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Interview with Writer for Tom Clancy, Mike Maden (Conclusion)

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

MM. The first lie every writer tells themselves is this: I don’t have the time to write. The second lie is this: I can’t write. Here’s the truth: writers always write. Are you a writer? But you’re not writing? Then ask yourself this: why aren’t you writing? What are you trying to avoid by not writing? I promise you the answer is going to be some variation of abject fear. Fear of failing as a writer, of falling short of our ideal of good writing, of disappointing others, etc. In other words, it’s all about self-preservation or to be more blunt: death. Death of my ideal self, death of my status in the world as “a great writer;” some painful, shameful, hateful permutation of emotional and/or psychological destruction. Don’t believe it! Don’t define your sense of self in the world through writing. Rather, your writing is defined by your sense of self. You are not your writing. Your writing is you.

Here is the irony (and I’m stealing this from the best): if you seek to save your writer’s “life” by not doing the work in order to protect yourself, you’re going to lose the very life you’re trying to save. More simply, not writing is the death of your career. Everything you think you’re avoiding by not writing is actually going to occur when you don’t write—so write! Here’s one more tip (also stolen, in this case, from Hemingway): the first draft is always (rhymes with) “spit” so you’re only job is to “spit” out your first draft—the complete and entire first draft—and then you can fix anything later in edit, i.e., “all writing is rewriting.” If Hemingway thought his first draft was “spit” then I’m in pretty good company and so are you. I spend most of my time spitting—from an outline.

If that’s still not enough, attack the problem from the other direction. Forget yourself and simply obey the work.

Slovenia ~~ the river below the narrow trail

If you say you’re a writer then you’ve made a commitment to a “vocation” in the oldest sense of the term. Writing (truth telling, either fiction or non-fiction) is holy work; “holy” as in set apart for service. Whether or not you are religious, you committed yourself to the priesthood of Art once you said, “I am a writer.” What follows is both necessary and clear. You must recover and practice with earnest devotion the disciplines of the disciple—a follower, a student, a servant of the Work. Faith—the evidence of things hoped for, like a completed manuscript when you’re staring at the first blank page—and Love of the word are the first two hallmarks of the writer/disciple. Commitment, sacrifice, suffering…the list of the qualities of the true disciple are well known or easily discovered (e.g., the Gospels or whatever you prefer). In other words, writing is not about “you” it’s about answering the call, to saying “yes” when summoned and exerting inexhaustible effort toward the completion of the task, denying self and even other people and all other things that distract or dissuade you from your mission. “Not my will, but Thine.” If you happen to be a person of true religious faith, then your discipleship is twofold: obedience to the One who calls and fulfilling that call through the faithful exercise of the gift that the One has given you.

If all of that is too abstract then here’s the most practical advice I can give you: do yourself a favor and purchase a copy of Steven Pressfield’s, The War of Art. Study it, memorize it. Let it be your missal. Then get your derriere in the chair—and write!

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

MM. Characters are all that matter. Situations, scenes, plots, actions…it all comes out of character choices, character collisions, character flaws, character construction.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

MM. I start with a solid outline so I always have those touch points that keep me on the path from A to Z. But if I’m really writing—really doing it the way it’s meant to be done—I get completely carried away in the moment, plunging headlong into the river, carried along by the surging rapids.

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

MM. Yes. Can’t. Top secret. But it’s gonna be awesome and my first collaborative effort. News coming soon.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

MM. I’ve always written seriously beginning with my academic, non-fiction writing. What surprised me was to find out I was actually a writer. Yes, I could write. But I never thought of myself as a writer because of the mystery that surrounded that term. I was forty years old before I gave myself permission to call myself one. And what really surprised me was that I could write fiction. I was utterly stunned to discover I could write a screenplay but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I could never write a novel. Until I did. But one novel was it. Finito. No way could I do another even though I’d just signed a two-book deal. I knew I couldn’t write the sequel. Until I did. And another two-book contract showed up. And then I knew the game was up. My publisher would finally realize their big mistake. Until I finished those up too. And then…well, I think you get the idea. A serious writer writes. And writes. And writes. It’s hard work. Really hard. And it only gets harder—but only if you’re doing it right.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

MM. Absolutely not. They may become rare or expensive but they will never disappear. For people of a certain age, ahem, me, the tactile nature of the printed page never ceases to amaze or comfort.

Q. What makes a writer great?

MM. All writers are great but only if they write. The act of writing—of completing the work—is an act of obedience unto the Muse. It is our offering on the altar. The mere doing of it is its own reward. Whether or not the work will be judged as “great” by history or the literati or the New York Times bestseller list is completely outside the control of the writer. We can’t choose to be “great” but we can choose to do the work. Tell the truth, be yourself (i.e., original) and do the work—the rest will follow whether you like the outcome or not.

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

MM. Get a bucket. Fill it with kerosene. Carry it to the top of a ten-story building. Stick your head in the bucket. Light your head on fire. Throw yourself off the roof. Hit the pavement. Douse the flames. Type, “end of chapter one.” Do it again. Sixty-five more times. Now you know what it feels like to go from “no book” to “finished book.” Easy as pie. Or as some wag said, just open up a vein and bleed onto the page.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

MM. Everything. You write out of your life.

Q. What’s your down time look like?

MM. Reading. Watching the best film and television I can. Hanging out with my best friend (my wife). Exercise. Golf. Guns. Hiking.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre`?

MM. I wish I was smart enough to write science fiction.

