Recently I was asked to interview for a member profile for a group I belong to, The Gutsy Great Novelist. Here’s a copy of it.
Let’s begin with your origin story. When did you first realize you wanted to write a novel? Was there a particular person or experience that inspired you
I think I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I was fascinated with language from an early age, and was reading when I was quite young. I wrote brief plays and short stories while I was in elementary school, and then other things later, but novels escaped my grasp until I was in my early 60’s. I progressed from writing really long short stories to full-blown novels around 2003.
When do you make time to write?
I’d like to believe I’m writing every minute of the day, advance-guessing the plot in movies I’m watching or books I’m reading, analyzing the sentence structure of writers I admire, etc., but I usually spend a couple of hours each morning, two or three every afternoon, and an hour after supper sitting at my desk, writing, planning, or editing.
Where do you do your best writing?
It’s almost always been in my writing corner. During NaNoWriMo (in the past, not during 2020), I often met other writers at cafes and coffee shops for a few hours to write furiously and increase our word counts. I don’t think the quality of that writing tended to be as good as what I produce at home (but everything undergoes massive edits later anyway).
Do you write from an outline or do you write to discover (by the seat-of-your-pants, or a “pantser” as they call it)? Why?
I’m a combo. I rarely ever do a thorough, detailed outline, but I do like to have a good idea where my novel’s headed. After making some initial notes, I try to let the story germinate in my head for a while, sometimes months, so when I start working on it as my primary project I’ll have a good idea of the scope of the novel and how it’s likely to end. At that point, I will sometimes construct a basic timeline of major events and plot points to serve as a general guide, knowing that everything from the first page to the last could possibly change, though. From that point on (until I’m ready to start editing) I’m largely a pantser.
What self-doubts, if any, have you experienced during the writing process and how did you overcome those doubts?
Oh, the usual ones. Halfway through the first rough draft I’ll become convinced that my writing is utter crap that no one will ever read, and then I’ll remind myself that it’s called a “rough” draft for a reason.
When you think about your writing life, what accomplishment—small or large—are you most proud of, and why?
That I’m still plugging away at it at the age of 74, and plan to keep it up as long as my brain cells allow me to.
Have you published a novel yet? If so, talk about your experience of getting your novel(s) published and into the hands of readers.
I have published one novel (The Jagged Man) and one non-fiction book (Aggravated). Both are self-published. I got good responses to my queries and pitches from agents at conferences, and several of them asked for pages and fulls, but none of them seemed to want to take the chance on a first-timer. After a few years of that, I realized that the advantages of traditional publishing didn’t outweigh the wasted time required for something I would likely end up promoting myself anyway. While undergoing that process I continued to hone my craft, reading, writing, analyzing other writers, attending conferences, taking workshops, and working with writer’s groups.
Who provides you with feedback on your work-in-progress? How did you choose that person (or those people) and what do you gain from connecting with them?
I haven’t been in a writer’s group for a few years, but parts of The Jagged Man and If a Butterfly (my next novel) were both workshopped in writer’s groups during their early stages. Following my first few drafts, my wife, Minay, will often do an initial read-through and point out any sections that troubled her. Once the drafts have had a polish or two, I have a couple of friends who act as my beta readers, fact-checkers, and grammar police. I rely on them because I trust them to be honest with me about what works and what doesn’t. All three of them know I have a healthy ego and a thick skin (formed after years as an actor), so they know they won’t offend me when they point out the truly horrible parts of my writing.
How have you gone about learning the craft of writing a novel? What have you done to learn what you needed to learn in order to get your novel done?
I’ve read a number of books on craft and taken classes, of course, but I think it’s mostly been through a process of doing. Taking a stab at something to see if it works, and then reworking it until it feels right. I’ve found that it’s helpful to have a clear vision of the end result when I begin (even though I’m aware that the vision will likely change during the course of the writing), but it gives me a target to aim for. The main thing I’ve learned, though, is that it’s vital to write every day. Build up some writing muscle memory, and you’ll find yourself wondering why you aren’t sitting in front of your keyboard working on something.
What do you love to read? Name a few novels you’ve read that are your all-time favorites.
This is always the toughest sort of question for me to answer. I read across a wide range of genres and authors. Classics to modern, sci-fi to mysteries to thrillers to literary. Authors that I have read that I re-read often are Stephen King, Ian Rankin, Diana Gabaldon, Neil Gaiman, and David Mitchell. Lately I have been reading a lot of post-apocalyptic pandemic novels (The Passage series, The Stand, The Road – it just seemed an appropriate time to do it). Possibly my favorite novel, though (based on my re-reading it six or seven times now), is Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Time travel AND the Kennedy assassination. Good stuff.
Tell us one non-writing-related thing about yourself that not too many people know about you.
One winter (late 1960’s) I played pool with the sheriff (police chief? – the memory fades) of Boquillas, Mexico when he detained me and a couple of my college fraternity buddies for three days after we waded across the Rio Grande from the Big Bend National Park. I think he just wanted some company.
What advice or words of wisdom would you give to a writer who hasn’t yet finished a novel?
Don’t give up, and don’t worry about making the first draft perfect. That can happen later. Turn off that insistent little voice in your head that’s saying it’s too hard. Yes, that one. The one that’s talking to you right now.
What else would you like to share about your life as a writer?
I’ve done a lot of different things during my life, but I’ve found very few things that are as satisfying to me. To spend my time creating is a great blessing.
Please provide links to online locations where readers can find out more about you and your book(s).
Here are links to the sales pages for the two books I’ve published so far (The Jagged Man and Aggravated). They are also linked at my Facebook author page, and Aggravated has its own site. The third link below is to my author site.
The next thing I’ll be publishing (in mid-2021) will be a two-book series called If a Butterfly (Book One is called Chrysalis, and Book Two is Emergence). I just created a site for it a few days ago, so there’s very little there now, but it will gradually expand during the spring.
Standard Disclaimer: Please post a comment below if you would like to. All comments are personally moderated by a grouchy old guy, though, so posts by self-promotional schemers, spammers, and lunatic ranters won’t make it through. Everyone else, whether your thoughts are positive or negative, please feel free to speak your mind. Thanks.