In conversation with well known author, Ang Pompano

Thank you for joing us in The Drawing Room, Ang.

Ang Pompano has been writing mystery for more than twenty years. His novel, WHEN IT’S TIME FOR LEAVING will be published in October 2019. His stories have been published in several anthologies, including the 2019 Malice Domestic Anthology MYSTERY MOST EDIBLE. In addition to his fiction writing, he has written many academic pieces including one on teaching detective fiction. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a past recipient of the Helen McCloy/Mystery Writers of America Scholarship for a novel in progress. A brother member of Sisters in Crime, he is a long-time board member of the New England chapter. He has been on the New England Crime Bake Planning Committee for fourteen years. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Annette, an artist, and his two rescue dogs, Quincy and Dexter. 

James:                  When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Ang:                       I remember writing as a little kid, and again later in high school where I wrote comical pieces about skateboarding for the school newspaper. I also wrote for the school literary magazine. One piece was a takeoff on Mark Twain’s “The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm.” Imagine that. I thought I could improve on Mark Twain. I didn’t have much time for creative writing in college, although I did some. Then when my wife, Annette, and I started a family I worked days as a teacher and she worked evenings as an RN. I was the original Mr. Mom. After I got the kids to bed I would write but I’d rarely share my work. I know I was trying my hand at a novel before 1981 because I was writing a thriller about the Pope getting kidnapped. Then the real Pope was shot and I took that as a message to put that one in the drawer. My first short stories were published in 1990. Later when I started my 6th year degree at Wesleyan I should have been taking courses in school administration. Instead took every writing course I could find. With two degrees already behind me I said, “Screw it. I’m doing something for me this time around.” I can pinpoint my interest in writing mystery though. In 1995 when I as a Yale Fellow I developed a cross-curriculum unit in which students would create a courtroom drama out of Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple Tells a Story.” My focus has been on mystery ever since.

James:                  Do your books give us any clues or insight into Ang Pompano?

Ang:                       In When It’s Time for Leaving, my protagonist, Al DeSantis, struggles with a sense of moral justice. He tries to balance what is important to him with what is fair to other people. One of my favorite scenes is where his ex turns on him when he needs her. This after already taking him for all that he’s worth.  Then he does an incredibly nice thing for her that she won’t find out about. I’d like to think that I would do something like that but honestly, I don’t know if I would.  

James:                  Adversity always presents opportunities for introspection. Although very subjective it helps us get to know ourselves a little better. We all ask ourselves, from time to time, how we would respond in certain circumstances if we were to experience them. Aristotle once said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

James:                  Did your family life play a role in shaping your writings?

Ang:                    When my mom died twenty years ago my eulogy was about how she taught me how to spell the word phenomenon. And indeed, she was a phenomenon. Then my sister told how my mother once confided in her that she always wanted to be a writer. I never knew that. She always read to us and taught us spelling. At that moment, I realized that she was grooming both of us to be writers.

James:                  It’s fascinating how, without our knowledge, our road of life can be influenced by those we meet along our journey.

James:                  What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Ang:                       If you’re talking about writing well and avoiding the technical mistakes that beginning writers make I’ll refer you to how-to books by people like Hallie Ephron or Paula Munier. They can explain it a lot better than I can.  If you’re talking about personal traps that people get into when they publish, I do have a few thoughts. One would be not to take things to heart. If you don’t make it the first time around it may not be because your book is bad. I remember an agent friend telling me years ago that publishing a novel is a long, rocky road. Talk about understatement. It is so much more than writing the best book you can. Getting an agent is hard because there are thousands of people turning out good books. After you finally get an agent you may learn that finding a publisher is even harder. Even after a publisher takes your book, be prepared for anything and everything to go wrong. The good news is that the mystery writing community is one of the most generous groups of people on earth. Hanging out with other writers is important too. I’ve been in a writing group with Lucy Burdette and Chris Falcone for twenty years. I can’t tell you how important their input is. There are people out there willing to help you. The trick is not to give up.

James:                  Thank you, Ang, for the sage advice.

James:                  Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Ang:                       Definitely both. You have to have enough ego to believe that you can be published. You have to have the confidence to say, “I can do this.” I spent many years writing and I was happily unpublished because I didn’t have the confidence to share what I wrote. On the other hand, don’t take yourself too seriously. Just because you wrote a book, it doesn’t mean that you’re James Paterson. Publishing is not for the faint of heart. Have fun with it. 

James:                  I couldn’t agree more, Ang. I write to please myself first and then if some reads it I hope that they, too, will enjoy it. I’m always encouraged when I learn that someone else has taken pleasure in one of my books.

