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Interview with C. T. Westing, author of The Death of Wendell Mackey

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Tell us about The Death of Wendell Mackey.
At its core, I think The Death of Wendell Mackey has some timeless themes: men playing God, the fear of disease and decay, a desire for redemption, fear of losing control.

It centers on Wendell Mackey, a man who had been subjected to a series of horrifying experiments by a shadowy institution. After he escapes this institution, Wendell finds that his body is changing, that he is quickly turning into something inhuman. He flees to his late mother’s apartment, and it’s there, as he is physically changing, that he begins to be plagued by his past as well: past loss, past abuse, memories that won’t die. But it’s also there that he meets the one person, an old nun, who can help him escape the clutches of the men who are pursuing him.

The question is, what happens when his transition is complete? What’s left? How will he respond to friend or foe?

What genre is it?
I’d say it’s a psychological thriller, but everyone seems to say that about their books nowadays. If it’s a tense story, then it’s a thriller, and I’d hope my story is more than that. I’d describe it more as a story of a man terrified of being weak, of being victimized, and ultimately of losing his humanity.

What kind of readers will it appeal to?
I tell people that it’s a bit of Koontz and Cronenberg, so if you’re a fan of Dean or David, then this will be for you. Yes, it’s tense, and yes, it’s mysterious, but hopefully readers who really want to plumb the depths of a story’s character will really like it too. If you want characters to root for and others to root against, then you’ll fall in deep. Oh yeah, and there’s enough horror elements to keep readers on their toes.

The Death of Wendell Mackey is a great title for a thriller. Did you always know that this was the title you were going to use or did you  flirt with any other titles?
Thanks! I like it. I thought about something more basic, like Wendell, for a while, but it just didn’t feel right. The title seems to capture the themes in the book well. Honestly, I worried that the title sounded a little pretentious, a little too close to Death of a Salesman or The Death of Ivan Ilyich. But it stuck with me. I think it works. Hopefully it works. Well, I’ll let the readers judge.

We like it. How long did the book take to write?
Oh my, a long time. I started writing it six years ago, and I had to write it part-time, very part-time. Having children and going to graduate school tend to have that kind of effect on writing projects.

How did you manage to keep your writing, in terms of style, consistent over such a long period of time? Kids and graduate school completely change a person – so didn’t it change you as a writer too?
Yes, it did. There was always the consistency of knowing where I wanted to go with the story, and that didn’t change. The change came in the details. Being a new parent at the time, I started to write a lot of Wendell’s history, specifically flashbacks involving his parents. I didn’t expect this, but it all was a bit daunting. You realize after writing some pretty negative scenes between parent and child (and believe me, in the book, negative is an understatement) that it can all get personal fast. I started thinking about the kind of parent I definitely didn’t want to be, which I guess is a good thing. I’d write about Wendell’s abusive mother, and I’d read it back to myself and wince. I’d think, “Is this too much? It’s pretty tough stuff.” But I had to stick to my characters and my plot. So yes, parenthood made for some difficult writing.

Was that the most challenging part of your creative process? If not, what was?
Getting it all to fit together. I wrote the story in pieces, not in a linear fashion, and since it has some surreal elements and a number of flashbacks, I still needed to find consistency in my plot while also adding a few twists and turns. At any moment it could have run itself off the rails and fallen apart, and I found myself reading and rereading and re-rereading parts of the story, just to make sure I had some sense of cohesion, of having it all hang together.

You’ve told us that you’ve got young kids; can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I love stories. I love writing them (and have been doing so since I was a kid), but in order to write them one must first love to read them. Fortunately for me, my parents used to read to my brother and sisters and me book after book after book when we were kids. Added to that was the fact that my parents were both obsessive readers, a trait passed onto their kids. And somehow, reading led to writing. I don’t know how, but I’m glad it did. I teach as well. With the tough economy we’ve all been enduring, I’ve actually spent the past five years at home with my kids as a stay-at-home dad. I just started working as an adjunct college instructor a few years ago.

Have you got a blog where readers can keep up with your work? Do you use social media?
Yep. I try to blog on all things writing-related. You can find it here: ctwesting.com. I am on Twitter as @ctwesting.

Where can people buy The Death of Wendell Mackey?
Right now, it’s on Amazon. I’ll be rolling it out to Barnes & Noble and Smashwords in the next few months.

What’s next?
Right now, I’m the early stages of writing a murder mystery. It involves a series of ritualistic murders and two very bored academics who, on a lark, decide to investigate. As they dive deeper into the conspiracy theories, occult connections, pseudoscience and doomsday groups on the periphery of the official investigation, they realize that some of the crackpot theories that begin to pop up may actually be true. That’s when the fun begins…

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One Comment

  1. Reblogged this on C.T. Westing and commented:
    Hey folks, check out my newest interview over at Indie Author Land! They do great work over there, so you’re likely to find some other interesting interviews as well. I’m a fan of Hugh Howey and his breakthrough bestseller Wool, so read that one if you can. It’s good.

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