Michael Cavacini

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Archive for the tag “Novels”

Author Interview: Douglas Preston

Douglas Preston (left) and Lincoln Child.

Douglas Preston (left) and Lincoln Child.

Douglas Preston is the best-selling author of 30 books, including the upcoming novel, White Fire, with his longtime collaborator Lincoln Child. I met Preston and Child at ThrillerFest VIII and learned a great deal from both of them. Below is my interview with Preston; I hope you enjoy it. Make sure to pick up a copy of White Fire, coming out November 12.

Many bestselling authors – Lee Child, James Patterson and Steve Berry, just to name a few – weren’t always writers; it was something they pursued later in life. In what field were you working prior to your first book being published, and what inspired you to take a chance at being an author?

My first job out of college was editing the throwaway newsletter published by the American Museum of Natural History. I found that editing other people’s work was not all that much fun. I wanted to write my own stuff. So I started writing for the newsletter, and then I was given a column in Natural History magazine to write about the Museum. Finally, I got a call from an editor at St. Martin’s Press named Lincoln Child, who suggested I write a book about the Museum. That was my first book, Dinosaurs in the Attic. Linc suggested we collaborate on a thriller set in the Museum, which became Relic, and the rest is history…

Many of us have fond memories of books that changed us in some way. Are there any books or authors that have greatly influenced you over the years?

Very much so. The books that profoundly affected me are, in no particular order, The Sirens of Titan, War and Peace, The Woman in White, Asimov’s Foundation series, Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, the “Yes I will yes” chapter of Ulysses, The Andromeda Strain, and Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of novels.

Relic

In your free time, what kinds of books do you like to read and who are your favorite authors?

These days, I like to read nonfiction, mostly in the areas of science and biography. Right now I’m reading The Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich. I recently read a fascinating biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, called American Prometheus. One of the greatest nonfiction books ever written, in my view, is The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. And on the same subject, another superb book on the Manhattan project is 109 East Palace by Jennet Conant.

In addition to novels, you’ve written non-fiction work as well. Do you prefer one over the other and how does the writing experience for each differ?

They’re so very different. When I’m writing a novel I curse the fact that there’s no structure and I have to pull it all out of thin air and wish I were writing nonfiction. When I’m writing nonfiction, I feel imprisoned by the facts and wish I could just make it all up or bring in a serial killer to spice things up.

Your first book with Lincoln Child, Relic, was critically acclaimed and a New York Times Bestseller. How was it writing the first novel with Lincoln, and how has your collaborative writing process evolved over the years?

A writing partnership is like a marriage, except with Linc the sex is nonexistent… It can be difficult, but Linc and I over the years have learned how to disagree. The important thing is we trust each other implicitly. If Linc says to me, “This thing you wrote stinks,” I may get upset, but I have to believe him. That’s why we have a partnership—to tell each other the hard truths.

White Fire

Your popular protagonist, Aloysius Xingu L. Pendergast, debuted in Relic and he’s going to be in your new novel, White Fire, coming out in November. What’s the premise of the new book, and what do you have in store for your readers?

White Fire opens with an historical event: a real (and fateful) dinner at the Langham hotel in London during which Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle met each other for the first and last time. What they discussed has been lost to history, but it seems Wilde made crucial suggestions to Doyle about his newly invented character of Sherlock Holmes, and Doyle for his part told Wilde all about police procedure, which inspired Wilde to write The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Then our novel moves to the present-day. Pendergast has to rescue Corrie Swanson from jail in an upscale Colorado ski resort, but just after he arrives, a serial arsonist strikes the town, burning down multimillion dollar mansions with the people still inside…

You’ve written trilogies and stand-alone thrillers. Do you find one more satisfying than the other? And when writing a trilogy, how do you keep track of all the details?

They both satisfy in different ways. With a trilogy we can go deep and spin out a vast, complex story with many subplots. It is a daunting task to keep track of everything. A solo novel is shorter and sweeter, and perhaps punchier in some ways. The middle novel in a trilogy is always difficult…

Meeting Douglas Preston at ThrillerFest VIII.

Meeting Douglas Preston at ThrillerFest VIII.

