Today my guest is Alan Orloff, and a fascinating fellow he is!
In his bio, Alan lists many varied and interesting career moves. As I was stalking doing research on him, he mentioned a number jobs that warmed me to him, such as having worked with forklifts, (I don’t know why but I love them!), and nuclear submarines,(I had a cousin who worked with them in the Idaho desert.)
Alan is now a writer of novels and short stories. Let’s find out more:
Welcome, Alan! You also teach writing, don’t you?
I do. I teach workshops, mostly at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. It’s a great way to stay connected to the writing community and help out less experienced writers. I began my writing career taking workshops there!
Tell us about the forklift and the subs! Have you incorporated any of what you learned in these and other jobs into your writings?
Right out of college, I started working for General Electric, in a manufacturing management program. Different jobs in different business sectors in different parts of the country. While I was working at Major Appliance, they trained us office workers on how to drive a forklift, in case there was a strike in the warehouse. I was able to stack dishwashers three high! It was lots of fun until I accidentally backed up into a metal pole (no damage to me, the forklift, or the pole). When I worked at a small service shop in Richmond, we had a contract to provide maintenance on nuclear subs (the missile hatch seals). Fascinating! No, I haven’t yet incorporated any of my engineering experiences into my books or stories. Not yet, anyway!
I hope that you had to do research and were not able to draw on personal experience for “Running From the Past”. How do you do ‘homework’ for stories and how do you judge between sounding like you know what you are talking about and TMI?
Actually, I got the idea for Running From the Past from a real life situation. My family was vacationing at the beach, and we’d brought along a friend of my older son. I sort of extrapolated and imagined what it would be like if we never took him back! (We did.)
It is sometimes difficult to figure out exactly how much information to include in any story. If I get bored re-reading the passage, then I know there’s too much unnecessary detail. I’ve got a great bunch of critique partners and beta readers who will let me know if I ever get too long-winded.
Speaking of “Running From the Past”, it had a very interesting path to publication. Would you tell everyone about your experience with Kindle Scout?
I’d written Running From the Past, and I’d shown it to the agent I had at the time. She wasn’t sure where/if she could sell it, so she suggested I put it up on Wattpad (a very popular book-sharing site). I had a cover made (by a professional designer) and did the Wattpad thing for a while. Then I took it down, and the novel just languished on my hard drive. No plans. Just sat.
Fast forward a while until I saw Amazon announce a new program, Kindle Scout, where manuscripts could be posted and voted on by the reading public. Books that got a significant number of votes would then get passed on to Amazon Publishing’s editorial board. I jumped on that opportunity and my book was one of the first batch of ten to “win” a contract (along with a modest advance). Since then, I’ve been pleased with how Amazon has marketed the book. If there’s one thing Amazon knows how to do, it’s sell books!
I also read that you, like many of us, dislike being “cubby-holed”. However, your works lean more toward crime stories, am I correct? I believe every novel has a degree of mystery/suspense within their stories. Have you written in other genres or forms?
While much (most?) of my writing has fallen under the crime fiction umbrella, I’ve also published a horror novel, called The Taste. I have to say, it was extremely fun to write, and I’ve had readers comment that it was also a fun book to read. In addition, I’ve written a few YA books; hopefully, they’ll see the light of day sometime!
I find that many writers who started out using a pen name often decide that their own name will do. Of those who don’t revert to their daily name, it is usually to keep distance between different genres. Are you still writing as Zak Allen? How did you choose the name?
You hit it on the head, exactly. I chose Zak Allen when I published The Taste, so I wouldn’t alienate/ confuse/disgust any of my readers who enjoyed my crime fiction published under my real name. Choosing the name was a process. I knew I wanted the last name to be Allen (a homophone of my first name), so that part was easy. I came up with a list of possible first names, and I remember my agent and I batting them around for a good long while. I don’t even remember how we settled on Zak! (I think it might have been my agent’s son’s name, spelled differently.)
You and I have quite a bit in common since we were both born in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, then we moved to the Northern Virginia suburbs. However, you moved around and then moved back to the area, is that right?
I’ve lived most of my life in the D.C. suburbs. Despite the traffic, and the relatively high cost of living, and all the hot air blowing west from Capitol Hill, I call it home. I really only lived away while I worked for G.E. (for two years) and when I went to grad school in Boston.
You made the move to writing full time. Was that a difficult decision?
I’m very, very fortunate to have a loving and supportive wife (a true patron of the arts, in every respect of the words). Without her support, I’d still be banging my head against cubicle walls.
One interview had you saying that Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone was a great film adaptation. I have just rewatched it, since I had his line about God throwing a truck at him going through my mind,(because I feel like God recently threw a Monte Carlo at me.) A question I had once asked the other Foxes and the Hound was: Do you know any movies that are actually BETTER than their books? Alan, do you know of any?
Well, I tried reading Puzo’s The Godfather and didn’t get very far into it before setting it aside. That was a pretty great movie, so I’d vote for that being better than the book (Can I say that without having read the whole thing?)
Thank you so much for being my guest this week, Alan. How can our readers learn more about you and your works?
You can follow my antics on Facebook and Twitter, or check up on me at my website: www.alanorloff.com.
Most recently, I’ve had stories in 50 SHADES OF CABERNET, Mystery Weekly (Jan 2017), and WINDWARD: BEST NEW ENGLAND CRIME STORIES 2016, all available at your favorite booksellers.
Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog—you’re a great host!
Thank you so much, Alan-you are a great guest!