Q. Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

MM. General life lesson: “Discipline Equals Freedom.” (Jocko Willink)
General writing life lesson: “The bad news is, the Problem is Hell. The good news is, it’s just a problem. The Problem is not us. The PROBLEM is the problem. Work the Problem.” (Steven Pressfield)

PS. (from Mike Maden)  My Clancy novel ENEMY CONTACT was set in Poland. Amazing history, culture, people…and food. We love travel and learning new things but unfortunately it also means encountering the human condition in its worst permutation. Auschwitz is one such place and of all of the things that wounded me in that terrible place nothing grabbed me more than this moment. Those red shoes took me to a very dark moment. I could just see a young woman picking them out of the shop window one bright sunny morning, so happy and proud of them…having no idea where they would one day take her.

Did you miss Part I and Part 2 of this fascinating interview?

Book Review of Firing Point

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY
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Interview with Author, Mike Maden, writing for Tom Clancy (Part 2)

Mike Maden

Q. what it is like to be a co-author on this hit franchise?

MM. I’m certain that Tom Colgan got the wrong phone number and accidentally called the wrong guy when he offered me the chance to be

Tom Clancy

an author in the Tom Clancy franchise. (To the other Mike Maden out there: sorry about that. Okay, not really.) It is such an honor and privilege to write in this world and to hang out with the iconic characters that he created. I care deeply that I get the characters right and to do the research to the best of my ability. It is a tremendous responsibility to carry on the Clancy legacy but it is also a heck of a lot of fun. It’s also crazy weird to see my name beneath Tom Clancy’s. My only regret in writing for the franchise is that I never got to meet Tom who sadly passed away in 2013.

Q. Did you write some of the teleplays or contribute as a consultant?

MM. Having written screenplays in the past, I would dearly love to contribute to the Jack Ryan TV franchise put out by Amazon Prime. Sadly for me, the creators of that show don’t need my help. They’ve re-imagined Jack Ryan senior as a young man operating in today’s world rather than in the 1980s when he was first created by Tom Clancy. Judging by the huge fan base they have (including me) I’d say they have their hands firmly on the tiller. And in a way, I have the best of all worlds. Because the TV series features a young John Krasinski, readers think the series is about Jack Ryan Jr. (which is my bailiwick) so I’m getting all kinds of credit that I don’t deserve—and at the same time, I get to watch a really great TV series without having to do any of the hard, hard work that those folks have to do to create a smash hit.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

MM. Every time one of my novels appears on the shelf it seems like an impossible gift. Why in the world is my name on the cover? How did that happen? How have I managed to win the lottery eight times in a row? I am one blessed dude. Speaking of blessed, I also have a secret weapon at my disposal. My amazing wife is always my first reader but she goes the extra mile and also reads the entire manuscript to me out loud before I send in the first draft to the editor. All one hundred thousand words. (She is a saint.) Sometimes a sentence reads fine on the page in your mind but when read aloud it punishes the ear like nails on a chalkboard—syntax, cadence, word choice all have a different resonance when heard as opposed to read. And the typos? Those last, lurking, invisible wee beasties that are the bane of every writer? She manages to scare them out from under the covers by the sound of her parched and rasping voice. (Okay, not all of them. But a lot of them. Thank heavens for professional editors who wrangle the rest of them.) Here’s my pro tip for the day: audiobook sales are becoming a huge percentage of total book sales. By doing an “audio” edit, I’m creating prose that will read and sound better for amazing audio talents like Scott Brick (www.scottbrick.net) who has read all of my Clancy stuff.

Research is very, very important. Of course, no one was better at research than Tom Clancy and his fans expect it of me as well. A lot of my internet research focuses on weapons and technology. But I prefer spending time in the countries featured in my novels in order to provide context for the characters and story. It’s also a way to show respect for the people and cultures I write about. Fortunately, I travel with a beautiful and amazing research assistant who happens to be my wife. Here Angela is in Spain helping me thoroughly research a plate of freshly sautéed pimientos de padrón for FIRING POINT.

Q. What tools do you begin with? Legal pad, spiral notebook, pencils, fountain pen, or do you go right to your keyboard?

MM. My favorite tool is my giant white board—which is actually a 4’ x 8’ piece of white panel board I bought at Home Depot for about $15 . I use a lot of “mind mapping” to brainstorm my way through each story problem—or just dream. I do all of my writing on my laptop (MacBook Air) and I break the first draft completely on Scrivener which is the best word processing program in the world to do it—and it’s very inexpensive.  The subsequent drafts that the publisher and I trade back and forth are on Word because that is their software of choice. My 4’ x 8’ white board (newly installed, soon to be marked up with my next story):

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

Hiking the Julian Alps

MM. I have a strict word count I hold to slavishly seven days a week. If I meet my word count early, I stop and do something fun as a reward. But I will work as many hours as it takes to hit my number even if that means I don’t go to bed. At the end of the day, I can’t hand in my calendar to my publisher and show them how many days I worked. My contract specifies that I must turn in 100k words of polished prose so my focus is on words and not hours worked. Neither publishers nor readers care how hard you work. They only care about what you write.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

Did you miss Part I of this Interview?

For the answer come back on June 26th for the conclusion of this wonderful Interview.
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY
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An Interview with Author, Joram Piatigorsky (part 3)

           Q. What makes a writer great?

JP.  What makes a great anything? Perhaps confidence stashed somewhere in the brain, talent, work, work, work, persistence coupled with a big dose of luck, and not trying to be great. Being authentic, having courage to reveal.