One of the hot topics at ThrillerFest this year was whether or not to outline a book. What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you plot out your novels in advance or do you simply have an idea and start writing?

Linc and I outline. We first create a general, narrative of the novel: how it opens, what happens, where it ends up. Then we outline maybe ten to fifteen chapters ahead, lengthening the outline as we write. I don’t know how writers can just start writing without knowing where they’re going, but some outstanding novelists do work that way. Tony Hillerman, one of my favorite mystery writers, never knew the ending of his books when he started, and yet he pulled off one great novel after another. I think every writer needs to find their own way of doing things. 

According to Goodreads, there’ve been nearly 125 books set in Maine – everything from John Irving’s The Cider House Rules to It by Stephen King. Being a resident of the Pine Tree State, why do you think this is the case?

Maine is dark and cold and beautiful and mysterious, with resolutely independent people. It has everything a writer might ask for in a vivid setting and compelling characters.

If you could offer aspiring writers once piece of advice, what would it be?

Write every day, seven days a week, if only for an hour at a time. And keep that hour sacred. Warn your friends and family to stay away. A writer must write, just as violinists must practice and Olympic athletes must train. That sounds obvious but you would be surprised at how many people want to be writers but don’t write very much.

Author Interview: Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author whose debut novel, The Informationist, took the literary world by storm in 2011. Since then, she’s published two more novels starring the popular protagonist Vanessa Michael Munroe: The Innocent and The Doll. I had the pleasure of meeting Taylor at ThrillerFest VIII in July, and she was kind enough to grant me the interview below. I hope you enjoy it.

You grew up in a communal apocalyptic cult where, as a teenager, you entertained the children with stories. What inspired these stories and did you use them as a way to briefly “escape” your dire surroundings?

Imagination was very much an escape mechanism. We didn’t have access to the outside world, so basically no novels, no television, no outside music and very, very few pre-screened movies. We spent a lot of time doing mundane manual labor—washing laundry, cooking, taking care of younger children—or out on the streets begging and that often meant considerable hours getting to/from our begging spots with nothing to keep our minds engaged in-between. Telling stories turned me in into the de facto entertainment and that’s pretty much how it started.

You’ve said that your scholastic education stopped at the age of 12 when you were separated from your parents. Having met you and read your books, I can say, without a doubt, that you’re a very intelligent woman. How did you go about catching up on those lost years of learning after you broke free from the cult in your 20s?

For some things, I still haven’t. There’s a huge difference between intelligence and education and although I’m very fortunate that I have the ability to self-teach through absorption, there are some things that I’m resigned to never grasping. For example, since math for me stopped when I was around 11, I still struggle desperately with math concepts. Math is one of those things that you can’t just skip three years and pick up where you left off by reading a few books. Even though I understand everyday mathematical concepts well enough to, say, manage money, I’m so bad at math in general that even using a calculator I still have to add numbers three times just to be sure I get the same answer twice. I read a lot—I’ve read so many text books cover-to-cover—that in many subjects you could say I’m better read than many people who’ve gone to college. But it’s splotchy and not exactly an “education” in the strictest sense. I couldn’t put it on a resume. I’m still kind of screwed in that regard if this whole writing thing doesn’t work out.

Being a mother, I’m sure finding time to write must be hard. How do you overcome this challenge and do you set out to type a specific number of words every day?

I do have to juggle around their needs and there are times when this is easier said than done, but it’s far easier now than it used to be when they were pre-school and kindergarten ages.  There are also chunks of time, for example during research and promotion—which in my case often means having to travel—as well as key points when contributing to a manuscript in its journey through the production pipeline, that it’s just not possible for me to put new words on a page. My goal, when I’m actually writing, is 1000 words per day, 6 days per week. I don’t always hit it, but that’s the goal.

The Informationist

The Informationist, your debut novel, was a bestseller that was well received by the public and critics alike. How did it feel when James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, picked up the film rights? And will you play an active role in the development of the screenplay?

