Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing and for how long?
SG. On occasion, but not nearly often enough. I love that feeling but most of the time it’s just struggle, hair-tearing, whining, and complaints. I’m easily distracted. If the work is going well…call it twice a week…then I’m happy. Most of the time I’m sitting here because that’s what it takes. Comfortable or uncomfortable doesn’t make any difference. I suffer because I feel stupid and clumsy and blocked most of the time, but so what? That is all part of the process. If you’re not willing to sweat it out, you’re in the wrong business. No short cuts.
Q. When did you begin to write seriously?
SG. When I was eighteen. I wrote seven full-length novels from the ages of twenty-two to thirty-eight. Novels four and five were published. The others have never seen the light of day. The eighth novel I wrote was ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI and that was after a long stint in Hollywood where I wrote pilots, movies for television, and the occasional film script.
Q. How long after that were you published?
SG. My first novel was published five years after I began teaching myself how to write long form. ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI took me five years to write. I’d say ‘five’ is the magic number. It takes fifteen years of being published before you can support yourself with the writing. This is not a career for sissies or cowards. You better get used to hard work. And rejection and frustration. That’s what teaches you. You can’t side-step the anguish.
Q. and the all important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like?
SG. As I’ve often described, I keep a series of journals or notebooks on my computer for every novel I write. The journal is where I keep plot possibilities, ideas, research notes, character sketches, dialogue when it occurs to me. The collective journals for ‘V’ IS FOR VENGEANCE came to 967 single-spaced pages. The journals for ‘W’ came to 1298 single-spaced pages on the day I finished the book, which was February 21, 2013. It took me a year to settle on the storyline . I work by trial and error which is why it takes me so long. After a mere thirty years at this, I know what doesn’t work but I don’t always know it in advance. I write and then I think, no. I write some more and think, don’t think so. I write some more and think, are you kidding me? I write some more and I think, well that stinks. And on it goes.
Q. Where/when do you first discover Kinsey and your other characters ?
SG. I am Kinsey Millhone so that was easy enough. Other characters I discover as I go along. Character and plot can never be separated. Both have to be developed at the same time, in tandem, or a story won’t come to life.
Q. What inspired your story/stories ?
SG. Sometimes a germ of an idea will come to me. In fact many times I have the germ of an idea. That’s the easy part. What’s difficult is figuring out what you can do with an idea, figuring out how you can develop it to the point where it will carry 660 manuscript pages. You need heft and complexity and major muscle. Not every idea will yield a novel. One of my big lessons, always, is learning when to let it go. I’m ruthless when it comes to that. I might work on an idea for six months. Once I realize it isn’t working and that I don’t know how to make it work, I dump it.
Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre?
SG. I’ve written in other forms and formats; movie scripts, television scripts, short stories and novels. I’ve never written science fiction or erotica or romance or horror or westerns. I don’t know those forms and I wouldn’t do a good job of it. I love the hard-boiled private eye novel and I love crime fiction, which is…as it turns out…where I belong.
Biography: I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky where I graduated from the University of Louisville in 1961 with a degree in English. I worked in a variety of jobs in the medical field, writing after the family was down for the night. Sold a ‘mainstream’ novel, KEZIAH DANE, that was published when I was 27 and then a second novel, THE LOLLY-MADONNA WAR, that was published when I was 29. Altogether, before the alphabet novels, I wrote 7 books . The eighth novel I wrote was ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI. Guess what I’ve been doing every since?’
MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with best-selling AUTHORS! Did you miss the past few months? December: British writer, J.G. Dow. January: In Memory, Sue Grafton.
Check out more Motivational Moments…for Writers!