It’s interesting that you asked what makes a writer great, not what makes a great book. I guess that means a great writer can be the source of ideas and insights, like Socrates perhaps, who was, thanks to Plato, a great writer who didn’t publish. Leonardo di Vinci too in a way: he had thousands of pages of unpublished notes about all sorts of ideas, but never published them. Was he a great writer?

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

JP. That’s a hard question and forces the difficult, subjective issue of when is enough? There’s always more that can be done. The choice of when to wrap it up is subjective. Of course, in today’s world, a book is only truly “finished” when it’s published, and that generally doesn’t occur without changes by editors and publishers after submission. Thus, even an accepted manuscript is probably not “finished” until published.

A “no book” is different. Obviously when it’s still an idea it’s not a book. The same may be true when the author has more to write and hasn’t finished it. But what if it is a complete manuscript, but not accepted for publication, and then rejected multiple times and remains in a desk drawer? Is that a “book”? I think so, but still…there’s some question about how to define a “book.” If a science article claims to make a discovery but is not published, it’s not really a discovery in the sense that the discovery would be credited to someone else who had similar published conclusions. Unpublished science is not “finished.” I know all this is semantics in a way, but from a practical point of view, publication is important to move a “no book” to a “finished” book.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

JP. My life experiences and family have had major influences on my writing, as I’ve discussed above. I became a scientist from exposure to art, which influenced my view of science as a form of self-expression, not just a search for practical contributions. And then, moving from science after many years to writing took me some time to “loosen” my writing, not explain too much, let the reader in. My science background was an obstacle to overcome in that sense. On the other hand, my seeing the world scientifically probably has helped me organize my writing.

Q. What’s your down time look like?

JP. Downtime? What’s that? No, seriously, it’s hard for me to put my mind in neutral. However, when I do take a writing break, I don’t worry about it and just enjoy my free time, whatever that is – seeing friends, going to movies, traveling, seeing my kids (2 boys and their wives) and grandkids (3 girls, 2 boys), the usual, guilt free.

I love movies and often learn from them about writing. The camera work is like exposition, the dialogue about character, and I think of how the director “hooked” me immediately and then kept my attention (or didn’t). It’s all like writing, with an added twist: I see the result in a short time span.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre`?

JP. I have written in different genres. First it was science, for years, hundreds of articles, as I described above. Then a novel, short stories, a memoir and now essays extracted from blogs. I never wrote a play and I doubt I will. But who knows? I like crossing boundaries. It’s always challenging and a learning experience. It’s somewhat how I feel about teaching: it’s a great way to learn an area!

Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

JP. That’s not a question, it’s the platform for a novel. Three lessons are: It’s never over unless I quit; An authentic voice is the only voice that matters; Wasting time is almost impossible, since everything I do or think comes back in some form to make me who I am and what I write.

Here’s the link to the beginning of this WONDERFUL Interview
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY
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An Interview with Author, Joram Piatigorsky (part 2)

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

JP. Good question. I think I discover my characters in combination with when a story comes to mind. The story usually comes to me by having an idea – almost an image – nothing more, of what I want the story to be about. For example, I had the idea that I wanted to write a story about a man whose favorite activity was standing in line. Crazy, I know. The story is called The Open Door and it’s about a man who lives vicariously hearing the experiences of others in line. That was the character in mind that came essentially with the story idea. He is timid and struggling with the conflict of who he is, himself or a product of everyone else.

The protagonist of my novel, Jellyfish Have Eyes, is an Argentinean scientist who studied jellyfish eyes (yes, jellyfish do have eyes and I have published several research papers on them). My protagonist, Ricardo Sztein, is partly my alter-ego in a world of science, mixed with large doses of fantasy as well as issues about basic science — the world I inhabited for so many years. It’s the classic first novel – one with autobiographical meaning.

The characters from my latest short story collection, Notes Going Underground, are pure fantasy. The character in the title story gives a eulogy to himself as he watches his live body slip into the coffin at his side. He developed as I wrote, and he changed personality a bit this way and that as the story unfolded. This story also includes a question of identity, as well as the fantasy of a porous nature between life and death. So, there is no one way that I create my characters: They are all a part of me, but none completely me. They are also my imagination, and sometimes have a foil for contrast and sharp relief.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

JP. Although a science major at college, I loved literature courses and took quite a few and wrote a bit, ideas and such. While science dominated my life, I still liked writing, so I was prolific writing science. Then, at 46 and fully engaged as a scientist, I started writing a short story on vacation in Maine and loved creating an imaginary world. On returning home, I took writing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, kept writing, more and more, and here I am, a writer.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

JP. Interesting question. I think the characters come to me first since they are all embedded in me in some form or other and I can’t run away from myself. Then, the story or situations I put them in follow from who they are.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

JP. Yes, on good days. Sometimes, however, my mind just doesn’t click and it’s a struggle to write anything I like. I think it’s important when that happens to not to push it, when to take a break and do something else. But on the good days, writing is like quicksand. I sink and get absorbed, time suspends, and I forget to take a break now and then. I just write. I love when that happens.