That was an incredibly surreal experience. I believe the exact words out of my mouth when my film agent gave me the news were, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I heard you right. Do you mean James Cameron as in “Titanic” James Cameron?” Whether or not The Informationist actually gets turned into a movie still remains to be seen. Last I heard he was working on Avatar 2, 3 AND 4. That’s a long wait. Generally speaking authors have no input on any aspect of movie making. There are exceptions—I expect if I wrote Twilight or Harry Potter things would be different—but I really respect James Cameron as a film maker and love what he’s done with the female characters in his films. I trust him and am just as eager as my fans to see what he does with Michael Munroe.

Do you draft an outline before sitting down to write a book or do you start with an idea and see where it takes you?

I’ve done it both ways. With The Informationist it was very much by the seat of my pants and it was probably more of a surprise to me how the story unfolded than it was for my readers. Vanessa Michael Munroe as a character was definitely a by-product of pantsing, because I certainly didn’t have her figured out before I started writing. But it also took me roughly three years to write The Informationist. Granted, it wasn’t my full-time job, but still. I do outline now.  This came about as a matter of desperation—I didn’t know if I could write another book, and I had to prove it to myself by first telling myself the story. But what I found from doing that was that I could write a whole lot faster when I knew what was happening before I actually began.

As it is now, because I work on such tight deadlines, I can’t afford to spend a month or more writing in one direction only to find out it didn’t work and have to go back and start again so I have turned into an outliner. I have heard of some authors making copious notes, writing out family histories for the characters and such, but I have never done that. My outlines are something closer to simply talking out the story to myself, a “tell don’t show” proposition that runs into about thirty pages. Once the writing begins, those thirty pages will turn into about 500 or so, which will be cut down to around 450 and that will turn into a 320-page book, give or take.

The Innocent - Taylor Stevens

My favorite book of yours is The Innocent because the subject matter was fascinating and it featured great emotional depth. Clearly, this was inspired by your experience growing up in a cult. Was writing this novel a cathartic experience for you? 

I actually get this question quite often and it always makes me smile. Drawing directly on my background wasn’t necessarily easy, but I’d long come to terms with and already made my peace with what happened growing up—I don’t think I could have produced the book otherwise. Mostly, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to showcase more of Vanessa Michael Munroe’s skill and badassery while at the same time offering readers access to a firsthand account of cult life that most thriller writers don’t have. If there was any part of the experience that was cathartic, it was in finally being able to give a voice to the hundreds and thousands of kids who were raised like me—to raise awareness of the issues and prejudices we face. There is so much misunderstanding and judgment against us simply because of where we were born and how we were raised, choices that were made by our parents, not us. Our story has been hijacked by the cult, by the media, by sociologists, by basically everyone. It was fantastically satisfying to finally have our story told from our point of view—not some twisted version put out for ratings and sensationalism.

What do you find most satisfying about being an author?

Every day I wake up grateful that I get to do what I do for a living. I consider each additional book to be a stay of execution which allows me, for one more year, to still get to plan my own schedule, spend hours alone in relative quiet, and be able to be available to my children whenever they need me. I’m completely ruined for real life. I don’t know that I could ever hold a corporate job—not that I couldn’t do the work, I just don’t think I could handle the lifestyle that comes with it.

Taylor Stevens - The Doll

In The Doll, you wrote the following line: 

“Munroe focused on the ground, processing. He’d given her what she needed to know, and she in turn had scattered seed that might lay fallow or might, if she was lucky, eventually sprout into saplings strong enough to split the hardened topsoil that kept him as the Doll Maker’s doer.”

As far as I’m concerned, you’re one of the most talented authors when it comes to metaphor usage and this sentence is a perfect example. Do you spend a lot of time coming up with these or do they organically flow out of your writing?

Wow, thanks for the compliment. I’m blushing. My understanding of grammar is still stuck in 5th grade and 5th grade was a long, long time ago so, if you asked me to explain what a metaphor is, I’d probably just give you a blank look. Most of what I write just comes from instinct, from trying to translate emotion and feeling into words that make sense to other people, and then attempting to craft those words with as little corniness and as few reading hiccups as possible.

What’s the most challenging part of writing for you? 

