Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Author Interview: Greg Ahlgren

Our interview today is with Greg Ahlgren, author of The Medici Legacy.

Jennifer: Where can we find out more about you and buy your book?

Author Link: http://www.gregahlgren.com/

Purchase Links: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Medici-Legacy-ebook/dp/B004L6290S/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1320676153&sr=1-1

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/medici-legacy-greg-ahlgren/1102238889?ean=2940012378743&itm=1&usri=the%252bmedici%252blegacy

Jennifer: Tell us about your book.

THE MEDICI LEGACY by Greg Ahlgren $4.99 Kindle and Nook (88,250 words)

When thirty-something Deputy Inspector Antonio Ferrara of the Italian Polizia di Stato discovers that the seemingly random victims of a Tuscan serial killer are all actually illegitimate descendants of one Giovanni di Cosimo de Medici, a 15th century Florentine banker, his superior scoffs at his theory, the Italian military police caution him to leave this closed case alone on the basis of “national security,” and even his father uses the occasion to hector him to leave police work and return to the family art business. Undeterred, Antonio enlists the aid of Rachel Fuller, an American Fulbright scholar working on her Medici dissertation in Florence, and together they travel to America to unlock a secret that spans three continents.

Jennifer: Where did you get the idea for the story?

Greg: All three of my books are actually based on real historical events, although obviously not my own. Crime of the Century: The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax, is a non-fiction, true crime book analyzing the Lindbergh kidnapping case. Prologue is a time-travel novel centered around the President John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963, and my latest book, The Medici Legacy, is based in part on the Japanese germ warfare experiments of World War II, especially the notorious Unit 731 actions in Pingfang.

As a self-confessed history junkie I’ll run across a piece of history, in this case perhaps a piece I read on the Medici family, and that will inspire me to start doing additional research for my own pleasure. Sometimes, as in this case, it will lead to additional information, perhaps a cross-referenced website on Florence in general, and maybe on the Plague that devastated the city in the 14th century, and that in turn leads to an article about World War II atrocities, and slowly an idea takes hold in my brain. I may play with it for weeks or months, thinking of a plot line, characters, etc. I’d say maybe nine out of ten times I eventually discard it and move on to something else, but if I find myself opening a spiral notebook and jotting down plot points, as I did here, I know I’m a goner.

Jennifer: What is your greatest writing challenge?

Greg: Starting. When I first open the notebook (I write longhand) the trail seems to stretch so far into a vast wilderness. O.K., O.K., I know, that’s a bit trite. But I always say “you gotta’ get black on white;” you just have to start someplace and not think about how far you have to go. Remember, a journey of a thousand miles starts with going to Rite-Aid and buying a spiral notebook.

Jennifer: What do you find most rewarding in writing a book?

Greg: This may sound strange – but for me it is editing. Yes, that’s right. Looking at what I wrote and saying “Yuck, that is awful,” and then fixing it, well, I think that’s when you really learn the most about writing. And when you read another’s writing, and say, “Gee, they should have trimmed that sentence and it would have flowed better,” that’s when you know you are learning. And I include all kinds of editing, not only fixing the misspells and inserting the missing end quotation mark, but also the re-writes of poorly worded phrases, sentences, paragraphs and sometimes whole chapters.

Jennifer: Tell us about your previous work.

Greg: It’s been an odd journey for me. My first book was Crime of the Century: The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax, a non-fiction, true crime analyses of the so-called Lindbergh kidnapping case. It got written more by accident. In 1990 I had stumbled across an old article about the case. Of course, reading about the child’s disappearance, and the subsequent investigation and trial, some fifty plus years after the fact, I had the advantage as a modern criminal defense lawyer of being privy to forensics, motivations and knowledge of intra-familial crimes that law enforcement officials did not have in 1932. Over the years the case had been looked at by journalists or others who had never tried a criminal case to verdict, and therefore lacked that perspective. What started out as a hobby ended up evolving into the book, which I co-authored with a police criminal investigator. And I’ve been rewarded with the number of contemporary investigators, victims rights advocates, etc., who have contacted me since its publication and said how obvious the solution was. Obvious today, perhaps, but it was unthinkable in 1932.

