TS. I stumbled upon Jonathan Rabb, a local, fellow author and transplant, quite by accident. I found his take on writing fascinating and asked that he share it with my readers.
JR. I have a study in the house, which many of my old friends say uncannily resembles my old one-room apartment back in New York before I got married. It’s bookcases everywhere, maps, and an entire shelf devoted to my kids’ artwork. When the writing is going well, it’s hard to find a path from the door to the desk. I like to keep the blinds drawn, with a single overhead soft light. And the desk is an architect’s desk – a flat space with no drawers.
As it turns out, it is my dream workspace.
Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)
JR. My ritual (now) starts with the kids getting up, breakfast, the dog out for walk, carpool (on my days), and then a mug of hot water at the side of my computer, which I refill throughout the day. I usually dive in at about 8:30 and, if I remember to eat lunch, a break at 1, then on again until about 3. And then the kids come home. If I’m deep into a book, then I’m in the study at all hours. Those last three weeks are tough on everyone.
Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?
JR. I sang in a group called the Whiffenpoofs in college (the oldest cappella singing group in the country). I also soloed with the NY Pops at Carnegie Hall.
Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?
JR. As I said, usually in at 8:30, out at around 3. But that shifts the closer I get to the end of a book. That’s when I need to be with the characters, and I need to know how the whole thing will find its way to a conclusion. Not necessarily a resolution but a stopping point. I can’t step away from it for too long when I’m at that point.
Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?
JR. Writing is all about making choices. They don’t have to be big ones (or at least appear to be big ones at the moment), so make one. Writer’s block and procrastination are really just about being overwhelmed by the infinite number of choices you could make. That can freeze you. So choose. It might be the wrong choice, but at least you’ll be writing. And nothing is ever completely wrong.
It’s the old NY Lottery motto: you have to be in it to win it.
Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?
JR. For me, place is always a central character, so I usually start there. Then I have to find the people to interact with that character, and that’s when idiosyncrasies and cadences begin to make themselves known. But the best part of creating characters is when they surprise you. That’s when you know you’ve created someone real.
Q. What first inspired you to write?
JR. I was an academic at Columbia in political theory, and I needed an escape. So I came up with an idea for a thriller, in which the main character is a young academic at Columbia in political theory….who saves the world. That was great for my ego and sent me to the computer every day to see how the character would make good on that promise. It turned out to be my first novel, The Overseer.
Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?
JR. Hard to say. I think both are crucial – at least according to Stephen King – but I’m not sure I can distinguish them from one another as completely as I’d need to in order to prioritize one over the other. The characters reflect the demands of their situation; the situation shifts to meet the needs of the characters. I suppose the answer shifts from situation to situation and character to character.
Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?
JR. Yes. My wife often has to call me to remind me to have lunch. Those are the great days.
My interview with Jonathan continues September 21st. Don’t miss it!
MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with best-selling AUTHORS! August: Mega best selling author, Susan Mallery. September: Jonathan Rabb. October: Alretha Thomas. November: Joe English. December: Molly Gloss. Coming this winter: Jayne Ann Krentz (Amanda Quick)