Monday, May 26, 2014

Interview with Allen Renfro, author of AMBIGUITY


Allen Renfro

The phone rings.

Will is glad he didn't go straight to bed after his shift. The call is probably Derek. After a night of bar hopping he’s probably too drunk to drive and needs a ride home.

At such a late hour Reverend Wallace wonders which elderly member of his congregation has died.

Nearly asleep Laura knows she shouldn't answer the phone in the middle of the night, but it could be her husband who is out of town.

They are wrong.

In the wake of a senseless and horrific crime a city is torn apart and a nation is in shock. As investigators delve into the lives of the suspect and the victims they unravel an even darker mystery. A grieving community will struggle to deal with the consequences of the secrets that are revealed. Secrets that will leave no life untouched. 


First of all, thank you for joining me today, Allen. I’m delighted to have you on the blog. Before we talk your book, it would be nice to get to know you.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thank you for having me! Well, I'm a graduate of Tusculum College, Tennessee's oldest college despite what the folks at the University of Tennessee say! I have a degree in organizational management which really means that I'm a writing geek with a business background. I love writing and reading and horror movies. I'm an absolute history nut! I love taking historical tours and I love documentaries about history. I love hanging out with friends and, yes, I do consider gin and tequila to be friends.

Now, tell us about you as a writer.

I'm the author of five novels with hopefully several more to come. As a writer I feel like I've been cut from a unique mold. I don't see myself as a writer who will always write within one or two genres. I write what challenges me, what provokes me and I hope that my readers are equally challenged and provoked while being entertained at the same time. And sometimes that may be a young adult story or it could be the most violent story anyone has ever read. I think that's what excites me as a writer: the journey of an unknown, what story will come next, not always having a clear path. Get on the ride and see where the story takes me!

Has writing always been your dream? How did you become an author?

You know that's an interesting question for me. I believe it was always my dream even though I didn't realize it until I was much older. I was writing novellas when I was in the sixth grade, taking pen to paper. When I was that young I didn't realize that I was writing stories other people might want to read and enjoy. I just did for it myself. It was in high school that I understood how much I enjoyed writing enough that I would want to write for the rest of my life. It's funny now that I think about it, but in my senior yearbook under the topic ambition I wrote: "to become the great American writer."

I gave up writing for many years for reasons now that I can't explain. It's always been such a wonderful outlet of expression for me it seems to be a ridiculous notion that I would simply stop writing. When I started writing again I decided to write a novel. I shared portions of a story that became my novel The Raised with some friends and they loved it. I actually became an author just by putting one foot in front of the other and finishing that first project.

What is your writing routine? Did you research? Are any of your stories based on your own life?

I think chaos might best describe my routine!  No, actually, I don't have a structured method of writing. It seems that most of my writing occurs on weekends and late at night.  I wear out my favorite Pandora music station but otherwise I want a quiet environment. I do research on technical issues. If the story is a murder mystery I want to make sure the plot is believable so I will research and talk to my friends in the medical field or in law enforcement for guidance. Of course if there are historical references I double check all those facts. But seeing as how I write fiction I don't necessarily limit myself to what one would deem as "facts."  Supernatural stories especially push the boundaries of fact so why not just run wild with it.

I think there will always be pieces of me in every story that I write. I see myself in a lot of my characters at different times. On occasions I give them my opinions and the words they speak are straight from my mouth. Will I ever say what parts of a story refer to me? No, probably not. I think my stories are more interesting than me. I think all of us as writers want that to be the case.

What can you share with us about Ambiguity, your new novel?  Who are the main characters? Would we like them if they were our neighbors in real life?

Ambiguity <deep breath and a smile> it's a story that my conscience demanded I write. Even though it's a work of fiction, it's a very timely subject. In reality it's happening right now in this moment. Now, having described the story like I just did let me elaborate on that.  The story kicks off with a horrific, violent event as it is unfolding. This brutal event is the catalyst to the rest of the story. The repercussions of this act of violence ripples through the lives of every character in the novel revealing secrets that many of the characters desperately want to keep hidden.  As the story unfolds the reader will realize that there's more to what happened on the first tragic night of the novel than just one single violent act. While all the characters in Ambiguity will take sides in the debate that follows the tragedy, the main characters will unravel a deep dark mystery they would never have imagined could be possible.

When it comes to the characters many of my readers will recognize several characters from my novel Bridge Water. I decided to use these characters because of the controversial nature of the story in Ambiguity and just because I wanted to try something a little different when it came to storytelling. Ambiguity is not a sequel. It's a brand new story that stands all on its own. I wanted to put these characters in a different situation and see how they would be affected. I quickly learned that these characters now seem even more real to me.

