Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Interview with Earl Staggs

Briefly describe your journey in writing your book. 
When my wife and I left the snow and ice of Maryland behind and moved south, I retired from the insurance business and decided to do something I’d wanted to do all my life – become a mystery writer.  My first step was to join a writing class at the local community college. The instructor said that by the end of the class, we each would have written a short story.  It seemed like a good way to start so I came up with a short story. I was so proud of it, I submitted it to several magazines. When they all rejected it, I was crushed, but continued writing.  Eventually, some of my stories were published.

A couple years later, I decided to pull out that first story and take a look at it.  Good grief! I saw why it was rejected.  I’d learned a lot about writing by then, and decided to rewrite the story. This time, it was accepted by not one, but two magazines – one a webzine and one a print magazine. It was published by both, and the response was so positive and encouraging, I decided to take the protagonist and his special talent into a full length novel.

That’s when I learned how little I knew about writing a book.  I read every how-to-write book I could get my hands on, read a stack of mystery novels, and found a wonderful group of critique partners to expose my shortcomings. It took three years of hard work, but I finished it.  When MEMORY OF A MURDER was eventually published, it picked up thirteen Five Star reviews and has done quite well.

What genre are your books?  Do you write in more than one genre?
I consider myself a mystery writer, but I wander around within the genre.  Sometimes I write hardboiled, sometimes light and humorous, and sometimes in between.   I’ve always enjoyed a mixture when I read and discovered the same applies to when I write.  Occasionally, I’ll step out of the mystery genre entirely and write something purely humorous.  An example is a story called “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer.”  There’s no crime or mystery in it, but many people have said it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever written.  It’s available for a free read for anyone interested on my site at:  http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com

If you write in more than one genre, do you use a pen name?
I know writers who use pen names and that’s fine for them if they want to. I’ve never seen a need or had the urge to, and I’m sure I never will.  I entered this world with one name and plan to leave it the same way.

Did you query agents and traditional publishers?  Did you receive an offer of representation or a book contract?
I’ve gone that route in the past.  Getting signed by a traditional publisher used to be difficult. With all the changes in publishing in the last few years, it’s become nearly impossible.  I signed with one agent, but nothing ever came of it.  This was during the time when major publishers were cutting back on new authors and dropping many they had on board. For now, I’m happy with independent presses and the way they operate and expect to stay with them.

What factors influenced your decision to sign with Untreed Reads?
I was impressed with Jay Hartman and the way he presented what Untreed Reads does.  I think Untreed Reads is the ground floor of the future publishing industry and was thrilled to be accepted by them. 

How involved are you during the creative process for your book’s cover design?
I think all authors are like me and want to have something to say about their covers. We have a firm picture in our minds of what our story is about and care deeply whether or not the cover conveys what we feel it should.  When Untreed Reads published “Where Billy Died,” Jay asked for my thoughts and opinions on the cover.  I responded and crossed my fingers.  I was amazed when I received the artist’s rendition and did a Happy Dance.  The cover was terrific. That’s the kind of cooperation and consideration we never experienced in traditional publishing

Do you plan to self-publish any other books or will you stay with Untreed Reads?
That decision will vary with each situation for many reasons, but I hope to remain associated with Untreed Reads in any way I can.

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner attention for your book(s)?
So far, I haven’t done much on Facebook and Twitter and know I should.  For now, I’m active on my own website, a couple of blog cooperatives, guest blog appearances wherever I can, and a few writing forums.  I’ve also presented workshops for two online conferences and love to do live presentations to writer’s and reader’s groups.  There’s still a lot to learn about using the social media available, and I’m working on that.

How do you feel about the world of digital publishing?  Do you think it will replace traditional publishing one day?
I don’t think digital publishing will ever completely replace traditional. There will always be people who want the feel and smell of a printed book.  Digital is certainly forcing traditional to restructure itself, however, and no one knows for sure what will happen.  The next few years will be interesting, and it’s going to be a bumpy road for a while. The best we can do is wait it out and hope they eventually reach a coexistence which will be to the benefit of authors and readers.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned during your journey as an author?
When we first start writing, without realizing, we’re influenced by other writers we admire and our work is an attempt to write as they do.  Over time, word by word and line by line, our own style and voice appears.  It can take a long time, but not until then can we call ourselves writers. Until we reach that point, we’re only copying others and falling short of the unique and individual writer we need to become.

Do you have any advice for new authors?
Yes, I do and this is it:  Always make sure the next thing you write is better than the last thing you wrote.  Being good is not good enough.  There are too many good writers ahead of you. To rise above the crowd, you have to continuously work to get better.

What’s next for you?
More books.  I have a Mystery/Thriller almost ready to shop for a publisher and I’ve started a sequel to MEMORY OF A MURDER.  I also have ideas for half a dozen more books.  So much to be written, so little time.  If you know of a way to add another eight hours to a day, please pass it along. 


  1. I really enjoyed Memory of a Murder (and so have several folks who I gave it to as gifts). Good to know a sequel is in the works!

  2. Great interview, Earl. I hope you'll share the secret to eight more hours a day if you discover it. I certainly could use it!

    You don't need a pseudonym, there's only ONE Earl Staggs!

  3. Great answers, Earl. And good advice, as always. Can't wait to read your next book or short story.

  4. Well said, Earl. You express yourself as good as you write.

  5. Thanks to all of you for stopping by and for the nice comments.

    Happy New Year! Let's make it the best year ever for all of us.

  6. I look forward to reading your novel, Earl. I also began to write fulltime after taking an early retirement.

  7. 'Being good is not good enough.' Well said, Earl. Good advice for all of us.