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

JP. I have blogged on my website and on Facebook for the last four years. The blogs are disorganized ideas, free associations in a way, about writing, creativity, personal experiences, Inuit art, whatever. I thought of the blogs as a foundation to expand and develop later. Now I’m at home sheltered in self-quarantine like the rest of the world, which gives me time to do just that. I’m putting together my collected thoughts in organized short essays grouped in themes. It’s coming along. Stay tuned.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

JP. I began to write seriously when I returned from a vacation in Maine, where I wrote my first (very) short story. I loved doing that and wanted to continue. However, science still sapped my time when I returned, so I only wrote short pieces now and then, in cracks of time as I called it, nothing with publishing in mind. I also took writing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, for about 10 years, until I closed my research laboratory to devote my time to writing. It’s been ten years since then and I keep writing.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

JP. Certainly not in my lifetime (I’m 80!). But I think paper books will continue for a long time. There’s nothing quite like a tangible book that can be held and read. I read electronically from time to time, but I don’t like it. It’s not the same as holding the “real” book. They last generations and are not dependent on the operating system in vogue at the time. I can’t imagine we would have the dead sea scrolls if it were only as an ebook!

Don’t Miss Part 3 of this Fascinating Interview ~~ May 29th
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky
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  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Author and molecular biologist , Joram Piatigorsky

Joram Piatigorsky penned his first novel, Jellyfish Have Eyes, following a distinguished career in scientific research at the National Eye Institute. He went on to author an autobiography, The Speed of Dark, in which he describes the influence and expectations of his exceptional parents – world-renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who had escaped the pogroms in Russia, and Jacqueline de Rothschild, a Parisian heiress.

Joram’s parents fled France just days before the outbreak of World War II and weeks ahead of his birth. As the family’s first American citizen, he set out to find his own identity and voice while honoring his heritage, pursuing a career in science and as a writer.

His newest collection of short stories, Notes Going Underground  and an earlier collection, The Open Door, and Other Tales of Love & Yearning  are published by Adelaide Books. Both were illustrated by award-winning Spanish artist Ismael Carrillo.

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing?  Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

JP. I write in my study downstairs surrounded by my Inuit art collection, which energizes me, but also can be distracting. Large windows let the outside in, so to speak, and look out on the lawn, flowering trees (depends on the season) and woods; I see deer roaming, several foxes coming and going, squirrels galore and many types of birds. I don’t need blank space for my imagination to roam and concentrate. My space is what I’m writing.

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.)

JP. I don’t have any special rituals that I follow before or while I write. I do try to keep my desk and surroundings somewhat neat. A messy place tends to make my mind messy too. As for dress: Sometimes I’m in regular clothes, sometimes exercise garb, but not pajamas. I leave those upstairs in my bedroom. Physical discipline helps me, as uninspiring as that sounds. When I start to write I typically go over what I wrote the last few days. The problem is that when I start looking over what I wrote yesterday I can’t help rewriting. That slows my progress, of course, but I can’t help it. I’m always rewriting, even in my mind once it’s published!

Before I quit writing for the day, I often remember what I read Hemingway did: Stop when I have an idea to explore. If I follow that advice, I can play with whatever my ideas are overnight, let them expand or shrink, mature, and I’m not stuck on how to start the next day. It doesn’t always work! Nothing always works.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

JP. Readers of my memoir, The Speed of Dark, know, I never feel fully at home in one world or another. I live in two mental universes. I was conceived in France with my mother Jacqueline de Rothschild, the daughter of the Rothschild French banking dynasty famous for their art collections among other things, and my father Gregor Piatigorsky, the renowned Russian 20th century cellist who lived through pogroms and escaped the Bolshevik Revolution as a teenager. My parents and 2-year-old sister eluded Hitler on September 3, 1939, the day France and England declared war on Germany, and made it to America. Whew, just in time! I was born the first American citizen in my family six months later in upstate New York and raised speaking French before English, with a European outlook. So, to some extent, I feel American in Europe and European in America. It’s not by fluke that my publisher, Stevan Nikolic of AdelaideBooks is Serbian married to a Portuguese woman, lives in New York and Lisbon, and publishes in both places.

My family and lineage were entrenched in art and knew nothing of science, yet I became a research scientist studying evolution and gene expression. Thus, I have always felt split between being a scientist by profession and an artist by temperament and family roots. After 50 years of science I switched to writing fiction, memoir and essays, another world to inhabit where I can express my artistic bent.

Inuit art

So, what else might you not know? Thirty years ago, I fell in love with Inuit art and have amassed a major collection of Inuit sculptures, so add that to my several worlds. And, oh yes, I played tournament tennis in Los Angeles growing up and took that very seriously, so there’s another world I experienced. … As I said: I’m a chimeric person, so to speak.

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

JP. I prefer to write in the mornings when I’m fresh and my mind works better. Later in the afternoon is less productive for me, but I still often trudge on anyway.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

A. I hesitate to advise writers about procrastination or anything else, since, when I give advice, I’m really telling what has worked for me, not what they should do. And what do I do about procrastination? I force myself to write. Procrastination for me usually means I let other things interfere with my writing, so I do my best to put writing first and procrastinate the other stuff. I believe that procrastination often reflects that I don’t know what to write, not that I don’t want to write, so I’ll start and let the work bring the muse rather than have the muse stimulate the work. When I’m stuck in front of a blank screen, I’ll write something, almost anything, to get going and often keep at it even when I know it’s not quite right.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

Join us for part 2 of this Interview on May 21th
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky
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  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Olivia Hawker, Author (conclusion)

