Thursday, February 16, 2012

Interview with Richard Tillotson, Author of Acts of God Whyile On Vacation

Richard Tillotson has been a Peace Corps volunteer in Borneo, a playwright in New York, a copywriter in Hawaii, and is a relative of an English Lord, all of which helped him write Acts of God While on Vacation, a National Semi-Finalist for the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and named “Hawaii’s best fiction book of 2011” by The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. He works in Honolulu and vacations in Washington DC.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I live in Honolulu, but I was born in Hackensack, grew up outside Chicago, lived in L.A. and Boston, went to school in Iowa and Seattle, worked in Borneo, vacation in Washington DC, and some of my family live in London. So I guess I’m from all over. I worked in advertising for a number of years and have written ads for every kind of media and for every kind of client imaginable. (I actually wrote a bar once. It was a history of Waikiki on placemats, which were immortalized under Plexiglas so drinkers could ponder them over their third mai tai.) Before ACTS OF GOD WHILE ON VACATION was published, most of my own creative writing had been plays and screenplays. I’ve had a play produced Off-Broadway in New York.

When did you begin writing?

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was around seven and wrote a (very) short story about a turkey. I didn’t confess my ambition to anyone until I got to college where, in my senior year, I won a (longer) short story contest with a tale about fruit pickers in California. After that, the die was cast.

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?
I try to keep to a routine. It used to be I’d wake up at 4:30 am and put in a couple of hours before heading to the office. Now I can do my writing after breakfast and in daylight. Feels like quite a luxury.

What is this book about?

It begins with a death threat received by a philandering general manager of a lavish Hawaii resort, jumps to an anthropologist researching headhunters in the jungles of Borneo, then to a demonic, scandal-mongering paparazzo in New York, and on to a gorgeous, party-loving English aristocrat in London. Alternately desperate and hilarious adventures draw them all to Waikiki, where their arrival coincides with an international conference on shamanism and a catastrophic, force-five hurricane.

What inspired you to write it?
We had a relatively minor hurricane, hurricane Iwa, come through Honolulu a number of years ago. When you know a hurricane’s coming, after you’ve taped all the windows, pulled together the bottled water and flashlights, and figured out how to fit everybody into the bathtub, there’s not much to do but sit around and wait. I was doing a lot of hotel advertising at the time, and as I was sitting around waiting, I got to thinking about what must be going on in Waikiki.
Who is your favorite author?

I’m very eclectic. I still enjoy browsing bookstores and library shelves, pulling down a book that looks interesting, and I’ll wind up reading it for the very reason that I haven’t read anything like it before. I enjoy contemporary comic novels (I wrote one, after all), but I also greatly enjoy authors like Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, and – moving over to our continent, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and – moving back to the UK of the present day – David Lodge, Michael Frayn, David Mitchell, and – moving back over here – Alan Furst, Tom Wolfe… You get the idea. Those are the writers who float through my top of mind at the moment. I also enjoy reading THE NEW YORKER every week, and I’ve got a complete collection of all the Rex Stout Nero Wolfe novels.
Do you have an agent or are you looking for one?

I had a very good agent, a former editor of the New York Times Review of Books. He suggested I send the book to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. When it achieved semi-finalist status out of several thousand entries and got a highly positive review from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, we assumed acceptance by major publisher would be a slam-dunk. But that was in 2009 when the publishing industry was falling off a cliff along with the rest of the economy, and publishers were disinclined to take risks with debut novelists. Eventually I decided to self-publish through Createspace, which is an Amazon company. I’ve been delighted with how well it’s gone and count myself very fortunate. The publishing world has changed dramatically just since 2009, and I expect by the time I finish this next novel, it will have changed dramatically again. Whatever publishing looks like, the really important things remain the same. First off, you have to write a good book.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

It is in most bookstores in Hawaii. On the continent, it’s easiest to get it through Amazon where it is available in both print and Kindle editions. The book can also be ordered by any local bookstore through their usual wholesalers like Ingrams.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?

I don’t blog, tweet, or have a website, so I used to think that cyber-wise, I’d be doomed. To my surprise, however, the other day I typed the full title of my novel, ACTS OF GOD WHILE ON VACATION, into Google and at least two or three pages of links came up. A number of these links are to reviews of the book that have appeared in Hawaii. Since I live here, the reviews also have some information about me. I’m happy for anyone to read any of these reviews, because so far, they’ve all been very positive. They’re also quoted on the book’s Amazon page.

Do you have a video trailer to promote your book? If yes, where can readers find it?

We’re working on one that is based on an interview I had with Hawaii Public Radio. When it gets done, we’ll put it up on the book’s Amazon page and the Amazon Author’s page.

What is the best investment you have made in promoting your book?

Sending it to reviewers.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

I believe the best advice I ever got was in the book THE ART OF FICTION by David Lodge. I recommend it to everyone.
What is up next for you?
I’m a third of the way through a second novel, but it is temporarily on the shelf while I rewrite a screenplay that has interested some people in Los Angeles. I’m also in the process of submitting a new play and a musical to a couple of theaters.

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