Fred Shackelford
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 

I’m a Virginia attorney who lives on farmland that my great-great-grandfather purchased in 1817. My home is in Albemarle County, about 10 miles from Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson lived at the time of his death on July 4, 1826. Albemarle County is also the home of authors John Grisham, Rita Mae Brown, Marshall Jevons (Ken Elzinga’s pseudonym), and others.

INTERVIEW

SP: What does your typical writing day look like? How do you work in your writing and promoting?

​Fred: Before writing my début novel The Ticket, I published Judges Say the Darndest Things, a compilation of humorous excerpts from American legal cases. I write fiction sporadically, typically at night or on weekends, as I have to find time when I’m not busy writing legal briefs at my “day job.” Fortunately, I don’t have to promote my humor book, as the publisher takes care of all that. I simply list that book on my website and mention it when I do book events for The Ticket. To promote my novel, I visit book clubs and give talks whenever I can find a receptive audience. I’ve had good luck with book events at retirement facilities. Senior citizens have a lot of time to read, and they don’t have to travel to see me when I speak at their venues.

SP: Tell me how and why you got into writing fiction? How long have you been doing it? And how do you go about creating a story? Elaborate here.

Fred: For many years I’ve worked at a legal research firm, writing briefs and memoranda for other lawyers all around the country. Legal writing is very technical and dry, so I decided to write fiction in order to be more creative and have more freedom in terms of vocabulary, style and subject matter. I began writing my first novel in 2005, not long after my legal humor book was published. My first step in creating a story is to think of one basic idea around which to weave a plot. For example, in The Ticket the basic idea was how to find a missing jackpot lottery ticket when the person who possesses it does not know she has it. In a sci-fi short story that I wrote, the basic idea was whether astronauts who were stranded on Mars would try to save themselves by using a method that posed a great risk for their fellow crew members on a spacecraft that was orbiting the planet.

 

SP: Tell me about the protagonist and antagonist of your latest book. What are their goals in the story?

Fred: The antagonist in The Ticket is a sleazy, unscrupulous, conniving lawyer who has a gambling addiction. His marriage is falling apart and his gambling losses have depleted most of his wealth, but then he wins a $241 million lottery jackpot. Trying to keep all of the money for himself, he hides the lottery ticket inside a rare book, only to lose it when his wife leaves him and unknowingly takes the ticket along with her books and other possessions. His goal is to recover the ticket, cash it in, and keep the money from his wife. The protagonist is a retired detective. Through a series of coincidences, he learns that the ticket is missing, and he launches an investigation in the hope of finding the ticket before it expires and becomes worthless.

 

SP: Which do you prefer, character driven stories or plot driven stories and why should readers care? Which do you write?

Fred: I like plot driven stories because they often proceed at a frenetic pace. The characters’ personalities emerge over time, as the plot unfolds, without delaying the action in order to develop a lot of background on the players. Generally my writing is plot driven. I think readers should chose books according to their own tastes. Many readers may not care whether a story is plot driven or not, but if they do have a preference they should feel free to choose stories that fit their style.

 

SP: Tell me about your story point of view preferences, tense preferences, and any other thing of interest to you along these lines as we delve further into the mechanics of creating a story.

Fred: I prefer to write in the third person, past tense. I often hear agents or editors complain about “head bobbing,” whereby the narrator’s point of view may jump from one character to another. Personally, I have no objection to a third-person omniscient point of view, but I suppose that a writer must sometimes compromise if he or she wants to get published.

 

SP: What are your all-time favorite books – top three? Why? Don’t skimp here. Explore it with us? Tell us what genre they are. Who is your favorite author, if different from your favorite book?

Fred: My favorite novel is The Partner, a thriller by John Grisham, although it barely edges out another of his books, The Firm.  Like many of Grisham’s novels, The Partner features a protagonist who must grapple with shadowy, powerful figures in order to survive. The pace is quick, and danger lurks around every corner. My second favorite work is Murder at the Margin, a whodunit mystery by Ken Elzinga, who writes under the pseudonym Marshall Jevons. Ken is an economics professor who taught me in college and graciously wrote a testimonial blurb for The Ticket. In his Henry Spearman series, Elzinga’s protagonist is an economist who solves mysteries by applying economic analysis to discern others’ motives and actions. Rounding out my top-three list is a nonfiction adventure book, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing. It’s a well-written, gripping rendition of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition to cross the continent of Antarctica in 1914. Shackleton and his crew are shipwrecked and marooned for many months, and Endurance recounts their incredible courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles that threaten their lives. 

