Author Interviews, Blog

Author Interview: Peter Marlton, Literary Fiction

Hi, I’m Peter Marlton. I write literary fiction. Eternal Graffiti, my first novel, is published by The Story Plant.

From Planning to Published

When did you start writing and why?

Author:   I’ve been writing one thing or another most of my life. Songs, poems, plays, screenplays, stories, and a couple of bad novels before Eternal Graffiti.  When I was about ten I pretended to start to write a book about Willie Mays by copying the first few pages of Arnold Hano’s biography of Willie in a notebook.  I put quotes around all of it.  I’m not sure why I did that, but when I found the notebook years later, I had a good laugh.

How long did it take you to finish your first book?

Author:  I’m a slow writer and I’m never fully satisfied. In the last couple of weeks I’ve read through parts of Eternal Graffiti that I’d revise if I could. Small things, but still. It took about seven years to write. The first few years it was on and off.  The last three years it was non-stop.  I revised it countless times, worked with an editor who convinced me to cut 16,000 words, and revised it some more. I was still revising during the proof-reading process before it went to the printer. But I’m happy with it.

About Your Work

What type of content do you write and why? Fiction Novels? Poems? Songs? Screenplays? Short Stories? Epic?

Author:    I’ve written all the above over many years, except maybe an epic.  Each one of these forms has its own way of luring me into the inner sanctum. It’s hard to describe what I mean in some ways. It’s sort of a mysterious process. Something will happen and I’ll “feel” which way I should go with it. For example, my short screenplay, Memorial Day, which was a finalist in the Austin Screenplay Competition, came to me all at once “as a film.” I knew there was no other way to write that story.  I write songs all the time. I love recording.  I’ve been a musician and songwriter since I was 12. Most of the songs I write should not be imposed on anyone ever, but every now and then they are OK. I have a few on my website.  I don’t write poems very often and I haven’t written a short story in years because I was working on the novel.

What genres and subgenres do you write in?

Author:      My fiction would always be labeled literary fiction. Plays and screenplays often have more comedic elements. I don’t know why that is.

How many works have you published?

Author:    I’ve published a few short stories and a couple of essays, and now a novel.

Can you tell us a bit about your most recent publication?

Author:     It’s a novel called Eternal Graffiti.  It’s a wild ride. Drugs, sex,  homelessness, true love, friendship, betrayal, catastrophic loss, suicide, and a resolution.

Name some common elements in your writing: villains, magic, red-herring twists, the unfortunate ensign, mysterious phenomena, asyndeton, sentence fragments etc.

Author:     My stories always seem to be about characters who are not in the “common orbit” of mainstream American life.  They tend to be outcasts who invariably face the same challenges we all do. It is character-driven storytelling and often I don’t know where it’s all going until I sit down at night and write and find out.  I also seem to have a thread of a kind of magic or mysticism that appears every now and then.

What was your first goal when you started your journey to becoming an author? Has that changed?

Author:   My goal was always to succeed by publishing writing that lots of people enjoy reading. But writing is hard. Very hard for me.  And the thing is, I’ve never been able to keep from writing even when I wanted to. There were a few years I just wanted the compulsion to stop because I was terrible at it and what was the point? But I couldn’t stop. I’d go a little nuts when I didn’t write. When I finally just gave in to it, come what may, the gloom lifted, and I started to improve.

What do you want your readers to get out of your works?

Author:     If somebody reads Eternal Graffiti and finds that when they finish they are moved and need a little time to themselves, even just two minutes to feel whatever it is they’re feeling and think for a while, I will have succeeded inwhat I set out to do – write the kind of book I want to read

What part of the author process are you working on or studying most now?

Author:      I’m very busy writing my next novel.

What has been your favorite part of the writing and querying or publishing process?

Author:     The querying process is awful. Every writer I know hates it.  The publishing process with the great people at The Story Plant, from start to finish, has been fabulous.

Which authors write similar books to yours? How did you find them?

Author:    This is an eclectic list, in no particular order, and it’s probably more accurate to say they are influences rather than having written similar books:  Denis Johnson, Rachel Cusk, Philip Roth, OttesaMosphegh, JD Salinger, Raymond Chandler, Emily St. John Mandel, Lawrence Durrell.

Have you always read in the genre you wanted to write in? Do you think that’s made it easier or harder to create new stories?

Author:   I’ve always read literary fiction but not only that. Sometimes I go on binges reading Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, PG Wodehouse, Georges Simenon.  I think the more you read, whether it’s in a single genre or in many genres, the more likely you will come up with new ideas or approaches to writing.

What is your writing process, from idea to polished work?Pantster? Plotter? How long does that typically take you?

