Interview With The Author: Otho Eskin
John Dwaine McKenna
Mr. Eskin is a talented, well traveled and accomplished author whose exciting first novel is reviewed in Mysterious Book Report No. 444. He has much to share with us, so let’s begin. Here’s our first question:
When do you write?
I try to write six hours a day, six days a week, from noon to six. Mornings I reserve for normal, real-world activities such as reading and sending emails, paying bills etc. I try to avoid these activities in the afternoon when I write fiction. I find it best to devote myself single-mindedly to writing. When I work on a writing project I want to get into a groove, undistracted. After six I tend to collapse. Obviously, this schedule is aspirational, not rigid.
Are any of your characters autobiographical?
None are strictly autobiographical. I am not my main character, Marko Zorn, although probably at some subconscious level I project something of myself onto my characters. My main character, Marko Zorn, has nerves of steel and is cool and fearless when faced with danger. If I were faced with these threats, I would be a pussycat. I do share with Marko Zorn a taste for cool jazz and vintage sports cars, and a warped sense of humor. The similarities probably end there.
As to other characters, I have known and worked with many different people over the years, some very unusual, some even eccentric, and I take bits and pieces of the people I know or have met using the personal or social mannerisms that I think fit a scene.
What makes a character endearing?
My main character, Marko Zorn, cannot be said to be endearing. He’s far too dangerous for that, but I do try to make him interesting and sympathetic. There are many popular books where the main character is an outright villain. Readers are sometimes drawn to that. Think of Patricia Highsmith’s character Tom Ripley. There is nothing endearing about him, but many readers find him fascinating. The aim of any writer, in whatever genre, is to make the main character engaging, even if flawed; someone the reader cares about and can identify with. But they have to be interesting. In my experience as a reader, I find characters who are unblemished and perfect turn out to be uninteresting.
How long, start to finish, do you take to write a finished novel, on average?
It’s hard to say exactly. I am a fast writer and could probably complete a first draft of a novel in six to eight weeks. But I am an obsessive rewriter. I can’t seem to leave my text alone. I am always tinkering with it. Not the main plot. That is usually fixed. But paragraphs and sentence I tend to rework. And there are the contributions from other readers who often have valuable suggestions and advice that can lead to further rewrites. As an estimate, it probably takes me a year from when I put the first words on paper until I have a finished product.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
I plot outline but only in my head. I have never written out a plot outline on paper. When I start a writing project I know who the main characters are. I know the opening scene, I know the final climactic scene, and I have a general sense of how the narrative progresses. As I do the actual writing, new scenes and events and even new characters may occur to me, and I incorporate them. Most scenes I pre-write in my head long before putting them down on paper. I don’t think I have ever written a scene before I have imagined the entire scene in my head first. Then writing becomes more like transcribing my thoughts.
Do you write in more than one genre?
Before writing thrillers, I wrote plays. Maybe for that reason I use lots of dialogue to tell the story. And stage directions in play scripts are always in the present tense and maybe that influenced me to write my novels in the present tense.
What method do you use to keep track of plot details?
I always maintain a separate manuscript on my hard drive with details about the story including characters’ names, dates, and time lines that I refer to constantly as I write.
Where do you get most, some, or any your story ideas from?
Many of the ideas in my fiction are drawn, loosely, from current events. One of the main themes in The Reflecting Pool involves a plot by a white supremacist militia to assassinate the President of the United States and start a revolution. My next novel, HEAD SHOT, features a ‘Me Too‘ incident and the violent climax is drawn from a real event that occurred in Washington involving an international diplomatic assassination.
Are you more comfortable writing in the first, or third person POV?
My novels have all been written in the first person (and present tense). Everything that happens is seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Marko Zorn. I feel for this kind of fiction, the first person form adds urgency and immediacy to the narrative.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
A lawyer and former diplomat, Otho Eskin served in the US Army and in the United States Foreign Service in Washington and in Syria, Yugoslavia, Iceland and Berlin. He was Vice-Chairman of the US delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, participated in the negotiations on the International Space Station, was principal US negotiator of several international agreements and was US representative to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. He speaks French, German and Serbo-Croatian. He was a frequent participant at conferences and has testified before the US Congress and commissions.
Otho Eskin has written many plays including: Act of God, Murder As A Fine Art, Duet, Julie, Final Analysis, Season In Hell, among others, some of which have been professionally produced in Washington, New York and in Europe.
Whew! What a list of accolades! Thx again for taking time to speak with our audience today. Please keep us in your contacts list and let the MBR know about your next literary project.