Interview with Brendan Duffy, author of “House of Echoes”

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

Oh, certainly. From conception to publication, the books I write take 2-4 years to complete. My projects tend to overlap, but it’s a long process for me.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I find a schedule very useful while writing a first draft. Setting daily or weekly word goals is a wonderful way to keep a book moving forward. Even a modest goal, like 500 words a day, adds up fast!

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

My advice is to read both voraciously and widely. All categories of fiction have their virtues, so try not to stunt yourself by reading narrowly.

Does your day job ever get in the way of your writing?

Fortunately, my day job is very flexible. It’s also creative and book-oriented in nature, so I’m very lucky that it complements and accommodates my writing so well.

Does it get frustrating if you are unable to recall an idea you had in your mind some time earlier?

I do my best to record phrases and ideas as they occur to me, whether this is in my notebook, phone, or laptop. What’s frustrating is when I can’t properly decipher my notes later!

Are you friends with other writers?

Yes, I’m lucky to be friends with many writers and editors. This is endlessly useful and supportive, because it’s an odd sort of work that not everyone understands. I’m fortunate to have a lot of people in my life that I can depend upon for smart and informed advice and feedback.

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

An archeologist!

How did it feel when your first book got published?

Walking into a bookstore and seeing House of Echoes displayed is a wonderful and surreal feeling. It’s hard to imagine ever getting used to it. The first time I saw it in the wild, it was placed right between Stephen King and John Grisham’s latest releases. Totally unreal!

Are you working on something new at the moment?

Always! I’m polishing a novel with my editor right now. I’ve been working hard on it for a long while, and I’m very excited about it.

How do you incorporate the noise around you into the story you are writing at the moment?

I generally listen to music or white noise when writing. If I’m having trouble with a scene, I might change the playlist to something more upbeat or downbeat to help get myself into the right mind frame. The book I’m currently writing takes place during a hurricane, and I find the “storm” setting on my white noise app very useful and evocative.

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

My books are usually categorized as psychological suspense, but they reside at an intersection of several genres. They have elements of horror and historical fiction, and while they’re certainly plot-driven they’re also firmly character-oriented. Something I love about reading a book that inhabits this space between traditional genres is the sense that anything can happen.

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is one of my all-time favorites. I’m a sucker for a good college novel, and Tartt combines this rich setting with an engaging cast of character, dramatic hook, and enthralling academic subculture. In addition to an exciting plot, she succeeds in making a familiar precinct feel wholly fresh and original.

Did you ever think you would be unable to finish your first novel?

I never doubted that I would finish my first novel, but I did worry that no one would want to read it. As it turns out, these fears were well-founded. That novel lives in a drawer now. Though it will never see the light of day, I learned a huge amount by completing it. Getting that first book out of my system, and sticking with it to the end was an essential step in my growth as a writer.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

The hardest thing about writing is forcing myself to sit down, open my laptop, and dig into the work. The temptation to procrastinate is very strong. In terms of process, I’d say the most challenging stage of writing a book is revision—which is where I spend about 80% of my time.

Did any of your books get rejected by publishers?

Yes, the first novel I wrote that was submitted to publishers never found a home. Thought it was never placed, I learned an enormous amount from the time I spent working on it. While no editors offered on it, I won some fans among those who rejected it—including the editor who later acquired two of my books.

What is your motivation for writing more?

My core motivation is simple: I have stories and places and people within me that I want to share. I also thrive on the challenge of assembling these creations into a construction that is engaging, entertaining, and original.

Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they’re finished with their project – how true is that in your case?

I do tend to isolate myself during some phases of working on a book. I feel this is particularly true during revisions, a difficult stage that requires (for me, at least) a lot of very intense concentration.

Do you prefer writing over reviewing the work of others?

At this stage in my career, I feel quite uncomfortable reviewing the work of others. Since I know how much work, time, and energy goes into writing a novel, I prefer only to talk about books that I enjoy and would recommend.

It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?

I agree that writers must be invested in their characters and believe that their story is worth telling. I think readers can tell when authors cynically try to cash in on trends with phoned-in cardboard characters and well-trod plots. The author-reader relationship is intimate, and sincerity is essential to its quality.

Have you ever destroyed any of your drafts?

I’ve never destroyed an entire draft, although every book I’ve written has endured massive and numerous revisions. Sometimes I’ve found myself wandering down plot trails that turn out to be blind alleys, so I have Word files filled with hundreds of thousands of deleted words. This seems to be part of my (very messy!) process, but the books are always better for it in the end.

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