The Novel Road Interview: Gary Corby
Looking for a different tale? You came to the right place.
My guest today holds his history dear. So much so that he has been able to make it come alive in his ingenious, fast paced Historical Mystery, placed in ancient Greece. His book is quite literally one you won’t want to put down, let alone ever lend.
Gary: Oh, definitely yes. Technology changes throughout time, but people never change. Love, fear, ambition, lust, anger, greed, cowardice and valor, intelligence and stupidity...those are the things that drive any society, and they're a constant.
Me: I think Nicolaos is an amazing character. You’ve wrapped him well in both time and circumstance. Talk about how you created his personality.
Gary: So many detectives are super-brains. I did the opposite. Poor Nico! His brother is a genius. His boss is a genius. His girlfriend is a genius. He's just this average guy, trying to get along. But he's the one expected to solve the riddles.
My choice was easy, because living in Classical Athens at the same time as Nicolaos were at least 12 world-class geniuses. One more amongst that lot would go unnoticed. But a normal person who has to get along with these brilliant and highly eccentric people...now that's a story. Nico's job is not only to solve crime, but to be our observer during one of the most critical periods in history.
Me: You hit the reader “sweet spot” in how you balanced the levels of historical fact vs. creativity. How hard was it to limit how much history you wanted include?
Gary: I'm supposed to stop editing? Damn, nobody told me that.
Here's the rule: we all have the ability to read two versions of a manuscript and decide which is better. We have this ability to greater or lesser degree, but we all have it. When I reach the point where I'm unable to make a change that is definitely better than what I already have, then it's time to stop. It doesn't mean the manuscript is ready. It does mean I've written to the best of whatever ability I have. When I have more ability or knowledge, I'll attack it again.
The version of Pericles Commission that went into production was major revision 18.
Me: Historical based Mysteries have had a very loyal following. I got hooked after my first Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters) novel. Which authors have had an effect on your choice of genre and why?
The Greek novels of Mary Renault, because they're the best novels of Ancient Greece ever written.
The Roman mysteries of Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor, and John Maddox Roberts, because those three created the first mysteries set in the ancient world.
Ngaio Marsh, because she's the best of the writers from the hey day of traditional mysteries. If I can plot a book to her standard, I'll be more than happy.
Thucydides. He could teach Machiavelli a thing or two about power politics. (In fact, he probably did.) His writing makes modern thrillers look bland.
Aristophanes. The greatest comic of the ancient world. Simply hilarious. I've tried to make the slapstick humor of my books approximate what the Greeks themselves saw when they went to laugh at the latest from Aristophanes.
Janet is one of the most Internet-savvy of the agents, and to me at my distance, that is hugely attractive. I'm not sure which of us suffers fools least; probably me, because she has infinite reserves of patience and knowledge when it comes to publishing.
Me: This question, courtesy of Jeff Hall : "I'm a shortstory-ist. Writing a novel is like a crazy long marathon, only harder. How do you maintain a clear sense of that first passion that inspired you throughout a 200K word journey?"
Gary: I don't want to be annoying, but I've never had a problem! Perhaps it's because I don't outline. When a twist appears in the story, I'm as surprised as you are.
A novel is a series of scenes, and each scene is like it's own little short story. If you think of it like that, then writing a novel doesn't seem quite so daunting.
I come from a background of doing high end software development. That's probably inoculated me against the future shock some people report. From my point of view, when I started to learn about the publishing industry, it was like I'd taken a trip back into the 1970s.
Publishing systems are currently struggling to reach the same state software was in during the 1990s, or maybe late 80s. I look forward to joining the current millennium, one day.
In passing, I would dearly love to replace the senior management of major publishers everywhere with successful executives from technology startups (for strategic decisions) and people who've run chemical plants (for operations management).
Gary: You're right, the reviews have been really excellent. (Says the author, modestly). I'm shocked!
The next major release is The Pericles Commission in Australia, which will be the first week of January. Then book 2 in the series, "The Ionia Sanction" releases in the US in either October or November 2011.
The Ionia Sanction is set in the province of Ionia, which these days we'd call the west coast of Turkey. The plan is a book a year. I'm currently writing the third book, working title "Sacred Games", set at the Olympics of 460BC.
Me: Talk about life experience and how important it is to an author.
Gary: Two scenes in the next book, The Ionia Sanction, actually happened to me. There's no way I could have written this series in my twenties, because it requires the ability to step back and see people from a distance. Perhaps I could have written different books, but not these ones. If I'd been writing books back then, they would have been science fiction.