Welcome, Earl! It is indeed a pleasure to have you here. For those who don’t know it, you were the very first editor to ever accept one of my stories. It was on May 23, 2003 that you emailed me to say you were accepting MUDDY WATERS for publication in Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine. With that first acceptance, you lit a fire under me that has burned bright ever since. I’m eternally grateful and forever in your debt.
So, what can you tell us about what you’re working on now?
First of all, BJ, it was a pleasure to receive and accept your story MUDDY WATERS for publication in Futures. Your writing talent was obvious even then. I predicted you would get even better and become a successful writer. I’m happy to say I was right.
My current project is writing a sequel to my first novel MEMORY OF A MURDER. I’m really enjoying visiting with the protagonist, Adam Kingston, again along with other characters from that book. This one will be called MEMORY OF A MISSING GIRL. I’m struggling with it right now because it turns out Adam has not one missing girl but two. It’s tricky having him pursue two cases at once, but as I’m sure you know, meeting a tough challenge in a story is delicious when you make it work. I hope I can pull it off.
What inspired you to start writing fiction, and how long have you been at it?
I dabbled with writing most of my life, but I didn’t try it seriously until nearly twenty years ago. Before that, I read a lot of books, some bad and some good. The bad ones made me wonder if I could do better. The good ones made me wonder if I could do as well. After so many years of reading and wondering, I decided it was time to find out just what I could do.
What genre do you prefer reading, and who is/are your favorite author(s) in that genre?
I’ve always enjoyed reading mystery fiction most. I admired the writing of the classic crime writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as well as more modern writers such as Lawrence Block, S. J. Rozan, Craig Johnson, Elmore Leonard and several others.
Ordinarily, life is a common day to day experience for most people until something happens and they’re forced to deal with it. Few things can get a story in motion better than a crime, particularly a murder. A cop is forced into action because it’s his job. A PI gets involved because it’s how he makes his living. An amateur sleuth gets pulled into action because, like Jessica Fletcher and Miss Marple, they just can’t help themselves. Once the characters get involved in solving the crime, their personal lives become a major part of the story and we have a complete character/plot arc.
Besides, I love a good puzzle and a mystery story provides that.
Along that same line of questioning, have you ever read an author who has had a lasting and positive impact on your life?
I’d have to say Ernest Hemingway and O. Henry. I admired Hemingway for his use of lean, strong language, without any wasted words. O’Henry appealed to me because he often wrote about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances and how they dealt with it. O’Henry also had a way of bringing all the elements of his stories to an ending filled with irony and poignancy. I’m not all surprised when people say they see influences of both of them in my work. In fact, I’m flattered. I like to say I learned from the best.
How many hours per day do you devote to writing?
At least three hours, more if I can squeeze it in. I’d like to devote more hours each day, but other pressing matters interfere. Those pressing matters include my part-time job, taking care of the house and lawn along with other chores my lovely bride comes up with.
My part-time job is driving a school bus. The job takes only two hours in the morning to get the kids to school and two in the afternoon to get them home. I tried full-time retirement but quickly found I didn’t like it. I like to get out into the world and spend time with other members of the human race. Besides, when you retire, you get old. I can’t get old. There are too many stories I have yet to write.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of Earl Staggs?
I get up every weekday morning at 5:00 and spend the first hour working my way through email. Then I head off to the bus lot. After the morning run, I settle down in the driver’s lounge with my laptop, respond to email if I have to, and once that’s finished, I write until it’s time to hop on the bus again for the afternoon run. I get home about 5:30 and dinner is ready. After dinner, I settle on the sofa to watch TV with my wife and I’m in bed by nine or nine-thirty. I know some writers write in the evening, but after a long day, my mind and body are just not up to doing anything productive.
What are some of your interests or hobbies outside of writing?
Writing is the closest thing I have to a hobby. Other than that, I try to read some every day and I enjoy movies with mystery and action in them. My wife and I also enjoy watching true crime shows on TV. Dateline and 48 Hours are always good. We like them better than most dramatic shows. The dramatic shows seem to be concerned more with who is sleeping with whom than solving crimes. In true crime shows, we see real people and real cops seeking justice the way it’s done in real life. I also get some good plot ideas from them.
I happen to be a football fan too, and never miss a Cowboys game. I just wish they were having a better season this year.
What’s next after MEMORY OF A MISSING GIRL?
After I finish the sequel to my first novel, I’m torn between two possibilities for my next one. I haven’t decided yet if it will be a sequel to my second novel, JUSTIFIED ACTION featuring Tall Chambers, or a novel featuring Mollie Goodall. I’ve written a number of short stories with Mollie, who happens to be the sheriff of a small fictional county in Texas, and I love her character. Her stories are more in a light and humorous vein and a lot of fun to write. I’ll put off that decision as long as I can and then I may have to flip a coin to see what’s next.
Whichever novel I move on to next, I‘ll still manage to work in a short story here and there. I started my writing career with short stories and I still love writing them.
In fact, after my novel JUSTIFIED ACTION in which I introduced Tall Chambers, I took him into a short story called RESCUE. Details about both are available on my blog site.
Earl Staggs earned all Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. He invites any comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
He also invites you to visit his blog site at http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com where you can read:
- Chapter 1 of MEMORY OF A MURDER
- Chapter 1 of JUSTIFIED ACTION
- A humorous short story titled “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer” about a frustrated writer, an old jug, and a genie who looks very familiar.
- A true story called “White Hats and Happy Trails” about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers. There’s even a picture of my wife and me with Roy to prove it’s all true.