Author Interview: G.W. Conklin
Found: your next beach read! Thrilled today to get to chat with fellow NJ author G.W. Conklin.
Like myself, Conklin's novel is set in Cape May, NJ. It's always wonderful to connect with someone who shares the same love of the shore that I do.
I devoured this book in two sittings, and you can read my full review of it here.
Here's the book blurb:
Cape May is often called America’s oldest resort. It’s a place where people have come for generations to enjoy sun-filled days on the beach and peaceful strolls along the village’s quaint streets lined with ornate Victorian homes. For Porter Benjamin, the town’s new police chief, it is also the place he has called home his whole life.
This summer, however, the idyllic peace of this seaside town at the southern tip of New Jersey will be shattered when what at first appears to be a tragic drowning spirals into murder, intrigue and betrayal. Porter and his young detective, Mark Burnside, find themselves caught in a race against time as they try to piece together the puzzle and solve the mystery that threatens the very tranquility that those who love Cape May hold so dear.
LQ: What inspired you to write Last Exit for Betrayal?
GWC: I have always enjoyed reading mysteries. I’m always fascinated by how a good author can present the evidence and clues to the reader in such a way that the ending makes perfect sense without being obvious. I also prefer stories that are set in real locations as opposed to fictitious ones. In the past, most of what I have written has been nonfiction, but I’ve always wanted to try my hand at weaving together a mystery that would be both believable and entertaining. Of course, I love Cape May. So, what better place to set it? Hopefully, I accomplished my goal.
LQ: Was there any special knowledge or research required to write this book?
GWC: For the most part, my book did not require a tremendous amount of specialized knowledge, aside from knowing my way around Cape May of course. I think that is one of the strengths of the book. The reader is not required to invest a lot of energy in following complicated clues and concepts. Those subjects that did require some research, deep sea diving for example, were readily addressed by talking to people who know more about it than I do as well as the ever-popular Google search. As I mentioned, I have written nonfiction, particularly regarding history. So, researching the historical aspects of the book came naturally to me.
LQ: What part of the book was the most fun to write?
GWC: For me, there were two particularly fun aspects to writing Last Exit for Betrayal. The first, of course, was writing about Cape May. My family and I have come to love Cape May as our second home. It was great fun to write about the places I love so much and, hopefully, introduce these places to people who have yet to experience them firsthand. The second aspect I enjoyed was watching the characters, and their relationships to one another, develop and change over the course of the story. Sometimes, this evolution was surprising even to me. For example, I never envisioned the special friendship that would come to exist between Porter Benjamin and Mark Burnside when I first started writing.
LQ: Can you tell us a little bit about the sequel?
GWC: The sequel is still a work in progress and hopefully will be released in the spring of 2023. It will continue the story of Chief Porter Benjamin, Detective Mark Burnside and many of the other characters that were introduced in the first book as well as a few new ones. It will, of course, be a murder mystery set in Cape May. How will it end? I wish I knew myself.
LQ: Would you and your main character get along?
GWC: I think I would get along quite well with Porter, the main character in my book. Not coincidentally, he is like me in many ways, only a much younger version. He’s generally quiet and low key, letting his wife Kim take the lead in most social situations. His favorite thing is spending time with her and their two children. He is not someone who seeks to draw attention to himself and values the input of others, most notably his head detective Mark Burnside. Maybe most importantly, he loves Cape May almost as much as I do.
LQ: What is your writing process like? Are you more of a plotter or a pantser?
GWC: My writing process is fairly disciplined. I am not someone who can just sit down and write on the spur of the moment. I usually write in the morning, setting aside a block of time during which I try to write about 1500 words, though that can vary depending on the nature of what I am writing about at that time. Dialog comes to me much more easily than detailed descriptions of scenes or events. When the creative juices are flowing, I can generally write a chapter in a sitting. I guess I am much more of a pantser than a plotter. I only outline a few chapters in advance, more to keep the story from going off the rails than anything else, and even that short term outline often changes as the story progresses. I really don’t know how the book will end until I get there. I tend to let the characters determine the course of events rather than dictating it to them myself.
LQ: Do you play music while you write — and, if so, what’s your favorite?
GWC: I do listen to music while I write, most of it is from movie soundtracks that I enjoy. It has to be instrumental music. Anything with lyrics distracts me and throws off my thought process altogether. I put together a personal soundtrack on my phone and listen through my earbuds while I’m writing. It helps shut out the distractions of the outside world regardless of where I am and transports me mentally into the book. Some samples from my writing soundtrack are music from A Beautiful Mind, Last of the Mohicans, The Cider House Rules, and Dances with Wolves.
LQ: How do you come up with character names for your stories?
GWC: Naming characters is one of the more difficult aspects of writing for me. I sometimes tend to overthink it, but I do feel that the name should fit the character. For example, Ben Howard, one of the more important characters in my book, sounds like a grizzled fishing boat captain to me just like Andrew Willington sounds like a privileged businessman. I don’t think the names would work well the other way around. For my main character, Porter Benjamin, I wanted a name that would be both unusual and appropriate for someone I see as having an “old soul.” I’ve tried different techniques for coming up with character names, including using online name generators, but more than anything else, I try a few on for size in my head until one seems to fit.
LQ: Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
GWC: In terms of writing fiction, there are several authors whose work inspired me to try my hand at a mystery. In my younger days, I loved reading the works of Edgar Allen Poe, especially those featuring the detective C. Auguste Dupin. If you love a good mystery, you can’t go wrong with The Murders in the Rue Morgue. I have read many of Poe’s stories several times over and find something different each time. I feel that most modern mystery writers owe more to Poe than they realize. More recently, two of my favorite mystery authors have been Robert Parker and Linda Castillo. I think that both have had a tremendous effect on my writing style.
LQ: Name an underappreciated novel that you love.
GWC: One of my favorite more recent mystery reads that I feel is underappreciated is The Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye. It’s a murder mystery set in New York City in the mid- 1800’s just at the time that the New York City Police Department is being created. It features a compelling murder mystery set against a backdrop of historic events and takes place in New York’s notorious Sixth Ward. For a mystery and history fan like myself, what’s not to love?
I'd like to thank G.W. again for participating in the Author Interview series. I can't wait to read the sequel!