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Monday, October 12, 2009

Interview with Tim Maleeny

Publishers Weekly says, “Tim Maleeny smoothly mixes wry humor and a serious plot without sacrificing either." His award-winning Cape Weathers novels are known for their unconventional characters, irreverent humor and mysterious titles, including Stealing The Dragon, Beating The Babushka, and Greasing The Piñata. His latest novel is a comedic thriller called Jump. Crimespree Magazine declares, “Maleeny gives readers a fresh and fast take that enthralls.” He lives and writes in San Francisco and can be found online at

Welcome to Novel Journey, how long did it take you to get published?

When I count the months it took to refine my first manuscript, find an agent, and then finally sell the book, it probably took close to two years. And that doesn't count the year from the time it sold to when it was finally published and in bookstores.

Do you think an author is born or made?

I think writers grow up as readers — passionate readers who get lost in books in a way that casual readers don't. At some point a subset of those readers decide they have a story inside them, and then it becomes a question of stamina and commitment. And long hours in front of a keyboard for many, many years. So I guess I'd have to say a writer is made at that moment when a reader decides there's a great story waiting to be read, only this time they have to write the story first. That's what writing is...telling yourself a story.

What is the first book you remember reading?

Other than Dr. Seuss, my earliest memories of books that I had read myself would include A Wrinkle In Time, the Narnia series, and anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?

Writers are constantly learning and seem interested in everything, no matter how trivial or obscure. They are sponges, soaking up information that will one day be regurgitated in some other form, little bits of detail or trivia that define a place, a character or a plot.

How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?

The ideas that can drive a story immediately lead to questions. What happens next? Why did she do that? Who killed him? What would you do under similar circumstances? If a premise doesn't lead to an endless series of questions, it won't sustain a novel-length story.

What is the theme of your latest book?

My latest novel is called JUMP, and although reviewers have praised it as a fast-paced mystery, I actually think of it as a romance. Sort of a how-to guide for finding true love in the midst of a multiple homicide.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

I think when you're writing the first draft you have to trust your instincts and not let any noise from readers, friends or critics distract you. You're the best navigator for your own story. But once the words are on the page, then you have to be willing to let other voices in, friends or readers that you trust. Listen for patterns, look for gaps, then get down to the most important task for any successful writer, which is editing.

Are takeaway messages important to you?

I want the characters to stay with you after you've closed the book, and I think the changes in those characters sometimes carry a message or reason to reflect. But generally I'm writing books that are meant to be unapologetically entertaining, so I'm not looking to pound people over the head, and I believe every reader will take away something different.

When do you know you’ve got the finished product and it’s your best effort?

You really have to learn to detach yourself from your writing, once the story is on the page, and read it as a reader would. If that means setting it aside for a few days to get a fresh perspective, then start writing something else. Then take a look with a new set of eyes and see if it works for you, because if you're not feeling it, the readers won't, either.

Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?

I've had the unnerving experience of making things up for a story, only to find out when I did more research that what I had invented was actually true. My first novel had several scenes in underground tunnels in San Francisco's Chinatown. It was only when I was adding details about the neighborhood that I stumbled upon a book that revealed the tunnels actually existed. That's happened with other books, as well, so maybe as I write my subconscious is grasping at details half-remembered. It's a little spooky.

How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?

The best description of JUMP came from The Boston Globe:
"If you threw in the air the pages of Agatha Christie’s 'Murder on the Orient Express' and Elmore Leonard’s 'Get Shorty,' and then invited Monty Python to stitch them back together, you might end up with something like 'Jump,' Tim Maleeny’s hilarious novel."

I couldn't have said it better myself...

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