothing about literature.
But I do have one suggestion – practice the Vacant Stare. Introduce it to social settings or family gatherings. Look thoughtful when you’re bored by inane conversation.
Focus on the horizon and empty your mind, pretend to be writing in your head (you probably are) and encourage people to leave you alone. That way, rather than think you rude, people assume you to be in the throes of creativity. They might even provide food and drink so as not to interrupt the Artistic Process.
Doesn’t always work, but it might save you a shout at the bar.
16. Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers?
Don’t believe anything an author says – they have no grip on reality.
Please join me in thanking Gary for his open and imaginative responses regarding the publishing industry and for sharing his journey as a writer. If you would like to ask any further questions, please either use the facilities available below or contact Gary direct via the following links.
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