Monday, August 6, 2012

Interview with Scott Bartlett: Author of "Royal Flush"

Scott Bartlett recently released his prize-winning novel "Royal Flush" and he and I spoke recently about this book and his writing process in general.

MH) Was there something specific that inspired the writing of Royal Flush?

SB) Royal Flush began as two-and-half short stories that I wrote in high school and my first year of university. I'd originally intended to write four--"The King of Hearts", "The King of Diamonds", "The King of Spades", and you can probably guess what the last one is called. These became the novel's four parts.

The short stories were born from a single idea, which ended up being the climax of the first one. As I walked from the school bus to my house, a scene occurred to me in which a man lies on the ground with his chest bared, demanding that a nearby woman remove his heart with a scalpel. The woman spurned him recently, you see. I envisioned writing the scene as comedic melodrama, and that's what I did. The man in that scene turned out to be the King--the main character in Royal Flush.

MH) Can you describe what your usual writing routine is like?

SB) I wish I had one. A lot of my motivation to write in the past has come from deadlines--whether self-imposed or imposed by writing competitions. For instance, I wrote the first draft of Royal Flush during the 18 days leading up to the deadline of a local contest, called the Fresh Fish Award. I didn't win that one, though the book went on to win another award (after some judicious editing).

If I have writing to get done, I find it's best to let that be the first thing I work on in the morning. I feel less inspired/motivated as the day wears on, and in the afternoon I try to work on writing-related thing, such as promoting the book, reading, going through my RSS to get ideas for my blog, etc.

MH) What comes most easily to you in writing?

SB) Definitely dialogue. When I was in grade school I used to make these stick figure comics featuring my friends and I with superpowers. The art was terrible, of course, but I inadvertently ended up writing pages and pages of dialogue. And judging by reader feedback, that seems to be the best feature in Royal Flush--the snappy back-and-forth between people who are largely incompetent and/or immoral.

MH) What do you find most difficult in writing?

SB) I find it difficult to bring myself to write any description at all. My philosophy is that readers already know what pretty much everything looks like, so why bother? I personally think it slows down the story. So sometimes I give a barebones depiction of places where multiple scenes will occur, and otherwise I let the reader fill in the blanks. I outsource, basically.

MH) Which of your writing accomplishments so far is the most pleasing to you?

SB) I'd have to say it's the fact that the feedback I've received for Royal Flush since publishing it has been almost unanimously positive. Hearing that people are laughing out loud at something I've written--especially hearing it from strangers--it's not a feeling that's rivaled by much else.

MH) Are there authors that you feel have been particularly influential on your development as a writer?

SB) I have to mention Douglas Adams first--especially where this book is concerned. He taught me the rules of fiction are made to be broken, and in Royal Flush I break them repeatedly and with relish.

Other than Adams, I've acquired a taste for big, epic plots from the works of Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut's books made me want to communicate subtle messages in a humorous way, Chuck Palahniuk told me it's okay to be absurd and gross (through his writing--not in person, sadly), and Dave Eggers cured me of my insecurity re: being overconfident and brash. (How great is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for a book title? Answer: exceptionally great.)

MH) What tip would you be most likely to give to people setting out be a writer?

SB) First, I would caution them against taking advice too seriously, since how you succeed as a writer is changing at an ever-accelerating pace. Plus, as writers (indeed, as human beings) we're pretty bad at being able to pinpoint what actually makes us successful.

Second, I would venture that there's one piece of advice that has never lost its value. For that reason, I'm sure everyone reading this has heard it before. That's okay, though, because repetition is great for getting important concepts to sink in. It's this: write, and never stop writing. Write often. If something is preventing you from writing, work on changing or eliminating it. Writing is the only way to get better at writing. That's not likely to change any time soon.

MH) Is there anything else you'd like to share with my readers?

SB) Keep writing! (Did I mention that already?)

Scott Bartlett has been writing fiction since he was fifteen. His recently released novel, Royal Flush, is a recipient of the H. R. (Bill) Percy Prize. Click here to buy the ebook ($3.99) or to order the print book ($12.99).

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