John Coyne is a seven-time bestselling author who has written more than 25 books of fiction and nonfiction. He is also a friend, someone I had the good fortune to meet after he published a successful golf novel that focused on Ben Hogan. John encouraged me to write my first book. He also helped me get my first literary agent.
When John isn’t writing, there’s a good chance he’s playing or watching golf. Recently, he was kind enough to answer my questions.
Q: What is your current project, and how did it come about?
JOHN COYNE: I just finished a non-fiction book entitled: How To Write A Novel In 100 Days. It only took me 356 days to write! I’m now working (and have been working for about six months) on a novel entitled Long Ago and Far Away, which is set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Westchester, New York; Menorca, Spain; St. Louis, Missouri; Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Kentucky.
As the heart of the novel is a murder mystery that is relived and tracked through thirty-plus years of two characters who were not involved in the murder, but whose lives were shaped in many ways by the event. There is no golf angle in this novel.
Q: What drew you to the story?
JOHN COYNE: I had lived in Ethiopia in the 1960s and knew the Empire then when it was ruled by Haile Selassie. It is a beautiful and fascinating country full of beautiful and fascinating people. (The only problem is that is only has one nine-hole golf course!)
A few years ago at a used book store, I came across a copy of a small guide book that was published in 1965 or so. I had never seen the book before or knew about it. Of course, Ethiopia, like the rest of the world, has changed. In fact, they are building a subway in the capital now which to me seems beyond comprehension.
Having the book, I began to think it might make a nice plot device and from that, I began to churn up plot ideas.
Q: Share a surprise and a challenge.
JOHN COYNE: When I started working on the book, I thought it was going to be mainly about the male character, but the female character became much more interesting to me, and the center of the plot—was it a murder?—became the focus on the story. I didn’t know any of that when I wrote the first sentence. The story itself told its own story, I guess.
Q: What drew you to writing and how did you get started?
JOHN COYNE: I remember when I was about ten or eleven reading a novel and being swept up with the prose and thinking not “oh, how beautiful this is said,” or even “I wish I had written that,” but thinking “to write this a person would be very powerful.” Odd that a little kid might come to that conclusion, but for me the ability to write such prose made a person “powerful.” I guess what I thought was that to write in such a way made a person important.
Q: How did you become a writing instructor?
JOHN COYNE: I have helped, in some minor and major ways, friends start and/or finish their books and over the years I have developed a series of suggestions that I think work for all writers. So, I pulled them together recently into How To Write A Novel in 100 Days.
TO BE CONTINUED. Next time I’ll share what John said about the writing life.