Saturday, October 9, 2021

Interview with Paul Merrill





Tell your readers a little about yourself, where you grew up, where you live now, where you went to , etc. Let them get to know the personal you.


I was born in Oregon, lived in L.A. for a couple of years, and ended up in Claremont, California, where I graduated from high school. I was shy and so afraid of having to go to the prom that I arranged to graduate early and go to Europe with a couple of friends. When they returned home, I continued on through Europe, the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian railway, Japan, Hawaii, and home.


I went to Humboldt State College majoring in being a hippie. After my focused studies learning how to drive a bus, bake bread, and make bellbottom jeans, I headed to Europe to study Transcendental Meditation. After that followed a back-and-forth between TM in Europe and junior college in the USA.


I worked a variety of jobs: as a grocery clerk, postal worker, meditation instructor, construction worker, garbage man, bread truck driver, UPS driver, high-rise and residential window washer, commercial real estate salesman, rehabbed-rented-sold houses, was a landlord, a technical writer, a business writer, a magazine editor, a cartoonist, and a Christmas tree lot manager.


I finally graduated from Antioch University with a degree in business at the age of 31. After my father passed away from Alzheimer's in 2016, I moved to Mexico. Here I study Pilates and yoga, work on writing projects, enjoy living in a different culture, and eat the best tortillas in the world.


What inspired you to author your book?


I was house sitting for a friend in Seattle, Washington. I'd been working on another book for about a year. One morning I awoke with the idea in my head for Fast Food Detective and just started laughing. I thought, “I have to write this as a book. It will only take a couple of months and I'll get back to my other book." That was 32 years ago. I had to learn to write, and life kept getting in the way.


Where did you get the inspiration for your book’s cover?


I’d tried a couple of other cover ideas that didn’t work. One day I was at my desk, frustrated with my lack of progress, when I took out a piece of paper and drew a mockup of what I wanted. “Okay,” I said. “This is what I'm looking for.” I drew an approximation of what the cover should look like, with some borders around it. That's the cover, you see. Then a friend suggested I put a little picture in the center with a gun and some French fries. I liked it.



Who has been the most significant influence on you personally and as a writer?


I studied Transcendental Meditation for a long time. I would have to say Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who brought TM to the USA, has had the most profound influence of any person in my life. His audio and video lectures completely blew my socks off


As far as who had the most influence on me as a writer… it would have to be the writer, Neal Stephenson. I had an idea for a book, told Neil about it, and said I thought he should write it. He said, “No, you should write it; it's your story.” I thought he was nuts. One day, I walked downstairs, got a piece of paper, and I just started writing. It was so fun to be able to create your own reality on paper. Thanks, Neil!


As far as influencing my writing style? I don’t have a clue. A friend of mine found a book on the road that somebody had probably chucked out the window. It was a collection of short stories: Mark Twain, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, John Steinbeck, Hemingway… The book was really beat up. I started reading it and was blown away by the skill in which these guys used words.


What were your struggles or obstacles you had to overcome to get this book written?


That's funny. The struggles and obstacles I had to overcome were that I didn't know how to write! I’d gotten encouragement from my seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Porter, and a college professor, Bob Burroughs; that was all. But their encouragement was always there, in the back of my mind.


I wrote the basic bones of Fast Food Detective in a couple of weeks in 1989. I’d give it to somebody to look at and they would rip it apart. I would go back to work. When I thought it was finished again, I’d show it to someone else and they would rip it apart again. Ego training. I ended up writing the book in a lot of state parks, sitting in my truck.


Life also got in the way. I’d have to stop and work. When you come home from work physically exhausted, it's hard to get excited about sitting in front of a computer. In the morning, you've got to get back to work. And of course, there was the usual: a breakup with a girl, taking care of my father, buying and fixing up houses, the challenges of living in piles of concrete and sheetrock dust, selling Christmas trees in Los Angeles, losing everything in the stock market... You know, the usual.


Tell your readers about your book.