James:                  What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Ang:                       Be careful of any press that charges you money to publish your book. I’ve known people who have gotten burned. I’m not talking about people who charge you fees to edit, design a book cover, etc. if you decide to go the self-pub route. You really do have to be careful though.

James:                  Good advice.

James:                  What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Ang:                       I’d say buying a good computer and a decent printer is money well spent. Oh yeah, and buy a comfortable chair. Then make sure you sit in that chair every day and write.

James:                  Do you use any special writing software? If so what is it, and what are a few of your favorite perks of it?

Ang:                       I use Scrivener and find it very useful. In fact, when you asked me about money well spent on writing I should have mentioned it. It has a steep learning curve but now that I’m used to it I wouldn’t write without it. The program makes it easy to organize scenes, which is important to me because I don’t write in order. It also keeps my notes, ideas, and research in easy reach. I don’t use a lot of the features only because I don’t have time to sit down and watch the instructional video. I’d rather be writing.

James:                  That question seemed a natural one after you said a good computer, printer and comfortable chair had been your best investments as a writer.

James:                  How do you select the names of your characters?

Ang:                       I try to have fun with naming my characters. I’ve named characters after my dog (Quincy), real people, and even objects.  Al DeSantis was named after the DeSantis holster, which is ironic because in When It’s Time for Leaving he explains why he never wears a holster. Maryann the nasty director of the nursing facility where Al’s father, Big Al, lives was named for the director of the nursing home where my father lived when he was battling Alzheimer’s. Yes, the saying “Be careful or I’ll put you in my novel” has some validity. (laughing here) Then there is the tattoo artist Malaysia Streetbridge. Her name came from something I heard on the radio and misunderstood. The newscaster was talking about the proposed Malacca Straight Bridge in Malaysia but my ear heard it as Malaysia Streetbridge. I liked the name and used it. 

James:                  You incorporate a great sense of whimsy in your books. It brings a smile to my face as you described choosing the names of the director of the nursing home for Big Al and the tattoo artist.

James:                  Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Ang:                       Yes, there are many inside jokes that I put in there for family and friends. Many people recognize people we know and situations we’ve been in.

James:                  It’s those little hidden secrets that will make you smile whenever you meet your family and friends. Shared secrets have a way of creating bonds.

James:                  How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?

Ang:                       I wrote in my spare time, what little there was of it, until I retired in 2006. Then I wrote three novels. I may soon be able to tell you news of the other two.

James:                  I anxiously await news of your other two novels, Ang.

James:                  What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example. 

Ang:                       As second jobs while I was teaching I’ve been everything from a newspaper delivery driver, a bartender, and a waiter, to a forklift operator. Everything was material for future writing. In the book there is a passage where Al DeSantis goes into a plumbing supply house to find information about someone he is tracking down. What happens in that scene is very similar to a situation that occurred when I worked at a deli counter.

James:                  I think it is the quirky little inspirations like this that make our stories true expressions of our selves.

James:                  If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?

Ang:                       There are so many places that I would like to pick but the Amalfi coast in Italy would be one of the top choices. One of my first stories was titled “A Return to Amalfi.”

James:                        Environments affect all people; this has been confirmed in sociological studies of human life and urban studies in particular. What surrounds us affects how we feel, what we do, what we think and how we channel these thoughts and emotions. It influences your sensibility even when you don’t notice it. The artist is the one who is going to articulate his/her perceptions and emotional responses.

James:                  What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

Ang:                       I think most people would be surprised to know that I’m a night owl. Sometimes I won’t start writing until 11:00 pm and then write until early morning. I know a lot of writers who are writing at 4:00 am. The difference is that they are just getting up and I’m just going to bed. 

James:                  You are, apparently, in good company. Amusingly, Wikipedia lists several authors that share your routine, among them: J. R. R. Tolkien, Michael Chabon, Franz Kafka and others. Most of us are on the seemingly endless hunt for the perfect time of day to write—that magical period when ideas naturally spring up, words flow and our attention is undivided. You will be most creative when your dopamine (a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers) levels are high. That’s why so many people claim to come up with their best ideas while they’re running, driving or taking a shower.

James:                  What was the hardest part of writing your author bio?

Ang:                       Let’s face it, the purpose of an author bio is to establish your credibility so that readers will be inclined to buy your book. The trick is to present yourself as someone who knows what they are doing without overselling.

