Price Colman, a veteran journalist and award-winning business writer for the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, splits his time between the keyboard and the Colorado outdoors. En route to the writing career, Colman worked as a busboy, breakfast cook, bartender, roughneck on a gas-drilling rig in Wyoming, and trained to be a professional diver. Colman lives in Mancos, Colorado.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
Price Colman: I started “Second Skin” in 2001, about the time I moved to Durango. Only took me about 14 years to get a clean enough draft to enter in the now-defunct Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest. The book garnered a runner-up mention in the Mystery/Thriller category that yielded the contest winner. So it seemed like it had some promise but I knew it needed editing.
I’d written two unpublished novels previously and being hard-headed, I’d promised myself that I was damn well going to finally publish a novel even if I had to start my own publishing company. Which I did: Stormfront Publishing. I guess you could say stubbornness was my inspiration.
The plot evolved over the course of writing. Apparently, I’m not one of those writers who can map out where they want to go at the beginning. It’s more of an exploration. Every now and then, there is some little epiphany, a moment of inspiration that drives momentum. I drew heavily on personal experience and many of the characters are based on people I know or knew. But mostly I did what all fiction writers do: I made shit up.
SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
Colman: The excerpt introduces the bad guy in the story, Hei Li Hu. Obviously, he’s crucial to the plot and moving the story along. Writing about him, exploring his character, was one of the hardest writing jobs I’ve ever had to do.
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I wanted him to be three-dimensional, twisted and evil but with a tiny kernel of redeeming quality at his core. I had to go to a very dark place to explore his character. It was a painful education.
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you sat down to write?
Colman: I’m a nature junkie – I need time outside the same way I need food. And I love adventure. Started skiing when I was 4 years old, running rivers in Colorado during my ski-bum years in the mid-1970s. And I love mystery/thriller/adventure stories, fiction and non-fiction alike. Those things are just part of my DNA.
I’ve long been fascinated by the complex, sometimes confounding elements that compose the often baffling creatures that humans are. Combining all that in a novel was natural, if not easy. A college writing instructor once told me that every novel is a love story and “Second Skin” is definitely a love story. I didn’t think about those things consciously when I sat down to write it, but they were bubbling around in the broth of my unconscious.
SunLit: What did the process of writing this book add to your knowledge and understanding of your craft and/or the subject matter?
Colman: For me, writing is an education. It’s not just sit down and spill your guts onto the page. There’s always research required. A bit like continuing adult education. Along with that, there’s the search for the right tone, the right voice to tell your story. I try to let the characters dictate that but for me, it requires more than just channeling the character.
I’ve been writing for a long time – wrote a one-page autobiography when I was nine. You’d think by now I’d pretty much have it down but I keep discovering how much more there is to learn and how to express it better. I want to reach out and touch readers, hopefully in a way they haven’t been touched before, and that requires writing clearly, concisely, and honestly.
It also requires insightful, expert editing to deliver a decent finished product. A shoutout to Melanie Mulhall here – she was my editor for “Second Skin” and her guidance made the novel immeasurably better. Ideally, you want to incorporate what you’ve learned in future work.
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SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing this book?
Colman: What’s the saying: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans? There was a lot going on in my life while I was writing “Second Skin.” I was building a house with my family, had a couple of shoulder surgeries, a bout with cancer, did raft trips in the Grand Canyon, had a slew of other outdoor adventures. I wasn’t going to cloister myself and pound away on the book until it was done to the exclusion of everything else.
The way I live informs my writing. And writing isn’t exactly easy for me. Sure, there are times when it flows like you’re plugged into the cosmic creative factory but that’s rare for me. So I guess I was probably the biggest challenge.
SunLit: What’s the most important thing — a theme, lesson, emotion or realization — that readers should take from this book?
Colman: I didn’t set out with a moral of the story in mind. If there is one, maybe it’s that love connects us all, even if that love is sometimes twisted and perverse.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Colman: An adjustable desk allows me to write sitting or standing, or pretty much anywhere in between If I’m looking to get some leg isometric work in. Just kidding. I’m lucky to have an office so that’s generally the where, though I sometimes write while traveling, either by hand or computer.
I like the MacBook Air laptop – it’s small, light and I love being able to correct mistakes on the fly. Crucial for editing, which constitutes about 90% of my writing work. Optimal writing time is first thing in the morning, though that’s rare anymore. Seems like I’m busier with a variety of activities now that I’m not working full time so I grab writing opportunities where I find them.
That can be tough on continuity so I often go back and read/edit the previous session’s work before venturing further down the path of the story. Helps explain why I’m glacially slow in getting the book done. Re-reading/editing may yield insights on how I want to proceed. Reading/editing previous effort is also helpful if I’m blocked. Even if the road ahead doesn’t magically appear, at least I’m getting some work done.
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Colman: I’m about 95% done with a first draft of a sci-fi mystery about artificial intelligence. Before you roll your eyes and think, Oh, that’s trendy, I started the book – working title: “Blend” – in 2017, well before AI had hit most radar screens.
And no, I’m not using ChatGPT or other AI tools to write it. At least, not that I know of. Maybe AI is using me. It’s set in the early 2080s, 50 years after AI tried to subjugate humanity and broke the world. Five decades later, AI has regenerated itself and is about to make another run at it.
My protagonist is a guy who is part AI, part human. He subjected himself to the Blend — hence the title — in an effort to help stop AI in the earlier conflict. In doing so, he sacrificed part of his humanity and lost the love of his life. Now, he may be all that stands between humanity’s survival and its extinction.
Quick hits: A quirky collection of questions
SunLit: Which do you enjoy more as you work on a book – writing or editing?
SunLit: What’s the first piece of writing – at any age – that you remember being proud of?
Colman: Proud’s a big word. Satisfied might be a better one for me. My autobiography as a 9 year old.
SunLit: What three writers, from any era, would you invite over for a great discussion about literature and writing?
Colman: Homer, Hemingway, and Peter Heller. I could easily come up with a dozen other trios with a little thought.
SunLit: Do you have a favorite quote about writing?
Colman: Maybe Faulkner’s: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Or maybe: “Write to express, not to impress.”
SunLit: What does the current collection of books on your home shelves tell visitors about you?
Colman: Nearly all my books are boxed up at the moment so my bookshelf is largely virtual. It contains everything from Peter Heller, a remarkable Colorado author, to the Lucas Davenport creator John Sandford, Seneca and Yuval Noah Harari, author of “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus.”
SunLit: Soundtrack or silence? What’s the audio background that helps you write?
Colman: Generally, silence.
SunLit: What music do you listen to for sheer enjoyment?
Colman: Pretty eclectic selection, lots of blues, from founders such as BB King, Muddy Waters, Lightnin Hopkins up to and including Bonnie Raitt; Michael Doughty, vintage rock ‘n’ roll including the Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who. Mark Knopfler is another favorite.
SunLit: What event, and at what age, convinced you that you wanted to be a writer?
Colman: No specific event. I grew up in the country at some distance from friends and schoolmates so reading became my faithful companion. I determined early on that I wanted to be able to transport readers in the same way.
SunLit: Greatest writing fear?
Colman: Not sure that I have one. Maybe failing to bridge the gap between telling a good story and a great one.
SunLit: Greatest writing satisfaction?