It's the story of an assistant manager of a fast-food restaurant, Larry Gibsom, who’s big fantasy in life is to be a detective. His midget boss, Pinwhip, comes back early from vacation to find Larry hasn’t been following his strict rules of conduct. Larry ends up getting fired.


Down and out, he stumbles on a book that guides him into his new career—as a detective. He invests all his money in an office, a gun, and a stack of business cards. No one calls. He’s dead in the water. Then one night he gets a call from the richest man in the world; he wants to hire Larry. Larry’s job: take down Venus Van Damme, the head of the woman’s lib organization The National Organization of Organized Women, who’s stolen his wife “off to stuff envelopes and talk about equality.”


Our detective wannabe Larry follows clues that lead him to Nebraska, where he is joined by the mysterious and beautiful Bobby Broadski. That’s it; I can't say anything more. It's a fun read, I had fun writing it, and I think people will enjoy it.


Who is your target audience, and why?


My target audience doesn't have anything to do with age. It has to do with a sense of humor. I think it would be a great book for kids of junior high school age and up. At the front of the book, it says: “To those who get that love and laughter are really what make the world go ‘round.” That's my audience; they are my tribe.


If you were going to give one reason for anyone looking at your book to read, why should they buy it?


Do they like to laugh? Do they value laughter? Are they a romantic? Do they have the ability to laugh at themselves and the rest of the world? If they do, they're going to love this book. If they don’t, they need to read it!


What do you consider your greatest success in life?


Somewhere in the course of living life, growing up and going through all those ups and downs, the struggles of being broke then flush with money, being healthy and being sick; you know, all those things we all go through even when we don't want to… especially when we don't want to! Those horrible things that make us better people and make us who we are…


My greatest success in life is a result of all those ups and downs teaching me to love people and to understand that on whatever level I am and whatever level they are, even if those levels are vastly different, that we're both on the same path. And that path is the path to maturity, compassion, and eventually what people call “sainthood.”


What one unique thing sets you apart from other writers in your genre?


I'm nuts.


How do you overcome writer’s block?


I’ve never had what most people call writers block. I’ve had times when I didn’t know how to get the plot from point A to point B. But when I sit down at the computer or the pen, the words come out.


The only time I ever have what most people call “writer’s block” is when I get tired. As soon as I find things aren't working, I stop. I wait until the next morning when I’m energetic, or after my meditation in the afternoon, when I’m full of energy again.


Trying to write when you are not at your peak of energy and clarity is a losing proposition! Not only is it a waste of time, but it puts a negative association in your mind about writing and not being creative. Meditation refreshes me on that level; sleep refreshes me on that level. Because of the way I approach writing (a subject of my blogs) when I put my pen to the paper, I know from the first scene to the last scene where I’m going.


So, it's just a matter of being energetic and clear-headed, and having fun. That's my edge, my secret formula; have fun! Sometimes I get so much energy writing that I have to run up and down the hallway yelling. As soon as you start to get tired, stop! Go meditate, eat, walk, take a nap, whatever. And if you're still not clear and sparkly in your head after that, wait till tomorrow.


What one piece of advice do you have for new authors.


I talk about a number of pieces of advice on my blog, so I would suggest they read those. But the #1 piece of advice is: Make it fun and make it emotional; for you.


When you think about your story, when you close your eyes and think about your story in detail, it should make you laugh, and it should make you cry. It should make you feel emotions! You should be excited about writing this story and sharing it with the rest of us. If it's not emotionally powerful for you—I'm not talking about the reader here, I'm talking about you—change it until it is. Or get another idea.


Oh, and I just have to say this after whizzing through my book in only 32 years: you haven’t failed until you give up. As long as you're still working on it, where is the failure?


Tell your readers anything else you want to share.


I think writing is about bringing to the paper all the fun, the feelings of sadness, the joy, all the emotions that are inside of you, illustrated through the experiences of your characters. To fill the container of yourself, of your heart, of your spirit or wherever it is that writing comes from, to fill that container with emotional experiences, some wonderful, some tough, you have to experience life. So, go out and do it. Take risks, go places, meet people. Be safe, but don't hide from experiencing the world. And all blessings and fun to you!