What is your name, where were you born and where do you live now?
My name is Greg Ahlgren. I was born and raised in Manchester, New Hampshire. After completing law school and working for a year in Philadelphia, I returned home to my native Manchester where I still live and work.
Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
As a youngster, and later as a college student, I wanted to be a writer in the same way that I wanted to be a space explorer or deep sea diver. It was never a practical option. In my late thirties, more by accident, I ended up co-authoring a true crime book, Crime of The Century: The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax, that achieved a decent amount of literary and commercial success. It got me thinking again that maybe I could write. After playing around with other true crime ideas I ended up deciding to try my hand at fiction, more as a hobby than as any serious effort at a mid-life career change.
When did you first consider yourself as a "writer"?
Actually, I don’t. I am a criminal defense lawyer. That’s how I earn my living. I write in the same way that others play golf. It is something to do on a Sunday, hang out with friends, have a few drinks afterwards in the clubhouse, maybe trade fibs about one’s abilities, etc. But for the vast majority of golfers they are going to return to their real job on Monday, and are not going to make their living on the PGA Tour. That does not make golf unenjoyable for them, in fact if you asked them what they most enjoy they would probably reference their weekend excursions to the links. Look, there are probably only 15-20 people in the United States who are making a real living out of writing books. For the rest of us we need to keep the day job, whether it be teaching or whatever.
Did it take a long time to get your first book published?
For my first book I had an agent, and finally got it accepted for traditional publication maybe six months after it first began circulating the houses. For my second book I went it alone without an agent and was much more careful and particular on the contract terms that I wanted. I finally found an extremely small traditional publisher who would agree to my terms, including possible movie rights sales, after about 18 months of hunting around. But then that publisher went belly up and closed its doors. Fortunately, I had negotiated a deal where in that event all rights reverted back to me. So then I had the rights back but no publisher. For my third book I went direct to Kindle since it offered an emerging market that offered the contract terms I was seeking. I then found a POD paperback publisher who would accept the galleys whose ownership had reverted back to me when the second publisher closed.
Do you work another job as well as your writing work?
Actually, the way I look at it, I write as well as practice law. I am a criminal defense lawyer.
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in less than 20 words what would you say?
Prologue is an alternative-future/time-travel novel based on the premise that the Soviet Union won the Cold War.
How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
Because it is not full time for me, I’ll sometimes put the project down for a year or more before getting the bug again. About four to five years is right, including rewrites, editing, etc.
Which of your books were easier/harder to write than the others?
The true crime book, Crime of the Century, was the hardest because of the work involved in researching a 60-year old criminal investigation and trial.
What can we expect from you in the future? ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
I love history, so whatever I write, fiction or non-faction, will no doubt involve some real life historical event.
Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
I’m playing around with the 1960s again as a concept, but beyond that it is still all a bit vague in my mind.
What genre would you place your books into?
All three of my books are based on real historical events. Crime of the Century is a true crime book analyzing the Lindbergh kidnapping case. Prologue is a time-travel novel centered around the John Kennedy assassination in 1963, and The Medici Legacy is based in part on the Japanese germ warfare experiments of World War II, especially the notorious Unit 731 actions in Pingfan, so if there is a common "genre," it would be historical events.
What made you decide to write that genre of book?
I am a self-confessed "history addict." Next to ESPN my favorite network is The History Channel. If I had to spend eternity watching one network all day long it would be a toss-up between ESPN and The History Channel.
Do you have a favorite out of the books you have written? If so why is it your favorite?
I love Prologue. The characters are my favorites, perhaps because they are atypical. And of course, as an eleven-year-old, I lived through the Kennedy assassination.
Do you have a favorite character from your books? and why are they your favourite?
In Prologue, Paul deVere is a fifty-something professor, willing to risk it all to make historical changes. Most action heroes in books and movies are twenty-something single men with no attachments or personal history, who are in great physical shape and who can do anything, and know everything about everything, and along the way just happen to meet a twenty-something single woman who could be a Swedish super-model if she wasn’t getting dragged along in the man’s adventure while falling in love with him. Paul deVere is flawed and makes mistakes while still keeping his eyes on the prize.
Where do you get your book plot ideas from? What/Who is your inspiration?
I sometimes focus on some piece of history I encounter, it ruminates around in my mind for awhile, and then a story may take hold.
Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
Do you have anybody read your books and give you reviews before you officially release them?ie. Your partner, children, friends, reviewers you know?
I think having your spouse or the guy you play racquetball with on Thursdays who says "Sure I will," are terrible ideas to get either editing or feedback from. The ideal editor/commentator is a high school English teacher with a red pen and plenty of ink who never liked you when you were in high school and views this as her chance to get even.
I have a friend, Bennett, who has been a friend of mine since high school and is a good enough friend, and a voracious enough reader, that he will tell me when something really sucks, which he does often.
Do you gift books to readers to do reviews?
