Q: Claude, to repay you properly for the many happy hours in which you've scared me witless, I'd like to take you to a dark place you'd probably rather forget. Are you game?
A: I certainly am, Reb. The question is, are you?
Q: Oh, I'm always prepared to be completely unprepared. Let's see...The year is 1997. You've spent the last two years composing a series of thrillers you'd hoped would make your name and fortune. Tell us of the volley of queries you sent...the number of rejections, form, full and partial reads...and how it felt when, at last, you surrendered.
A: Though I’d written three novels by mid-97, the only one I’d worked with on the query side was the series opener, Vigilante. I’m going on memory here but it seems to me most of my querying activity was during the first half of 1996. This was back before email when any efforts at seeking agent representation were done via mail with a SASE (that’s Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope) included. Most agents were located in NYC and L.A., so my uncle in Burbank had sent me a roll of U.S. stamps which weren’t readily found in Canada. I don’t remember exactly how many queries I sent, maybe 75 or so at the rate of 2 or 3 per week to avoid too much concurrent interest. However… Most of what I got back were rejections: some personalized...others, form letters...and a couple of hand scribbles directly on my query letters. I did receive three requests for partials and one for a full but nothing came out of those in the end. What really annoyed me were the 20-30 who never responded. Bastards were probably in the business just for the free stamps. The experience left me disappointed though not to any major extent. At the time, the writing and dreaming of selling my stories was more of a game than a career plan.
Q: And so began a silence of twelve years. At some point, I remember reading you were represented by an agent for a while. What happened?
A: Just to clarify the timeline, the agent representation happened once I got back into writing in 2009. I had reviewed, re-edited and self-published my three manuscripts in the spring and was working on getting my name out via social media, particularly Twitter. As it turned out, an editor with whom I chatted frequently was learning the ropes to become an agent, her tutor being a childhood friend and seasoned agent himself. When they launched the agency in December, 2009, I was offered representation along with fifteen to twenty other writers. The relationship lasted eighteen months, after which our agent either melted, imploded or spontaneously combusted. The incident was not recorded so we never learned what exactly happened to the bit--uh, lady. :)
Q: Going back to 1997 after you wrote your third novel, did you believe that you were quitting for keeps...or was your spirit 'taking five'?
A: To be honest, neither. I had written Vigilante because a story had grown in my head and I needed to let it out. While working on it, a sequel formed and the result was The Consultant. Mind Games was waiting for its turn next. Once I finished the third novel, nothing else was screaming for release. As mentioned earlier, it’s not like I harbored a secret desire to become a bestselling author at the time. My studies and career were in human resources management and I considered my writing as a hobby, much like my painting and guitar. These were leisure activities which allowed me to express myself, nothing more.
Q: So, twelve years of silence. At what point did you start to feel the itch to write again? Did you jump right back into it as if you'd never stopped...or did it take you a while to get back in the groove?
A: What got the itch going again is when I decided to bring my first three novels back to the surface in April 2009. Times had changed during those twelve years and POD suppliers suddenly made it possible for me to see my books as books, not stacks of 8.5 X 11 inch paper. Revising and editing those manuscripts anew slipped me back into the sport and by the time I was done with the third, my characters were raring to go and looking for some action. I published The Homeless Killer less than seven weeks later.
Q: You made a remarkably bold decision in keeping the three completed books set in the decade you wrote them--then picking up in the present. What can you tell us about that?
A: When I reviewed the first three books twelve years later, I felt they still stood up and therefore saw no need to make them more current. I laughed when reading a recent review where the reviewer suggested Vigilante needed updating to get away from the 90s feel. The story took place in 1995 and, apparently, I did a decent job of reflecting that. I could have gone ahead and set book number 4 in 1998 and kept my characters younger. However, it just made sense to write in relatively real time as I had in the past. After all, I’d gotten older during that twelve year period. Why should my characters get a break by enjoying existence without aging?
Q: Cut to the moment of truth now. The year is 2009. You've decided to self-publish your first three books and quickly followed up with a fourth. Were you afflicted with feelings of failure at first? Did you have any inkling of the pot of gold in store?
A: To be honest, my initial goal in self-publishing the first three was to hold actual finished products in my hands. I ordered a bunch of copies of the first edition of Vigilante which I signed and gave to each member of my immediate family. That was my satisfaction… Until a complete stranger bought the book… That’s when I started seriously thinking about recreating such transactions over and over and got busy working on promoting. Sales were dismal for a couple of years but I never considered it as failure but rather, frustration, learning curves and opportunities for persistence. As for the pot of gold, I’ll let you know as soon as I find it.
Q: You're justly famous, Claude, for your Twitter following: about 1/3 of a million, and growing. And you've told most if not all of your secrets online, sharing the wealth with new talent. But what sets you apart from your rivals still more is the pleasure that you clearly take in the social side of Twitter. You're accessible, supportive and really seem to care. Have you always been this way or did the long silence change you?