I had an agent, and Crime was published traditionally. It had a bit of literary and commercial success, and I started thinking that hey, maybe I could write after all. I played around with other non-fiction ideas before getting my novel Prologue published in 2006 by a very small publisher, which then almost immediately closed its doors. When I finished writing The Medici Legacy I was told by several other writers that it was unlikely that an American publisher would ever publish an American thriller with a non-American chief protagonist (unless the book was already a commercial success abroad), but that if I changed my main character to an American it had a decent shot of being placed. I thought about it, but ultimately decided against changing it. I liked my main character and did not want to change him to an American. It was about that time that I began learning about Kindle. I had never had an e-reader myself, and knew Kindle only from their cute television commercials. I did a bit of research, and went to Kindle directly. I put Prologue up on Kindle in e-book format, and then found a paperback publisher to take over the old print contract for it. I talked to a couple of POD publishers, but some did not have the same definition of “take over the contract” that I did. I liked the result, so I put The Medici Legacy up as an e-reader, and then used the same POD publisher as Prologue to handle Medici. So, I actually had two releases last year.

Jennifer: Do you write full time? If so, tell us how you manage it. If not, what is your day job?

Greg: After finishing college and law school, and clerking for a year in Philadelphia, I returned to my home town of Manchester, New Hampshire and opened a criminal defense practice. That is still how I consider myself – as a lawyer – and how I make my living. The writing is just something I do on the side, like some people who play golf on weekends, but don’t earn their living on the PGA tour. On Mondays they return to their real job, and so do I. There are probably only 15 to 20 people in the United States who make a full time living out of just writing novels – for the rest of us we either have a day job or do something else related to writing.

Jennifer: What is your writing process like--do you outline first or just start writing, etc.?

Greg: I have a plot roughed out in my head, but you should never be slavish to a plot outline. It’s like a walk in the country; you head out with one path in mind but then something grabs your attention and you detour. Or something just isn’t working in your story. Or rereading what you wrote you suddenly get a great new idea you hadn’t had before, or an additional character. Sometimes I’ll start giving chapters to a friend who reads for me, and he’ll make suggestions as to what he thinks is missing, or what he thinks really doesn’t work. I think that a writer should have two mandates: 1) be flexible and 2) don’t have an ego. Don’t get defensive or entrenched on how you originally conceived it.

In The Medici Legacy, I originally intended to set it in New York City, and make my chief protagonist a young Italian-American woman who was a Medici descendant, but did not know it. I drew it up in my head that way and started writing. Then a writer friend suggested basing the novel in Italy and making the police officer the central character, and I scrapped everything and started over.

Jennifer: Do you work with a writing group or mentor? Why or why not? If you do, what do you get out of it?

Greg: No group. I have a good friend, Bennett, who is not only a good friend but a voracious reader and, I’ve discovered, one heck of an editor. He reviews what I write, and is not afraid to tell me when it sucks, which he does often. (Not just because he’s not afraid, but because it often does suck). I’m pretty proud of the final product I put out, and much of the credit really goes to him.

Then I have other friends who I’ll distribute copies of the manuscript to and get their feedback. One key for me is “don’t have an ego.” I think I always incorporate virtually every suggestion that is made to me to some degree.

Jennifer: Tell us a little about your non-writing life. Family? Pets? Hobbies?

Greg: I’m what is politely referred to as “an older guy.” My daughter is grown up, finished college (which means my current writing projects do not include tuition checks) and my wife and I rattle around our house with three cats who deign to allow us to live with them.

As for hobbies, I’m a self-confessed history addict and college sports nut, and if I had to spend eternity watching one cable network over and over it would be a toss-up between The History Channel and ESPN.

Thanks to Greg Ahlgren for stopping by!

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