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Interview with Author Erik Marshall

Here is an interview with Erik Marshall, author of Death of the Author, a new lighthearted detective set in academia, featuring Chandler Cain, adjunct instructor turned private investigator. You can buy it on Amazon here (affiliate link).

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This is Erik Marshall’s site. Who is this other Erik Marshall? Is it someone who happens to have the same name? No, it’s me. I’m interviewing myself.

Why a detective novel?

I was in the middle of writing a memoir, which was getting heavy and personal. I couldn’t figure out where to go with it, so I thought I’d take a break and write something a little more…silly, fun. I love film noir, so I thought I’d adapt that voice to the life of an adjunct instructor.

Erik, what is your background?

I have a Ph.D. in Film and Media studies.

So, we should call you “Dr. Marshall.”

If you like. But Erik is fine.

What is your writing process?

Usually, come up with an idea, think about it for months on end, start to write it, get discouraged, come back to it…

When I really start writing, I get 80-90% done and either stall out or start the revision and editing process. It’s at this point that I get mired in perfectionism, which, I believe, is actually a veil for insecurity and a sign that something else is going wrong. In the case of my memoir, it was my fear of revealing too much of myself, and the fear that someone might sue me. I was too close to it.

I decided to start a different process with Death of the Author.I wanted to finish something, not just start it. So I decided to write fast. I put a small twist on a formulaic genre, and I decided to have fun. I neglected plot holes and forged ahead, one corny simile at a time.

Death of the Author was an exercise in finishing quickly?

Yes, but it didn’t work out that way. I wrote it fairly quickly, but then rewrote it. Then started revising. Then started doubting aspects of it. What was supposed to take a month or two took ten months. But I did finish, and that was the goal. Could it be better? Yes, absolutely. Is it good enough? I think so. I laughed a lot while writing it, and that in itself makes it worth it to me.

Tell us more about Chandler Cain

The origin of the name should be obvious. He’s a disaffected adjunct, underpaid and overworked. He’s bored with his job, disenchanted with disengaged students, feeling disillusioned by the dream he feels he was sold about academia being this magical place where people share ideas, read good literature, explore ideas together, that sort of thing. Instead, for him, it’s about dealing with grade-grubbing, putting in time, doing the same thing over and over in front of people who don’t care.

How did this Adjunct Instructor become a Private Investigator?

There’s an origin story yet to be written, but at some point, he begins taking cases as a side gig. He finds a connection between literary analysis and detective work.  It’s almost impossible to live on an adjunct salary, so most have other jobs. This is his.

Why doesn’t he quit teaching and be a full-time PI?

That has never really occurred to him. Teaching has become he does, even if he’s not always totally into it. Plus, he’s too lazy to advertise.

Death of the Author hits many of the major tropes of a detective novel, including the femme fatale.

That’s not a question.

What I’m saying is, maybe that’s not the most politically correct trope these days?

True. I’m not saying I endorse the worldview that women are evil, or that they always lead to the demise of a man, or that they exist only to be objectified. It’s a flaw in Chandler Cain’s character, perhaps, and a weakness of the genre, although one could argue that the femme fatale is actually a strong, independent woman.

Chandler Cain falls for a student. Is this ethically fraught? And isn’t that itself a tired trope?

You are really hitting me with some hard questions. One of Chandler’s main flaws is his attraction to women. He falls hard and often. Yes, he objectifies Susan when she walks into his office, but, again, this is a genre convention. I suppose the notion of the male prof/female student relationship is a bit tired and cliche, but Chandler Cain lives in a cliche. He is a walking cliche.

Are you being a bit defensive?


Are you Chandler Cain?

No. I mean, any writer puts him/herself into characters on some level, I suppose, but is Stephen King a possessed murderer a la  Jack Torrance? I don’t think so. Maybe a little? I do fear people will read this and think I endorse everything Cain does. I think I’m fairly straightforward in portraying him not as a hero or someone to be emulated, but some hapless schmuck who’s trying to find his place in life. That part comes from real life.

Buy Death of the Author at Amazon:

Learn more about Chandler Cain

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Words Dragon learned from my memoir

I’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software, and I recently found that I had to re-train it after a reinstall of Windows. I had it look at the text of my almost-finished memoir about grad school, and here are some of the words it learned:


Bloody Marys


Not sure what this says about me, my memoir, or Dragon, but I found it interesting.

January writing update: Bleghhh!

Here’s an update on my quest to write a million words in 2015.

The goal for January was to write 84,932 words. I fell well short at 34,132.

Now, this is still a decent number of words if you think about it, but it’s around/less than half of the goal.

The good news is that I wrote something creative every single day in January. This may very well be the first time in my life that I can say I wrote every day in a month. So that is definitely good news. I actually drafted this 3 days before the end of the month, and then got sick and didn’t write for many days. Oh well.

The bad news is I missed my goal and now have to adjust my word goal upwards for subsequent months.

I can’t tell you how depressing it is to watch the “At this rate, you need to write xxx words/day to reach your goal” bar go up and up and up as I fail each day to reach the daily goal. Luckily, I can put this behind me and work on the next month.

