Three Questions and a Cover — a short interview with one of my favorite authors, along with one of the author’s covers.
I know you’re going to love reading this interview with Arthur Herbert almost as much as you’re going to love his new book, The Bones of Amoret. Thanks for being so generous with your advice, Arthur!
What did you remove from the final draft that readers might like to see?
That’s easy, and my answer is making me smile as I type this. The main character in Bones is Noah, a loquacious small town doctor in his eighties who’s being interviewed in the present day by a reporter about events that took place in the town of Amoret, Texas nearly forty years prior. I loved, loved, loved writing Noah, so much so that I miss the daily time he and I spent together for the year it took me to write this book.
As with many people that age, he has plenty of time on his hands and a love of stories from the old days. Given that, he frequently interrupts himself as he spins the main yarn, telling the audience little digressions about this or that character or place. I tend to do the same thing in my everyday speech and writing a character who did that as well and as often as Noah was pure bliss. Honest to God, I had many days where I felt like I was transcribing more than writing.
Anyway, I finished the first draft and sent it to my wonderful developmental editor Celia Blue-Johnson. Once she finished reading it, she sent it back with a ton of great notes, but there was one that pained me. She said, “The little asides from Noah are entertaining, but there’s WAY too many of them. They actually interfere with the pacing. Get rid of at least half of them. Doesn’t even matter which ones.” Well, going back and deleting those mini-stories was like drowning puppies. Re-reading the text now with fresh eyes, I can see she was exactly right (that’s why she gets paid the big bucks), but Lord did it hurt in real time to hit the “DELETE” button over and over again on those wonderful little asides that I so enjoyed writing.
What’s your most interesting writer’s quirk?
Well, I have a file on my phone in which I jot down little things that are good fodder for a story later. For example, I have a very funny clinic nurse who’s about as brassy and bawdy as they come. We’d finished a half day of clinic and the last patient had just left. I came out to the main clinic area to work on the computer where I found her barefoot with her scrub pants rolled up to her knees, dry-shaving her legs with a Gilette razor in the middle of the day. I started at the sight, caught off guard, like I’d caught her on the toilet or something and stammered out “What’re you doing?” In this totally blasé tone, she told me she was going to get a pedicure that afternoon and she hadn’t had a chance to shave her legs that morning. Right then I took out my phone and jotted that little scene down, thinking “this is good stuff.”
I jot down snippets of good conversation I overhear in elevators to help in writing dialogue later. I’ll take pictures of funny looking strangers from a discrete distance and interesting-looking outdoors scenes. I had a patient once who had a Rubik’s cube tattoo. Later, I wrote a short story called “Lockdown” in which I gave the main character several Rubik’s cube tattoos and gave him the backstory of his using them to cover swastika tattoos he’d gotten for protection while in prison. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Being a doctor has always made me be observant of little details. Now I use my imagination to take those little observations as a jumping-off point for something fictional.
So if you and I are ever talking and you see me suddenly smile and take my phone out to start tapping away mid-conversation, just know that something you said may have made its way into a future story!
What warning can you give to aspiring writers?
Well, I think there are two kinds of fiction writers. The first is the group of authors whose main goal is really to just hold the finished book in their hands, staring at it and caressing the cover, knowing that they’ve done something few people manage to do: remove the “aspiring” adjective from in front of their “novelist” descriptor. If you fall into this group, count yourself lucky in a way because it avoids the pain I’m about to describe.
The second group are those who seek to make a living from their fiction, and this advice is for that cohort. Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to succumb to the delusion that your debut novel is going to go viral, organic sales in the tens of thousands will follow, and it’s only a matter of killing time while you wait for one of the big five to come knocking on your door begging you to go into business with them because, like cream rising, you’ve seen your novel climb up the best seller charts. Whether you publish traditionally, self-publish, or go with a hybrid, no one, repeat, no one gets famous in 2022 without paid advertising, and few if any publishers are willing to commit real ad dollars to an author until that person is so established that a positive ROI is assured. This means that you have to learn not only the economics of paid ads, but the practical aspect of implementing them as well, which is something many writers would rather jump naked into a bathtub full of thumbtacks than do. Yes, it’d be wonderful if we were one of the few who come out of the gate with a big-5 contract and an unlimited budget for ads run by marketing majors who tell you, “We got this, you just go concentrate on the next book.” But planning on that happening is literally no different than panning to win the lottery.
The good news is that it can be done, and one doesn’t need to break the bank doing it. But that takes a back catalogue of at least several books; an incremental, years-long approach to building an audience; and learning the business side in the manner of which I’m speaking.
Now do you see why I said it’s easier if your goal is just to see your book published?
In this enigmatic follow up to his critically acclaimed debut novel The Cuts that Cure, Arthur Herbert returns to the Texas-Mexico border with this saga of a small town’s bloody loss of innocence.
Amoret, Texas, 1982. Life along the border is harsh, but in a world where cultures work together to carve a living from the desert landscape, Blaine Beckett lives a life of isolation. A transplanted Boston intellectual, for twenty years locals have viewed him as a snob, a misanthrope, an outsider. He seems content to stand apart until one night when he vanishes into thin air amid signs of foul play.
Noah Grady, the town doctor, is a charming and popular good ol’ boy. He’s also a keeper of secrets, both the town’s and his own. He watches from afar as the mystery of Blaine’s disappearance unravels and rumors fly. Were the incipient cartels responsible? Was it a local with a grudge? Or did Blaine himself orchestrate his own disappearance? Then the unthinkable happens, and Noah begins to realize he’s considered a suspect.
Paced like a lit fuse and full of dizzying plot twists, The Bones of Amoret is a riveting whodunit that will keep you guessing all the way to its shocking conclusion.
About the Author
Arthur Herbert was born and raised in small town Texas. He worked on offshore oil rigs, as a bartender, a landscaper at a trailer park, and as a social worker before going to medical school. He chose to do a residency in general surgery, followed by a fellowship in critical care and trauma surgery. For the last eighteen years, he’s worked as a trauma and burn surgeon, operating on all ages of injured patients. He continues to run a thriving practice.
He’s won multiple awards for his scientific writing, and his first novel, The Cuts that Cure, spent ten days as an Amazon #1 Best Seller. His second novel, The Bones of Amoret, will be released on April 1, 2022 through Stitched Smile Publishers. Arthur currently lives in New Orleans, with his wife Amy and their dogs.
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