I have and I will.
Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
Well [laughing] there aren’t that many so yes, I do try to read those that I know about. Plus, I have no ego about my writing, which I think is an important trait to have if you want to get better at it. Any and all criticism is welcome. I tend to believe all the negative criticism I get, and try to work on those deficiencies in any subsequent writing.
What was the toughest/best review you have ever had?
After my true crime analyses Crime of the Century was published, we ran into those who just really loved Charles Lindbergh as an American Icon, and didn’t like any criticism of him. And then we also ran into other writers who had looked at the same case before us, but because of their own lack of expertise in analyzing trial evidence (not being members of any bar who had actually tried a criminal case) had unfortunately missed the significance of some rather important clues. I think they may have been embarrassed when our book came out, and some became very defensive of their own analyses, flawed as it may have been.
Would you ever ask a reviewer to change their review if it was not all positive about your book/books?
Absolutely not. I’d try to change my writing instead, or at least think heavily about the points raised.
How do you come up with the Title and Cover Designs for your book/books?Who designed the Cover of your books?
Well [laughing again] I am oh for three on titles. All three of my original titles of my three books were recommended for change by their respective publishers. Because I have no ego about my writing, I went with the changes. Prologue was originally titled by me The Intervention Project, since that is what my protagonists call their time-travel scheme, but the publisher thought that title made it sound like it belonged on the self-help shelf of a bookstore for addiction recovery. I had a friend of mine who then suggested calling it Prologue to History, or just Prologue, and I went with the latter.
The covers were designed by the publishers, subject to my approval. The publisher for Prologue designed four cover options and I had my buddies vote on them. I abstained. The final cover won in a 2-1-1-1 tally.
Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
I have a working title, but as you can see none of my titles ever made it onto the front covers.
How do you market/promote your books?
I could better answer that after they become bestsellers. Right now it is whatever publicity, web or newspaper reviews, author interviews, etc., I can get.
What do you think makes a book a really good/bestseller ?
I have no idea. There are books I really like that go nowhere, whereas there are some bestsellers I can’t finish.
Have you ever based characters on people you know or based events on things that have happened to you?
Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? (Morals as in like Aesop’s Fables type of "The moral of this story is..")
No, I just try to tell an interesting story.
Is there a certain author who influenced you in writing?
I think Daphne du Maurier and Tim Green are the two fiction writers who have influenced me the most.
Which format of book do you prefer, ebook, hardback, or paperback?
I am a bit old fashioned so I still like the paperbacks. But, my daughter just bought me a Kindle so I am learning.
What is your favorite book and Why? Have you read it more than once?
I have read both The Great Gatsby and All the King’s Men several time each.
Do you think ebooks will ever totally replace printed books?
I would say virtually replace. It’s a generational thing. My adult daughter only reads ebooks. Ebooks are just part of the younger generation’s everyday tools, like cell phones.
Do you think children at schools these days are encouraged enough to read? and/or do Imaginative writing?
No. There is just too much electronic stimulation, from T.V. to computer based games. I can remember as a college student coming home in the summer and walking down to our city library to take out books. Those were special times. But telling that anecdote to my daughter is like describing how the boys in gray came over the hill - it just doesn’t resonate.
Did you read a lot at school and write lots of stories or is being a writer something newer in your life?
I would not say a lot. Although as a criminal defense lawyer I get to tell made-up stories all the time - except that they are oral and given to small selective groups of twelve at a time. As a group I think that criminal defense lawyers may have the third greatest imagination of any profession, exceeded only by politicians and insurance defense lawyers.
Is there a book you know you will never read? Or one you tried to read but just couldn't finish?
Well, for a person who writes thrillers this is kind of embarrassing, but as much as I love the Bourne movies I just couldn’t get through any of the novels.
Are there any new authors you are interested in for us to watch out for? and Why should we watch out for them?
I read a book by this guy Grasso, called Unpunished that I thought was pretty darn good. He does some stuff with verb tense that I did not care for, but I’d like to read more of his stuff in the future.
Is there anything in your book/books you would change now if you could and what would it be?
Sometimes my own political perspective creeps out in snide comments that my characters make - but I see a lot of that, especially on T.V.
What do you think about book trailers?
Beyond my limited technological abilities.
What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
Don’t have an ego! If there is a criticism that you receive, don’t become defensive. Think about it and try to figure out how you can improve. And for God’s sake, get an editor. Don’t assume that your agent or publisher will help you - or be especially good. It does not have to be a professional editor (they can be expensive and I really don’t know how good they are anyway) but with the advent of Kindle and e-publishing I am seeing a lot of stuff with mistakes - missing grammar, misspelled words that spell check often won’t catch ("than" for "that," etc) so get someone else to comb through it, again and again.
Do you or would you ever use a pen name?
No, I am neither embarrassed by my writing nor do I have any reputation to protect.
Thankyou for taking the time to take part in this Interview!