A few words with mystery writer Eliot Parker, current president of West Virginia Writers, Inc.
Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?
I’m Eliot Parker. I am a West Virginia native. I live in Huntington, West Virginia. I write mystery/thriller novels and short stories.
Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project
My latest novel is titled Code for Murder. It features Cleveland Homicide Detective Stacy Tavitt who is looking for the killer of Cleveland Browns football player Devon Baker. With little forensic evidence connecting anyone to the case, Stacy sets out to find the killer. When potential suspects in the case are murdered, Stacy realizes Devon Baker’s killer may be more familiar to her than she realizes.
In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?
I write in the mystery/thriller genre. I got interested in that genre when I was a kid. The first series of books I really enjoyed were the Encyclopedia Brown young adult books. I also loved the Scholastic “Choose Your Mystery” book series where you (as the reader) could choose the decisions and actions that characters made throughout the book. The fun part was going back and reading the book and making different choices to see what happened to the characters. From then, I was hooked as a mystery/thriller reader and those same passions for that genre carry over into my writing.
I’ve asked this question of another writer who works in your genres, so I’ll ask it again to see if you agree – what’s the difference between “mystery” and “thriller”? Aren’t all thrillers about figuring out the mystery of what’s happening?
To me, a thriller can be defined as a story in which the audience is waiting for something significant to happen. A mystery is a story of revelation, with the action more mental than physical.
Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.
I write a little bit each day, five days a week. I use post-it-notes to help me organize characters, plot, setting, etc. I usually get up early in the mornings and write for 30-45 minutes. On weekends, I write more and holiday and summer breaks from school (I teach at Mountwest Community and Technical College) allow me to write more. It takes me about a year-and-a-half to get the first draft of a novel completed.
How complete is a “first draft” (since it’s a year and a half in the making)? What goes on after you reach that point?
A first draft for me is one that is complete. It has the exposition, the climax, and the resolution written. This doesn’t mean that all of the writing is great. In fact, a good bit of it will end up taken out of the book or revised significantly. However, when those three parts are complete, I know I have a first draft. After that point, I step away from the manuscript for several weeks (sometimes months). This allows my mind to remove itself from the characters, plot, etc. of the book. Then, when I go back and read it again with fresh eyes, I feel like I am approaching the story completely new, much like a new reader might do.
Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?
I love all of my characters. Choosing a favorite character is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. However, my favorite character is Ronan McCullough. He appeared in my novel Fragile Brilliance. I love him because is tough, reckless, but principled. He is my favorite character because it’s so easy for me to get inside his head and his voice when I start writing. I don’t always have that same strong connection with other characters I have created.
What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a that you never would have otherwise?
In the sequel to Fragile Brilliance, titled A Knife’s Edge, I researched innovative technology being developed that allows law enforcement and hospitals to diagnose a host of illness and physical conditions with just one drop of blood, instead of the vials of blood that are required now. I learned more about blood, blood testing, and the process of analyzing blood through my research. I would never have sought out that information on my own if it wasn’t for the book. Blood freaks me out!
What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?
The real part of writing is revision. Writers should know that the first draft is just that, the beginning of the process. Don’t be afraid or surprised to find yourself having to toss out at least 1/3 of what is written and then heavily revise the other 2/3. It’s that process of intense, detailed revision where the novel really finds is core truth and the characters really become what you envision them to be as a writer.
If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?
Absolutely! I would quit my job and be a writer full-time. I am working on that now, anyway, minus the lottery winnings.
What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?
The last great book I read was Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. It’s a powerful, moving story about love, saying goodbye, and the pain that comes when we cannot be with the one person that we love more than anything else in the world.
What do you think you’re next project will be?
I finished the third revision of the next Ronan McCullough novel, titled A Knife’s Edge. It will be out in early 2019. I also have an outline finished for the next Stacy Tavitt novel. I am also working on compiling some short stories that have been published in literary magazines (and some that have not) for a short story collection.
Do you approach your short stories different from your novels (in terms of planning, revising, etc.)? If so, how?
I approach my short stories in the same manner that I do my novels. The only difference is that with short stories, the time spent with those characters and that setting is much shorter.