A: That really is how I’ve always been and it’s no doubt part of my upbringing. Wherever I worked throughout my corporate career, I always ended up being a “go to guy” when someone needed a hand or information. If I can help someone out, I’m happy to do it. Over the years, I’ve always been grateful for any help I received when I was stuck and I simply believe in passing it along.
Q: What percentage of your time is spent on social media? Am I right in thinking you enjoy that as much as the writing itself?
A: It’s difficult to measure as it’s not a scheduled activity but rather an ongoing, as needed, one but I’d guesstimate that percentage to be roughly 30%. Twitter, which is my primary social media platform, is up and running 10 to 12 hours per day while I’m doing a number of other book related activities in addition to tweeting. Like many jobs I’ve held in the past, I enjoy the variety involved in being a self-published author and part of that is the social media aspect. In a sense, it replaces the social interactions I once had with others back in the corporate world.
Q: Productive though you are, you don't seem to be in a hurry. What's the dream scenario of your production schedule?
A: I’m not in a hurry and there is no scenario dreaming involved in my production schedule. I start writing a book when I do and finish at the end. I don’t map out my stories so establishing timetables or deadlines doesn’t make sense to me. I write when it’s time, sometimes thousands of words in a day, sometimes hundreds, some days not at all. If I get something done quickly, it gets out sooner; if not, I release it later.
Q: Please define your ideal reader.
A: This was an interesting question which required much thought and consideration in order to come up with an appropriate answer. Having carefully weighed all applicable factors, I’d have to say my ideal reader is anyone who loves my books.
Q: What are the narrative values you cherish the most as a writer?
A: Writing is an art form and art, among other definitions, is a method of expression. Where an artist recounts his story with hues and shapes or a musician organizes notes and tempo to share her auditory tale, a writer composes his vision with narrative. Although I’m an artist and musician as well, my preferred mode of expression is writing as I find it offers the most extensive palette, allowing me to create not only an image or a moment but rather, a continuous flow of sights, sounds, movement, thoughts and behaviors which, combined, meld into a story. I was recently asked, “How did you learn to write scenes?” to which I replied, “The best way I can describe how I write scenes is that I visualize them as I'm writing (kind of like a movie playing in my head) and then describe what I'm seeing.” Though I could produce a reasonable portrayal of a scene with paint and brush, it would never have the dimension made possible with narrative.
Q: How close do you feel to producing the best of all Claude Bouchard books--and what would set it apart from the rest?
Another interesting question, Reb, which brings to mind a WIP I currently have simmering in the background. I started writing The Last Party, a stand-alone, in February this year and this is one which I am definitely taking my time with. It requires a great deal of research and the storyline is intricate with a number of distinct but related sub-plots. I won’t go into detail for now but I envision a work which, in the end, will highlight how little humankind is, both physically in relation to the planet and nature as well as in mindset in terms of pettiness and selfishness. Once it’s complete, it should rock.
Q: Do you feel more blessed or rewarded--or both?
A: I’m blessed for all I have which matters, meaning health, family, love and friends. I’m rewarded for my efforts. It’s all good.
Q: Which famous historical figures might you have liked to have been?
A: A difficult question to answer with so many great folks to choose from but I’ve narrowed it down to two. It would be either Benjamin Franklin, because he was highly talented, intelligent and versatile, as demonstrated by his accomplishments as a statesman, diplomat, inventor, writer and scientist or Karl Marx because growing up with Groucho, Harpo and Chico had to be a riot.
Q: Of your two protagonists, it would be safer to say that you relate to lawman Dave. But...Chris Barry shares you initials. Do tell...
A: I actually relate to Dave and Chris equally well as they both remind me of myself to some extent. We all share a very similar sense of humor and way of thinking. When I think about it, it’s actually somewhat strange how alike we are in many aspects. In regards to the initials, Chris went on with that for a while, particularly when I got onto Twitter as ceebee308. He kept teasing with how I liked him better than Dave. Crazy guys, I tell you.
Q: Looking back, can you see any ways that your life was enriched by that silence?
A: I have to admit, I don’t tend to look back very much. What’s done is done and we can’t change the past. However, to answer your question, I wouldn’t say the silence is what enriched my life as much as writing my first three novels before my twelve year hiatus. I can’t say for sure but I don’t know if I would have suddenly decided to write novels in 2009 if I hadn’t had that three book foundation already in place. What I do know for sure is I’m damned pleased I did write them at the time.
Q: What's the baddest and best about the man Bouchard?
A: Baddest: Putting it lightly, I frown when I’m annoyed. Best: I respect anyone who deserves it.
Q: Can you let a whisker or two of the cat out of the bag about your future books?
A: I’m currently working on Femme Fatale, the seventh in the Vigilante series. It’s based in Paris and though past central characters are present, it features Leslie Robb, who made her first appearance two books earlier in 6 Hours 42 Minutes and was then quite present in Discreet Activities. I’m not sure exactly when it will be finished but it could release before the New Year. As mentioned earlier, The Last Party will eventually see the day but only when it’s good and ready.