Friday, April 8, 2011

Gary Alexander--The Writer's Life--Interview

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

Gary Alexander says he’s been “abusing mystery readers for over thirty years” with various short stories and two series. As a writer he knows all about writing because it’s a burning desire within and the hit and miss vagaries of getting published.

His latest book isn’t a mystery but uses his experiences and knowledge of Vietnam to create, Dragon Lady, his first literary novel.  

Gary stopped by to chat with us a bit about a writer’s life.   

 When did you decide or know you wanted to be an author, to get your works published?

I think it’d been in my subconscious since I was a kid. I was a voracious reader and really appreciated good writing. In my early 30s, I finished reading an anthology of published stories, very disappointed with most of them. I told my wife, Shari, that I could do better than this guano. She said, well, why you don’t try? Six or seven years later I sold a story to the late Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, $25 on publication.

What other kinds of jobs have you held?

Mostly in the insurance industry. I worked in the field and could set my own hours. I carried around a tape recorder and often plumped out a story idea while stuck in gridlock.

Dragon Lady is obviously based on some personal experiences. Was it difficult to write about these?

Difficult and cathartic, more of the latter. Over the years, Dragon Lady evolved, all versions rejected or (mostly) ignored by editors and agents. Ones who responded said they weren’t interested in a Vietnam War story. It isn’t a war story, it’s an anti-war story. I emphasized humor to highlight the absurdity of it. The parallels to Afghanistan are stunning. I could go on and on---

How did writing this novel differ from writing other books/stories where the characters and plot were so far-removed from your personal life?

When I’d drop the manuscript into the mailbox, the character went with it. The exception to that were my series characters. They became friends.

Like a lot of authors, you’ve suffered your fair share of rejections. Do you think a writer’s life is difficult?

I was thinking about that the other day while taking a walk. Passed a garbage man unloading our Dumpster. Walked by a convenience store as the clerk cleaned up trash in the lot. Stopped by a bar for a beer; the bartender was running her butt off because the waitress didn’t show up for work. On the way home, a police car and fire truck zoomed by, sirens on, headed for who knows where. I’d say there might be a few jobs more difficult.

But the rejection is tough. Do you have a low opinion of the editors and agents who rejected you in the past?

I used to. But then I’d set manuscripts aside that the “idiots” had rejected. When I’d completely forgotten what they were about, I’d read them again. Guess who the idiot was? Almost half the 150+ short stories and 12 novels I’ve sold have been repair jobs after I’d let the works ripen.

What was the oddest/worst rejection you ever received?

What hasn’t been the worst? The uniformity of the comments makes me want to tear what remains of my hair out. “Not what we’re looking for.” “Not quite right for us.” “Not what we need.” Ad nauseam.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

In the old days, I’d pace around the office, sharpen pencils, and mutter obscenities.

And in today’s electronic era?

I pace around the office, sharpen pencils, and mutter obscenities.

How do you know if you’re a writer?

Easy question. A writer is one who cannot not write. Would-be writers have told me that they plan to take up writing after they have time, after the kids are grown and out of the house or after they retire from their day jobs, after after after ─

I believe it was Ross Macdonald who said that nothing ever got written because the writer had time to write it.

We’ve all read stories about 28-year-old first novelists who write bestsellers. How do you react to that?

Homicidal thoughts.

Seriously, have you ever read a bestseller and wondered, “How did this get published and become so popular?” How do you deal with those negative feelings? Do those feelings have an impact on your own work?

Many, many times. Just makes me work harder. I try not to dwell on anything over which I have no control.

Gary, thank you for taking time from your writing schedule to visit us today. What about you?

  • As a reader or a writer, have YOU read a bestseller you wondered how in the world became published much less a bestseller?
  • As a writer, how do you deal with your rejections?

Dragon Lady synopsis
In 1965 Saigon, Joe, a young draftee, becomes obsessed with a Vietnam girl named Mai, his own "Dragon Lady" from his beloved Terry and the Pirates cartoon strips that his mother still sends him. As he pursues a relationship with her, Saigon churns with intrigue and rumors--will the U.S. become more involved with the Vietnamese struggle? What's going on with a special unit that's bringing in all sorts of (for the time) high tech equipment? Will the U.S. make Vietnam the 51st state and bomb aggressors to oblivion?

But for Joe, the big question is--does Mai love him or will she betray more than just his heart? Excerpt

Gary Alexander’s intelligent voice, filled with dry wit, and his own experiences give this story a sharp sense of truth, recounting the horror and absurdity of war. Reminiscent of books such as Catch-22, Dragon Lady serves up equal measures of outrageous humor and poignant remembrance. Gary Alexander was one of 17,000 US soldiers in Vietnam that spring. When he left in the fall, there were 75,000 troops in-country.