Q. What makes a great writer?

OH. Greatness is so subjective, I don’t even know how to begin answering that question! But it is a question worth asking.
For me, I think a writer is great—as in powerful—when they are fearless. It can be really hard to expose our true emotions and our true thoughts. Most humans fear too much criticism; we fear being shamed and we fear doing things that run counter to our culture’s expectations. So it can be really intimidating for a writer to expose an unpopular opinion or even just to write in a really emotive, vulnerable manner.
It’s so much safer and therefore more comfortable to tell stories that don’t challenge the status quo. You’ll never be shamed for going along with what’s expected of you. In fact, you’ll usually be celebrated for it. I certainly don’t think less of any writer who chooses to stick to what feels safe and comfortable, and there are a whole lot of wonderful, beloved, and frankly lucrative stories in that safe/comfortable zone; a writer can make an entire career, and be wildly successful, by being safe.
But in my opinion, you can’t achieve greatness by being safe or by serving the status quo. And certainly, when we continue to uphold the status quo, we’re directly creating a culture that upholds all the things that go along with it—hierarchies, oppressions, homogenization, the stifling of some wise and brilliant voices.

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

OH. Sitting at my desk every day and putting in the work! Those initial days when I know I’ve hit on a shiny new idea and I’m so excited about it—they don’t last forever. With almost all my books, ennui sets in and I start to think of that book as a total drag. I still get it done. I’ve got a mortgage to pay; this is my only source of income and, with my lack of a degree, it’s certainly the only well-paying job I’ll ever be able to get. Better get that book done if I want to keep a roof over my head… and then I’d better move on to the next book as quickly as possible.

View from my desk

When you’re a baby writer dreaming about what it’ll be like to write full-time someday, you never imagine that vast swaths of this profession are just you glaring at your manuscript and thinking, “Ugh, I hate this piece of junk so much.” Much of the time, writing is a job like any other, with the same deadlines and grinds and frustrations and outrages. But as I said before, my worst day writing still beats the hell out of my best day doing accounts payable!

Q. How have your life experiences influenced your writing?

At my desk

OH. Oh my gosh, how have they not? For me, for my writing process (and, I suppose, the process of my inspiration, all the pre-actual-writing stuff) I can’t separate my life experiences at all. Which is kind of funny, because I never write about myself directly. This book I’m working on for Lake Union right now is the closest I’ve ever come to writing about myself, and it’s still not very close to actually writing about myself. I don’t do that thing where I make certain characters avatars for Libbie (aka Olivia)—that’s just not how my brain works. Yet I can so clearly identify exactly which bits of this character or that character are parts of me. And there is a part of me—usually a big part—in every single character I write, even the awful ones.
Really, though, I think that’s true for most authors, though some may not be fully aware of it. We may not have direct experience with the specific situations our characters are in, but we have felt all the same emotions they feel.
 I think the writers whose work really resonates with readers—the writers who become memorable instead of forgettable—are always influenced by their life experiences. How else can you write about life if you won’t allow your own life to influence your work—all of your life, the beautiful moments and the terrible ones?

Q. What’s your down time look like?

OH. I love my garden. I’m always working to expand it and I’m always tinkering with it—adding features, moving plants, improving the setup so it’s more resilient. I spend a lot of time outside with my plants and the bugs and the little garter snakes and the voles who live in my grapevine. I’m sure that answer won’t surprise anyone who has read One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow.

My garden

When weather won’t permit me to frolic among the plants (like right now—it’s snowing and it’s miserable outside) I spin yarn and occasionally I get around to knitting or weaving with the yarn I’ve spun.
I live in a pretty isolated place—my island is at least an hour from the mainland by fast boat, and sometimes the trip takes longer; even then, it’s still a couple hours’ drive to the nearest sizable city, which is Seattle. Way out here, you have to make your own fun, so I do a lot of quiet, introspective things—but I really enjoy the isolation and the solitude. Occasionally the isolation does get to me; I’m only human. Writers need those things at least as much as we need garter snakes and flowers.

Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

OH. Trust your gut. Go where your instincts lead you. There is no one else on the planet like you; only you can tell your story and tell it the way it wants to be told. Listen to the story when it speaks to you. Honor its desire to come forth. Be a brave and confident midwife: Bring your story into this world, and damn what anybody else thinks of it.

Did you miss the beginning? Click here.
Review of One for the Blackbird…
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 
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Interview with Author of ‘One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow’

TS. We continue here with part 3 of this fascinating look into Olivia Hawker’s writing process. 

Q. You mentioned, in your bio, that your novels were inspired by ‘true stories from your family tree.’ Can you tell us about that?

OH. I love genealogy (a holdover from my Mormon days) and I’ve gone down some wild rabbit holes while doing genealogical research. You can find the most fascinating stories in old journals and typewritten versions of families’ oral histories. And if you know how to read between the lines of certain kinds of genealogical records, you can uncover a lot of “silent” stories, too—information your family members probably wanted to keep hidden. For example, I’d read during some of my research for a forthcoming novel that there were a few women among the early Mormons who had multiple husbands (men having multiple wives is a well-documented and well-known fact.) By reading between the lines of some interesting church marriage records, I was able to figure out that one of my own ancestors was a woman who was married to four different men at the same time. Get it, girl!
But the two books I’m referencing in particular are The Ragged Edge of Night and One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow. Ragged Edge is about my husband’s grandfather, who was a former Franciscan friar and a music teacher living in a tiny village in rural Germany during World War II. He got involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler… as one does. His real story made for some pretty gripping fiction, so I didn’t have to change much in order to write an interesting book.
Blackbird is much more loosely based on fact, but I did find the core of that story in a family tale of adultery, death, and the forced cooperation of two women who really, really hated each other’s guts, but had no choice but to work together if they wanted to survive out on the Wyoming frontier. I changed a lot to make Blackbird what it is.
It just goes to show that you can write fiction that cleaves very firmly to facts or you can get more creative and free-wheeling with it—there’s room for either approach in the market.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

