INTERVIEW WITH LISA TOWLES
Here's an interview I just did with Lisa Towles.
AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: LES EDGERTONStandard
Les Edgerton is a multiple award-winning fiction and non-fiction author with 22 books in print. His fiction has been nominated for or won the Pushcart Prize, O. Henry Award, Edgar Allen Poe Award (short story category), Derringer Award, among others. He has a B.A. (with Honors of Distinction) from Indiana University, an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, he’s taught creative writing for the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, Trine University, St. Francis University, New York Writer’s Workshop, and was Writer-in-Residence for University of Toledo. He is an ex-con who served two years of a 2-5 year sentence at Pendleton Reformatory in the 1960’s for second-degree burglary, and he served 4 years in the U.S. Navy as a cryptographer.
As my mentor and personal friend, I had the honor of talking with Les about his upcoming release, Hard Times, his inspirations, and his writing classes below.
You historically create very multi-dimensional villains in your novels, such as Truman Ferris Pinter in your novel The Rapist. How do you do that?
I don’t write about villains and heroes. The protagonist is simply the person through whose point of view you receive the story, and the antagonist is the individual whose goals most conflict with those of the protagonist. I don’t see morality as part of either character.
Who inspired your legendary character, Lucius Tremaine from your upcoming book Hard Times?
He’s based on a hack I knew in Pendleton, who saved my life. His name was Jones and we just called him Jonsesy. I’d received my parole and, not knowing any better, I talked about it – something you just don’t do. If you’ve gotten parole, you have something of value to guard and other inmates know that and take advantage of it. The day after I got my parole and was celebrating it, there was a conflict at the prison barber school that resulted in me chasing another inmate around the room with my straight edge. The guard on duty was Jonesy and luckily he separated us, probably saving my life. But Jonesy saved my life again by not writing me up. Had he done so, I certainly would have kissed my parole goodbye, might have become institutionalized and never gotten out. And I easily could have ended up dead in the process. Jonesy took a huge risk by not writing me up; he could have lost his job and that took a lot of courage. I knew then I had to use his character in a book somewhere down the line, and I did. He’s Lucious.
How much outlining do you do personally, and what guidance do you give your writing students about it?
Outlining is a requirement in the novel-writing classes I teach online. But it’s probably a far cry from what many people think of as outlining. No pages and pages of Roman numerals. It’s five simple statements, consisting of 16-24 words. Words. Here’s how it works:
- The first statement is the inciting incident.
- The next three statements are the result of the three major proactive actions the protagonist takes to resolve his/her story problem.
- The last statement is the resolution, which must contain both a win and a loss for the protagonist.
The thing is, I wouldn’t take a trip to Alaska without a map and I wouldn’t dream of taking the trip of 250-400 pages without a map either. I know from experience that such trips usually peter out around page 80. Such an outline requires thinking through the novel. And as sometimes happens, better actions appear to the writer, and that’s no big deal. They simply sit down and rewrite the outline and they always have a solid guide for the novel. Since close to three dozen people have either published or obtained a good agent over the course of my classes and personal coaching, I think that’s proof that this process works. Even so-called “pantsers” such as Hemingway outlined – he just didn’t call them outlines. He called them “Draft #1,” “Draft #8,” and so on. I used the same outline for a short story, a novel and a screenplay of the same story, The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping.
In addition to writing, you’re a deeply committed and inspiring writing teacher. What are some do’s and don’ts for novice writers?
Don’t try to “create” characters. Simply go to the deepest part of yourself—that part deep within that nonwriters never want to reveal… and reveal yourself through your characters. It’s extremely hard and most are unwilling or unable to do so, but if you want to create truly memorable work, I think it’s necessary.
As for novice writers, I’d urge them to simply try to write the book they wish someone else had written and hadn’t. Don’t worry about what you think you know or don’t know. The only way I know to become a good writer is to be a good reader. If I get someone in class who reads very little, I know that person isn’t going to make it. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Jim Harrison said it best: “Read the whole of the past 400 years of Western literature and, if time permits, read the same of Eastern literature. For if you don’t know what passed for good in the past, how can you know what passes for good today?”
How do your writing classes work?
I teach 10-week classes that go on continually. When we finish one, we take a two-week break and begin the next one. Classes are purposely small – only 10 writers at a time, because I spend a lot of time with everybody’s work. The fee is $400 for the class, and you can also audit the class for $50, which means you can see what everyone else is doing but you’re not an active participant. The goal of each class is to have everyone become published well. Right now, we’re at week 5 of the current class – taking a week off to recharge batteries and then the final stretch, after which we’ll have a two-week break and start anew. If anyone’s interested, email me at email@example.com.
Pre-Order Hard Times on Amazon forthcoming on December 8, 2020 by Bronzeville Books.
Some of Les Edgerton’s published books include:
- Mirror Mirror – Fiction (2019)
- Adrenaline Junkie – Memoir (2018)
- Monday’s Meal – Collection (2018)
- Just Like That – Fiction (2017)
- Bomb – Fiction (2016)
- The Rapist – Fiction (2015)
- The Bitch – Fiction (2014)
- Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing (2012)
- Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go (2007)
Connect with Les on social media: