Today I have a surprise for you. I interviewed the interviewer! Please Welcome John Valeri from the Hartford Book Examiner. I met John and his lovely wife Chelsey at the Big Book Club last year and we instantly hit off a great friendship.
So, hereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’s Johnny (John actually)
- What got you interested in books?
You know, here’s the funny thing: I didn’t like reading as a kid. Or writing. Or words, even. (Quite possibly because I was a terrible speller.) What I did like was having somebody read to me, and my mom was always willing to do that—The Little Engine That Could, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. It wasn’t until middle school that I would be introduced to my “gateway” books: the Nancy Drew series. (People are always surprised to learn that I prefer her to the Hardy Boys, but c’mon—she’s way hotter!) After having found the right book, a passion was ignited that has yet to be tempered. I then jumped to the more adult stylings of Mary Higgins Clark, and was swapping her titles with my Home Ec teacher while all of my friends were reading Goosebumps. (Nothing wrong with that, by the way. I still read R.L. Stine—though I prefer his scarier books, like The Babysitter.)
- Who influenced you as a Youngest?
Same question now that you are an adult?
While I can remember both of my parents reading at times throughout my childhood—my father was a history buff and my mother had a thing for Danielle Steele romances—I didn’t share their enthusiasm for those particular genres. (I still don’t, with the exception of the occasional Nicholas Sparks novel or any book pertaining to the JFK assassination.) What I did take away was the idea that reading could be a pleasurable activity as opposed to punishment, even if I was too young to fathom how. Then, I seemed to mature with some kind of super speed, which resulted in a desire to spend more time associating with friends who existed between the pages of books than friends who existed in real-life.
As I grow older, I find that my father’s influence is more pronounced than I ever would have expected. While I am very much my mother’s son in terms of personality and temperament, I am just now beginning to appreciate the lessons that he was attempting to teach me all along. (I’d like to think I taught him a thing or two, too.) I guess we learn in our own time, right? He died in January of 2007, and I can’t help but think sometimes that he would have taken more pride in my extraordinary ordinary life than anybody else.
- How did you achieved your career goal with the Examiner?
I’m not sure that I ever had a career goal with Examiner, though I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished since writing my first column nearly five years ago, in February of 2009. (Ironically, I later discovered that a line from that article was excerpted on the back cover of a James Patterson novel!) My biggest fear initially was that I wouldn’t have enough to say, whereas my primary concern now is that I don’t have enough time to cover everything I’d like to say. While I’ll never be equally compensated in terms of what I put into the column (think money and time), I feel that I am obscenely rich in other ways. That I’ve had the good fortune to interview nearly all of my favorite authors—and I’m talking BIG names: Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, Jodi Picoult, Wally Lamb, Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen—is an experience that has surpassed my wildest expectations. And that I’ve truly befriended some of them—including Marcia Clark, who I possessed hero worship for as a kid (still do!)—is the most humbling and heartening thing. So onward, I say, even if that means going destitute in the process!
- Is your goal in the writing industry one of a reporter, writer or reviewer? Or a little of all three?
My ultimate goal is to be a published author—though I find that my compulsion to read coupled with a full-time day job often hinders my momentum. (Dear Gloria: the words really do get in the way. Especially the written ones …) I recently joined a writers group, which forces me to be disciplined (or risk the wrath that accompanies blowing a deadline), and I’m hoping the results will be fruitful. I’m not crazy enough to think that writing alone will allow me to sustain myself financially, though I did marry well (ha!) and am hoping that I might someday be in a position to concentrate more fully on creative output. I can’t imagine not writing about and reviewing books, either, so it seems I’m destined to have many balls in the air. I’m just trying not to drop them …
- How is your WIP coming along and what genre do you write in?
I always thought that I’d be writing really creepy thrillers for a YA audience, and yet I find myself toiling away at a memoir about all of my bookish and otherwise outlandish exploits throughout the past several years—including being serenaded onstage by Gloria Estefan, attending the Scream 4 movie premiere in Hollywood, meeting my surrogate “Golden Girl” grandmother Rue McClanahan, and searching behind grassy knolls for truth in the aforementioned JFK assassination. Ultimately, it’s a story about discovering myself. It’s also a celebration of the realization that people you admire from afar truly can, and often do, exceed your expectations upon meeting them in the flesh, despite common cautionary beliefs to the contrary.
- When you write do you listen to music? If so, rock, metallic, easy listening
I hardly ever listen to music while writing—I’m easily distracted and would spend more time singing than typing—though I often do so before writing, which can help to set the tone. (You can imagine my soundtrack to the Gloria chapter. It’s rife with congas and timbales!) The exception was when I was working on a teen thriller and used Marco Beltrami’s scores for the Scream films as inspiration. The ominous, menacing orchestrations brought something out in my writing that might otherwise have been lacking. Of course, there was no catchy chorus to trigger the “repeat” function of my brain, and for that we’re all thankful …
- Who is your favorite author?
I’d have an easier time picking my favorite child—assuming I had children! Which I don’t. Really, I could probably rank family and friends before I could rank authors. I will say that Mary Higgins Clark, Cornwell, Gardner, and Gerritsen still warrant a fast pass to the top of my “must read” piles (emphasis on the plural), as do Wendy Corsi Staub, Chelsea Cain, Suzanne Palmieri (who was once my professor and continues to teach me), and certain releases from James Patterson and Debbie Macomber. Marcia Clark is my favorite emerging author (surprised?), and the three books in her series are phenomenal. She lived and breathed the world of a prosecutor in the elite Special Trials Unit for ten years, and that knowledge infuses each and every page of her fiction. Though everybody knows her from the Simpson case, she has said that she’d love for someone to say, “Oh, Marcia Clark, the author of the Rachel Knight mystery series!” So let me be the first: Oh, Marcia Clark, the author of the Rachel Knight mystery series! They’re damn good …
- Favorite genre?
Yup, I’ll bet you’ve got me pegged. My genre of choice is, and always has been, mystery. I’m a sucker for a good whodunit, and my innate competitive streak results in an absolute need to figure everything out before the author’s big reveal(s). (While most readers like being surprised, I’d rather be validated.) Of course, I think the great majority of stories have some element of suspense to them, which is why I strive to be an equal opportunity booklover …
Marian: Will you treat us to a little excerpt from your current WIP?
John: Love to.
The year is 1995.
I am a socially awkward, overweight, vision-impaired thirteen-year-old with the mentality of a man at least twice my age. Middle School is my hell, and books my salvation.
I have progressed from Nancy Drew to the more adult stylings of Mary Higgins Clark.
And, like a good majority of (pop) culturally conscious Americans, I am hooked on “The Trial of the Century”—the criminal prosecution of ex-football player O.J. Simpson for the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
While most kids my age are content to talk “cooties,” I spout terms like “DNA,” “perjury,” and “jury nullification.” While they trade pogs on the playground, I am consumed by CNN’s gavel to gavel coverage of the day’s court proceedings.
During my summer break, I draw up mock trial exhibits and argue in front of a jury comprised of the few people who are willing to indulge me in this insanity. My mother. My uncle. Even my brother and his friend, Jason, on the rare occasion that they have nothing better to do.
It’s the brutality of the crimes, the intense media scrutiny, the larger-than-life personalities, which have all drawn me in.
And there is one figure that looms larger than all others.
Her name is Marcia Clark, and she is my hero.