Cliff Popkey is a guy who has done a lot in his life. Interviewers normally ask him about his political career, his many jobs, seek small business advice or ask him what he had for lunch. I normally delve into the life of writers I work with… sure, that’s the territory. This interview will touch upon his career, but let’s get to the MEAT. What does Cliff write and why does he write it? He has written several books. We will cover many of them in this interview and you will enjoy the writing side of Cliff Popkey!
Q) Hi, Cliff– I am going to jump in and ask if you are still looking for a major publishing contract?
A) Well, I’ve been self-published since 2009. My first book [that I published under the pseudonym Chris Keys] was The Fishing Trip!-A Ghost Story! I’m still looking to get a publishing contract, but the more I look at contracts, the more I’m thinking its not worth the hassle and the cut in pay per book.
Q) How long did you spend trying to land a major contract? You started writing after school, correct? I will also throw in another sub-question to spice things up–Do you believe self-publishing is the way forward for writers? Are the big publishing houses on the wane?
A) After high school, while in college, I tried a few dozen times to be published the traditional way with no success, so I put writing on the back burner to get on with life– a job and family. As far as self-publishing, I believe it is the wave of the future. Too many publishers believe they are doing you a favor by agreeing to publish your work. It’s your work that makes them money; they should be thanking the writer for letting them publish it. By self-publishing, you avoid other people trying to change your dream. They correct grammar or structure, but they can also get into the story and sometimes want to see you write something other than what they claimed they liked in the first place. I think self-publishing is going to be the only way to publish sooner than later.
Q) Let me pose this question to you: If self-publishing had been around when you left high school, would you have gone that route?
A) Like most would-be writers, I probably would have thought I had to have a publisher. But I probably would have found my way to self-publishing soon enough. I’m pretty independent.
Q) But your writing has improved since then, right? You have become a better writer with the passing of time?
A) You bet! I’ve improved over the last few years considerably. As with anything in life, if you keep practicing, you will get better. You may not always become proficient, but you will improve. I believe that I’m on my way to becoming good enough to be considered a writer by the public and other writers. I’ve read some books recently by authors who have managed to get signed with a traditional publisher, and I already write better than they do. So I ‘m very hopeful to break into the bookstores soon.
Q) Tell me about your very first book– The Fishing Trip! – A Ghost Story! What is it about?
A) It takes place on Lake Michigan. It’s the annual fishing trip of four friends who never stay on the lake after dark, but this year they don’t have any luck with the fish until it’s just about dark and then the fish start biting and the fun begins. After catching enough (or the limit), they head for shore– only they don’t know which direction shore is. The lighthouse that guides them has winked out and they become lost. They then spy an old ship and decide to sail over and ask directions, only the ship they’ve come across isn’t a modern ship it an old fashioned steamship filled with ghosts. They need new souls to take their place in this watery hell, and they want the four friends. The chase begins and finally the friends find the harbor and escape the ghosts, but they still have to decide what to say or do about the whole trip and it becomes a morale building experience.
Q) As The Fishing Trip! – A Ghost Story! was your very first published effort, where did you get the inspiration for that one? It sounds like a highly creative effort and something that has many fun elements to it.
A) I’ve always had an active imagination. I have story ideas constantly. It’s just a matter of sorting out the ones that can be easily written. The fishing trip came to me when I was sort of challenged by my editor to branch out from action-adventure. I remembered fondly the days I spent fishing on the big lake and thought I know about that and it’s always easiest to write about what you know. So, it just sort of flowed out of me, much like all of the other stories. I have ten novels and four short stories published and probably twenty more I’m working on. Sometimes, I write down an idea and pick it up several months later when I’ve finished the current project.
Q) Ten novels? That is quite the achievement! What is the key ingredient to being a writer in your opinion? What does it take?
A) Perseverance. You’ve got to believe you can do it and keep doing it even if no one buys a single book. The best way to get better at writing is to write more and keep on writing.
Q) Do you think many writers give up too easily when they don’t see their book reach the bestsellers lists?
A) I don’t know why some writers write just one book and stop. Maybe that’s all they set out to do. I have the goal of writing bestsellers and being a household name. I’m not the typical writer; I’m not college educated; I’m self taught. Some people have said it shows, yet they loved the story. I will probably never be the technically perfect writer and I really don’t care. I write to entertain and to make the reader think about the world around them. How have I taught myself to write? By reading thousands of books–all kinds of books– but I like mysteries and action books best.
Q) So when you agreed to an interview with me, what were you looking for? I have heard that you have been interviewed MORE about your political career than your writing. How do you feel about that?
A) I was hoping we would talk more about books since this is my focus now. Politics was in another lifetime over twenty years ago. My three new books are One by One, One Mistake and Apollo Road. All three are murder mystery types.
