Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
I decided in high school I wanted to “be a writer” without really knowing what that involved. It stayed with me off and on for many years including through a long career as a lawyer. I wrote some things on a long sabbatical from the law in the 1980s, gave it up for another 20 years, then got back to it in earnest in 2013 and have now published 5 books (including revisions of some of the drafts I did in the 80s) and working on more.
What makes writing your passion?
A troubled childhood? Deep-seated neuroses? On a more upbeat note, telling stories that grapple with the fundamental aspects of human life is certainly a vocation to be passionate about.
How long have you been writing?
See Answer to #1.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
Relief. And then fear. Would it be successful? Would people like it? What would the reviews say? Would I have the ability to write another book?
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
I have a number of different main characters depending on the work. In my story collection and in my stage plays, my characters have ranged from a young boy growing up in the 1950s, to an alcohol/drug addiction counselor and his patients, a woman “old and broke in Juneau with winter coming on,” Eleanor Marx (youngest daughter of Karl Marx), and a character inspired by the disc jockey credited with “discovering” rock and roll in the 1950s. My detective series has the primary character, Peter O’Keefe but many other characters as well and will have many more as my goal in this series is, through these characters and others that will emerge over time, to grapple with some of the major developments and issues in American life for a period of 25-plus years, from the 1980s to the present day.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
Struggling to overcome blocks.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
Usually, it stops me for a while, but then I just finally “gut it out.” But there are a couple of pieces where the block has triumphed. I hope those just weren’t worth doing.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
What keeps me going is the satisfaction in the work when it’s done. I have a lot more stories to tell about American life from the 1980s to the present date and am in a friendly race with old age, senility, and death to tell as many stories as I can before one of that trio nails me. My advice to other writers is to keep at it until you are sure you are not cut out for it. Don’t give up too soon or too easily, but there really might be a time to give up. I’m glad I gave up in the 90s and put things on hold for 20 years but extremely happy I resumed those two decades later.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Demanding perfection in life, marriage, writing, or anything else will make you and others unnecessarily unhappy and be an obstacle to both achieving your desires and enjoying them when you’ve fulfilled them.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
I am extremely happy and a bit surprised that I have received very few negative ones. Sometimes less than positive but constructive ones usefully identify weaknesses and help me avoid similar ones in the future. Of course, any negativity threatens to paralyze me. But I let the positive reviews and especially the awards overcome the occasional negatives.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
Validation and an impetus to keep going. A Kirkus reviewer said, “Flanigan manages to conjure deft, hard-boiled, but literary prose that’s reminiscent of Raymond Chandler’s best work,” and I have considered tattooing that on my forehead (backwards, so I can see it when I look in the mirror).
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Sometimes the kernel of something that happened to me furnishes a plot or part of one (for example I had a “mink farm” case as a young lawyer, which led to Mink Eyes, the first O’Keefe novel), but the imagination does the really interesting stuff.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
People close to me say they see a lot of me in both Peter O’Keefe and Michael Harrigan in the O’Keefe novels. But I really try not to be autobiographical. Most lives, including mine, have not been richly varied enough to justify indulging in navel-gazing solipsism.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
Of course not. But it is important, although I am not sure it means as much in the now-dominant digital world as it did in the once-dominant bookstore world. I have been very happy with the designer and other professionals who have helped me with my covers, general layout etc. They have contributed their own originality and creativity but also listened to what I thought was important to get across and adjusted accordingly, preserving the best of both.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I haven’t had as much of an opportunity to interact with readers as I would like.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
I like to be recognized for my work and much appreciate the awards and recognition I have received and hope more is coming. But I usually don’t like to be directly in the spotlight—a little off to the side.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
No surprise here and the “why” will be obvious: Shakespeare above all, but also Wordsworth, Turgenev, Twain, Yeats, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Camus. A little closer to contemporary would be Robert Stone (especially Dog Soldiers) and E. L. Doctorow. In the detective genre, it’s been a long time, but I remember fondly reading Ross MacDonald a long time ago.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
Somewhere tagging along behind but within the long shadow of the authors identified in #17. I also write plays by the way and hope to get some traction on those. I think the Peter O’Keefe novels would make for a great tv series or feature films. I have a feature screenplay and TV pilot ready to go once the novels generate interest in doing something in that direction.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
No, although I am planning to reissue my poetry collection, Tenebrae, adding to it and changing the cover but not the existing text. It is very special to me and needs a better, updated, more appealing look to it and a little more heft. Otherwise, no, I think they are what they were meant to be—a “pilgrim’s progress.” I want to do new things, not revise old ones.