Irving Unleashed… A Revealing Conversation with Terry Irving

The last time I met with Mr Terry Irving we spent a lot of time talking about his career. This time I had a lot of mail from people asking to know more about the man. Let me take you to a cold winter evening in 2012. Terry was busy– but anxious to get the interview started. The tape rolls as follows…

 

terry Irving 3I’mm Baa-aack. All ready to do an interview with you, Nick.

Q) Hey Terry–ready to start?

A) Sure– oddly enough, I have another interview scheduled with IPTV Magazine – don’t know why.

Q) Okay, so let me ask you– did you enjoy the first interview we conducted?

A) I LOVED it– oh have we started?

(I knew from this start that Terry was in a good mood– jovial and Terry Irving go well together.)

Q) Yes, but I’ll keep that in– just for my ego.

A) Well, then let’s forge on into the verbal wilderness.

Q) I loved it, too– so what should we talk about?

A) How about my effing book (to use Terry Prachett’s words)?

(I was bent over doubled up laughing by this point.)

Q) Your effing book? Fine– so what do you like about your effing book?

A) I have a new review blurb: “An action-packed, entertaining, and thought-provoking story appropriate for a wide audience.” Of course, it’s from the editor at Createspace, and I would suspect they don’t usually tell their authors that their novel is the worst thing they’ve read since Terry Southern’s last effort.

Q) You can’t trust an editor or journalist, Terry. Hasn’t working with me told you that?

A) No, but I’ve never trusted you.

Q) Why? (I said, falling for the joke.)

A) In the words of Ronald Reagan, “Trust but Verify”, or as Jimmy Carter said when he landed in Poland, “I would like to have carnal love with all of you.” That last was a translator’s error.

Q) Well, I’m glad you verify my work– if you didn’t I’d be worried! Seriously, so how many people do you have working on your book? What do they do? Do you have a team?

A) In full disclosure, in the other book I’m currently writing – The Unemployed Guy’s Guide to Unemployment – I have a long section on the depression that affects the unemployed. To test out my theories on the subject, I woke up at 3am worrying about, well, everything. Then, I was too tired to write and too awake to sleep, so I wasted a couple of hours worrying about the unfixable.

To make a long story slightly less boring, my head feels like it’s filled with bees and I have the attention span and the vocabulary of a newborneinfant. I want the reading public to know this and protest your inhumane practices. PAYING THE BILLS worries me the most. Now, this is an interesting little chat-up between old boffins, but we should get to the meat of the matter and talk about the bloody book. Is it boffins or Gaffers?

Q) I prefer broke-ass writers.

A) Mates?

Q) Mates!

A) Onwards

Q) To victory

A) Ask a question about the book.

Q) So, about your book, Courier, Terry– how do you feel about it? Would you buy it?

A) I never set out to write Great Literature. I wanted a book that would be sitting in a bookstore at an airport and you would pick it up and go, “Hmmm. Looks okay. Should get me through the flight to LA.” It became a bit more complex than that, but basically I managed to stay away from complex ideas and literary merit.

Q) Is it all about telling a tale then? All about entertaining people?

A) I think so. Or at least that’s generally the sort of book I read. Sometimes I’m amazed when I realize that I’ve read all these serious tomes about War and Politics and the War of the Roses and whatever because I never intend to.I want to be Lee Child. That guy has what appears to be an effortless ability to force the reader – not force, entice would be better – to read on and on. I know it’s not just luck but a lot of hard work, but that’s what I’d like to be able to do. Write so that the reader forgets it’s a book so that afterwards, they simply remember the scene or the action and aren’t really sure if it was a book, a tv show or a movie.

Q) Of course, you see your book as a movie too, right?

A) Yes, my background is writing for television so the pictures are always in my mind as I write. The characters are usually talking in the background as well so it can get pretty complex in there. One of the areas I see as a weakness is that I have a fairly blunt style of writing – again from the stripped language of TV news where every word has to earn its place into a script – and I don’t put in enough descriptive sentences. I had my character crash off his motorcycle and scrape along the pavement for about a paragraph. Dennis LeHane has his guy go through a windshield and the description goes on for two pages. AND it’s brilliant.

