Curtis Bunn On Writing Fiction That Engages Readers + On Starting The National Book Club Conference

currtis bunnName: Curtis Bunn

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Education: Norfolk State University

Briefly: Author of Baggage Check, A Cold Piece of Work, The Truth is in the Wine; former journalist. Founder of National Book Club Conference.

Favorite Read: The Wake of the Wind by J. California Cooper

Author Crush: It would have to be Ms. Cooper.

Up Next: My next novel releases July 2014, The Old Man In The Club. I’m contracted to write my seventh novel for 2015, Seize The Day. There are other projects in the work, too, so it never stops. And that’s exactly how I like it.

Who was the first person to make you aware that you had some exceptional writing and storytelling talents?

My English teacher at Douglass Jr. High in Southeast Washington, D.C., Mr. Overton, was the first to encourage me to write. He suggested journalism, and I fell in love with the profession and went on to become a sports journalist for more than 25 years at The Washington Times, New York Newsday, New York Daily News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. My career in journalism led me to writing novels. The years of telling stories for my career was critical to my transition to a novelist. I already knew how to tell a story, but I am granted far more latitude with writing books because I can create facts, places, story lines, themes, scenarios…As a journalist I told stories based on facts. To be able to create the facts is almost exhilarating.

You promote the life out of all of your books, from appearances on major networks like NBC to book tours. How can new authors who haven’t yet gotten the platform that you’ve acquired, get media attention?

It is a tough road, no doubt. The first and best way to garner attention and supporters is through social media: Facebook, in particular, along with Twitter and Instagram, etc. Publishers have all but abandoned setting up book signings in bookstores. Today’s digital demand is overwhelming, and so you have to, as an author, not only accept it, but embrace it. It all starts there these days. And whether you have a deal with a publisher or self-publish, you have to put in the work.

How long were you friends with Solomon Singletary in your mind before you finally started writing his story down?

In a sense, I’ve know Solomon Singletary much of my life in that I have known for some time how men detest being vulnerable, hate having their heart exposed. So I wrote A Cold Piece of Work with that in mind—how does a man react when he gets hurt by women? In this case, Solomon Singletary became cold and used women for his purposes until he felt he was getting too close. Then he’d leave. He did whatever he had to do to protect his heart. He could not stand being hurt or betrayed again, so that was his reaction. But he learned that his position shut out the one woman he truly felt connected to, which is something many men can admit to doing. So, I knew Solomon for quite a while, which made it easy to write and develop him as a character of depth.

You did a really cool book trailer for Homecoming Weekend. Do you think these are helpful in getting the word out on books?

I’m not sure they are that effective. I would have to survey readers or see a study on it. That said, I think it’s important to do if you can do it and do it well. Who knows if it makes someone more interested in your work? It would seem like it would, if it is done effectively. But folks’ attention span is so short and people are so busy that it cannot be long and it must be captivating, look good, etc. It’s fun to do, though. And it’s better to do than not to do.

How can a writer get better at writing?

Reading and writing makes you better. Reading great magazine pieces. Reading books. Reading your own work and seeing where you can make it better. You should always strive to get better and it should show from one book to the next.

Do you think that the fact that your books are written by you, a male, and offer a male perspective is one of the factors that have led to your success as an author?

For sure women are the predominant readers and they are very interested in the male psyche, learning how and why we do the things we do or act as we do. So, a book written by a man about relationships is quite intriguing to them.

Do you believe in writing critique groups?

I have never used one, so I cannot give an opinion on their effectiveness. Critiquing someone’s work is very subjective. I can’t say I’m interested in joining one. I prefer to hear from the readers who support my work. Those are the critiques that matter the most.

Do you have a preferred writing space?

I became a lover of wine in recent years and was taken over the top when I visited two vineyards in South Africa last summer. All along, I had been aware of the Latin expression: In vino veritas, which means, In wine there is truth. I loved that expression. And it’s true. I know I have experienced people share information or emotions that they did not intend to after a few glasses of wine or alcohol. That’s where the idea originated. So much fun to write and very rewarding that readers have expressed how much they are enjoying the book and relating to the issues raised in the book.

What motivated you to start the National Book Club Conference?

I met with book clubs quite a bit about my first novel, Baggage Check and it was always a great, learning, fun experience. And it occurred to me that most readers never get a chance to pick the brain of the authors they have come to enjoy. So I started the NBCC with the idea of bringing readers and authors together in an intimate environment to enhance the reading experience for attendees and give authors that coveted chance to hear directly from their supporters. It has been an amazing event that readers from across the country embrace and authors clamor to attend.

curtis bunn photo

Your books have been noted by some reviewers for being extremely engaging. What is the secret to writing a book that will interest readers?

Creating authentic storylines that readers relate to is critical. That has to be fortified with characters that resonate with readers. They don’t have to like the characters, but they have to know who they are, meaning you have to make sure they have depth and are believable. You can’t fool readers anymore. They are more sophisticated and thorough, and so you have to make sure you introduce characters that have layers. You do that well enough and they will put themselves in the characters’ shoes and they will compare their lives to those of the characters. Or they will talk about what they would do in a character’s position. That’s when they are engaged. And the resolution of the dilemmas in the book should be reasonable, believable, not something improbable. You accomplish those elements and the reader will be engaged throughout the reading experience.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an author?

My interests are varied. I love golf and wish I had more time to play the sport. I probably would teach journalism at my alma mater, Norfolk State University. I taught for four years at Morehouse College and it was a joy.Now, knowing all that you know now, what would you have done differently when you first started? I would not change anything. The experience is what makes the journey. And the journey has been fun and rewarding…and it’s not over yet.

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