 

SP: What do you find is the most difficult thing about writing fiction? The easiest thing? Elaborate.

Fred: The most difficult thing for me is writing the “middle part” of a novel or short story. I may know where I want the story to begin and end, but it is quite a challenge to maintain a reader’s interest through several hundred pages in between the beginning and end of a novel. I find that the easiest part is writing dialog. Perhaps that’s because I hear people speaking every day, so it’s not a stretch to imagine a conversation between characters. I enjoy developing a character’s personality through these conversations.   

 

SP: Tell me about your travels. Where is an interesting place you’ve been? Do you travel to research your stories, or is research important to you for your stories?

Fred: I’ve traveled extensively in the United States and have visited Europe five times, including four trips to France. I majored in French and economics in college, and I enjoy being able to speak to French citizens and to understand their newspapers, magazines, radio and TV. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I’ve found that Parisians are often friendly and engaging people, and they have usually overlooked my mistakes in French vocabulary and grammar. I’ve also enjoyed visits to Greece and to the Caribbean islands of Barbados, St. Martin, Puerto Rico and St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. I travel for pleasure rather than for research purposes, although I did incorporate some knowledge of the tropics in a brief daydream by my antagonist in The Ticket.   

 

SP: What kind of stories do you refuse to read?

Fred: I’m open to most genres, although I don’t think I’d want to plow through a textbook on quantum physics or something like that. I don’t think I’ve ever tried a romance novel, but I wouldn’t refuse to read one if I were stranded on a desert island with nothing else available. I haven’t read much Western fiction, but I should probably delve into some of those books because I love Western movies.

 

SP: Finally, the most important question – DC or Marvel? Or does that even matter to you? What is your favorite comic book character ever? If none, just make something up!

Fred: To be honest, I don’t really know the difference between DC and Marvel. When I was a kid, I liked comics about Batman and Superman, probably because those were the two superheroes I saw most often on TV. George Reeves was great in the original Superman TV series. I also loved reading Mad Magazine as a teenager. Maybe that’s where I got my warped sense of humor.

 

Find Fred’s work at his social media sites. Be sure to write a review and post it to Amazon and elsewhere. Believe me when I say, authors crave reviews.

EXCERPT from The Ticket

 

CHAPTER 1

Channing Booker’s hand trembled as he held the slip of paper. Bleary-eyed from a Friday night of drinking and revelry, he wasn’t sure if what he saw was real. In the darkness of his study, he stared at the Virginia Lottery’s website in the pale glow of a smartphone screen. Slowly he read the six winning Mega Millions numbers one more time. He had been playing the lottery for at least a decade but had little to show for it—until now.

Glancing back and forth between the winning numbers on his smartphone and a row of digits on the slip of paper, he confirmed that his ticket was a winner. Tonight’s projected jackpot was $239 million, but with a flurry of last-minute ticket buying it may have inched up another million or so.

Knowing he had beaten odds of 303 million to one, Channing hoped his luck would hold when the final results were announced. Surely no one deserved a windfall more than he did, and he pondered the injustice that would befall him if someone else held a lucky ticket. His elation began to ebb as he considered the possibility that he might have to share his jackpot with another player. It ebbed even further as he realized that his new fortune, in whatever amount, would have to be divided between him and the woman who was sleeping upstairs.

Channing began to contemplate the radical changes that his sudden stroke of luck would bring. He was almost certain that Susan’s lawyer would be filing divorce papers soon, and until tonight he had dreaded the monetary implications of being single again. His few remaining assets would be snatched away by an irate wife, a greedy divorce lawyer, and a hostile judge. But they can only take what they can find.

He would wait until the divorce was final before cashing in the ticket, speeding the litigation along with magnanimous concessions and generous settlement offers. At least they would seem generous coming from a man whose apparent wealth had dwindled. Without children, there would be no protracted fight over custody or child support. He could wrap up the whole sorry process in a couple of months, grab his lottery winnings, reclaim his Mercedes, and retire with his favorite girlfriend to an island in the Caribbean.

 

As he leaned back on the couch, his pulse rate gradually returned to normal, and the shock of seeing the winning numbers on his ticket subsided. Minutes passed as he reveled in his vision of a carefree future. The house was silent, except for the gentle purr of Tony, the resident Siamese cat, who was curled up in a ball at the other end of the couch. Unfazed by the silent drama that was unfolding before him, Tony watched placidly as his master stared at the ceiling. A sliver of moonlight peeked through the curtains and cast faint shadows around the room. Channing set the winning ticket on the small mahogany table at the end of the couch and gazed at it for several minutes.