This week I’d like to introduce you to author Preston Holtry. He’s an avid traveler, former alpine ski instructor and VA hospital volunteer.
Preston received a BA degree from the Virginia Military Institute and a graduate degree from Boston University. He was a career Army officer, and served twice in Vietnam in addition to a variety of assignments in Germany, England and the United States.
Let’s learn more about him.
Which writers inspire you? For non-fiction – William Manchester, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Massie, Stephen Ambrose and David McCullough; for fiction Colleen McCullough, Sharon Kaye Penman, Ivan Doig.
So, what have you written? (*Include books, novellas, short stories, poems, blogs, awards or anything of interest, professional or hobby.) Four period mysteries set in the southwest during the period 1915-1917 featuring the detective Morgan Westphal; one contemporary mystery/thriller with an international setting; the ARRIUS Trilogy set during 120-137 C.E. in Judea and Britannia.
What are you currently working on and what is it about? I’ve been working on a two-book historical novel set 1855-1865 along the Missouri/Kansas border. The first vol is about the build-up to the Civil War and Vol 2 covers the war in both states during the War. I’ve always been fascinated by the Civil War, but most of my reading and research has tended to focus on the eastern and southeastern states until I stumbled on the tales of Bloody Kansas and the Missouri Border “Ruffians” and realized the beginnings of the fighting predated Fort Sumter by five years.
What drew you to write in this genre? I write different genres but all my novels have one thing in common – they draw upon history either directly or indirectly or in some context.
How much research do you do? A lot!! I spent an entire year researching the Roman Empire before writing a single word of ARRIUS, and part way through the trilogy went back to England to walk the ground in Northumberland where Hadrian’s Wall is located. I want the tactile feel of scope, terrain etc. to make the setting as real to the reader as it was to me. Since all my novels have historical roots, research is absolutely critical. Readers of historical novels demand that you get it right!
When did you decide to become a writer? I cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to write, but by early high school I vowed one day I would get a book published. Reality of course requires you do not quit your day job until you’re a frequent visitor to the New York Times Best Sellers list. I had to retire before I began writing seriously and the first book wasn’t published until years after that.
Do you write full-time or part-time? Mainly part-time, a few hours a day and usually early morning. I do not set a minimum number of pages/words. More typical I schedule a specific time to detach from the world to write – sometimes the result is multiple pages or just a single paragraph when I have to research some factoid “to get it right!”
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? I never outline. I first develop a concept of a plot/setting and some kind of situation, event(s), usually based on some historical occurrence. From there, I’ll write a half page general synopsis with the main character identified and other suggestive characters just to get started. This paragraph will probably under 5-7 times before I’m finished with the book. When I write a mystery, the plot can go in multiple directions. As I say on my website, I’m only a few pages ahead of the reader in figuring out who the culprit is, since there’s enough stuff to point the finger at multiple people. The latter is also a result of developing characters that become so believable (at least to me) I occasional become conflicted who I finally decide is the real villain. If the characters aren’t telling the story, then chances are the story isn’t going to resonate. I believe a mistake many fiction authors in particular make is they don’t listen to their characters; consequently credibility, believability are the casualties.
What is the hardest thing about writing? Overcoming the tyranny of the first blank page then knowing when you’ve done your best before you nickel and dime it to death. The obverse of the question is defining the “easiest thing” about writing. For me, there’s nothing easy about writing. I approach the first 50 pages as if it’s a slab of granite, which requires me to hammer and chisel away until something like a vision finally appears.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors? I’m a voracious reader. I read mainly non-fiction history/bios. See the first question above.
Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you? I do, but I also depend on others after I’ve given it my best shot. Almost without fail, the writer is the worst editor of them all! Before I let beta readers have a go at it, I do let the book percolate for a few weeks, then go back and take a third or fourth look. It’s amazing the sterling tale you spent 8-9 months writing is so full of spelling, syntax, punctuation errors not to mention missing words and format issues!!
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process? Yes, I do. The old adage is “Don’t judge a book by its cover” may be true, but we all do. I’m drawn to both a title and a cover suggestive of what the book is about. If I’m not drawn to it, then I probably won’t even read the synopsis, let alone by the book. Having said that my favorite authors could have a plain cover, and I’d go for it simply because of name recognition. The latter cuts both ways and the most interesting cover and title on the shelf if written by authors I’ve read and have no intention of reading again will remain on the Amazon shelf.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews? Yes, I’ve gotten some mediocre reviews, which are disappointing, but it goes with the reality of putting your stuff out for the public to love it or hate it. If you dread bad reviews, you may be too thin-skinned to take the inevitable heat. There have been occasions I could understand and accept the criticisms. What I can easily disregard are criticisms that tell me the writer either didn’t understand or finish reading the novel. Hey. No one likes criticism; however, if it’s constructive, then it’s more bearable.
Now retired, Preston lives with his wife, Judith, in Oro Valley, Arizona. Read more about his interests and writing approach at www.presholtry.webs.com.
Stayed tuned for another author interview next week! Until then, why not check out some of Preston’s novels:
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