Joel Canfield self-reportedly has written like a madman since he learned how to type. Novelist, screenwriter and ghostwriter, Canfield has lived in many cities across the U.S. He now resides in Miami Beach, Florida with his favorite blondes, writer-editor wife Lisa and dog Betsy, but he will undoubtedly move again, because that’s just what he does. As our Author of the Day, he talks about Blue Fire, the sequel to his first Max Bowman book and gives us some insights in his writing habits and the creation of his characters.
Please give us a short introduction to what Blue Fire is about.
BLUE FIRE is the sequel to my first Max Bowman book, DARK SKY (which does feature a standalone mystery – you don’t have to have read the first book to get into it). As with DARK SKY and the third book in the series, RED EARTH, BLUE FIRE deals with real-life and slightly batshit-crazy government activities. In BLUE FIRE, the plot revolves around CIA mind-programming programs from the 1950s and 60s that are suddenly revived in today’s America. Oh, and then there’s the comic book stuff…
Yes, what inspired the comic book subplot?
I grew up when Marvel superheroes first appeared on the scene and became huge sensations—to us kids anyway—and I stayed a pretty intense fan into my teens. It blows my mind that Marvel movies are now a huge billion-dollar movie franchise…back then, adults didn’t know from Thor, Spider-Man, etc. Anyway, in recent years, I’ve read a lot about the real history behind comic books…how publishers made millions while paying the artists and writers peanuts, even though their creations were what generated all those profits. The companies putting out all these heroic fables advocating truth, justice and the American Way played dirty, which was shocking and more than a little fascinating to me.
Talk about the building that’s featured on the cover.
When my wife and I were living on Roosevelt Island in New York City, we would walk the dog right past the skyline of Manhattan, which was right across the East River from us. I became fascinated with the architecture of this one older building, especially its rooftop, which looked very similar to the location of the climax of the original Ghostbusters. I tracked down its location, looked it up and found out it was built in the 1920s and all these New York luminaries, like Anderson Cooper’s mom Gloria Vanderbilt, had lived there. I then went into the city to check it out and took a LOT of pictures…and, even though it’s not specified as being that structure in the book, I definitely used its characteristics. It helps me be specific and real when I can nail down an actual location that will work for the book. Same with the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital where the dog gets lost.
Tell us more about Max Bowman - what makes him tick?
Think Tom Cruise and flip the script. Max Bowman is not an action hero. He’s an out-of-shape wiseass who used to be a CIA desk jockey. Now he’s pushing 60 and so far, all he’s succeeded at is failing. Where the traditional hero is always ready to tackle anything, Max does his absolute best to avoid trouble and even fails miserably at that. Instead, he keeps getting dragged into these government conspiracies for reasons he doesn’t fully understand…until RED EARTH, anyway.
When it comes to writing - you have done it all: co-authoring biographies, writing movies and more. Tell us more about your journey as a writer.
I’ve written like a madman since I learned how to type. I started out wanting to be a screenplay writer and had a big successful sale to a studio when I was 32—but, since I was having something of a rolling nervous breakdown due to my first marriage breaking up, I didn’t really capitalize on it. Then I met and married my second wife (and first writing partner) Lisa, and, with her, I kind of rebooted everything. We began writing screenplays together and, currently, one of our film scripts is looking good to get made in the next year or so. On the small screen, we’ve had one Hallmark TV movie, Eat, Play, Love, premiere last August and we have three more in development at the moment. We’ve also ghostwritten books for a variety of clients, including a couple of criminals and an NBA veteran. Basically, I love to try everything and anything in the writing arena. And even though it’s only my name on the Max Bowman books, Lisa is invaluable as my editor. She knows what I’m after and is unafraid to tell me when I suck. Too unafraid, in my opinion.
Your book has a different take on the traditional private-eye type book. Why did you take this approach?
You might not know it from this interview, but humor is important to me and I find most traditional detective/espionage books to be too serious and straightforward. I like to twist things as much as possible—that way the reader isn’t sure what to expect. Actually, neither am I when I write them.
Your characters, even the neurotic, obsessive dog, are well-drawn and likable. How did you pull this off?
Most of my characters are based on people I actually have known at one point or another. As for the dog, we own that crazy mutt and every word I write about her is TRUTH. I don’t do stock characters, or at least, I try to avoid them like the plague. That’s why I base them on real people with real issues.
What is your favorite line from this book and why?
It’s not a line, but I’m pretty proud of the mantra Blue Fire has to say to transform himself into super-goodness. Comic fans will recognize it as a rip-off of the Green Lantern oath…because that’s what it is.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? Favorite writing spot, best time of the day to write, something that inspires you?
My favorite writing spot is…well, my desk. I’m not great on a laptop. I need a full keyboard for my unique four-fingered typing skills, so I go where my PC is. I write best in the mornings when I’m fresh, then, in the afternoon I prefer to review and rewrite stuff I’ve already done. Where do I get inspired? My bed, at three or four in the morning, when, unfortunately, I usually wake up with my best ideas. I say unfortunately, because I end up not sleeping the rest of the night because I get too caught up in thinking the ideas through.
When working on a new book, what’s the first thing you do?
I start by jotting down notes on a word document. The notes only make sense to me, because they’re filled with random words, half-sentences and phrases that trigger things in my brain. I never do a formal outline for a novel. But I never actually start the writing until I have the “through-line” in my head. Where it starts, where it goes, and an idea of where it’s going to wind up. A lot of my initial thoughts get thrown out along the way, because I let the story take me where it needs to go. I don’t force detours.
What are you working on right now?
A few things. I’m halfway through the next Max Bowman book, WHITE RAIN, which will wrap up this ongoing storyline for good. Lisa and I are about to start another Hallmark script and I’m also in the middle of a couple of ghostwriting gigs for clients. There’s a reason my “A” “S” and “E” keys are no longer readable.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
They can visit my Max Bowman Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MaxBowmanBooks for more about that series. Lisa and I have our own website at https://www.gethipcreative.com and my Amazon author page at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00O3HCTX2 lists many of my books, including the ghostwritten ones. Not all the ghostwritten ones, because some clients don’t want our names on their books. Good call? You be the judge.