OH. I typically discover titles before anything else. I’ll just be going about my day, minding my own business, and sometimes a title for a new book will explode into my head and demand my all attention. I keep a little notebook with me at all times, and I jot down all these title ideas in that notebook. Over months or years, one of my many titles will sort of step out of that general fog and say to me, “I’m your next book. Me. This one. It’s my time now to come into the world, so you’d better get to work and start making me.”
After the title tells me it’s ready to become a book, it starts telling me what it wants to be about, thematically—what message it wants to convey to the world. Once I understand the theme and overall tone (or atmosphere or mood) of a book, then I can create characters who will serve the theme and the tone. My characters are all little handmaids and man servants to the story. I make them be whatever I need them to be, in order to carry the book’s message effectively to readers and present it in a way they’ll understand.

My garden

So for example, I’d known for years about this family story of adultery on the Wyoming frontier, and the two women who hated each other but were forced to live together anyway. I didn’t start writing One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow until that title (which had been lurking in my notebook since about 2014) told me it wanted to be about death—how death is a natural and necessary part of life, and how, by disconnecting ourselves from and denying death, humans have made themselves strangers to nature, and that separation from nature has damaged our psyches and sickened our societies. We can only heal ourselves and our world by accepting that our rightful, humble place is within nature, not set apart from it as a conquering and domineering force. And we can’t accept our place within nature until we accept the realities of death.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

OH. Watership Down. I’ve always liked rabbits, so my dear sweet dad—blundering goofball that he was—thought it would be a great idea to show me the film adaptation when I was a little kid. A really little kid. I don’t know how old I was exactly when I first saw it; I must have been about five years old. That’s probably way too young for a kid to be exposed to that film. 

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

OH. I’m not sure. Maybe. I think it depends on what “getting lost” means. I certainly enjoy writing very much. There’s almost nothing I’d rather do on any given day than write, but sadly, I have maybe three or four good hours in me per day before my brain just vapor-locks and everything goes downhill. I usually revel in those few hours, though, and enjoy them. I get very emotionally invested in my work while I’m actively writing it. I cry A LOT while I write. I cry so much; it’s kind of embarrassing. But I figure that’s a good thing, you know? 

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

OH. I’m always working on something! I just wrapped up my longest, most complex historical novel to date. I’d been working on it off and on for seven years, but only recently did that book jump up and tell me to focus on it exclusively until it was finished. Now it’s off to my agent; we’re hoping to sell that book to a major publisher this spring. It’s set in the Burned-Over District of the Northeast United States during the 1830s and 1840s—a fascinating time in American history, both from a political and a cultural perspective, but it’s a setting I don’t see explored often in fiction. And I’m finishing up my next novel for Lake Union Publishing. It’s set in rural Idaho during the 1970s. On the surface, it’s about a family of artists who are struggling to manage their tricky relationships while also struggling to carve out careers, but since I always write to serve an underpinning theme, it’s really about the intense and unique love creative people feel for those who inspire their work. 

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

OH. No; I think paper books will continue to be produced for a long time yet to come. But they have already begun to occupy a new place in the market. I think of them as being analogous to vinyl records now.

Q. What makes a writer great?

Join us next week for the conclusion of this great Interview!
Did you miss the beginning? Click here.
Review of One for the Blackbird…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 
To receive my posts sign up for my 

  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!

 

 

 

  

 

 

Interview with Author, Olivia Hawker (part 2)

TS. ‘Many years ago I began receiving INTERVIEWS with other authors, famous and not so famous. My goal, at the time, was to discover what processes other authors were using when writing. When I started posting these interviews I had no idea the range of methods I would discover. I wanted my interviews to be intimate; to uncover not only the author’s practices but to hopefully have the author share confidences with us. Olivia Hawker is one such author. Not in my wildest dreams would I have believed that the authors would be so generous with me and my readers.’

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.)

OH. Oh my goodness, that’s a fraught question for me. I won’t tell you why. I’ll just primly state that yes, I do have special rituals for my writing.
Some of the rituals I’ll tell you about include making play lists that suit the mood of whichever book I’m working on. But I can’t listen to any music while I’m writing—that weird sound-processing issue again—so instead I listen before I sit down to write for the day. Sometimes I’ll go for a drive around the island listening to my playlist, and then head back home and go up into the loft and start writing before the day gets away from me.
Another ritual I’m comfortable sharing is to check in frequently with my instincts and then TRUST THEM. I take intentional pauses in my work to really deeply inquire of myself whether this piece feels like it’s headed in the right direction, whether it’s doing the job I want it to do and sharing the specific message I want to share with the world. And whenever I get the slightest idea that this aspect or that isn’t quite right, or when I feel like something needs to be added—even if I don’t know WHY just yet—I trust that instinct and I do what my gut dictates. I don’t use beta readers. In my opinion, they aren’t really necessary for any author—though beta readers certainly can help you learn how to improve your work faster than you might learn on your own, and that’s tremendously valuable. Betas can also teach you how to take a critique and how to apply criticism to your writing: Also an extremely valuable skill. But I’ve seen too many fellow authors get so hung up on their own insecurities that they can’t do anything without the approval of a beta or two. They become so dependent on external feedback that they never learn how to listen to internal feedback—and then, I believe, there’s a real danger of losing that author’s unique, individual voice. So that’s why I trust my gut, why listening to my instincts and trusting myself are actually parts of my writing rituals.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

 OH.  I could tell you just about anything and it would be something people don’t know! I’m not a well-known author yet, though I’m successful in my profession.