2015-02-09 12_59_07-Word Tracker 2015 - Steampunk - Excel

A reality check. I spent much of December not doing a darn thing. I started this project on January 1, basically attempting to start at a full sprint from a complete stop. I was prepared, in a way, to fail. I also figured that, if I’m to complete this goal, I will probably write a fair amount in January-May, but write a whole heck of a lot from the end of May through August, when my teaching load slows down. The idea then would be to make up for lost time in the beginning of the year and bank some extra words for the usually tumultuous Fall semester. I can’t count on that super-productivity in summer, though, and I have to up my game sooner if I’m to reach a million words. This month was priming, getting ready for the increased productivity of the rest of the year. I hope.

So, what was I writing in January? Honestly, I think what I was writing might have been part of the problem. At the beginning of January, I was working on a series of short stories that I may publish under a pseudonym. They went quickly, but need editing. Then, for several days (1/8-1/11), I wrote about 7,000 words in what will be an email series of excuses people use to avoid finishing or publishing work (if you’re interested in this, you can sign up for my email list at the top of the screen). Then I got a little lost. I started a new science fiction short story, and then started hating it the next day, when I came up with an awesome idea for a new novel, replete with conspiracies, hacking, jihadist groups and all kinds of excitement. I sketched it out over the course of a day, and then went on to write an essay about disappointment for two days. When I was done with that, I started another super-secret project for kids. That lasted three days before I decided to write the new novel in earnest for three days (1/23-1/25). I ended up with maybe 5000 words, but then something happened in Scrivener, and I lost the previous days’ work. Actually, I thought I had lost it all, but I found Scrivener’s backup files, so I didn’t lose that much. Here’s the thing, though: when I thought I had lost it, a part of me was relieved, which told me something. I still love the idea, but I don’t think I’m ready to write it. I have too much other stuff I want to do, and unfinished projects that need editing and publishing.

Upon realizing that, I wrote some more on the memoir and the novel, Disorder, that I’ve had sitting on the hard drive for months now. Interspersed through all this were blog entries, a Medium essay, and other miscellaneous stuff.

On the one hand, I wrote a lot on some diverse projects. I got some pretty good starts on a few different things, and I have some material that will come out in various forms (blog, Medium, email list) pretty soon. On the other hand, having so many projects going means I don’t know what to work on at a given time. I open the word processor and stare at the screen. At least the word processor is open, though, right? At least I’ve written every day in January. That is definitely something.

I think my goal for February will be to write consistently on one primary project, interspersing some blog entries, and spending the rest of the time editing.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Start something new or finish something started?

I just came up with a great idea for a novel, one rife with conspiracies and action and cool tech stuff and hackers. It’s going to be so fun to write. It’s a novel I would totally read, which make the best novels. The way I’ve got it planned, it should be about 100,000 words, which, if I work exclusively on it, and stick to my 1 million word/year pace, should take a little over a month to draft.

That’s a lot of ifs. So far, I have not been writing at the 1 million/year pace. At my current pace, it might take two months or more to finish a draft of this novel, which is still not so bad. The harder problem is to keep interested in the project for the whole time it takes to write it. I have a bad habit of getting excited about an idea and then losing interest before starting it, or worse, losing steam as I write it.

Here are some other projects I have started but not yet finished:

  • I have a beginning of a novel I started for NaNoWriMo 2013. It’s a gritty detective story with a bit of a twist. It’s dark and depressing, brooding and obsessive.  The detective is down-and-out, alcoholic or damn close. He’s on a mission that turns into an obsession, and he’s not even sure what he’s looking for. I’m maybe 10,000 words into that, which is really only the very beginning, and I haven’t looked at it in over a year.
  • I have 50,000 words or so of a short novel about a tech-savvy  young man who forges a connection with his more or less Luddite female professor, which leads him into a strange rabbit hole of conspiracy and weirdness involving the pharmaceutical industry. It is more or less finished, but I need to make a final revision, which I keep putting off.
  • I have this grad school memoir I keep talking about that needs editing.

The point of telling you this is that I have unfinished business, work sitting on hard drives that has yet to see the light of day, and here I am starting anew, alighting on another project, getting all excited about a new storyline.

You see why I am worried?

If I were coming to me for advice with the above problem, I would tell myself to shelf the new project and finish those I’ve already started. I would tell me to get those edits done, get those works out into the world before starting something new. If I must, do them simultaneously, if I can find the time and energy, writing in the morning, editing and night.

I think I have the same problem a lot of people do. I start new things before finishing old things, in part to feel like I’m working toward something, so I can pat myself on the back about my daily wordcount, but I don’t finish anything, mainly out of fear. Everything revolves around fear. Or laziness.

Reminds me of one my favorite parts of Waking life, where Louis Mackey asks, “Which is the most universal human characteristic: fear, or laziness?”

Maybe I need to take my own advice, and finish what I start.

Do you have problems finishing projects? Do you start new things before finishing? Let me know about it in the comments below.