The initial draft, for sure. This is where the actual scenes are fleshed out, the characters are built, and the plot is intertwined. It’s torture. When it comes to the nitty-gritty: action sequences are the hardest, especially when they involve multiple characters. Conversations are the most fun and go the fastest—that’s when the characters get to come alive and their conflicts play against each other.

1270999_10151546617996261_879066557_o

Oscar Madison once said, “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” Do you identify with this sentiment or do you enjoy the writing process from start to finish?

Oh, yes, I absolutely identify with that sentiment. So many authors have been credited with that quote, and I’ve heard it used by so many friends, that I’m beginning to suspect it must be a universal truth among writers. Personally, I’m not really what I’d consider a “creative.” I’m far more comfortable with things like spreadsheets and data entry than crafting people and places and lifetimes out of nothing. It’s one thing to be able to make up a story with words, using broad brush strokes, and another entirely to bleed it out on paper in excruciating detail, so for me, developing the first layers of writing a book is incredibly difficult. Editing and re-writing after the initial creative work is finished is much easier and, since that’s the part of writing that makes a crappy story readable, that has worked out pretty well for me so far.

You just completed your fourth Vanessa Michael Munroe book, The Catch. What’s the story’s premise and in what countries is it taking place?

In The Catch, Munroe is headed back to Africa, this time to the north and east where she gets tangled up with a hijacked ship. Readers will have an opportunity to watch how she operates when she ends up in unfamiliar territory where she’s on her own and where she has no prior contacts or connections. And this time—unlike The Doll which entwined two timelines, two casts of characters, and two different plots—there is only one plot and one point of view. In The Catch, it’s pure Vanessa Michael Munroe, all the way.

 

Author Interview: Thomas B. Sawyer

Thomas B SawyerAt ThrillerFest VIII, I was lucky enough to meet Thomas B. Sawyer, the former head writer for one of my all-time favorite TV shows: Murder, She Wrote. In addition to working in television, Tom has written several books, as well as a musical drama. Below is my interview with Sawyer about his exceptional career. I hope you enjoy it.

Growing up, did you always want to be a writer?

In a way, yes. My childhood ambition/fixation was to draw and write a realistic syndicated daily newspaper comic strip, telling a continuous story. There are almost none of those today, but they were big when I was a kid. My hero was Milton Caniff, who drew and wrote such strips as Terry & the Pirates and Steve Canyon. I started freelancing as a comic-book artist (writing a few) in Manhattan at age 20, moving on to advertising, where I became a successful illustrator. Along the way, I realized that doing a daily strip was not for me, so I began making short films, and fell in love with directing. I studied with Lee Strasberg, directed off-off Broadway, and directed/produced TV commercials for major ad agencies.

What led you to the television industry?

I moved from NY to the LA area to try breaking into movies – as a director. My plan, produce and direct a low-budget comedy as a calling-card. My writer fell out as soon as I arrived on the Coast, so I wrote it myself. Then, the financing fell through, so I bankrolled it, shot it, and began screenings in hope of finding a distributor – and getting my money back. By then, I’d begun to network with people in the biz, and would invite them to screening as well. One was a multiple Emmy-winning writer/director/producer, Lila Garrett. She approached me at the end of a screening: “Tom, you should be writing for television.”

Truthfully, I had never even thought about that, totally focused as I was on directing movies. I asked her how I might get started. Her response, with a shrug: “I’ve got a production deal. If you get an idea, call me.” Two weeks later, I phoned her with a one-line pitch: “A gang-comedy on a tacky used-car lot in the valley.” She said: “That’s great. You’ll write it and I’ll produce it.

Another two weeks, my first gig in Hollywood: I was writing a comedy pilot for CBS. Incidentally, it was several years before I realized that is not the way it works for most people.

How did you become involved in Murder, She Wrote?

I became a writer for Murder, She Wrote (MSW) before it began to air, the result of my agent sending show creator Peter Fischer a non-mystery series pilot script I’d written for CBS, a one-hour WWII drama titled Cody’s War. Peter ‘saw’ something in it – presumably, that I could write scenes that worked – and he gave me a ‘blind assignment’ to write an episode. Meaning, I had to first come up with a story that was acceptable. He invited me to come in and view the pilot, and to me, anyway, Angela Lansbury’s specialness, her presence, was awesome. As was the prospect – the honor and privilege, really – of writing for her.