 I’m comfortably mid-listing at the moment, about as far as you can get from being the kind of author about whom things are known.  But I’m very happy with that; it’s absolute bliss to get to write full-time and share my stories with the world. I suppose I can tell you that I really love spinning wool and weaving—it’s such a meditative hobby, great for chilling out—so fiber prep, spinning, and weaving usually sneak into my writing one way or another. I also love collecting antique pottery and china, and those are also things that tip-toe into many of my stories. I’m learning how to throw pottery on a wheel at present. I’m not very good at it yet!

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

OH. Most days, I write from about 7 – 11 am. Those are the hours when my brain seems to work best. But when I’m under a tight deadline, anything goes. I’ve pulled 14-hour days in the past. I don’t recommend it.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

View from my desk

OH. Stop procrastinating! Okay, serious answer: Remind yourself that your book isn’t going to write itself. It doesn’t do you any good to sit around dreaming up every single detail of your plot and all the action and every line of dialogue. You’ll forget most of what you dream up, anyway, unless you write it down, and if you’re going to write down notes, you might as well just write the damn story.

And the advice to interview your character or to make lengthy dossiers that include everything about your character’s past and present and future… Bah! It drives me nuts when I see people recommending such things to struggling writers. It won’t help, because most of what you cook up during exercises like these are irrelevant details that will have no bearing whatsoever on the actual story you’re trying to tell. You’re only wasting your time, and odds are good that you don’t have a lot of time to waste—you probably work a day job and/or have kids or other relatives to care for, or myriad other obligations. It’s hard to carve out time to write. Don’t squander it on something that won’t make you a better writer. Ultimately, at the end of all these various procrastinations, you’re still going to be looking at a blank screen. Fill the screen with words. Don’t be afraid of your own words. They’re yours; you’re in control. Usually writers stall this way because they know, either consciously or subconsciously, that what they’re going to write isn’t going to live up to the vision they have in their heads. Their stab at a scene or a chapter or an entire book is going to fall woefully short of what they’re picturing the final product will be. And whatever they produce will certainly not be as good as all the writing out there that they admire so much—the published works they’ve read, written by their favorite authors.
Well, of course your writing is going to suck! That’s fine! If you could see the unfinished works and the rough drafts your most-admired authors produce, you’d faint from shock; they’re terrible. The final products we see when we hold a print book in our hands, or when we open a favorite book on our e-readers or listen to a favorite audio book… those are FINAL products. They have been refined considerably by several rounds of edits with professional editors. There was probably also a whole swath of time where the author didn’t look at that book at all for weeks or months or years, and then came back to it with fresh eyes so they could see where to make improvements. I promise you, the first version is always awful… for everybody. And even if some other author’s first version of a manuscript is, like, ten thousand times better than what you can write at present, I guarantee you, that author looks at their first draft and says, “Yikes. Well… it’s good enough for now.”
My best-selling book so far, The Ragged Edge of Night, hit a couple of bestseller lists and was optioned for film and nominated for a few important awards and has been praised by many generous and lovely readers as a fine piece of writing. If you could have seen the first version I turned into my publisher…! The final two chapters were real pieces of poo, and I knew it. I actually included a little note to my acquisitions editor that said, “Listen, I know the last two chapters are just flat-out terrible. But at least you can see the broad strokes of how the story ends. We can fix those last two chapters in dev edits.”
So believe me, O Ye Procrastinating Writer, what you’re going to write is going to suck, and WELCOME… welcome to the brotherhood/sisterhood of Real Writers. Maybe you think Real Writers never struggle or doubt themselves, and definitely never say “Fudge it” and turn in total garbage. But we do all of those things, all the time. It’s okay that your work isn’t perfect yet. It’s okay that it might take a while and lots more practice for your work to get a little bit closer to perfect. The only way to start moving in that direction is to practice, so type one terrible sentence and then type another terrible sentence, and just keep going until the terrible recedes and you can start to see some good stuff emerging. It will emerge, if you put words on the screen. But it can’t emerge until you actually do the work and WRITE.

Q. You mentioned, in your bio, that your novels were inspired by ‘true stories from your family tree.’ Can you tell us about that?

Don’t miss Olivia’s answer in Part 3 of this insightful interview March 13th.
Read my review of “One for the Blackbird…”.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 
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  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!

 

 

 

  

 

Interview with Author, David Poyer (part 2)

with wife, Lenore

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

DP. Oh sure. ‘What planet am I on?” Hours will go by and I am just not there at all in the chair. The same experience I hope my readers will savor!

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

DP. Always! An article for SHIPMATE magazine on students called to the battlefield from the classroom . . . the new literary review . . . a creepy short story for the next NIGHT BAZAAR anthology . . . a new Dan Lenson novel for next year . . . consulting and assisting my students in their novels. And of course, doing promotion for the latest book, OVERTHROW, the concluding volume of my War with China series. There’s no shortage of work! But it’s all fascinating and I really enjoy what I do. Especially helping younger writers. I only started teaching ten years ago, and am surprised how much satisfaction there is in helping someone else succeed.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

DP. In 1976, beginning with short stories.

