Action Men and Silly Putty follows Jack and Andy as they try to find what is so important about a teddy bear from 1915 that Jack purchases at an estate sale. What was the initial inspiration behind the setup to this fun novel?
This might seem strange, but I don’t know if I can even explain how certain ideas came to me, except that the bear and estate sale set up must have stemmed out of my interest in antiques. I watch both Pawn Stars and American Pickers and refer to them both collectively as “the guys.” I’ll pick up the remote and say, “Let’s switch it to the guys,” and, by that, I mean switch it to the History Channel for one of those two shows. I also have an Antiques Roadshow book at home, and in it, there is a … guess what? 1915 Steiff teddy bear. That is where I drew some of the details for the bear. I suppose that photo of the bear drew me in more than a lot of the other items in the book. How I figured out how to involve this bear in a crazy plot is harder to explain.
It might interest you to know that my Jack Donegal character first appeared in a short story that was not a mystery, featuring Jack and a supporting character, Ellen Danforth, the owner of the Salvador Deli. Andy Westin wasn’t yet even a character which is interesting for me when I reflect on it, because, by now, I’m equally attached to both characters! It was a friend who suggested that I write a mystery. I had already established Jack as a toy inventor before I entertained the thought of him as an amateur sleuth, so the estate sale and the bear was one way to get my characters to stumble into a mystery for them to solve.
Jack and Andy have a unique and often humorous relationship that lends well to the overall lighthearted mystery of the book. What were some themes you were trying to capture when writing their characters?
For a long time, I was interested in the absent-minded professor type character or the eccentric scientist character. I liked characters such as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future and was interested in some real life stories about scientists or inventors in history who had some quirks. My dad is actually a retired scientist and inventor, although not in the field of toys and, as a child, earned the nickname of “absent-minded professor” from his family. Dad and Jack do not share all of the same quirks … but perhaps a few of them. I’m also kind of fascinated with the individualist, and Jack is that. He doesn’t mind being different or dressing in his own unique style. I thought I’d rather make him a confident individualist than an awkward nerd, although he’s definitely still a nerd too by some definitions.
I really wanted Andy to be, more or less, his complete opposite. He’s the sensible, organized, in-the-moment practical guy who also has a kind of humorous way of looking at things. I wanted the balance of the two different extremes, so they can help one another out, as well as the comedy from being a sort of “odd couple.”
I enjoyed the twists and turns throughout the book. Did you plan the novel before writing or did it come organically while writing?
It was more like the second option. The story developed more spontaneously as I wrote, but I might have planned several scenes or chapters ahead when the creative juices were really flowing.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
I am actually working on several things. The next book to come out fairly soon is unrelated to this series but is an illustrated children’s book called The Journey of Digory Mole about a little mole who turns a mountain into a mole hill. I have one other “Action Men” book already available and that is Action Men and the Great Zarelda which is a little shorter, a Kindle book novella. The two guys have a mystery adventure with a suspicious female illusionist. I also have a mystery short story for Kindle, starring a female sleuth, English professor, Grace Darby. That one is titled The Lit Club Mystery. I have several stories in the planning for both mystery series and even hope to do a spin-off series for kids starring Jack Donegal’s niece and nephew. Right now, I have a related mystery serial, Action Men with Duct Tape as a blog on my website, https://susan-joy-clark.com. I will likely publish that as a book when it is complete.
Jack Donegal is an engineer, toy inventor and the head of his own toy company but not a detective until he stumbles into a strange situation. While on a business trip, he stops to purchase a 1914 teddy bear at an estate auction. While still on the auction grounds, armed thugs, who mistake him for a Dalton Starks, seem to think he’s in possession of something they want. Although police rescue him from his first encounter with criminals, Jack and Andy Westin, his marketing manager, roommate and friend, begin to think there’s something special about this teddy bear to make it interesting to criminals. They engage in a cat and mouse hunt with various members of the criminal world, but who are the cats and who are the mice? With the help of their combined wits and various technical gadgetry including toy parts and prototypes, Jack and Andy help bring several criminals to justice. With two personalities like those of Jack and Andy, there is bound to be some silliness along the way in this comedy mystery.
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Detours in Time follows Professor Milton, who invented a time-traveling car, and his assistant turned traveling companion Tabitha on their adventures through time. What was your inspiration for the setup to this entertaining novel?
I’ve subscribed to several writing sites over the years that offer writing prompts. It simply started out as a response to a writing prompt. After a while, imagining this story became a great escape for me. The element of escape is what kept me going with this story. That, and the headlines we’ve been seeing in America during pre and post-election. They truly can get an imagination going.
Time travel is always filled with paradoxes. Are there any that you had to deal with when writing this novel?