Q) How about Stephen King? Does he grab you as an author?

A) Stephen King. Does anyone like Stephen King? Stephen King and Terry Goodkind should be placed in a box and separated from the rest of the world. Oh, along with Robert Jordan.

Q) I take it you don’t share the opinion that they are literary greats?

A) No. they are fairly smart hacks who just write endless pages of endless copy with no point, no beauty and no reason for existence. Not that I’m being critical, mind you. I once bought a Stephen Kingbook on tape to keep me awake on a straight-through drive to Florida, and I ended up smashing it on the ground somewhere in mid-Georgia. Later, I read that he had based the entire 20 book series on the line “To the Black Tower, Childe Harold rode.” Sadly, King is also very smart and inventive and, I suppose, scary and lots of people like him so I’m not going to be too critical. Those who like him love him, and if they read the books then that’s great!

Q) Who would you call a great writer?

A) Great writer? Dashiel Hammett, Edgar Allen Poe, Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft who invented the Chulthu Mythos, Tolkien– writers who created entire new areas of literature. Tolkien’s world was a brilliant invention that took almost nothing from previous writers. No one has done it better since. ‘Continental Op’ is one of the best books ever. Hammett invents the entire private eye, noire, entirely American theme of the lone man with a code of honour.

Q) How about Chandler? Great writer?

A) Chandler? A good writer – not a great one. I mean, you can only have so many Great Writers or you start to debase the currency. I’m happy if I can find an OK writer to read. Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick, Jules Verne, those are some of the better writers.

Q) (John) Steinbeck?

A) Steinbeck? Ehh. Yes, he was great but … everyone knows that already and Dos Passos was a lot more fun. Pynchon was great until he began to write in code.

Q) Who would you call the worst writer you’ve read?

A) The worst writer. You mean, besides a significant number of the authors I see online these days? I would have to say Terry Goodkind, otherwise. Derivative, uninteresting, lousy descriptions, unreal conversations – of course, I made all these decisions from reading about 20 pages of one book. My other pet hatred are the writers who sell off their worlds to other writers– usually without warning you. They should be given a sound thrashing and sent to bed with out rice pudding.

Q) So you don’t much care for the self-published author?

A) I really don’t know enough about the entire self-publishing world. That was one of my ponderings last night. I know there are some real dogs out there but that’s probably true in any field. I suspect that there are some excellent authors in the self-pub area but I also suspect that the big publishing houses are watching and picking off the ones that don’t suck. My problem is that I really don’t understand this new paradigm of publishing at all. I can’t understand “books” that run 17 pages. That’s a menu at a restaurant, not a book. I don’t understand why mass paperbacks are a minimum of 80,000 words but anything over 60,000 is considered too big in the self-pub business, and I really don’t understand how to make any money here.

Q) I think you are meant to be published by a house. I’m not sure why you aren’t, but I believe something isn’t being done right.

A) I think big publishers are terrified of the changes and are only accepting the big authors and books with vampires and zombies – preferably both. I wanted to be picked up by a major publishing house – heck, I had friends at three of them! But it hasn’t happened and I’m just egotistical enough to believe it’s not because Courier is a terrible book.

Q) Terry, you have just dared a publishing house to take your book. Calling them out!

A) First off, it was ever thus. I was reading one author – a huge seller – who said that his first book was sent to over 200 editors. JK Rowling, the same. Plus, where book editors used to have a certain leeway to pick a book that was out of the mainstream but they thought had a little something – today, any choice goes to a central publishing committee and you have to defend your choice. Gah! I’d pick vampires, too.

Q) Would I be right to say you’re angry with the lack of vision within the publishing industry then?

A) “Lack of vision”? Nah, I’ve been in television buddy. I’ve seen “lack of vision” on its home ground, where it was born and raised. It’s the realities of the market and the changes in technology. I imagine people in publishing are terrified. All the rules have changed. I mean, people do interviews with bloggers for Pete’s sake, instead of good, reliable radio shows.

Q) Does it worry you that your book might get lost in a sea of loser novels?

A) It worries me that my book could get lost in a sea of good novels. I’ve written a very personal novel – based on my own experiences – and set in a world that few people really know– Television News in the 1970’s. Young people have no clue what I’m talking about and there simply weren’t that many of us working in the industry at the time (which made it really really fun – young people could take a chance and do just about anything).

