A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
Gary Alexander says he's been"abusing mystery readers for over thirty years" with various short stories and two series. As a writer he knows all about writing because it's a burning desire within and the hit and miss vagaries of getting published.
His latest book isn't a mystery but uses his experiences and knowledge of Vietnam to create, Dragon Lady, his first literary novel.
Gary stopped by to chat with us a bit about a writer's life.
When did you decide or know you wanted to be an author, to get your works published?
I think it'd been in my subconscious since I was a kid. I was a voracious reader and really appreciated good writing. In my early 30s, I finished reading an anthology of published stories, very disappointed with most of them. I told my wife, Shari, that I could do better than this guano. She said, well, why you don't try? Six or seven years later I sold a story to the late Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, $25 on publication.
What other kinds of jobs have you held?
Mostly in the insurance industry. I worked in the field and could set my own hours. I carried around a tape recorder and often plumped out a story idea while stuck in gridlock.
Dragon Lady is obviously based on some personal experiences. Was it difficult to write about these?
Difficult and cathartic, more of the latter. Over the years, Dragon Lady evolved, all versions rejected or (mostly) ignored by editors and agents. Ones who responded said they weren't interested in a Vietnam War story. It isn't a war story, it's an anti-war story. I emphasized humor to highlight the absurdity of it. The parallels to Afghanistan are stunning. I could go on and on---
How did writing this novel differ from writing other books/stories where the characters and plot were so far-removed from your personal life?
When I'd drop the manuscript into the mailbox, the character went with it. The exception to that were my series characters. They became friends.
Like a lot of authors, you've suffered your fair share of rejections. Do you think a writer's life is difficult?
I was thinking about that the other day while taking a walk. Passed a garbage man unloading our Dumpster. Walked by a convenience store as the clerk cleaned up trash in the lot. Stopped by a bar for a beer; the bartender was running her butt off because the waitress didn't show up for work. On the way home, a police car and fire truck zoomed by, sirens on, headed for who knows where. I'd say there might be a few jobs more difficult.
But the rejection is tough. Do you have a low opinion of the editors and agents who rejected you in the past?
I used to. But then I'd set manuscripts aside that the "idiots" had rejected. When I'd completely forgotten what they were about, I'd read them again. Guess who the idiot was? Almost half the 150+ short stories and 12 novels I've sold have been repair jobs after I'd let the works ripen.
What was the oddest/worst rejection you ever received?
What hasn't been the worst? The uniformity of the comments makes me want to tear what remains of my hair out. "Not what we're looking for." "Not quite right for us." "Not what we need." Ad nauseam.
How do you deal with writer's block?
In the old days, I'd pace around the office, sharpen pencils, and mutter obscenities.
And in today's electronic era?
I pace around the office, sharpen pencils, and mutter obscenities.
How do you know if you're a writer?
Easy question. A writer is one who cannot not write. Would-be writers have told me that they plan to take up writing after they have time, after the kids are grown and out of the house or after they retire from their day jobs, after after after -
I believe it was Ross Macdonald who said that nothing ever got written because the writer had time to write it.
We've all read stories about 28-year-old first novelists who write bestsellers. How do you react to that?
Seriously, have you ever read a bestseller and wondered, "How did this get published and become so popular?" How do you deal with those negative feelings? Do those feelings have an impact on your own work?
Many, many times. Just makes me work harder. I try not to dwell on anything over which I have no control.
Gary, thank you for taking time from your writing schedule to visit us today. What about you?
Dragon Lady synopsis
In 1965 Saigon, Joe, a young draftee, becomes obsessed with a Vietnam girl named Mai, his own "Dragon Lady" from his beloved Terry and the Pirates cartoon strips that his mother still sends him. As he pursues a relationship with her, Saigon churns with intrigue and rumors--will the U.S. become more involved with the Vietnamese struggle? What's going on with a special unit that's bringing in all sorts of (for the time) high tech equipment? Will the U.S. make Vietnam the 51st state and bomb aggressors to oblivion?
But for Joe, the big question is--does Mai love him or will she betray more than just his heart? Excerpt
Gary Alexander's intelligent voice, filled with dry wit, and his own experiences give this story a sharp sense of truth, recounting the horror and absurdity of war. Reminiscent of books such as Catch-22, Dragon Lady serves up equal measures of outrageous humor and poignant remembrance. Gary Alexander was one of 17,000 US soldiers in Vietnam that spring. When he left in the fall, there were 75,000 troops in-country.
Gary R. Alexander enlisted in the Army in 1964 and served in Saigon. When he arrived in country, there were 17,000 GIs. When he left, 75,000. Dragon Lady is Gary's first literary novel. He is the author of several mysteries featuring stand-up comic Buster Hightower--Disappeared, Zillionaire and Interlock--published in hardcover by Five Star/Cengage. He has had short stories published in several mystery publications, including Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. He resides in Seattle.
His website can be found here: http://garyralexander.com