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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

Alan Orloff: From Mechanical Engineering to Engineering Thriller, Mystery, and Horror Fiction

Alan Orloff has had a diversified career during his lifetime, far more than most folks. Lucky for us, he's now settled into writing awarding-winning novels and short stories. His debut mystery, Diamonds for the Dead, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His novel, Pray for the Innocent, won the 2019 ITW Thriller Award in the Best E-Book Original category.

 

Alan's short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and other publications, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Noir at the Salad Bar, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and many others.  His story, "Rule Number One" was selected for the 2018 edition of The Best American Mystery Stories anthology. His story, "Happy Birthday" (published on Shotgun Honey), was a 2018 Derringer Award Finalist in the Flash Fiction category. And his story, "Dying in Dokesville" (published in Mystery Most Geographical) won the 2019 Derringer Award in the Short Story category.

 

Alan is always willing to chat with readers and fellow writers. So, it was no surprise when he agreed—without hesitation—to talk with us for Suspense Magazine.

 


Alan, thanks for chatting with us. You come from a diverse background. A degree in mechanical engineering, an MBA. You've worked on nuclear submarines, at a marketing research firm, and have even driven a forklift, among many other things. Now you're a full-time writer. How in the world did that happen?

A very good question, one that my wife asks me all the time. I wish I had a better answer, but one day I just decided to give writing a try. While I never (never!) had taken a creative writing class (or shown any desire to do so), I'd always been a big reader. I guess I finally got fed up reading other people's stories and wanted to write my own! I started slow, with a proof of concept. Could I write a short story? I did, it didn't stink (too bad), so I took a few workshops, then a few more, and kept at it. Still doing it, too.

 

 

Tell us about your thriller, Pray for the Innocent.

 

Don't hate me, but I woke up at 4 am with the premise for this novel fully formed in my head. I recommend this method very highly! (Although, every morning since, when I wake up WITHOUT a great idea in my idea, I have to admit I'm a little disappointed.) The book kicks off with a slight sci-fi twist and then it's off to the races. (It was fortunate enough to win the ITW Thriller Award for Best E-Book Original.) Here's a brief description:

 

In the shadow of the Pentagon, a secret DoD brain research experiment goes terribly wrong, and an ex-Special Ops soldier escapes, believing he is Viktor Dragunov, the Russian operative from the 80's thriller novel, Attack on America. To capture him, the Feds turn to the person uniquely qualified to predict his next moves, the man who created the fictional character, best-selling author Mathias King.

Now a reclusive English professor, King is reluctant to get involved, having sworn off the culture of violence after a deranged fan murdered his wife. But when innocent people start dying, King is thrust back into that dark world. With help from his enthusiastic graduate assistant Emily Phan, King must outsmart his own creation--while outmaneuvering the cover-up-loving Feds--before Dragunov succeeds in his hell-bent mission.

To destroy America.

 

 

Your first novel, Diamonds for the Dead, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. What was your inspiration for that book?

 

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The Glorious Fountain Pen: A Friend to Every Writer

Unfortunately, it's becoming a rarity to see handwritten anything these days, our society is so inundated with technology and driven by word-processing systems. Many deem handwriting inefficient. Why write longhand when you can pound away at a keyboard and watch your work magically appear on a computer screen?

 

Good question.

 

I work on computers, desktop and laptop, every day. My regular job as an editor and writer demands that I sit in front of a computer screen and churn out words. However, as a freelance author, I write my first drafts, fiction and nonfiction, using my favorite writing instrument, a fountain pen. Let me tell you why. 

 

I have many notebooks filled with potential story ideas, snippets of dialogue, random plot points, research—anything that can be put to paper. In fact, what you are reading now started as ink on paper. I find the fountain pen to be more fluid and less stressful on the hand than other pens, especially ballpoint pens that require more pressure on paper when writing. With a fountain pen, the thoughts stream from the brain straight to the page. It greases the "writing" gears.

 

I'm sure many of you have a similar process. From brain to pen to paper seems more creative and natural than pounding on a keyboard and watching digitized letters appear on a monitor. Don't you agree? Maybe I'm just old school and younger writers approach the creative process differently. But I think using a fountain pen is the better way to go. Hey, if ink on paper was good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for me.

 

Writing is an art. Using a fountain pen with ink is like using a brush with paint. Writing with a fountain pen is much like freestyle "doodling." You can quickly draw diagrams in the margins to visualize a scene you're developing, even draw a simple illustration of the story as you move along. A fountain pen offers a freedom to release your creativity that you simply can't achieve using a computer. Using a pen in hand is a natural process. Transferring that work to the computer is a mechanical process. Huge difference. Working on a computer seems more of a commitment—and certainly less fun than using a fountain pen.

 

I used a fountain pen throughout high school and college. But, when I began working as a full-time writer, editor, and publisher, a computer became a necessity. Only recently have I returned to using a fountain pen—and now wonder why I'd avoided my old friend for so many years. I prefer a Pilot, but also occasionally use a Waterman pen. 

 

Long before the typewriter and the computer, writers depended on pen and ink. So, I feel a part of that honored tradition. I and many other lovers of fountain pens are in good company. 

 

Arthur Conan Doyle and Graham Greene preferred the Parker Duofold.

 

Neil Gaiman wrote his novel Stardust using a Waterman pen. He wanted to experience writing the book as a writer in the 1920s would. He also changed ink colors daily to track his progress.

 

In a 2001 interview, Stephen King said that he thought his Waterman fountain pen was "the world's finest word processor." His son, Joe Hill, also writes longhand with a fountain pen. Must run in the family.

 

Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, Salman Rushdie, Peter Straub, H.P. Lovecraft. I could go on and on. Many renowned authors over the years have favored fountain pens. 

 

So, are you looking to spark your creative writing? Grab a fountain pen and a notepad ... and let it flow!

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