Q) Do you find it difficult to adapt to the new way of things?

A) Seriously, no. My job in television – and certainly for 8 years at Nightline – was to take a very complex subject that I knew nothing about. Research it, understand it and then break it down to its essentials so I could explain it to a mass audience. Learning about self-publishing and 99 percent e-books and i-books and whatever; is really just a version of the same thing. I left a cushy job at ABC News in 1993 and, after cold-calling a dozen people, went to Los Angeles and wrote a CD-ROM interactive History of the World. I picked up non-linear editing, was VP at a startup where we were going to have online video classes for businesses and where we did the outline, and Tada Industries in Calcutta did the programming overnight on this weird “Internet” thingie.

Q) Did it pay off?

A) Nope.

Q) You like taking chances?

A) I have consistently been far enough ahead of the technology curve that there was neither the audience nor the content to support my efforts. It was fun though. It’s not as much about taking chances as being willing to try doing something new. I’d never written a film script before I wrote one, I’d never watched streaming media before I became VP of a streaming media company.

Q) How about your successes? What would you class as your achievements?

A) My achievements? Well, if you’re honest with yourself, you really don’t do much of lasting importance in TV. However, I did have a significant role in two cases where the show I did made a difference in real life. One was the first time we went to South Africa in 1985 and Apartheid was in its last full-bore application before the whites gave up. We put (Arch) Bishop Desmond Tutu on the air side by side with Foreign MinisterPik Botha. It was literally the first time that South Africans had seen an educated, erudite black man disagree with a powerful white man in public.

The other was a show that I’d been trying to do for several years on “Heavy Urban Rescue”. That’s what you do afteranincident like the World Trade Towers, like the Mexico City earthquake, or like Katrina in New Orleans. The US government was fielding rescue teams that knew how to handle these situations, but they were being run out of the State Department and couldn’t be sent to domestic events. When a department store in a small town simply pancaked down on a couple of hundred people, I pushed the show and we pointed out that an efficient rescue and relief administration wasn’t a matter of cost but accumulated knowledge. If you’re a local mayor, you’re not going to put resources into UHR, you’re just going to hope it doesn’t happen, but it always happens several times a year in a nation. I was told that the day after the show ran, there was a high-level meeting at the White House and they proceeded to completely revamp FEMA along those lines. Sadly, eventhough that was done by the administration of the first George Bush, it was specifically dismantled by George W. Bush – with the results you saw in New Orleans.

Q) Would you say you’re in an angry mood today?

A) Nope. Just passionate. It’s just that the changes to destroy FEMA were done specifically to ensure that people did not expect any help from their government. It was ideological and stupid.

Q) So tell me, you have friends in the publishing industry– what do they think about Courier?

A) My friends in the publishing business went running like scared bunnies when I asked for the favor. My agent, Dean Krystek is a good guy. I specifically wrote him and asked that he continue as my agent even as I did the self-publishing route and we would work out some sort of arrangement. I like having professionals on my side – lawyers, accountants, agents. It enables you go up against the big guys. Nick, you’re doing well as a little guy against the big guns – talk about someone with drive and ambition.

Q) Thank you, Terry– I try my best.

A) I just want to understand this bloody new business. I can write a 17 page “book” a day – seriously. I was looking at all these e-books and i-books and they’re all 70 pages long. That would take about a week.

Q) Well. looks like we’ve come to the end of this interview. You have another to get to right? Any last words of advice?

A) You only need to speak 10 things in any language to be a journalist. Hello, Goodbye, Thank You, Yes, No, Go straight, Turn left, Turn Right, and “don’t kill me, I’m a journalist”.

With that, Terry Irving was whisked off to meet another writer and greet another new audience. I was left with one of the best interviews anyone could ask for. Courier is soon to be banging on your door and it’s only a matter of time before Mr Terry Irving is back in front of you as a fitting– not a fixture. Nick Wale needs a drink after this interview– sure as hell tired me out! All you writers who need an agent– Dean Krystek is the guy to find!

If you want to know more about Mr. Irving, find Terry’s first interview here.

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