James:                  It’s an opportunity to toot your own horn, so to speak. Many of us find it embarrassing to talk about ourselves but, in fact, everyone is in sales. It is the art of selling ourselves. Maybe you don’t hold the title of a salesperson, but if the business you are in requires you to deal with people, you, my friend, are in sales.

James:                  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Ang:                       I like to spend time with my wife, Annette, whether it’s something simple like going out to dinner, an art museum (she’s an artist), or a walk along Long Island Sound. I also like spending time with my 3 grand-children, ages 2-7 years old. I love playing with them so when they come over everything else stops. I also like to kayak and go camping. I’m one of the few people I know that likes to cut the lawn. I enjoy being with friends talking, laughing, and having a good time. I get a lot of ideas from being around people.

James:                  Sounds as though you enjoy a well grounded life, Ang. Life is grist for the mill of the author.

James:                  What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? What is your response to that question?

Ang:                   Nobody has asked how it feels to finally get a novel published after working toward that goal for so long. That may be because others already considered me a writer since I’ve had short stories published and I’ve been associated with the mystery writing community for so long. (I’ve been on the New England Crime Bake Committee for 14 years.) But in my eyes, I wasn’t a “real” writer because I didn’t have a book published. Then one day about a year ago I got an email from Encircle Publications saying they wanted to publish When It’s Time for Leaving. All I said to my wife was, “Well, this is interesting.” She thought I’d be more excited. I would have thought so too. At first, I was wondering if it was for real or not. Then it was more of a ‘ok what now?’ feeling. Now I’m wondering what the heck I got myself into. Writing the book is only half the work. I didn’t realize how hard promotion is. I’m just kidding. I’m loving every minute of this and I thank you James, for this interview.

James:                  You are most welcome, my friend. I learn much from those I interview and thank you for allowing me to pick your brain.

James:                  Pick one excerpt from one of your books you would like to share with readers.

Ang:                       An excerpt from. “When It’s Time For Leaving”:

I brought my breakfast to a herringbone patio out back, chevrons of interlocking blocks; a simple pattern in snapshot but maddening in wide-angle, like life.

“Big Al laid the pavers for this patio himself,” Greenleaf had told me when she showed me around.

“Apparently, the old man was good at almost anything he did; except for being a father,” I had replied.

As I ate looking out at the million-dollar view of the Savannah River, for a minute I thought that maybe I could get used to this. As I realized I could see the bridge looming up river at Savannah, the moment soon passed. I didn’t ask for the Blue Palmetto Detective Agency and I wasn’t going to let my old man push me into something I didn’t want. Since the incident on the bridge up in New Haven, I didn’t feel like chasing bad guys any more.

While I was on the island already though, I had no problem with getting to know Max better. I was thinking of going over to see her with the excuse of asking her if there was a good place to workout nearby when I noticed splashing down by the dock.

At first, I thought it might be an alligator. I walked down to the seawall and hopped onto the dock to see what the heck was going on in the water.

I’d seen a lot of bad stuff when I was a cop. Still, I almost tossed my breakfast when I got a look at what was happening. Hundreds of frenzied little fish nibbled on the body of a young dude trapped in the lines between the dock’s float drums and the Grady.

James:                  You paint an interesting and intriguing word picture. What made you choose this particular excerpt?

Ang:                       I picked this passage for a few reasons. Al is at a low point in his life. He’s lost his long-time live-in girlfriend, he’s lost all of his money, and he lost his career. Plus, he’s realizing that he may be suffering from PTSD after almost getting killed on a bridge back in New Haven. Now that his father has given him the Blue Palmetto Detective agency, Al is feeling that his father, Big Al, who abandoned him as a child, is trying to buy his way back into his life. Al’s father seems to be successful at everything he does in contrast to Al’s many failures. Still, Al is not going to cut his old man a break. For all of his success, Big Al was a failure at one of life’s most important jobs, being a father. 

The passage also establishes the fact that Al is interested Max, the woman who lives next door to the agency. That relationship is going to get very complicated as the book goes on. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but I will say that his relationships with his father and Maxine will shake up Al’s traditional male values a bit. 

Probably the most important reason why I picked the passage was because I want your readers to realize that Al’s relationships are only part of the story. When It’s Time for Leaving is first and foremost a traditional murder mystery. This scene is at the beginning of the book. When I write I always drop the body very close to the start. After all, it’s what the reader is there for.

James:                  You’ve most definitely put a great deal of thought into your choice and I must say you make a lot of good points. The tale you weave is, indeed, a well crafted murder mystery, set in a turbulent sea of emotions and populated with multifaceted characters.

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