Well, there is possibly an issue with going back in time and seeing yourself, or the possibility that you cannot physically inhabit a time in which your body is already inhabiting. I don’t think we truly know the answers to that question, so I mostly went with the “what-if” factor through a lot of my story. What if you could inhabit a time where you already exist, wouldn’t you want to avoid bumping into yourself? I would say, yes. So that factors in to one part of my novel. Then, there is the concern that you must not bring anything back from the future, which becomes an issue at another point in the story. It could mean that a different person discovers the formula for artificial sweetener, thereby ruining another person’s life, which means they may not produce the children they had, leaving a hole somewhere in the rhythm of the universe. I was a natural-born worrywart, so I’m used to thinking like this.
With these types of time travel stories most people draw a comparison to Doctor Who or Back to the Future. I suppose the dividing line being familial involvement. What of these two fictions do you enjoy better and where do you think your novel falls between these two?
I would say it falls closer to Back to the Future, except the scientist is taking a young lady, Pinky, with him. That young lady might be comparable to Marty, except her personality is much different. I was such a fan of that series, and so was my son. It’s a happy memory for us both. I also had a dear friend who shared a love of this series with me who is no longer with us. It brings back memories there as well. I suppose that is why there is so much familial involvement in the storyline. Family is such an important thing to me, so it was part of the building of my characters, despite the fact that Pinky has been without her family and forced to be self-reliant for some time. You may say there’s a resemblance to Dr. Who because of the female companion, however, I don’t think there is much more that is similar. I have enjoyed Dr. Who but never was able to watch more than one season.
What is the next story that you are writing and when will it be available?
I have so many ideas spinning around! Most likely, what I will publish next is a book of paranormal stories, since I haven’t published in that genre yet. I have the stories and just need to edit, proofread, and polish. I also have 50,000 words done for the Detours in Time sequel, but I like to get good editing and beta reading before publishing a novel, so it won’t come out until next year. I plan to flesh that sequel out during NANOWRIMO, which really drives me to produce. I have the Made for Me series which takes place in the future, and plan to work on a book 3 to uncover secrets about the main character parental lineage which has been a mystery so far. I think that one will also come out next year.
On a whim, feisty Tabitha takes a trip to the future with her trusted friend Milt, an awkward Science professor. Wonders and curiosities abound. However, their amusing journey soon becomes a challenging maze of difficult decisions. When an unplanned detour occurs, the two set events into action that may save one life and yet destroy another. Can these friends of completely different mindsets agree on a course of action?
Amid the backdrop of a future that reveals great wonders and horrors, Detours in Time starts as a fantastic escape and grows to present many moral dilemmas and surprises that can either destroy the strongest friendship or bring two people closer.
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Conversations with Eric is a crime comedy filled with tension and absurd humor. Simon blunders into a world of stolen cars, robbery, car chases, narrow getaways, murder, and corruption. What was your inspiration for the crime spree that Simon goes through?
I love ‘Road’ movies. They physically describe the journey the protagonist makes emotionally. There is a great example of this in Bob Gale’s (Back to the Future et al.) Interstate 60. I saw this film some time ago and wanted to write something using that structure. I love the episodic build-up that imperceptibly takes us on the arch of the characters in small, pithy chunks.
Simon’s dog, Eric, is the only one that he can talk to. Even though Eric doesn’t have great conversational skills I felt that their relationship and conversations were still strong. Do you have your own dog?
Eric is real. He died a few months ago having been by my side for nearly fifteen years. Everyone that knew him agreed that he was not a dog; he was a very wise, funny and extraordinarily perceptive human inhabiting a Labrador’s body. My partner often commented that I never spoke to him as though he was a dog. I talked to him as if he were simply another person living in the house. What was so hard to understand? He was!
The supporting characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?
I think that has to be Archie. He was such an easy man to write. He is so honestly dishonest. He calls a spade a spade. Every day I was writing the book, I looked forward to sitting down at my desk with Archie. He wrote himself. I never quite knew what he was going to do or say until he did it, right on the blank page, in front of me.
I felt that you did a brilliant job with Simon’s character, playing his anxieties perfectly. He lost his job, wife and house, and seems to be barely keeping things together. What was your inspiration for Simon’s character?
Some authors refuse to admit that they are writing about themselves; some do nothing else. Simon was me in so many ways. I hope that I am less inept than him, but I am as lost and certainly as confused. The main difference between us is that Simon didn’t realize how much he was under-achieving in his life; I think I do. I have been searching all my life for a satisfying purpose. Maybe I have finally found it in writing? As I say in the dedication of my new thriller As Mad as Hell, ‘To my mother, who gave me my very first birthday present. I have been trying to find a use for it, my entire life’.
‘What would you do if overnight you were projected into a crime novel? What would you do if at every turn you were confronted with gun-toting psychopaths, your life was threatened on an hourly basis and you suspected the police were as corrupt as the criminals? What would you do if you felt your head was about to explode, and the only sane soul you had to talk to was your labrador? What would you do?…’
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