J. Lincoln Fenn is the author of POE, which won the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Award, and she was kind enough to stop by and talk about the book, and more!
Also, we’ve got a copy of POE up for grabs, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post!
Will you tell us a bit about your new novel, POE?
It all starts when a 23-year old struggling obituary writer, Dimitri Petrov, wakes up on a slab in the morgue…and his life pretty much goes downhill from there. He’s haunted by a ghost from hell (literally), then there’s a serial killer with a taste for spleens, and somehow it all relates to his parents – who died the year before, when he dropped out of college.
Poe is funny, spooky, and very human. The real horror is the death of Dimitri’s parents, and the demon he has to let go of is his grief. But that would have been one, long, depressing story, so I threw in some paranormal mystery, mixed it with biting irony, added a dash of gore and voila! Poe was born.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you take the plunge and write POE?
I’ve tried very hard not to be a writer. I’ve been a fishmonger, the ‘ask the librarian’ for an online encyclopedia, an assistant production coordinator for live television events, a costumer for a Shakespearean theater company, a marketing director, a groom (for a stable that has a remarkably similar name to the mansion in Poe)…I tend to veer far away from math, but otherwise have tried virtually every other field. Because I knew there would be rejection after rejection, and the likelihood of getting published slim to none.
But the idea of writing wouldn’t let go of me. So about fifteen years ago I started with ‘stilted pages’ that led to ‘horrific semi-finished works’ that led to ‘not too god-awful manuscripts’ that started to receive more encouraging ‘no’s’. I had a few agents say they liked Poe but didn’t know who the heck would buy it.
I did a little research, saw that Amazon was launching its own imprints, including 47North. And instead of querying, I thought heck, I’ll just enter it into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and see where it gets me. Now here I am.
Will you tell us about your hero, Dimitri Petrov? Why do you think readers will connect with him, and what did you enjoy most about writing his story?
The novel started with the first line in Chapter One, There’s not a lot of opportunities to get creative with obituaries, and really that along with a vague idea of the meta theme was all I had. But his voice came through so strongly that to a certain extent it was more like channeling than writing. And I liked him – I still do. On the one hand he has a jaded view of the world and a self-deprecating sense of humor, but on the other he’s open to his story being part of something bigger.
I don’t think he enjoyed the experience as much as I did. I’m pretty awful to my characters. I don’t know how they’ll ever forgive me.
What authors or novels have inspired you the most, in your writing, and in life?
Can I just say that Middlemarch is waaay funnier than I remember from high school, and that Dickens – talk about your snark! I’ve been going back to the classics, partly because they’re free on Kindle and I’m a bookovore, but also because there’s just some great stuff to steal and they can’t sue you. If you look really, really closely there’s a hint of Great Expectations in Dimitri’s story arc.
Among the living authors that amaze me are Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, David Mitchell, Hunter S. Thompson, and David Sedaris.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Trying to choose just one is impossible. But a book that will never be the same on a re-read because you know what’s going to happen at the end is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. That novel devastated me – I kept re-reading the last few pages, sure I’d gotten it wrong, and when I finally realized nope, it happened, I felt emotionally stunned for days.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I watched a documentary about screenwriters who were able to break into the business, and one said something very interesting, which I think is true. You spend years looking for a crack, some way in, and then when it happens it does so in a way that won’t happen for anyone again. So there’s no one ‘way’ to get published – you have to keep writing, maintain some kind of faith in yourself, and keep feeling for cracks. If you stick with it long enough, you’ll find your break. And that’s hard, because it’s not a gradual, ‘this step, that step’, kind of thing. I got published because I entered a contest that 10,000 other writers did too. I never would have imagined that would have been my break, but it was.
When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
Oh, the usual, yachting, playing polo, sampling truffles…Seriously, free time is a luxury I don’t have at the moment, and haven’t had for years since I started to write seriously. Between my job and my family life, I’m grateful to squeeze in enough time to keep accumulating pages for the next project. My goal is to move into full-time writing, and I’m feeling for cracks as we speak.
I’ve got to know more about that haunted house in Oakland…
It was a beautiful, falling down kind of place, with a walled off courtyard, ivy, rats and cracks in the plaster. Our bedrooms were in the basement, and there was always this possessive energy down there, like we were intruding. One night I opened my eyes and saw a rush of fire spreading across the ceiling – I jumped out of bed, heart racing, sure the house was ablaze, but as soon as I landed on my feet it was gone. Now, of course I tell myself that I was dreaming, because on a certain level I dismiss anything that isn’t scientifically verifiable. At the same time, I’ve experienced quite a few things that can’t be explained by science, things that seem random at first, until the explanation of coincidence becomes logically improbable. Dimitri realizes this in Poe.
What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
I will send a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts to the person who can answer that question. Right now I’m working on everything I can, floating it out in the wind. People have been asking for a sequel, so that’s in process, and other people have been saying it’d make a great film or TV series, so I’m trying my hand at a script. But definitely more time with the family too – none of us are getting any younger, and you can’t take your days for granted. If I can balance all that, it’ll be a great year no matter what happens.
2.) Giveaway is for 1 copy of POE by J. Lincoln Fenn to 1 winner
3.) Giveaway is open to US residents or those with a US address for mailing (no PO Boxes)
4.) You must enter on or before 12/13/13
5.) Giveaway book courtesy of J. Lincoln Fenn
6.) Please see my Giveaway Policy.
It’s Halloween, and life is grim for twenty-three-year-old Dimitri Petrov. It’s the one-year anniversary of his parents’ deaths, he’s stuck on page one thousand of his Rasputin zombie novel, and he makes his living writing obituaries.
But things turn from bleak to terrifying when Dimitri is assigned to cover a séance at the reputedly haunted Aspinwall Mansion. There, Dimitri meets Lisa, a punk-rock drummer he falls hard for. But just as he’s about to ask her out, he unwittingly unleashes malevolent forces, throwing him into a deadly mystery. He wakes up in the morgue — icy cold and haunted by a cryptic warning given by a tantalizing female spirit.
As town residents begin to turn up gruesomely murdered, Dimitri must unravel the connections among his family, the Aspinwall Mansion, and the secrets held in a pair of crumbling antiquarian books. If he doesn’t, it’s quite possible Lisa will be the next victim.