As far as main characters I guess I would have to say there are groups of main characters, each with a story that evolves throughout the novel.  There is Detective Will Jones, Detective Kyle Edgeworth, Detective Derek Cooper and Erik Layton, aka Laylay, who all appeared in Bridge Water. Then you have Reverend Edward Wallace and his wife Judith along with the character Laura Jennings and attorney Jake Johnson. Throughout the novel these characters will interact with each other and other characters. None of the characters in Ambiguity feel like minor characters. At one point or another each becomes the main focus of the story.

Some of the characters you would absolutely love to have as your next door neighbor. Others, however, you wouldn't dare turn your back on them. That's the core of Ambiguity really. Don't believe everything you see and hear because it may not be the truth.

Did the story of Ambiguity flow easily, or did it present any writing challenges for you?
What was your biggest challenge in writing Ambiguity?

The story definitely flowed but it had its own unique challenges as well. The emotional aspects of the story were difficult to write. There were times I had to step away from my desk because of the feelings it stirred up in me. There is definitely an emotional rollercoaster feel to the story in Ambiguity. Personally, I felt the need for the characters to express their grief after the tragic events that kick off the novel while still moving the investigation forward. I think Ambiguity has a ripple effect type of feeling that is cathartic not only for readers but definitely for me as I wrote it.

I think the biggest challenge for me was developing characters that don't agree with me politically or morally. Trying to express their view point even though it's one I could never agree with was very difficult but was rewarding in its own way. It's not the same as creating a villain. It was like a debate class where I was asked to defend the point of view I don't agree with. I definitely learned a few lessons in the process of writing this story.

Is there a message in Ambiguity that you want the readers to understand?

I guess if there is a message in Ambiguity it is that there are consequences in everything we do or say regardless of the intention. That's not to say that consequences have to be bad. But obviously being a fiction writer the consequences are very bad in Ambiguity. At the end of the day all I really want is for readers to have enjoyed an emotional ride and I hope they are provoked into thinking about a subject in a completely different way.

How did you choose a title? Are you the type of author who knows the title before you start writing, or do titles cause you anxiety? 

Oh, my answer to this question could get me in trouble!

The title actually came to me very quickly but the circumstances that led me to deciding on the title stems from my own life as a country boy from Tennessee. As a southern boy from the Bible Belt, I represent an entire family, not just myself. You never want to do anything bad that could tarnish the family name. Every member of the family has a responsibility not to show the family in a negative light.  We don't need all the neighbors gossiping about us. All things considered bad like getting drunk; being arrested; being promiscuous; having an affair; being gay, are supposed to stay behind closed doors. We don't air our dirty laundry. So what happens out of this unwritten rule is that you behave and present yourself in public one way that may not be who you really are. Many of the characters in Ambiguity have adopted this rule. It's not until the tragic events at the very beginning of the novel that their facades are torn down. So, basically this is how I use the title Ambiguity, by broadening the definition of ambiguous. Instead of a statement or expression having an unclear or multiple meanings, it is my characters that are unclear or are being defined in more than one way: either good or evil or a combination of both depending upon the circumstance. They always present themselves in the most positive light in public, but when behind closed doors they are very, very different.

Titles don't necessarily cause me anxiety but I think we all recognize the importance of a strong title for a book or movie or even a song. My first novel, The Raised, gave me fits in coming up with a title and then Bridge Water was actually inspired by a street sign. I see that street sign every day and before I wrote Bridge Water I would think: "that would be a great title for a book." And I literally wrote the story around the title. You never know where inspiration may come from.

I guess when it comes to book titles I should put it this way: I hope I never feel anxiety over coming up with a title!

Who would you want to play the main characters in Ambiguity if a movie is made, based on your story?

You know I haven't thought much about that. I think for Will Jones it would have to be Henry Cavill and for Will's boyfriend Derek Cooper maybe Channing Tatum with Aaron Paul's intensity. I think Andrew Lincoln would make a great Reverend Ed Wallace, I think he needs to play a part like Ed. Ed's wife Judith perhaps Uma Thurman and for Laura Jennings I would love for Charlize Theron to play that part. For Johnny Bales Chris Evans would be the guy! For Kyle Edgeworth, Matthew Fox would be awesome and for Erik Layton, aka Laylay, the funniest character with the most direct personality, I don't know, could we put Margaret Cho's personality in Johnny Galecki's body?

Besides writing, what are your pastimes?

Well, like I said earlier, I'm a history buff so watching lots of documentaries and reading. I love horror movies. This may sound weird but I do love to visit cemeteries, especially really old ones. It's more to learn history but there's always the horror element of cemeteries that can make it an exciting trip. But above all that my favorite pastime is hanging out with friends at our favorite Mexican restaurant drinking margaritas and talking. It doesn't get much better than that!

Thank you for joining me today Allen. You can connect with this very talented author at these sites:

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