Entertainment critic J. Leasure’s one-on-one with C. T. Wente on his first novel, Ice Man Cometh (originally titled Don’t Order Dog):
What is your writing background? This was so well thought out and written with a fresh voice. Please don’t tell me this was a first attempt at a novel.
Prior to completing Ice Man Cometh, my professional writing background was primarily a corollary of my day job as a marketing exec, which is to say writing advertising copy. Unfortunately, copy writing seems to be a common gateway drug for the would-be novelist, and I have several drawers full of half-finished manuscripts and chicken scratched ideas that attest to this fact.
Where did the inspiration for the plot and series come from?
The inspiration for Ice Man Cometh was literally handed to me in a purple Crown Royal bag by a former work colleague. Inside was a collection of letters written to her friend years prior while she was working as a bartender in Flagstaff, Arizona. As you might have guessed, each of the letters was a random, cryptically worded confession of love by an anonymous admirer that included a Polaroid picture from some exotic location. And yes, the bartender’s name was Jeri. Within minutes of reading the letters, I’d dismissed every unfinished manuscript on my laptop and was brainstorming the story line for Don’t Order Dog, which was eventually acquired by Thomas & Mercer and republished as Ice Man Cometh.
So there’s a real Jeri out there that served as your inspiration?
Yes, although I’ve never met her in person. Shortly after Ice Man Cometh was released, I emailed the colleague who’d inspired me with her friend’s letters and told her what I’d done. Her reply was a one-sentence response– “Jeri’s still pissed at me for showing those to you.”
And why Arizona? Again the location detail was awesome.
Prior to writing, I decided I wanted to see the bar where the real-life Jeri had worked and get a feel for Flagstaff, so I made the seven-hour ride to Northern Arizona. Sadly, I arrived to find that the bar had long since closed down. But within minutes of walking around I fell in love with the town’s hippy-meets-cowboy vibe. That was when the story really came alive for me, and I couldn’t imagine a better location for telling it.
What would you say drives your character and plot development?
Well, the truth is, I’m not particularly interested in the clash of good and evil, but in the moral dissonance in all of us. I remember reading Atlas Shrugged as a kid and loving the idea of the story, but the characters were so unyieldingly moralistic that they came off as two-dimensional and robotic. Real people have doubts and second thoughts. Shit happens. In my opinion, a story plays much better when you allow for that element of human inconsistency to be present beneath the surface. By the way, Ayn Rand is now smoking a cigarette in her grave and saying, “Yeah, talk to me about character development when you’ve sold a million copies, asshole.”
Do you have a police or agency background? The procedural part and in-fighting sounded too close to accurate for an outsider. And if it was totally made-up, you fooled me.
I wish I did, but no. I can honestly credit all procedural and agency-detailing elements of the book to two things– ongoing research during the writing process (a five-year endeavor) and pure conjecture (often while drinking tequila).
Are you now a full-time novelist now?
Not yet. I still have a day job, but c’est la vie. I feel incredibly lucky to have established an audience with my first novel, and I hope to keep them happily engaged with The Nearly Departed and the ones that follow. The good news is that I have a slew of other stories in various stages of development.
What is your professional background?
I’m essentially an architect graduate with a background in marketing and advertising. Ironically, one of my first jobs out of college was creating technical illustrations for a publishing company.
How do you write? Specific place and hours or when you feel the inspiration?
I’m told there are two types of novelists – plodders and pantsers. I’m definitely fall in the former. For me, story development starts with a detailed outline. Once I’m happy with the general outline, I parse it into digestible chunks and start typing away. I’d love to write a complete story by the seat of my pants one day, but I doubt there’s enough tequila in my liquor cabinet to see it through. As far as when I write, it just depends. I have this great second-floor office in my home in Sweden that overlooks the Baltic, so I can’t ask for a better environment to inspire my writing. Generally speaking, I’m a better editor in the morning, and a more eloquent writer at night.
Three rapid-fire questions – How many rejections, why self publishing through Amazon, and did the publisher approach you?
Shit, too many rejections to remember. For first-time novelists, sending a submission letter to a literary agent or publisher is like sending a resume to a company that rarely hires. Rejection is just part of the game. The beauty of self-publishing is that it offers a viable and (increasingly) legitimate way for new authors to get in the game and build an audience. In my case, I was fortunate in getting enough reader interest – and sales – with my first novel to catch the attention of an acquisition editor at Amazon.
How did you react to the Kirkus review? Do you know what a big deal that is?
Getting a review in Kirkus was a total kick in the pants. I remember thinking “Wow, I’ve done it.” Of course, right afterwards, I remember feeling nauseous and thinking “Shit, now I have to write another book.”