Questions for Authors: Barry Finlay author of A Perilous Question responds
Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?
The premise for my new novel, A Perilous Question, is based on a question asked of me by a teenage girl during a tour of a dormitory in Africa we had helped to fund through our fundraising activities. Her question was, “When are you taking me to Canada?” I always wondered what would have happened to her if she had asked the wrong person. There was nothing holding her there. Her parents had died of HIV/Aids and she had no siblings. As far as I know, the real girl was fine, but the girl and her friend in my book are not so fortunate.
I believe it is a relevant subject with human trafficking being so prevalent. It points to a need for better education. The teenager in Africa was either unaware of the potential risk or willing to take the chance for a better life. The fact that I’ve visited Africa twice and have some familiarity with the education system provides some uniqueness.
How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a note book where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?
The tour of the dormitory took place in 2009 and I wrote my first novel, The Vanishing Wife, which had little to do with this topic, before I tackled A Perilous Question. It was always in the back of my head to write a novel about the subject. I do have some notes about topics, but I knew that this was one I just had to write about.
How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?
I did some research on human trafficking before I started writing and continued throughout the writing process. It was rolling around in my head for about 4 years and I researched off and on during that time.
What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?
The internet is my primary source, but I always check more than one article on the subject before using the information. For both my novels, I spoke with Detectives who are experts in human trafficking, negotiations and general police procedure. One scene in my first novel takes place in a Casino and I talked to some employees at one we have locally and got a tour of the restaurant during quiet hours.
How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police when you say you want to write about them? Is there a good way to approach them in your experience?
In my opinion, talking to subject matter experts is priceless. It adds authenticity to the book. Things just don’t happen the way they do on CSI. I was thrilled with my conversations with the members of the local police department.
I am fortunate to have contacts that got me in the door and introduced me to the right people. The detectives I met were extremely forthcoming and giving of their time.
Without those contacts, I guess I would start with their Public Relations team. I think the level of success in approaching them will depend on the police force and their particular outreach programs. The people I spoke with seemed to be happy that I was taking the time to try to get it right.
How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?
When I wrote my first book, a non-fiction story called, Kilimanjaro and Beyond, I received my share of rejection letters. My second non-fiction story called I Guess We Missed the Boat, was published by a small press. They ultimately became insolvent and I have been self publishing ever since.
If I may, I would just like to comment on self-publishing versus publishing.
There are definite advantages to being a author published by a publishing house. Some that I can think of off the top of my head are improved distribution, greater access to mainstream newspaper, TV and radio spots and opportunities to enter more prestigious literary competitions.
However, there are many advantages to self-publishing, including maintaining control of your work, setting your own deadlines, etc. and there are also many promotional opportunities and more every day. There is still some stigma attached to self-publishing, but it is disappearing.
My experience with the publishing house was that I still had to do most of the marketing and promotion myself. In short, there’s nothing wrong with chasing the dream, but someone who is self-published should never consider themselves less of an author.
Did you need to self-publish on e-books before a publisher took you up?
I think self-publishing Kilimanjaro and Beyond helped me find a publisher for my second book.
Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?
In my opinion, it helps to demonstrate a level of commitment before approaching a publisher. They want to know you are in it for the long haul and that you have some sense of the business. Some sales and awards are also helpful. Some publishers may be willing to take you on without that, but I certainly think your chances of being noticed improve with self-publishing experience.
Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?
Writing does not provide sufficient income for me to live on, although it is getting better. Now that I have four books on the market, I’m seeing some regular monthly income. There is a great deal of competition so that makes it difficult to stand out. I think most writers have to be prepared to supplement their income somehow.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you on a book tour?
I get some strange questions when I’m signing books and many people want to talk about their own writing or other personal experiences. Someone asked me once how long an elephant lives. I guess I was supposed to know that because I wrote a book about Kilimanjaro in Africa. Any opportunity to meet the readers is a great experience.