MSW looked to me like a hit, and I said so. In response to my question about the approach, the show’s style, Peter explained that he envisioned it as “sort of” in the mold of traditional Agatha Christie puzzle mysteries. Which prompted – with no hesitation: “Peter, I have to tell you, when I was a kid I read a couple of Christies and one or two locked-room mysteries, you know, where they gather the suspects in the drawing-room at the end? They bored the shit out of me, and I won’t write that for you.” His response: “Okay. What will you write?” “I’ll write The Maltese Falcon.” Peter replied without missing a beat: “That’ll be fine.” And – on reflection – I realize that that was my signal contribution to the show. With few exceptions, over the next 12 seasons, in each episode we did a play about a bunch of interesting characters in conflict with each other. And someone is murdered.

What was it like working with Angela Lansbury?

The absolute best. Angela was – and still is – a total professional, without vanity, generous to other actors. My only frustration was that the character of Jessica Fletcher, as originally conceived, used such a tiny fraction of Angela’s incredible range as an actress. But in re-examining her movies, I observed that she played irate-and-pissed-off better than almost any actor in the world. So I contrived, in each episode, to give her at least one moment when another character would say the equivalent of: “Ms. Fletcher, I don’t have time for this, so get outta my office.” And Jessica would get her back up – and the show would immediately take on that energy.

Meeting Tom Sawyer at ThrillerFest VIII.

Meeting Tom Sawyer at ThrillerFest VIII.

Murder, She Wrote regularly featured popular guest stars. Which guest stars did you enjoy working with the most and why?

Jerry Orbach tops the list. Jerry played a recurring character, PI Harry McGraw, which we eventually spun off into a series (The Law & Harry McGraw). Jerry, a major Broadway musical star, was a great guy, and a delight to work with. Oh, there were so many others, too: Len Cariou, Anne Meara, Lorna Luft, Milton Berle, Bobby Morse, Buddy Hackett, Steve Lawrence… The list is endless.

How did your role on the Murder, She Wrote team evolve over the years, and what was it like when the show came to an end?

I was on staff, then off, doing other shows, and pilots and film scripts, plus the McGraw spinoff, but continuing to write for MSW. And then, after 7 seasons, Fischer departed, and I was asked to take over as Head Writer/Showrunner, which I did – and enjoyed enormously – for the next 5 seasons.

It was sad when CBS pulled the plug. We were still one of the top shows, but had become a casualty of demographics. We were on opposite ABC’s Lois & Clark, which had 1/3 fewer viewers. But, of a more advertiser-desirable age-group, they were able to charge more for commercials.

Our final episode: “Death By Demographics,” was about the murder of a broadcaster.

What is the TV script-writing process like, and how many revisions are made before shooting a scene?

A lot depends on the type of show. Comedies involve a lot of meetings in the “Writers’ Room.” Dramas, less so. And while I’ve written finished shooting scripts for action-adventure shows in as little as four days, teleplays for MSW took several months. Plus – unlike many theatrical movies – in TV, once the script is written, that’s what is shot.

The Writers Guild dictates that the TV episode writer do two drafts of the story (outline), and two drafts of the script. After that, the show’s staff writers have to make any necessary changes. Thus, it is in the interest of those staffers to work closely with the freelance writer, holding his/her hand along the way, so that final script is as close to shootable as possible.

You’ve written a musical drama (Jack) and a novel (The Sixteenth Man) about John F. Kennedy. What inspired you to base these two works on the former U.S. President?

I regard his loss as one of the major tragedies this country has experienced. JFK’s passion was without equal. Moreover, I find his life and family fascinating (operatic, really, hence, Jack), and the truth about his assassination never revealed (thus, my take on it, The Sixteenth Man).

How does writing novels compare to writing for television and theater?

In novels the writer really gets the chance to know the characters far more intimately. Though in the case of Jack, the writing process – and getting to know the characters went on for years. More than five in fact, before we figured out who Jack Kennedy was.

