(Note: My review of Larry Abrams’s debut mystery novel, The Philosophical Practitioner, can be found here, and I think it’s worth reading before proceeding with this interview. —RB)
The Vigilante Author: Okay, Larry, why don’t you tell us about your book?
Larry Abrams: The Philosophical Practitioner is a mystery/thriller/romance about a man (Eric) who helps people find answers to the big questions (and some small ones). Meanwhile he is trying to solve his own romantic problems with his old sweetheart who has the fame and fortune that he lacks. At the same time, a woman he’s never seen before is trying to kill him. He has to stop her, but to do so he needs to find out who she is and why she wants him dead. There’s also a lot of humor in the book, mainly because Eric sees the world largely the way I do, and I couldn’t resist.
The Vigilante Author: As I said in my review, I loved the humor throughout the book. Very wry, very dry. How would you characterize the tale? To me, it doesn’t seem to fit a neat category.
Larry Abrams: In addition to being a mystery/thriller romance as stated above, I’d say it’s also a self-help book, because some of the problems and conflicts Eric’s clients bring to him are and have always been universal.
The Vigilante Author: I loved the originality of the entire concept. The book is light-hearted and fun, but at the same time grapples with some big issues.
Now, tell me about this fellow Larry Abrams. Where did this guy come from?
Larry Abrams: I was spawned in a ditch by a mother who…no. Born in Brooklyn, went to Brooklyn Tech, where I met a great bunch of guys. Then on to the University of Chicago when I was 16 and to the University of Pennsylvania for a Masters, armed with which I couldn’t get a job for six months.
I worked in the 9-to-5 world for four years before quitting to devote most of my time to reading, thinking, playing chess—I became chess champion of NYC Mensa and the state of Connecticut, neither of which I could come close to doing today—and occasional attempts at writing. Meanwhile, I supported myself by sporadic forays into the stock market with my meager savings (more about how to begin doing this in the book). The Philosophical Practitioner is my first novel.
The Vigilante Author: I love the fact that you’re such a logical “numbers guy,” yet you have such a creative imagination. You really put a lot of that into the character of Eric.
Whatever possessed a man like you to write fiction, Larry? Teachers? Adolescent traumas? An encounter with a burning bush on the way to a Mensa meeting?
Larry Abrams: I was interested in writing for as far back as I can remember. In elementary school I wrote short shorts that were passed around during class and caused some spontaneous giggles from the girls, which mystified the teachers.
I was always a voracious fiction reader. From an early age when a bunch of us exited a Brooklyn movie theater, I seemed to be more affected by the movie than my friends, who were focused on getting some pizza or a hot dog. I figured this must mean something about me, but I had no idea what. I knew I wanted to write a novel some day, but I finally decided that Hillel had it right: “If not now, when?”
The Vigilante Author: A lot like me, then: I had a sober look at my “Bucket List.” What’s your overriding objective in writing fiction?
Larry Abrams: My goal is to entertain and simultaneously shed some light on the important questions and elusive answers that people face today. We’re here for so short a time—how should we spend it? How should we act toward others? What goals are worth shooting for? Can I help the reader have fun with a good story while he/she explores these things?
The Vigilante Author: I loved how you tackled so many basic life questions in your book, but in an entertaining way—in those funny, insightful counseling sessions that Eric had with all his quirky clients.
So what’s the greatest obstacle you faced in writing and publishing your first novel?
Larry Abrams: The biggest problem has always been finding ways to prevent Life from intruding on my writing time.
The Vigilante Author: I can relate to that.
Larry Abrams: I can’t offer any magic formula for dealing with this problem since my own efforts toward a solution are still a work in progress. Since everyone’s life situation is different, everyone’s solution will be a little different too. But if you want to write, the oldest advice is still the best: You need to find time to apply the seat of the pants (or the pleats of the skirt) to a chair. Applying some glue to the chair might help too.
The Vigilante Author: So, what kind of writer are you? Are you an obsessive outliner, like me, or do you do just jump in and write by the “seat of the pants”?
Larry Abrams: I am neither a meticulous outliner nor a seat-of-the-pants writer, but a fluctuating combination of both. I do need to be very clear on my ending before I begin the book, but I don’t make formal chapter outlines. I know generally what I want to happen in each chapter before beginning it. The fun part is shaping the chapter for maximum drama by ratcheting up the conflict. Fun for the reader, fun for the writer.
The Vigilante Author: What would a fly on the wall see if he watched you while you are writing?
Larry Abrams: A fly on the wall would see a guy in a recliner with a yellow pad on his lap. Pen on paper gives me a feeling of connection with what I’m doing that a computer screen somehow lacks.
The Vigilante Author: Well, pen and ink worked for Shakespeare. What’s the hardest thing for you about writing? Anything you are particularly proud of?
Larry Abrams: The hardest part for me is the plotting, and I think this is true for most writers, regardless of how detailed or sketchy their plotting is. What am I particularly proud of? I’d say coming up with dialogue that some reviewers were kind enough to call witty, and simultaneously presenting and offering solutions for some of today’s pressing problems in a dramatic and interesting way. When I have something to say that’s important to me and I’ve said it just the way I wanted to, and at the same time provided the reader with some drama, that’s the peak of satisfaction for me.
The Vigilante Author: I love your dialogue. It’s very funny, and it really helps to establish your characters—especially Eric, whom you render memorably in first-person.
Why did you decide to self-publish? Did you try traditional publishing route first? And how has the “indie” experience worked out for you?
Larry Abrams: There has been a revolution in publishing. You no longer have to depend on gatekeepers who have their own problems and agendas. You no longer have to wait nine months (minimum) to infinity (read: all rejections) to be published. Not to mention the potential monetary rewards, which can be a lot bigger if you are comfortable doing your own marketing and promotion (Facebook, Twitter, other social media, etc.) because your revenue per book sold is much greater when you self-publish.
Overall, I love the indie experience and recommend that any beginning writer—and not only beginning writers—give it serious consideration.
The Vigilante Author: What personality traits and qualities are most important for anyone who wishes to be a writer? Any advice for the novice starting out?
Larry Abrams: You should love reading. You should love words. Beyond that, it’s helpful if you enjoy good dialogue and dramatic situations (conflicts) and can weave them into a compelling story.
You don’t need to be equally good at all aspects of writing. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not particularly good at, for example, metaphors. Do what you do best. Do the best you can. That’s all there is.
The Vigilante Author: Where can people buy your books, Larry? And how can readers contact you or learn more about you and your books?
Larry Abrams: The book’s Amazon page has a link to a brief bio. Beyond that, people can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Philosophical Practitioner can be purchased in both print and digital form at Amazon.com. For the Nook, it’s available at Barnes & Noble. It’s also available in other digital formats at Smashwords.
The Vigilante Author: Any final thoughts?
Larry Abrams: Writing—no surprise—is a lonely occupation. But the final product—your book—lets you touch many lives and perhaps even change some. At the least, it enables you to express yourself and bring people pleasure, and those are no small things in today’s world.
The main thing is, if you want to write, write. Don’t let anything stop you. Don’t let anyone stop you.