Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Interview: J. Lincoln Fenn

Today J. Lincoln Fenn shares the tale behind POE, her Amazon Award winning novel!

GC: Tell me about your novel and how you began writing it!  

Fenn:  I like to say that if David Sedaris and Stephen King had a love child, Poe would be it - it's horror, but also funny, spooky, sad, and human. The novel centers on Dimitri Petrov, a 23-year old obituary writer and college dropout. He runs afoul of an evil spirit (the titular Poe) while on a haunted house assignment. Dimitri 's driven to find the common link between a string of killings, his own deceased parents, the legendary Rasputin, his girlfriend’s insane brother and the strange numbered “code” that obsesses him. 

I work full-time and have a family, so I had to take every spare moment to write. Many times, the laundry didn’t get done. It took about three months to get the first draft. But Dimitri came through so strong, it made it easier - to a large extent I felt like I was just channeling his voice. But he was a scene-stealer. I had to pare him back in the revision. 

And while Poe is definitely horror, it's also in an odd way a reflection of my life.  My parents died within two months of each other in my late twenties. That's the true horror - losing people you love. I'll never forget touching my mother's body at the wake - how cold it was, like a stone. But there were oddly funny moments too. Like when I got home. As I was crying, my two-year old grabbed a bra from the dresser for me to wipe my eyes. He was so sweet it made me start laughing. The interplay of humor and death struck me. I wanted to bring that complexity of emotion to the novel.  I also wrote in plenty of blood and gore though too. Gotta have those.
GC: When did you hear about Penguin and Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest? Were you set on entering right away?

Fenn: I knew someone who'd made it to the semi-final round in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award a couple years back. So I thought if I entered and made it through a couple of cuts, it might be more attractive to agents.

I almost missed the deadline. I remember it was a Sunday, and I was really busy. I looked up the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and I think there were two or three days left to enter. It was more of a "what the heck" move. 
GC: What was the waiting process like? Do you consider that you were calm, cool and collected, or were you biting off your nails like the rest of us mere mortals?

Fenn: Me? Oh totally calm, cool, and collected. 

I might have been checking the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards discussion board threads religiously for any gossip. My family might have gotten a little tired of me talking about the Amazon contest. My hair might have gone a little gray.  But I admit to nothing.
GC: When did you hear you were a finalist? What was that moment like?

Fenn: The day before I got the call, a very strong wind blew through our house. A piece of art fell off the wall. Nothing else was moved. The art was something I bought on the day of my mother's funeral, so I had a feeling.

Still, when my cell phone rang at 9AM, I saw the area code was Seattle. My heart stopped for a few seconds. I was at work, so I couldn't really jump up and down and scream. But I definitely wanted to.
GC: Have you had the chance to read your fellow winner's 
work? What do you think of their novels?

Fenn: The excerpts I’ve read, including the finalists and also those who were quarterfinalists and semifinalists, have seriously blown me away. There's quite a few that made me want to buy the whole book.

GC: Would you care to share your favorite quote from your winning title?

Fenn: I'm probably fonder of some of the snarkier quotes than I should be. Like:

"I look up to find Nate, Mac's son and Senior Editor, aka Senior Asshole, or Senior Douche Bag, or Senior Beneficiary of Nepotism, standing in front of me.  There is a characteristic dumb smirk on his squarely jawed face and a gleam of unexpressed sadism in his eye.  If there was a nuclear war and people resorted to a Lord of the Flies barbarism complete with cannibalism and rampant destruction of whatever civilization remained, it would not surprise me in the least to find Nate at the head of the ruling clan with a scavenged thigh bone in hand, screeching through the ravaged streets in some kind of assemblage of truck a la Mad Max, with automatic rifles strapped to his back."
GC: What's next for you?

Fenn: Writing the next two books in the series, getting a film produced, proving that chicks can write horror. And, oh yeah, the laundry.

J. Lincoln Fenn

"A delightful, bravura piece of gothic pop…fans of Neil Gaiman and the aforementioned Buffy will be immediately taken, but there’s a literate edge to the pyrotechnics that makes for an unlikely and welcome marriage between the spook story and literature of altogether less ectoplasmic substance." Publisher's Weekly praise for the unpublished manuscript POE

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