Buy: Available as an e-book: AmazonSmashwords, Istoria Books


Gary R. Alexander enlisted in the Army in 1964 and served in Saigon. When he arrived in country, there were 17,000 GIs. When he left, 75,000. Dragon Lady is Gary’s first literary novel. He is the author of several mysteries featuring stand-up comic Buster Hightower--Disappeared, Zillionaire and Interlock--published in hardcover by Five Star/Cengage. He has had short stories published in several mystery publications, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He resides in Seattle.

His website can be found here:

Istoria Books is giving away free copy using a 100 percent discount code from that will allow a reader to "purchase" the book for free in a variety of ebook formats.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Gary, welcome to Over Coffee. I'm glad to have you visit.

To answer your question; yes I have read bestsellers and shook my head.

As far as rejections, they don't stop me but they do make me even more determined to succeed.

Mason Canyon said...

Gary, enjoyed your interview. I especially enjoyed the part about there being other jobs that are harder. Always fun to learn more about authors and their writing style.

Sia, another interesting look at a new author and intriguing book. BTW, I have an award for you on my blog.

Thoughts in Progress

~Sia McKye~ said...

Mason, I'll stop by Friday. I'm totally beat right now. :-)

alexagr61 said...

Hi Sia,

Thanks for inviting me!


alexagr61 said...

Thanks for dropping by, Mason.

Ken Coffman said...

It's clear Gary has the proverbial "fire in the belly" and a a passion for the written word. I tip my top hat.

Jo said...

I admire anyone who manages to get published and has the devotion and endurance to get their writing to that stage, even if they don't happen to have written something I enjoy reading. Yes, it does stagger me when someone makes it to the best seller list first time out, especially when I have read lots of authors who certainly deserve to be there but have been plugging away with wonderful books for years, many as good as, or better than, the one which became an instant success.

Anonymous said...

I like to hear what other writers did for a living. Although I don't have a tape recorder to track my ideas, I do use a simple notepad and pencil to jot down ideas.

alexagr61 said...

Hi Jo,

Thanks for dropping by.


alexagr61 said...


Do whatever works for you. Elmore Leonard still uses a lined pad and an electric typewriter. It certainly works for him.


alexagr61 said...


Thanks much for "the fire in the belly" comment. I don't know what a shrink would call it:)


VA said...

I can tell from this interview that I'd love Gary's style, the humor is spot on. It's weird how people don't want to associate humor and war, but soldiers would go crazy without it--and sometimes do regardless.

I can say that this topic, the Vietnam War, is one I've tiptoed around from years. I avoid it, most of the time. To say that my father's recovery after the war took some time is perhaps an understatement, especially since I wasn't born until after he left.

I do try and step in occasionally to the subject; he said it was one of the most beautiful places in the world he'd seen and that the people were lovely.

Gary, I love your persistence and the fact that you shared the brutal truth that writing to publish is a long trek.

Thanks, Sia.

bonnje said...

I enjoyed the interview, and am sure I would enjoy reading his book. Good luck with your endeavors.

alexagr61 said...

Hi Vivian,

I do appreciate your kind words. And, yeah, in that and in any other war, humor seems to be integral. For a lot of reasons.


alexagr61 said...

Hi bonnje,

It's nice of you to drop by and I do hope you do enjoy DRAGON LADY.


Houston A.W. Knight said...

Hey Sweetie!

I'm working on me book so I haven't been making the blog rounds as much as I should...I hope you'll forgive me, but when you're on a roll you've got to keep it going.

Loved this interview - Gary you said some words of wisdom for all of us writers to remember.

Hugs to you both

Anonymous said...

Love Gary's answer to whether he thinks the job of writing is difficult! Like him, whenever I start to think the job is too much, I look around me at other jobs and professions and realize that I'm darned lucky!

Alyson Reuben

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hawk, no worries, sweetie! I understand completely. My visits to my blogs are hit and miss. I try to get to them at least once a week, sometimes I fail miserably. But, I know ya love me! Ah, we Celtic girls...

Anonymous said...

Oh, and yes, I've read books that made me wonder how they ended up so high on the best seller list, especially when I finish reading another book that I think is superb and deserves so much more credit than it gets.


Houston A.W. Knight said...


This is why I adore you so're such a sweetheart!

Big cyber hugs darlin'

alexagr61 said...

Thanks Houston,

Glad to be of help. Any time you wanna chat, just whip it on me @


alexagr61 said...

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, Thanks for the visit.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Gary, that was my friend Alyson. She's a sweetheart too, like many of my cyber friends.

I've been enjoying the comments.

Talli Roland said...

Great interview, you too.

I'm with Gary on the worst thing about rejections -- all those comments, all the same... it can get frustrating!

alexagr61 said...


I've enjoyed being here!