Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
I’m Gary Corbin, a freelance writer, editor, and playwright in Camas, WA, a suburb of Portland, OR. I’ve published six novels and written nearly two dozen plays.
My most recent novel, A Woman of Valor, is a character-driven, literary police procedural. Rookie policewoman Valorie Dawes pursues a child molester, awakening repressed memories of her own #metoo past. In addition to print and electronic versions, this book is now also available on audio, narrated by Lisa McKenna.
My Lying Injustice Thrillers series consists of two legal thrillers. In Lying in Judgment, a man serves on the jury of a murder trial—for the crime he committed. In the sequel, Lying in Vengeance, a woman on the jury discovers the man’s secret and blackmails him: kill the man who stalks me, or your secret gets revealed. Both books are available in print, ebook, and audio.
The Mountain Man Mysteries series consists of three crime novels. In The Mountain Man’s Dog, the simple act of kindness—adopting a stray, injured dog—thrusts forester Lehigh Carter into the bruising, complex world of romance, politics, and romance. In The Mountain Man’s Bride, the powerful elite accuse his fiancée of murdering the popular local sheriff, and it’s up to Lehigh to prove her innocence. In The Mountain Man’s Badge, Lehigh reluctantly becomes acting sheriff, and immediately has to arrest his own father-in-law for murder. All of these books are available in print and ebook; Dog and Brideare also on video.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
People! I love observing people around me, paying attention to their passions and quirks, their stories and adventures. For example, Lying in Judgment was inspired by the story a friend told me at a cocktail party. He was serving on a jury and the judge told them to disregard a witness’s testimony. How can I do that? he complained. That got me thinking: what if a judge couldn’t tell a juror to disregard evidence—because only that juror knew it? … Because he was there when the crime was committed…because he was the criminal! The story grew from there.
How do you deal with creative block?
I make my living through writing. I can’t afford creative block. If I stare at a screen or empty page long enough, words start to come. If they don’t, I remind myself of how low my bank balance is. It’s amazing how creative I become in that moment.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
First, titles and covers should invoke a sense of wonder or mystery in a reader, and elicit some sort of emotional response. The idea is to spark their interest and engage the reader before they even open the book. Titles in particular should convey the thematic content, letting the reader know what the book is about or what high-stakes issue is addressed.
The second tip I have is to get the cover done professionally. Readers get strong first impressions of how well crafted a book is by the cover (despite the old adage admonishing us not to). I browse covers frequently and have submitted them to cover-of-the-month competitions. It’s not hard to pick the self-made or amateur covers out of the pack. If it’s not hard for me, it’s not hard for readers, too.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
They don’t, and I don’t.
How has your creation process improved over time?
I used to write everything out using pen and paper, then type it into Word, then revise it a billion times until I was brave enough to share it with a critique group. I was pretty much a “pantser,” aka “seat of the pants” writer who just wrote what came into my head. The result was a story that lacked pacing and structure. (Hence the need for so many revisions.)
Now, I use Scrivener, eliminates the hand-writing step, and enables a much more structured process. I’m still not a “plotter,” though, by which I mean someone who creates a detailed outline before writing. Instead I’m a “painter,” my own term for one who sketches the key elements of a story — who the main characters are, what their goals and obstacles are, and what puts them into conflict. That gives me an overall arc that guides my writing process. Scrivener supports a structured revision process that allows me to incorporate and track research, crit group feedback, beta reader input, and editor’s fixes all in one place. I think my novels and plays are much better structured and paced now, and my readers seem to agree.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
In A Woman of Valor, I took on a huge new challenge: writing from the perspective of a young woman who’d been raped and had PTSD. I have none of those experiences in my life. So, one of the best parts of writing this book was engaging with various women who shared their stories and perspectives, educating me as to how widespread and deep the problems of harassment, rape, and discrimination against women runs in our society.
That education was also one of the worst aspects. I learned more than I bargained for about my position of privilege as a white, middle-aged male. Women shouldn’t have to endure what my demographic dishes out and offers excuses for as a matter of course. It’s appalling.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
My first objective is to satisfy my own (high, I hope) standards for story-telling, quality of writing, and emotional truth. If I don’t like it, I doubt my readers would. I do listen to my readers, though—not through reviews, but through feedback they share with me directly. Also, if it’s clear that they want more of a particular type of story, I’m more inclined to continue writing them than ones they’re ignoring on the bookshelves.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
Emotion is critical. Readers want to engage with a book, to disappear into its alternative world and forget about the “real world” for a while. They’re more likely to do that if a book resonates with them in an emotional way. They should love or hate a character, for example; root for the hero and root against the villain. That will get them to stay up late, reading under the covers with a flashlight and go to work groggy and happy the next morning.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
I haven’t had to use any of these in a while, but one favorite is to turn the sound off on the TV and try to fill in my own dialog based on what I see on the screen. Or, conversely, to face away from the TV with the sound on and try to describe the scene based on what I’m hearing. This helps me connect my characters’ actions, dialog, and emotions with their setting, and makes the setting more of a character or agent in the story rather than just a backdrop.
What are your plans for future books?
I’m planning a sequel and a prequel to A Woman of Valor. The prequel will be a novella-length treatment of Valorie’s pivotal moment in her first year of college where she finds her calling as a policewoman: a friend’s baby is kidnapped, and she helps her friend search for the perpetrator before tragedy strikes. The sequel elevates her passions about how women are mistreated in society to the political level, investigating a murder connected with a candidate for governor of her state.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I’m the seventh child of nine, born in the space of eleven years. We lived in a 3-bedroom house with one bathroom. I didn’t have my own private bedroom until my senior year of college. I’m an avid fan of my childhood sports teams—the Red Sox and the New England Patriots—even though I live almost 3,000 miles from where they play. I hate whistling—it physically hurts my ears and gives me headaches. I roast my own coffee, won a national homebrewing competition for my beer, and have been a vegetarian for 30 years. I was the first in my family to earn an advanced degree (Ph.D.), while my father, who helped me create the story for A Woman of Valor, never graduated high school. In the 1990s, I was an elections monitor in the demilitarized zone in Bosnia, helping to ensure their first free, fair election since the Cold War. I’ve written six novels in the crime/mystery genre, despite never having been a cop, lawyer, or criminal.