Thursday, 8 November 2012

Bruce Obee

Author of: Scuttlejack: A Damon Quinn Mystery

Book blurb:

When the Ocean Raider vanishes in the Salish Sea, investigative crime writer Damon Quinn isn’t convinced it’s a hijacking. But his skepticism is dispelled by an intensive air-sea search from Alaska to Oregon that turns up nothing—no flotsam, no oil slick, no crew. Four researchers and a fishboat converted to a high-tech science lab are gone without a trace. Then two teenaged sailors are attacked in the night by an unseen boat, and a luxury yacht is torched by an arsonist. Are these crimes tied to the Ocean Raider’s disappearance? Quinn’s answer lies on the bottom of a Gulf Island channel— a Japanese cash-buyer ship, scuttled on the herring grounds nearly 40 years ago.

But locating the wreck of the Kochi Maru is no guarantee that Quinn can prevent the murders of the kidnapped crew. It’s deja vu on the Pacific coast. Harley Bowen, the fisherman-turned-immigrant-smuggler, is back, with the infamous fishing magnate Uriki Kamamoto. And the sleepy Gulf Islanders are blissfully ignorant of the monstrous crimes going down in the ocean around them.

As an introduction, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

The Pacific coast has been the setting for most of my writing during the past four decades. An author of books, magazine articles, and television scripts, my work is published by National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Travel & Leisure, British Columbia Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and others.

I’ve won several international magazine awards as well as Canada’s Leo Award for screenwriting. I’m a recipient of the Governor-General’s Commemorative Medal for “significant contribution to compatriots, community and to Canada,” and one of this year’s nominees for the Western Magazine Awards Lifetime Achievement Award.

I live on Vancouver Island with my wife, Janet Barwell-Clarke. We have two grown daughters, Nicole and Lauren Obee.

What is your book about?

Scuttlejack is a mystery set in the Gulf Islands and waterways near my home on southern Vancouver Island, where I’ve travelled by cruiser, sailboat, canoe, and rowboat since childhood. The oceanic setting is integral to a plot that unfolds almost entirely on islands and channels, on board boats, and at marinas. The book blurb offers a glimpse of the essential story, but Scuttlejack also is about family and a troubled marriage, about overcoming the impossible, about characters with saltwater in their blood and bones.

When and why did you begin writing?

I inherited writing. My grandfather and uncle were newsmen and I, too, began as a reporter with the daily Victoria Times in 1972, at the age of 20. I left the news business in 1977 to launch a freelance career, branching into magazines, books, and television.

I haven’t had a real job since. I have specialized in environment and nature, mainly in-depth coverage of issues. All my work is done on assignment. Except, of course, fiction, which is my newest phase.

What genre do you prefer to write in?

As a methodical journalist, mysteries intrigue me because they lead off with a clearly-defined purpose, move methodically through a series of twists and surprises, then conclude with a tidy finale. I’m a tidy freak: I begin each day with an uncluttered desk and clean up when I’m through. That quirk creeps into my writing. Every article or book finishes with all loose ends tied.

What is your biggest writing achievement to date?

I’ve written 20-odd books and hundreds of magazine articles and television scripts, so it’s difficult to pinpoint a single achievement. As an environmental writer, I’ve covered many issues that have profound affects on Canada’s Pacific coast and British Columbia. I’m not an educator, I’m a story-teller, and my hope is that my stories have helped readers make informed decisions about issues that shape the future of an extraordinarily beautiful part of the world.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve spent a lifetime writing illustrated non-fiction, longing for a time when I could create picture-free stories, and have the freedom to say things I’d never get away with in truthful journalism. My short story, The Partnership, sold on the first try to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which encouraged me to believe I could write salable fiction. Factual necessity is uncomfortably confining in good journalism. While fiction must be believable, there’s nothing more liberating than sitting back in a Lazy-Boy chair, dreaming up plots starring people who don’t exist. It’s what all writers want: to never let the facts interfere with a good story.

Who is your favourite author, and what is it about their work that strikes a chord with you?

The late Roald Dahl. I’ve been fortunate to have been published with him in an anthology. I envy his incomparable wit and economic style, moving his stories at a pace where every word is vital to the plot and tone. His Tales of the Unexpected are proof that no one else can deliver so many surprises in so few words.

What book are you reading now, and would you recommend it?

Not Dead Yet, the latest Roy Grace mystery from Peter James. I would recommend all Peter James books.

What are your current projects?

While I’m mulling over the next Damon Quinn mystery I’m working on videos for Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney, British Columbia. I’ve written many scripts for Canada’s Knowledge Network, and have been a photographer since my teens. I produce videos that I shoot, write, narrate, and edit—a one-man show.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

 work in my home office from about 7:30 each morning until around 6:30 p.m., a routine I’ve maintained through 40 years of full-time writing.

What would you say was the hardest part of writing your book?

Separating my own personality from those of my characters, realizing that no two people are alike, that everyone speaks differently, thinks differently, and, most importantly, responds to certain events or situations in the most unexpected ways. To give each character a distinct personality is a challenge that brings credibility to fiction.

Who designed your book cover – and was the cover something you deemed important?

The cover is critically important. I designed the cover, initially compiling several layers in Photoshop, attempting to tell the book’s entire story in one picture. The result was disastrous, as my colleagues and family confirmed. After perusing countless mystery book covers I determined a simple photo portraying a place and feeling worked best. I also got good advice from Amazon on type faces and colours.

Did you try to go down the route of traditional publishing first or did you feel that self-publishing was right for you from the beginning?

My last “traditionally published” book was in 2008 and, based on my previous books, I was shocked at the minuscule investment in promotion. Since the coming of the digital era in the mid-2000s, publishers are shuffling off their promotional responsibilities to authors, compelling them to set up websites and market their own books. With the advent of ebooks and print-on-demand, does it make good business sense to share royalties with a publisher who’s unwilling to invest in marketing your book?

On the whole, how have you found self-publishing?

Self-publishing, I quickly learned, is self-marketing, unless, of course, you’re already famous. No matter how good it is, your book will not sell if you’re not prepared to be seriously involved in self-promotion. Don’t waste your time writing the book if you’re not willing to become completely immersed in the digital (and unreal) world of blogging, Twitter, and Facebook.

Where can we buy the book?

North America
United Kingdom

Do you have a website or blog where we can keep tabs on you?

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Writing a novel, or any full-length book, is a non-stop, all-absorbing, one-year commitment. Serious authors are not hobbyists: we write to be published. Think long and hard about what that entails before committing yourself to the massive task of writing a salable book. Also, write like you talk.

And, finally, do you have anything else that you’d like to say to everyone?

Not long ago self-publishing carried a ‘can’t-sell-it’ stigma, but now some authors are
discovering higher sales, certainly higher royalties, in self-published ebooks. Readers, too, are finding talented authors whose talents were bypassed by established print publishers. Print is far from obsolete, but ebooks invariably offer a broader choice of books and authors. Go to, or other ebook websites, and check the fine work of some of the lesser-known writers. You’ll be surprised.

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