Interview with Allen Madding, author of “Shaken Awake”

What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

I work primarily with computer. Shaken Awaken was an interesting project. I would be so keyed up from where I left off writing the day before that I would jot notes on my phone at lunch and on breaks at work for the next chapter. I would then download those into the computer and complete the next chapters.

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

I was the classic book nerd in elementary school. I was in the Summer reading program begging my Mom to drive me to the local library. I finally started riding my bike to the library. I fondly remember how amazed I was at the talent of the writers to take me some other place and time. I knew then I wanted to write.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

With Shaken Awake, I had the plot in mind before I had written the first sentence of the first chapter. I read a headline of a man who had frozen to death on the street near my office. A few weeks later, the big ice storm that shut Atlanta down happened, and I experienced it first-hand. Those events just seemed to melt into a storyline, and I ran with it from there.

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

The discipline it takes to carve out time to sit down and write when you do not feel inspired.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

I read a great deal. When I travel for work, I typically pack 2-4 books depending on the length of flights involved. I usually read a complete book on a 3 hour flight, so I pack a book for each flight and one for the hotel. Some of my favorite authors are Billy Coffey, Louis L’amour, Eugene Cho, Shawn Smucker, Larry McMurtry, and Pat Conroy.

Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I have a three stage process for proofreading. I proofread and edit three to four passes myself. I then give my wife a printed copy of the manuscript and a red pen. When she completes her pass, I edit with her findings. I then employ an editor for the final proofreading.

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

Yes, I have two books stewing at the moment one has been marinating for over a year while the other has been stewing for a few months.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

I read every review, but I do not post comments. I believe that reading the reviews can help me improve my craft.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Do not quit writing. I laid down my pen after high school. A college composition professor encouraged me to restart my writing, but I did not get the inspiration to pick it back up until I was 49 years old. I would be a much more seasoned writer if I had continued to write during that 30 year gap.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Write and then write some more. Write regularly and write often. Even if you do not think it is any good write and then write some more. The more you write, the better your writing will become.

It is often believed that almost all writers have had their hearts broken at some point in time, does that remain true for you as well?

Absolutely. My heart was broken on a mission trip in Venezuela for the children and youth there. My heart was broken for the families I encountered in the Atlanta area who were homeless and struggling with hunger. My heart continues to get broken, and I think it has a very significant impact on my writing.

Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?

I work as a computer help desk manager. While I enjoy seeing my accomplishments and find fulfillment in helping my coworkers become more productive, I would much rather be able to make a comfortable living writing. I think we would all love to be Ernest Hemingway, right?

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

Absolutely, coming home mentally exhausted makes it very difficult to then sit down a write. I am not sure Shaken Awake would have ever gone to press if I had not jotted chapter outlines on my phone during breaks and lunch.

People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?

To date, I have not experienced any glamour, no book tours, no book signings, no huge royalty checks. To me, becoming a published author is just one more step in the development as a writer. The financial rewards do not come with the first published book. The prize is continuing to put your work out there and building your audience. It does not happen overnight.

Do you like traveling or do you prefer staying indoors?

I absolutely love to travel and being outside. The beach or the mountains are my favorite places to be even if it is a 15 minute ride. I get cabin fever rather easily.

Are you satisfied with your success?

Not at all. I would love to be able to make a comfortable living off of my writing. That has not happened yet. I still work a fulltime day job. But I am pleased that I have a published book that has received favorable reviews. And, I believe my success is in my own hands. I just have to keep writing and keep pushing forward.

How did it feel when your first book got published?

There was a certain sense of accomplishment to see my work in printed form and listed at Amazon, Books-A-Million, and Barnes and Noble. It was much like crossing the finish line of your first 5K run. While it was not lining the shelves in the new release sections of book stores across the country, I made it to publication and knew I could do it again. And, I knew that the next trip would be just a little bit easier and carry a little bit more momentum.

What does the word ‘retirement’ mean to you? Do writers ever retire?

Retirement to me means not having to go into my day job and having a free schedule to write all the time. I do not believe writers ever retire from writing, because you do not retire your passions.

Did you ever change sentences more than five times just because it didn’t hit the right notes? 

I am pretty sure there were several sentences in Shaken Awake that crossed 10 changes. I changed a few over six times myself and some of those were then subsequently changed after my wife or my editor got a hold of them.

Do you need to be in a specific place or room to write, or you can just sit in the middle of a café full of people and write?

I can write just about anywhere that I can concentrate on my work – a coffee shop full of people, a table in a food court, a chair on the back deck of my house, or in my home office. It is not the space or location as much as it is being able to turn of the interruptions of life.