Q) I think it sounds like a great idea to get into these books! So let’s talk about One by One. Tell me more about it? What is it about?
A) One by One is a story about a young man who returns to his hometown twenty years after he was attacked by a gang of teenagers. He was eight years old, and nearly killed by them. He has returned to exact his revenge and he believes God has approved of his plans to kill them. As he goes about killing the gang members, he discovers things aren’t all he remembered and some of the people have changed a great deal, especially the one who changed his name and became the Police Detective who is charged with stopping his murder streak.
Q) Radically different to your first book, where did the inspiration for One by One come from?
A) I just thought it up one day. I started with a guy who is out to kill his mean neighbor, but it kept growing until it became the gang attacked him first and the neighbor could have helped him but didn’t and that’s why he’s out to kill her. I often think about what people do and then think about why would they do that. I get a lot of stories that wrote themselves once I figure out why someone would take a particular course of action. Sometimes I think the stories are writing themselves, and I’m just along as the reader. I figure if it entertains me, it will entertain others.
Q) The more you tell me about this one, the more I see it as a movie. I can see it running in my head as we speak. Do you write with a movie adaptation in your mind?
A) I consider every book I write as a movie. I think it has to do with the fact that we are so focused on TV and movies for entertainment. It’s really ‘lazy people’ entertainment. Reading requires effort; TV and Movies you can just lay in the couch. Don’t get me wrong. I’d jump at a chance to make movies out of any of my stories. I try to think of the scenes and how they’ll look in a movie as I write.
Q) How did you find writing Apollo Road? Was that an easy process for you?
A) Apollo Road was a bit of a challenge. Once I got the emotional content flowing, I had to think about how the rich people think. Not being rich it was a bit challenging, but then I remembered I’ve known lots of wealthy people and drew upon those memories about what they said about different things, and how they judged people based upon their wealth and status rather than on character. Not everyone I’ve known who was rich was that way but many were. It may just have been their confidence that showed through in everything they did. Most of them just assumed they would get what they wanted, and for the most part they did. It’s like the axiom–“If you believe you can, you will; if you believe you can’t, you’re right.”
Q) Do you draw inspiration from a lot of people you’ve known? For example, can you point to characters and say “this is so-and-so”?
A) No, not too many. Of course there are some, every author writes about what they know and the people they’ve known. I get a lot of character ideas from reading. I don’t plagiarize, but I’ll make sure my characters have traits that I admire in others and sometime wish I had.
Q) I’m glad you don’t plagiarize! So why interview with me?
A) I’ve read the interviews you’ve done on your site and found they were done well and presented the author in a good light. The small ads you run caught my attention. I believe that it is the right type of advertising to do to draw more people to my books and book reviews will also help. But they are hard to get.
Q) Thank you! Yes, it’s hard to get the word out there, Cliff. So, now tell me– If you were a reader and you were looking at the books of Cliff Popkey, which would you choose to read and why?
A) I’d probably read the Reprisal Series first because they are action-adventure– my first love. I have only two published, with one about ready and two more at first draft stage. They are action packed with plenty of intrigue. Then I’d have a hard time picking between Pirates Plunder-A Nate Nevwas Adventure and my three new ones. Pirates Plunder is a fast paced, campy, who’s-doing-it (as opposed to a who-done-it), and the three new ones are all dealing with murder and mayhem. You have a psycho killer in Apollo Road; a revenge-seeking slightly crazy Jesus freak in One by One; and a spurned husband who is too smart for his own good in One Mistake. I’d probably finish Reprisal and then read one right after the other without checking out any other author. As fast as I read, it would only take about two weeks and then I’d have more to write because it would inspire me to continue writing.
Q) Interesting choices. Now, I’ve left One Mistake till last… Can you tell me a bit about this one?
A) One Mistake is about Tyler Stone who chooses murder over divorcing his two-timing, money grubbing wife. He plans the perfect murder down to the smallest detail only to find himself staggering through an astonishing array of challenges, all in the effort to avoid making that One Mistake that would reveal his involvement to the authorities. Every murderer makes at least One Mistake. It only takes One Mistake to get caught and everybody makes at least one. Tyler Stone had made several, but the biggest one was having committed the crime in the first place.
Q) One Mistake sounds like a great read to me! How did you find the writing process for this one?
A) It was interesting because I tend to let the story lead me. I start out with an idea as I said earlier, then I just follow where the ideas lead as I write. Sometimes they are good and I have to go back and start again, but so far I always think of something else as I go along.
Q) Well, Cliff, this has been one helluva interview. Thank you for your time!
A) Not a problem, Nick!
This could well be the first interview Cliff has done that has actually focused on his prolific career as a writer. A historic first? Perhaps, but it felt good to get the word out about a writer who deserves respect.