MA: My guest today is Weyman Jones. Weyman began his writing career with magazine fiction and then published three books for young readers. His historical novel for pre-teens, The Edge of Two Worlds, went to seven printings and earned the Lewis Carroll Shelf and the Western Heritage Awards. Reviews of MESSAGES, his fourth mystery/suspense novel published by Five Star/Gale, describe it as a “great thriller filled with action and misdirection.”A graduate of Harvard, he served as an enlisted man and a junior officer in the Navy and then had a career as a corporate public relations executive.
Welcome aboard, Weyman, and thanks for your service. Have you always enjoyed writing?
WJ: The writing virus got me as a child. My first published piece was a short story written in college. I wrote a couple of historical novels and a non-fiction book for children, and then my day job in corporate communications began to take all my energy. Retirement gave me the opportunity to focus on what I always wanted to do.
MA: Why did you choose novels to write?
WJ: I didn’t. My choice was short stories, but literary writing isn’t my thing and the popular market for stories disappeared soon after I broke into it. My first books, historical novels for children, were somewhat like extended short stories, but they forced me beyond incident into narrative structure.
MA: So tell me about your new book. You say you’re not a literary writer, so this is a genre novel?
WJ: Yes. I write what’s called mystery/suspense. There’s always at least one dead body in my books, but I subscribe to the James M. Cain doctrine that “all art is redemptive”. The real mystery is not whodunit, although that can be involved, but why, and how discovering that answer changes the people involved.
MA: What was your most interesting technical problem in developing this story?
WJ: The killer sends messages by murder, and one of the victims is just a message form, like a Western Union blank. I needed to make the reader care about her but I didn’t want to slow down the narrative with back story. I invented an email dialogue with a former lover. The bittersweet exchange to keep alive a failed romance reveals the value he still places on her, which makes her death significant. Writing this made me a little teary.
MA: Did any of your real-life experiences factor in to the plot at all?
WJ: Messages involves a corporation under attack by an advocacy group. I’ve learned that the corporate response to a public relations crisis is usually to circle the wagons. The lawyers advise that every public utterance may show up in court, which of course is true. But a siege mentality invites a siege. Look at the way BP handled their blowout oil-well. There was no way they could have avoided damage to their reputation, and I think they eventually did a lot of the right things, but first they made so many defensive and blame-shifting statements that they dug their grave with their own corporate mouth.
MA: So you will continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?
WJ: I think a novel shouldn’t just quit, it should end. Making that happen in a satisfying way that still grows naturally out of the characters is often the toughest part of the whole process. I have to do it one story at a time. I’ve never been interested in writing a series.
The working title of my next book is Evil in Return. That’s from Audin, “Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.” It’s about a contemporary Cherokee who believes he should avenge his ancestors by killing descendants of those wronged them. The aboriginal Cherokee had a belief system like that. This guy wants to revive the ancient tribal values by posting videotapes of his payback on YouTube for the Cherokee to see.
MA: Very interesting, Weyman! Thanks for guest-blogging with me. I invite my readers to visit your blog to learn more: www.weymanjones.com.