Author:      I never use an outline. My characters usually take the story where it needs to go. This can create serious problems with blind alleys and digressions.  But there’s magic to it too.  Things happen that you could never have dreamed up ahead of time. Characters can appear out of nowhere.  In Eternal Graffiti, my character Kiera appeared first as a voice heard by Owen, the protagonist.  I had no idea who she was. She turned out to be the heart and soul of the novel, the crucial character around which everything revolved. She’s a 19-year-old UCLA student from Ireland. I had to go to Ireland to find out where she was from and what her life had been like.  The book took about seven years to write, off and on.  It was a pleasure to write, not knowing what was going to happen next. I also really like the revision process. That’s a whole other kind of hypnosis.

Where do you network most with other writers, authors, and creative types? LinkedIn? Wattpad? Twitter? Facebook? Somewhere else?

Author:     I’ve never really networked per se.  It’s not something I feel comfortable doing—I’m too self-conscious—although with the publication of my novel that’s becoming easier for me I think because people are making it easier. 

Do you sprint-write like a starving cheetah, or are you a totally chill turtle writer? Somewhere in between?

Author:     When I say I’m a slow writer what I mean is I am slow to produce something I’m willing to share with people.  I actually write pretty quickly. It’s the revisions that take so much time.


What has been the hardest thing to overcome on your journey to authorship?

Author:      Having to work a fulltime job. Major drag.

How has the writing and querying or publishing process affected you emotionally? Do you have any tips for budding writers?

Author:      I think the best way to approach it is to expect to be rejected because that is the most likely outcome. It’s like playing the lottery—you have to be in it to win it, but your chances of winning are very low.  If you submit and expect to be accepted you will likely suffer serious disappointment, rather than just disappointment (if that makes sense).  I highly recommend Googling something like “great novels that were rejected.”  There you’ll find great company and it can help knowing that if you keep submitting it’s very possible that each NO is one no closer to a yes.  It can help you understand that the gatekeepers are flawed human beings who can get things very, very wrong.  For example, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was turned down by eleven publishers before finding a home.  It makes you wonder if the eleven who said no have ever forgiven themselves.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for those who want to go the final step and become authors?

Author:      The main thing, no matter what else happens, is to write and keep writing.  If you pursue an MFA that will force you to keep writing.  If you can’t afford an MFA or are unable to go for some reason, you’re on your own. It’s good to find a writers group with people you trust and work that way.  Make sure you involved with serious people like you.

If you could do it all over again, what would you change?

Author:      I’d try to stop beating myself up all the time. I’d try to stop telling myself I’m a fraud and have no business submitting my work to anyone.

Are you a driven & self-advocating author, a gun-shy promoter, or a total marketing procrastinator?

Author:      I do what I can to promote my work but it’s a process I’m only now becoming familiar with. It’s a little weird, kind of like, “Look at me!  It’s all about me!” 

How do you keep yourself motivated?

Author:      I honestly can’t help it.  I have to write. It’s been this way my whole life. Part of a mental illness!

How do you combat writer’s block?

Author:      I don’t suffer from writer’s block if it’s defined as a prolonged period of being unable to write.  I can almost always write. But I have to add that producing writing doesn’t mean it’s good writing.

How did your family and friends react to your writing? Was it what you expected from them?

Author:      My friends have been very supportive.

What assumptions about writers and authors do you think are myths?

Author:      That writers are worth talking to at parties.

Fun Stuff

What do you listen to while you write?

Author:      I always listen to music while I write.  What I listen to depends on my mood of course. It could be anything from Mozart to Billie Eilish.

Is there a fun word or group of terms you like to put into your writing?

Author:      The End.

Where do you write your stories? A tiny office? A loft? The kitchen table? In the bushes while you secretly people-watch like a total creeper? Or awarm café with mocha in hand and feet up on an ottoman?

Author:      I used to write in cafes a lot but my favorite, a place called Bauhuas in Seattle,closed down and became an upscale Italian bike store.  I usually write at home, although when I’m in Paris, where I try go every year to write, I write in cafes.  I love that. 

What book are you reading at the moment?

Author:      Nana by Émile Zola, and I’m finishing I Buried Paul by fellow Story Plant writer Bruce Ferber.  I’m about to start The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.

How do you try to “break the mold” and be unique?

Author:   I really don’t. I’ve learned to write honestly and somewhat fearlessly and not worry about what anybody thinks. I think if you try to be unique you’re probably going to end up a cliché sooner or later.

What have you learned about yourself from the writing and/or authorship process?

Author:      Two main things, I think. First, that after years of teaching myself to write I can finally manage to produce good work. Second, with respect to the authorship process, I enjoy the writing life in general. I feel at home in it.

Do you have a writing companion?

Author:      I have three friends I met at a writers retreat. One lives in France, another in the UK, and one in Toronto.  I live in Seattle. We’ve known each other for years and keep in touch often.  It’s a great friendship and I feel very lucky.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Author:      Someone once told me, “If you feel like screaming, scream.”  That was what I really needed to hear at the time.

Author Website:

Twitter: @petermarlton1

Leave a Reply