Welcome, Harold. Tell us about your book.
Paper Puzzle introduces dual protagonists, one white, Clay Moore managing editor of the town’s daily newspaper and Jimmy Royal editor of the local black weekly tabloid. Both men as cub reporters covered a gangland styled murder and were pulled off the story by their publishers before anyone was brought to justice.
As time passes the two men kept thoughts of it in the back region of their minds. Suddenly, Clay Moores’ life is interrupted when he discovers news clippings from the gangland styled murder in his bed each morning. When Clay’s security and career is threatened by a powerful federal judge he is forced to turn to the only other person who can help him solve the paper puzzle laying in his bed. He turns to Jimmy Royal and together the two reporters in the spirit of Woodard and Bernstein uncovers decades of injustice hidden neatly under the guise of the social mores of the times.
I’ve walked around with this story all my life, it is a relief to finally get it out so others can help me figure out the conundrum of growing up American.
Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?
Perhaps the best writing advice I ever received came from E. B. White in his introduction in, The elements of style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. In this introduction White, an English student in Professor Strunk’s class at Cornell in 1919, recalls Strunk’s lecture on brevity thusly: “… he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky conspiratorial voice, said, ‘Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words! It was perhaps around 1968 when I read this book. I had informed my mom that I wanted to be a writer and she purchased me a copy of The Elements of Style. I’ve been trying to follow Strunk’s rule Seventeen and prune away needless words from my writing ever since.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
In the style of Will Strunk, my advice to anyone who wishes to become a writer is: “Get the little book! Get the little book! Get the little book!” In its original form the little book, The Elements of Style, was a mere forty-three mimeographed pages which were self published by Professor Strunk. The edition I read was published in 1958 and included a chapter written by E. B. White titled, An Approach to Style and contained just ninety-two pages.
What writer influenced you the most?
Actually there are two writers who influenced me the most. First, I would have to say Ernest Hemingway taught me the practical application of that old adage to write about what you know. When one reads Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, one gets the impression that “Papa” had spent his share of time out at sea in a fishing boat. When he describes the angle of the sun beating down on the old man in the boat, one senses the sun had beamed upon Hemingway in such a manner before he wrote that passage. The second writer who has influenced me is James Baldwin. Baldwin through his wondering prose and extensive vocabulary taught me the writer could violate Standard English usage and still be grammatically correct. Such deviation, by the way, was approved by Strunk. The writings of Baldwin taught me that Strunk’s caveat could be successfully navigated. On this issue Strunk wrote in The Elements of Style: “It is an old observation, that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation…” Additionally, I’ve been influenced to a lesser extend by two other great writers of my time, Ralph Ellison and Norman Mailer. Ellison taught me how to create a musical symphony through my prose. Mailer taught me how to blend the skills of the journalist and the skills of the novelist. He also placed the notion in my head that some day I could do what he sought and failed to do, write the next great American novel.
How has your background influenced your writing?
This is an interesting question. Before publishing my first novel Paper Puzzle I had two different careers. First I worked as a journalist while in college and for about seven years after I graduated from college. Then I went to law school and practiced law in the State of Georgia for two decades. At Tuskegee University I studied political science and wrote a weekly column in The Campus Digest. While at Tuskegee I walked the hollowed grounds trod by two highly acclaimed writers who had been students at Tuskegee in the 1930s, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray. Ellison went on to win the first National Book Award in 1953 for his novel Invisible Man. Also, I edited a magazine for the first Alabama Black Expo, served as the Political Editor for the Birmingham World newspaper and as the Managing Editor of The Macon Courier in Macon, Georgia. Following law school I was a trial lawyer representing claimants in personal injury disputes and criminal defendants ranging from traffic stops to capital murder. As a novelist, I write legal thrillers. Although Paper Puzzle is a legal thriller, it is told through the eyes of two newspaper journalists. Thus, I get to use the knowledge acquired in both former professions in crafting my entertaining art.
What’s been the most surprising thing about being a writer?
Ironically, the most surprising thing about being a writer is when I have expressed myself well someone will say to me: “that was well stated, but I expect that from you because you are a writer.” When I was a lawyer if I expressed myself well, I would get a look that implied my words were suspect because I was a lawyer. So I am enjoying people respecting my pronouncements based upon the basic meaning of an expression, without it being dissected through the prism of legal communication.
Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?
Yes I do think writing this book has changed my life. After leaving the practice of law I had to redefine myself, reinvent me if you will. And writing has gotten me back to the original childhood dream of what I wanted to do in life. The joy of writing legal thrillers is a lot less stressful than fighting to keep the State of Georgia from killing my client with a lethal injection as deadly as those given to Michael Jackson by Dr. Conrad Murray.
What is your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?
Ideally, I write between the hours of 2:00 A. M. and 7:00 A. M. I find that I am more creative at this time and I have fewer distractions, as the house is quiet and usually there is no noise coming in from outside. However, when I was working on Paper Puzzle I was interrupted one early morning by the coos of my neighbors’ tom cat and a female cat having a go of it in the tree in my yard. Yes, I have a goal to crank out 1,000 words a day. Typically, I will exceed this amount, but I never quit before reaching this goal.
How have you marketed and promoted your work?
I am essentially an internet marketer. I’ve made good use of the social network sites Gather, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, an email data base and my own website. I’ve given workshops at libraries, book stores and college campuses.
What advice would you give other novelists about book promotion?
I think the key thing for any novelist, no matter how big or small the publishing house you are working with is, you have to be committed to going out on the road where your fan base is. I find that you essentially have to show up in order to move your work. People may be reluctant to push the button online, even when they trust their internet shopping site, but they will come out to see you in person and buy your book. I would love to make lots of money while I am sleeping tonight, but that is not likely to happen. In the month of November alone, I have visited, or will visit Tuskegee Institute, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; Macon, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. For a man my age that is a lot of travel, but it is necessary to show up and talk with people who are interested in my work. I am willing to visit any city, book club, library or school in the country at my own expense for an opportunity to present before my public.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I am busy working on the sequel to Paper Puzzle. The working title is White Whiskey. I hope to have it completed by next summer, if not before. It is coming along well. I don’t want to give too much away for those who have not read Paper Puzzle, but it will give you the back story and fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Where can we find out more about you and your book?