Interview With Book Blog Discusses “Expiation” & Writing

For today’s guest blog, I’d like to introduce you to author Greg Messel. I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers. I know you’re a stone’s throw away from me, just north of the U.S./Canada border in Edmonds, Washington, but what else would you like to share?

GM: I love the Seattle area and being in Edmonds which is right on the Puget Sound. I retired from corporate life a few years ago and have gotten back to my first love which is writing. My wife, Carol, and I met in 8th grade. We’ve been married for 40 years and have three adult children. We lived for many years in Portland, Oregon but we have also lived in California, Wyoming and Utah. My wife and I both grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?

GM: I just finished “Water for Elephants” which I like very much. I’m now reading “Object of Beauty” by Steve Martin. It’s about the New York art scene and a young woman’s rise in that atmosphere. I think Steve Martin has written some really interesting things and I like his style. I read that it is good to be reading good fiction when you are trying to write good fiction. I think that’s good advice. It’s not that you are going to steal ideas but it seems to get you in a good frame of mind for writing yourself.

What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from literary fiction into other genres? Can your fans expect a sequel to ‘Expiation’ in the near future?

GM:I’m not sure about a sequel to “Expiation.” I’ve had several readers express interest in me doing so. I love the characters in “Expiation” and would consider it. I love the current book I’m working on “Illusion of Certainty.” I plan to keep writing novels. I would like to write a good ghost story at some point. For now I’m very interested in relationships. I don’t feel I write romance novels, but I write love stories. One of the most fascinating events in human experience is finding someone to love. You have to overcome enormous odds and I think it is a great adventure.

You’ve had a long career in the newspaper/magazine business. When did you begin writing fiction? And was becoming a published author a life long dream?

GM:My orientation has always been towards newspaper type reporting and politics. Most of the books I read for a long time were nonfiction and generally, political or historical in nature. For many years I thought about fiction but I wondered if I could create a whole new fictional world. I got interested in memoir writing a few years ago and wrote my life story and my wife’s. It stimulated me to try writing fiction. I’ve always wanted to be legitimate enough so that when people ask me what I do, I can say I’m an author.

I understand your latest novel ‘Expiation’ has been receiving great reviews. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Dan?

GM:I appreciate the good reaction the book has received. There were a couple of reviews which to me didn’t seem to get it. That is to be expected and you try not to take it personally. However, I find that really difficult since I think my books are my attempt at art and are extremely personal. I grew up in a fascinating period of time—the 1960s and 1970s in the San Francisco area. In “Expiation” I wanted to revisit that period. Dan grew up in Seattle but now has a chance at the big time working for the San Francisco Examiner and going to school in Berkeley. Casting a large shadow on his life is the politics of the time, the music scene in San Francisco and the Vietnam War. Many of the events of his life parallel events and feelings I experienced during in that time and place.

Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open ‘Expiation’?

GM:The story jumps from the 60s and 70s in San Francisco to the present day, which I defined as 1999 in Seattle. I found the turn of the century a fascinating time. There was so much fear and uncertainty due to Y2K and several other pressures on society. This seemed to be the perfect backdrop for characters dealing with the uncertainty of their own life. It is a story of lost love. Dan loses his high school sweetheart and then they are re-united much later in their life. They wonder if their love can be reignited. The story explores many of the ‘what-ifs’ of life that we all face. If I would have made this decision instead of the one I made, how could my life be different?

The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. What made you decide to self-publish with Trafford?

GM:I discovered the self publishing option by reading several articles. I decided to go with Trafford. I have learned a great deal in the last couple of years about what I like to do and not do. I am now working on my third novel and I feel I’m getting more savvy about the way I want to approach things. It is a difficult road to self publish. I love the writing and getting published. The marketing is very challenging and even though, things are getting better for self published authors, it is still a very closed world. Sometimes it feels like you are taking a recipe for a new hamburger to McDonald’s.

I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?

GM:My pattern has been to develop ideas and think them about thoroughly during the summer. I love to get down to seriously writing during the rainy winter days in Seattle. I’m doing that this winter. I’m not disciplined in the sense of always writing from this time to this time each day. Once I begin a novel however, I really get in the zone and become driven. I find myself thinking about my plot and characters all of the time when I’m writing. I actually find it helps me to back off at times to let the story develop more in my mind.

Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.

GM:I guess I’m a little of both. I start out writing kind of biographical sketch of each character. How old are they, where do they work, where did they go to college, are they married, do they have kids, what relationships have they had, etc.? I usually evolve to a storyline and list of proposed chapters. It’s just an outline. It generally changes but it gets me going on the right direction. I let the story flesh out from there. My favorite part of writing is when the story almost starts writing itself. It’s a rush when the plot takes a twist which you didn’t anticipate but it just kind of happened.

Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?

GM:I listen to music on my computer while I write. Music creates a very emotional connection. There are certain songs which have inspired me while writing. I usually write a chapter just as it dumps out of my brain and then spend a second day refining the dialogue and plot points. My favorite writing zone is at my desk, looking out the window at the street scene in Edmonds and listening to music. My wife has observed that she’s so amazed that I just sit down and start typing. I read something John Lennon said. Someone watched him writing a song in about 15 minutes. They asked how he could write a song so fast. He said he had been thinking about the song for a month. That is kind of how writing works. I can type a chapter in a few hours but I’ve been thinking about it for weeks.

At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?

GM:You can also write yourself into a corner, plotwise and not be sure how you are going to escape. I’ve found that sometimes I need to back off and not force it if it’s not coming. Sometimes if I’m not sure where to go with a chapter or plot point, I need to back away and just think about it. I also run each day along the Edmonds waterfront. I’ve had some of my best ideas come to me while running. I can come home from running and sit down and write large blocks of dialogue.

Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?

GM:I’ve really enjoyed Pat Conroy’s books and also Michael Connelly. I met Connelly at the LA Book Fair and thought he was the coolest guy ever. I wish could write detective novels or mysteries. I hung around the tent of mystery writers at the LA show and was mesmerized by the authors and readers there. Maybe someday I’ll give it a try. One of my favorite books of all time is Pat Conroy’s Losing Season. I also very much relate to the tough family circumstances Conroy had when he grew up and it is similar to my own.

This interview was with Lorna Suzuki,an award winning author who widely read book blog is found at
Thanks to Lorna. Her first book is in pre-production for a movie adaptation this winter.


About gregmessel

I've written six novels and am working on a seventh. My first three novels were "Expiation," "Sunbreaks" and "The Illusion of Certainty." I'm now working on a series of mysteries set in San Francisco in the 1950s. In 2008, I retired from corporate life and so I can spend more time writing. I spent over ten years in the newspaper business. I now live on Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, just north of downtown Seattle.
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