Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Author of the Amazon Best Seller “Blood in the Low Country,” Paul was born and raised in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Paul and his wife, Lyn, met in college at Georgetown University and were married after Paul graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law. They moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1988 where Paul embarked on a thirty-year business career before retiring so he could write fiction. Paul and Lyn raised three children together in Phoenix and now split their time between Phoenix and Charleston, South Carolina.
Blood in the Low Country is Paul Attaway’s debut novel. Writing this book, along with the move to Charleston, is a coming home of sorts, a return to the South. The history and culture of America’s South is rich, complicated, at times comical, sad, tragic, uplifting, and inspiring. Paul hopes that his novels capture even a small bit of this tapestry.
You can learn more about Paul, his upcoming appearances, and his next novel at http://www.paulattaway.com.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I was on my high school debate team and learned early on that it wasn’t just what you said but how you said it and who was listening. I picked up two great tips early on. First, my debate coach told me that while we were technically giving speeches and making arguments, we were also storytellers. You have to engage the judge who determines whether you won a particular argument or the debate itself. Story telling is a time-tested way to engage a listener. So, while I technically wasn’t telling a story, a series of arguments designed to lead a judge to a specific conclusion could be framed as a story.
The second tip I received was from another coach. This coach asked me how one won a debate. I gave a technical answer about what it took to win a debate depending upon whether I was arguing for the affirmative or negative on a particular topic. He corrected me and said: “No. You win a debate by convincing the judge to vote for you.” He went on to explain why it was important to know your judges and to know what type of arguments they liked and what kind of speaking style worked with them. This was great advice.
As a writer, I view myself as a storyteller first and a writer second. I’m not talented enough to form my stories and writing style to any audience so it’s important to know what kind of stories I can tell and to understand my writing style and then to find an audience for these stories.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
In the world we live in today, it’s possible to research a topic without ever leaving your desk. I depend heavily upon search engines. I read online blogs and articles from professional journals, and I’ll uncover books on a subject and read them as well. In my book, Blood in the Low Country, I use the developing techniques in forensics to match blood and DNA samples to particular people. However, my book was set in the 1970s and the state of the technology then wasn’t what it is today. I was able though to research the topic and understand the capabilities at the time. The fact that many of the procedures relied upon today were in their infancy in the 70s was an important aspect in the story.
But while internet research is necessary, there are times when you must leave your desk. I’m currently working on my next book which in part will be set in the Bahamas in the 1970s. My wife and I recently visited Nassau for a week. We hired a man as a tour guide for several days that had grown up in the Bahamas and was old enough to have been a young adult in the 1970s. We learned the history of the Islands but more importantly we absorbed, through his stories, a bit of the culture and experience of growing up in the Bahamas.
I’ll conduct very general research before I start a book and this general research helps me craft the story at the 30,000-foot level. However, the research does not end. As I write the book, I’ll take time-outs from the writing to do a deeper dive on a topic as I get into the weeds of a story.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
Starting. I may have a general idea for a story when I sit down at the desk but when I realize I need to squeeze 80,000 words or so out of the idea, I balk at the task. I spend a great deal of time thinking and scribbling out a half a dozen or more plot scenarios. As I do so, I’ll see holes in the plots, etc… but eventually a plot begins to take shape.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing energizes. Editing exhausts.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I’m wrestling with this question now. Ideally, you would do both. However, reality dictates that if a publisher is going to pick you up and promote your book then the publisher needs a realistic expectation that the book will sell. The audience for a beautifully written story about the molting habits of garden snakes is rather small. The potential audience for a detective story, on the other hand, is quite large. How do you write an original story in a genre that has already been done so well?
As I write my next book, my second book, I am more aware of the need to attract an agent. Therefore, I’m making a greater effort to more neatly fit within a genre, but I hope to avoid the trap of writing a formulaic book.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Two ways. I employ an online search and I have my own mental image of the character. If my character is of a particular heritage, I’ll search for lists of popular names from that background. For instance, if I have a character of Irish descent, I’ll search for lists of popular Irish names. As for my mental image, right or wrong, a name can conjure in the mind of the reader what the character my look like and how they may act. For instance, I have a character in my book of dubious nature. His name is Rathbone which is fitting given his Southern heritage. He goes by Rath, though, which the leader learns is also fitting.
What is your favorite childhood book?
A Separate Peace by John Knowles.
What’s more important: characters or plot?
If you take it as a given that you need both, then my answer is ‘character’. The twists and turns in a plot are interesting or boring and more or less believable based upon the nature of the characters and the depth of their development. When I get stuck, I ask myself ‘what would my characters do’ if this plot turn happened to them. Answering that question helps me get unstuck.
Would you rather read a book or watch television?
I need some clarification. What day is it and what time of year is it? My answer is that I would rather read a book. But you can find me on the sofa on Saturday afternoons and evenings during college football season and on Sunday afternoon watching the Masters, the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the Open.
Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
The story is about the challenges Monty Atkins faces as a husband and a father of two boys when his wife Rose obsesses over one of the boys to the point that the other boy, the oldest of the two, is virtually ostracized from the family. Monty feels as if he must decide between being a good father and a good husband but that he can’t do both. When the oldest boy’s girl friend is murdered, the lives of two families are turned upside down and the hunt for the killer will test Monty’s resolve as well as that of the father of the murdered girl.
When I started the book, although written in third person omniscient voice, I planned to write it from the perspective of the youngest of the two sons. The story wasn’t going anywhere and frankly was boring. I switched after awhile and made the father, Monty, the protagonists. The story came together once I made this switch.
How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
I am a follower of Christ. I don’t care for organized religion which is why I don’t call myself a Christian. For many people, the word is comforting and carries with it positive images. For many others though, especially those that have been turned off my organized religion, the word has negative connotations.
I also believe that life proceeds in a very laissez faire manner. One of the great myths in life, I believe, is that we have the degree of control over outcomes that we think. In my Blood in the Low Country, Monty Atkins faith is tested, and he must come to grips with what it really means to truly trust in God.
I like writing characters and story lines in which our ideas of control are tested.
How did you decide on this title?
The story is set in Charleston, South Carolina. The region of the country along the South Carolina coast is referred to as the Low Country, or Lowcountry. You will see it spelled both ways. I used the word blood for two reasons. First, there is a murder in the book. The murder is not glorified, and it happens off scene, but it is an important part of the story. Secondly, the word ‘blood’ refers to family. The story is a family drama and the history of one family in particular reaches out from the past to affect the life of the family today.
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