Tuesday, June 5, 2018

2nd author-guy interview

what follows is my 2nd self-interview. since there are still no magazines, etc., jumping at the opportunity to do one, i ask myself a bunch of questions found at random via google, in the interest of saving future wikipedia curators time.

What is the first book that made you cry?
Magic, by William Goldman.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends on how long the session is. If I only have a little while, it’s exhausting. You have to get yourself back into it, back into the character and the scene, and then it’s hard to have to stop. If I have a couple of hours or more, it kind of creates its own energy, and I lose track of time as I slip into the book.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Falling in love with particular characters, scenes, or conversations that don’t move the plot along. It clouds your mind and your judgement. The law of writing is, if it doesn’t serve the plot, they have to die, or it all becomes self-indulgence.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Sometimes, with John Irving or John LeCarre. Some of their books take a long time to get into. The payoff in their stories is always worth it, but sometimes I don’t feel like making the climb.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I don’t have the skills to do either, yet. For me, it’s just about learning the process and trying to tell each story in a clear and understandable way. You have to learn to stretch canvas before you learn to paint.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes. Read Isaac Asimov. Great plots, interesting characters, terrific craftsmanship, but every bit of emotion seems to be observed, rather than felt.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
In my head, every book takes place in the same world, on the same timeline. A lot of things happen in PoHo, which is a fictionalized version of my hometown. The character interactions between books have been slight, so far, but that’s changing.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Get off your butt and write. Write more, even when you hate it. It gets better the longer you keep at it, and you can always fix it in the editing stages.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I learned a lot about editing and marketing. The first, that it takes so long, and it’s the hardest part, killing all of the bits you love, but can’t use. The second, that there’s so much to know, so much work to be done, and what works constantly changes.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
John LeCarre. Tim Dorsey. Hunter Thompson.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Half-finished? Only 1 or 2. But I have bits and pieces – sometimes lots of bits and pieces, in physical file folders and in Google Drive, – for about 80 more.

What does literary success look like to you?
Having regular readers... people who look forward to the next thing that I publish.

What’s the best way to market your books?
For me, reading everything that Amazon says about it, then doing it. The rest is all the quality of your work.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends on the book. For ‘Rest Stop’, I read a lot about all of the bizarre behaviors that parasites can cause, and some more about serial killers – the different types. Daryl Gladring is miles away from Harvey Lee.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
No. For me, that’s writing music.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
The little, everyday crap that women have to deal with. Is that man checking me out in a creepy way? What do I do if he approaches me? Do I have a tampon if I need one? Am I being talked down to? How do I brush off this guy in a way that won’t potentially put me in danger or cost me my job? How does this outfit make me look? Women have to think about a lot more than men do, and most of it has to do with external threats and internal self-doubt.

How do you select the names of your characters?
I figure out who the character is – what they’re willing to do, what they want, and how they look. Once I have that, I can usually tell what their voice sounds like. From there, their name just comes. They tell me their names.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
No. That seems silly. Maybe even destructive. Writing is about communication. I don’t play favorites. You buy the ticket, you get the whole ride.

What was your hardest scene to write?
Trying to describe the monster in the finale of ‘Frost Flowers’. I rewrote it so many times, and each time my editor/muse sent it back, and told me that no one would understand it. It turns out that describing an interdimensional entity that can only partially be seen in the dimension is hard – so hard that I just had to do it again in ‘Crayon Sugarsweet and the Spooky Thing’.

Do you Google yourself?
No. Who has time? Why - what does it say? Does it say I’m cute?

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Doritos. Every flavor. This is serious.

What is your favorite childhood book?
‘Journey to the Mushroom Planet’. When I was a little older, Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark Is Rising’.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
I haven’t gotten to the artistic part yet. For me, editing. I have a tough time knowing when to stop.

keeping track of chapters in longer works

one of the best pieces of advice i've ever gotten about writing a longer work is to plot out each character separately from beginning to end. along with helping you decide who interacts with who and when, it helps you to figure out each one's motivation and how they see themselves, others, and the conflict at the center of the story. you can even get daring and write sub-conflicts. you don't even need a fancy tool - a simple spreadsheet will do.

each cell represents either one chapter or event:

  • column one contains the name of the character that you're focusing on. 
  • the second column is for the day of the week on which the event occurs. 
  • the third column is for the number of the chapter in which the event occurs. 
  • the fourth column is for the events themselves. 


 write out each character's arc from beginning to end in the fourth column, one short paragraph per major event, one major event per cell. when you're done with that for all of your main characters, arrange the order of the cells so that you don't have a bunch of chapters in a row that are just about one character. (it's kind of like shuffling cards.)

use the second column to keep track of which date or day of the week in which each event occurred (you might even have to have a division between days and nights, here, if a lot happens in a relatively short period of time, and for multiple characters).

number the results in column 3 (the chapter number column, remember?), sort everything by that column (something that excel is perfect for), and read your outline out loud.

if it still makes sense and has a logical flow, you have a working outline. if it doesn't, change the numbers around and resort, even if that means you hack things out. better now than after you've written four chapters that no longer belong in the story.