Q. How long after that were you published?

DP. not that long . . . maybe a year. But it took four years to publish my first novel. That was WHITE CONTINENT, an adventure story that today might be called a techno thriller.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

DP. I sure don’t. The sales numbers on those are going up again after a decline in recent years. EBook sales are down. Audio book sales are up. But no, we will not see paper books go away.

Q. What makes a writer great?

DP. So many things! Sympathy, deep craft, huge intelligence, deep feeling, an ear for language . . . I could go on and on. World building. The ability to truly see. The ability to truly care. The passions . . . rage, regret, vengeance, love. Jonathan Swift’s “burning indignation.” We’re not going to see any of those from AIs anytime soon!

Q. and the all-important:What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

DP. Like a long sea voyage, with lots of planning followed by setting sail; then changes of the wind, challenges along the way, port calls, near-disasters, interspersed with periods of calm sailing. Occasional mutinies by the characters. Menaces from pirates. Then the channel to the final destination opens ahead, and there’s a welcoming crowd waiting on the pier . . . my longtime fans, who sometimes take me to task, but who more often cheer me on and make me feel I’m doing some good in the world. I owe them a lot, and they know who they are!

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

DP. I would think that’s pretty obvious!

Q. What’s your down time look like?

DP. Sailing, coaching, reading, doing errands on my motorcycle . . . I live in a quiet rural seaside county in Virginia. Also, I travel. This last year we journeyed through seven countries by plane, bus, and rail, both for research, personal reasons, and to accompany Lenore to and from a writing residency in Schwandorf, Bavaria. I don’t think we’ll schedule that many at once again for a while! But we might try for Morocco later this year. Maybe.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre`?

DP. So far I’ve written historicals, eco-thrillers, science fiction, sea novels, military fiction and nonfiction, lots of nonfiction biography and travel, and the occasional screenplay. I’d like to try a memoir one day, but not soon!

Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

DP. Be mindful, be here for each day, and tell those you love how much you love them. None of it will last forever! Which should make it all the sweeter, no?

Did you miss Part I of our Interview? Click here
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Available now!

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Naval Captain, turned Author, David Poyer

Naval Captain DAVID POYER grew up in Pennsylvania and attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. His naval service included duty in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic, Caribbean, and ports around the world. His nearly fifty published books include THE DEAD OF WINTER, WINTER IN THE HEART, AS THE WOLF LOVES WINTER, and THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN. His latest is OVERTHROW . His work has been translated into Japanese, Dutch, Hungarian, and Serbo-Croatian.

Poyer holds a master’s degree from George Washington University and has taught or lectured at Annapolis, Flagler College, and other institutions around the country. He has been a visiting writer/writer in residence at Flagler and Annapolis. His fiction has been required reading in the U.S. Naval Academy.

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

DP. I’ve written just about everywhere . . . aboard ship, in bars, in offices, on residencies abroad . . . anywhere with a pen or a keyboard. These days I usually write in my custom-built office, which has large windows with a view out over the Chesapeake Bay. And lots of reference books!

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.)

DP. Uh, not really . . . not superstitious about that, no. I check the email, look over the news, and set to work!

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

DP. One wall of my office is covered with typewriters. Manual typewriters, from all countries, that I’ve collected over the years. I came back from a research trip to Europe last year with five typewriters in a duffel bag…which interested the customs officials no end when they saw them on the X-rays!

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

DP. First thing in the morning works for me, when it’s quiet and not too much else has impinged on my day. I try to get at least a thousand words down, and then the rest of the day is mine to answer email, do research, or have fun!

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

DP. Here’s what I emphasize to my creative writing students: I think procrastination or “block” is usually just the result of a failure to properly prepare. I go through a long process of imagining my characters, daydreaming about their scenes. Eventually, I generate a detailed chapter outline that extends all the way to the end of the novel. (Things change, natch, and the outline is fluid to accommodate gifts; but having the outline there in the morning in place of a blank page removes all my stress.) When I know what will probably happen next, there’s no reason at all not to be able to do my thousand words that day. And usually more!

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

DP. They stem from various sources . . . some from people I knew . .. others are patterned after earlier fictional characters, especially in WHITENESS OF THE WHALE . . . and some spring fully born onto the page, like W. T. Halvorsen, who was a walk-on in DEAD OF WINTER but who took me through the next three books in the Hemlock County series. My wife says she’s often puzzled when I talk about my characters as if they’re people she should know! But then, she’s a novelist too, so she understands….

Q. What first inspired you to write?

DP. I tell my students at Wilkes, “One becomes a writer, not because one can, but because one must.” I realized very early, around age four, that writing was what I was sent here to do. And no matter what I did in between childhood and becoming a fulltime writer, that was preparation, rather than the main event.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

DP. Well, sometimes one, at other times the other. My continuing characters, such as Halvorsen, Dan Lenson, Tiller Galloway, usually find themselves confronted by ‘The Situation’, as you put it. Then they are called upon to react. Typically, things then get very dark. I mope around, trying to think of a way they can possibly escape. Eventually, I (or really, they) figure it out! Then all I have to do is craft the prose. Which is absorbing, too, in its way. The style of each of these series seems to differ. That, I think, is half organic and half from what my mentor Frank Green called a “felt knowledge.”

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

Join us for Part 2 of this griping interview next week
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!