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An Interview with Gary Blackwood, Author of The Devil to Pay

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After decades of bouncing around the U.S., I’ve settled down at last on the beautiful North Shore of Nova Scotia, where I find I’m more prolific than ever—which is saying something. I’ve published over 30 (it’s hard to keep track) novels and nonfiction books for young readers and adults. I’m also a widely produced playwright, and am beginning to make some headway in screenplay territory. Don’t want to get stuck in a rut.

You can buy The Devil to Pay here.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I started reading at an early age (starting with a series of Gene Autry comic books). According to my mom, I started telling stories of my own soon afterward. I was so enchanted by books that I couldn’t think of a more worthwhile career than to create more of them. By my teens, I was submitting stories to magazines, and sold my first one at the age of nineteen. After that, there was no turning back.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I endured the usual gamut of brainless, low-paying jobs to keep body and soul together—loading meat trucks (and I was a vegetarian), trying unsuccessfully to sell encyclopedias, cooking burgers on the 9th hole of a golf course (still a vegetarian), and so on. I did hold down a few postitions that were marginally more creative and bearable—copywriter at an ad agency, advertising artist for a department store, manager of a bookstore—but I never stuck with them for very long because I considered writing my real career. Unfortunately, no one else seemed to. I wrote nine novels before, at the age of 40, I finally hit the jackpot (well, sort of) with a middle grade novel, Wild Timothy. After publishing two more books for young readers, I had a long dry spell, during which I worked for a correspondence course, teaching others how to write stories and not sell them.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

There are many references in the book to the Devil—as a thesis topic, as a pinball game, in the guise of war and of Big Pharma—so I knew that had to figure in the title. I was going to go with Beat the Devil until I realized that was the name of a well-known (but rather disappointing) Bogart movie, so I settled on The Devil to Pay—only to discover that were scads of other books with that title. But since none of them were remotely like mine, I stuck to my guns.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I was very pleased with the cover, and the look of the book in general, but honestly, after 30-some books, those things don’t thrill me quite as much as they did in the early years—more’s the pity. I’m still very proud of my work, though—in fact, increasingly so, since I feel that I’m writing better than ever, largely thanks to the fact that I’m always gaining more life experience.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

That’s easy: the songs that were popular in the mid-’60s, the era in which the story is set. Not coincidentally, it was also the time when, like my protagonist, I was attending college and worrying about getting drafted. There would be lots of Bossa Nova, particularly Astrud Gilberto, who gets mentioned prominently. And definitely some antiwar anthems such as “Eve of Destruction” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

Now that’s a tough one to answer, because there are so many themes and plot elements that are woven into the story. I guess the main thing I hope is that readers, no matter their beliefs and biases, will consider the role that violence plays in our lives.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

For the first time in many years, I’m actually taking a sabbatical from writing—not an easy thing to do, since it’s such an important part of my life. Honestly, I feel a little lost at times without a work in progress. But I have three unsold manuscripts I need to find a home for, and, considering the current state of the publishing biz, that promises to take a while. What’s more, I have a whack (as we say in Nova Scotia) of stage plays and screenplays to peddle, all of which adds up to pretty much a full-time job. As if I needed anything more to keep me busy, I spent the past four months or so directing a show for the local theatre group–an ambitious play (penned by me, of course), complete with lots of sea shanties, based on the life of the resident ghost at the Arts Centre. Both the ghost and the audience seemed very pleased with it.

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