Your conspiracy thriller, No Place to Run, was focused on the U.S. government’s involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. What inspired the premise? And did the sensitive subject matter lead to any interesting encounters with the government or law enforcement officials?

I gradually became convinced that 9/11 was known to be in work, and was abetted/permitted to happen because our government (as in: the MICC Complex) needed an event that would cause the public to put up with another war. I’m fully aware that once history is written, it becomes part of the public’s comfort-zone, but in writing that book, I figured if I could make as many as a dozen people think (re-think, actually), I had succeeded.

It did not provoke any encounters with government or law enforcement, but I was invited to post my take on it at a very interesting website, patriotsquestion911.com, where I found myself in some amazing company. I have since appeared on panels with a number of them. But getting the book published wasn’t easy. The head of one of the major houses in NY said to my agent: “I really like Tom’s writing, but I’m offended by his premise.”

Fiction Writing DemystifiedYou teach an online course about writing fiction and wrote the book Fiction Writing Demystified. How has writing for television influenced and helped what you produce as an author?

More than anything else, TV taught me that the number one requirement of any writer, (novelist, historian, ad copywriter, clergyman, you-name-it), no matter how lofty the goal, is to know – and never forget — that we are Entertainers.
Simply put, unless we entertain, one’s audience isn’t going to stay with us until The End.

Are there any authors in particular that you read regularly and draw inspiration from?

Absolutely. Moreover, these hold up for me on rereading. John O’Hara, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Donald Westlake, Elmore Leonard, Irwin Shaw, and Eric Ambler.

What do you think is currently the best-written show on television?

For me – and they’re inconsistent, a tossup between Blue Bloods and The Good Wife. The all-time best? The Sopranos.

Are you working on any exciting new projects?

Yes. I just finished my first non-stand alone thriller (w/humor), Cross Purposes. It features a New York PI, Barney Moon. Barney, a permanent fish-out-of-water, hates Los Angeles, is stuck there, and he doesn’t drive. I’m also completing my memoir, Who Knew…?

Author Interview: M.J. Rose

M.J. Rose

M.J. Rose is an international bestselling author of 13 novels and a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers (ITW). I had the pleasure of meeting her at ITW’s ThrillerFest this summer. Her latest novel is Seduction, which I’ll be reviewing soon, and below is my interview with the author. Enjoy!

When did you first discover your ability to write, and did you always aspire to be an author?

I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. I always loved to read though. I think wanting to be a writer just snuck up on me. I don’t actually remember when I knew. As for the first part of your questions – I’m still trying to find my ability to write … I’m more comfortable coming up with ideas than actually writing.

How did you get into advertising, and how has it influenced your career as a writer?

My grandfather was in advertising and at my Dad’s company he was the one who worked with the ad agency. It was always in my blood. Then in college I started taking graphic design classes – which I loved as much as painting – and was much better at. My first job was at a very small ad agency where I wrote the copy and did the design, and I realized after a year I liked the writing better.

You wrote the first self-published book to be picked up by a New York publishing house, Lip Service. What was this process like, and how did you feel when a traditional publisher wanted the book?

I didn’t set out to do that. I got tired of my agent telling me that publishers loved my book but couldn’t figure out how to market it. So I told her I’d put it online and market it (since I was in advertising) and once I had a campaign that worked she could show the publishers how I did it. It was during that effort that The Doubleday Bookclub and Literary Guild discovered Lip Service on line and wrote me and offered to publish it as one of their featured alternates. That was about 6 months after I’d started my experiment. I was convinced it was a friend playing a joke on me.

Do you write every day? If so, how do you avoid distractions and do you set goals for yourself when it comes to the number of words or pages?

At different times in the course of writing a novel I work different ways. The first three to four months of a book, when I’m formulating and researching and planning, I don’t write at all except to take notes. I walk around a lot thinking and calling a few great friends with panicked phone calls about how this idea is most boring book in the world.

Once I start writing the first draft, I write 1,500-2,500 words a day, 5 or 6 days a week, first thing in the morning at 6:30. When I start on the second draft I’m happy – I love editing. I keep up that same pace – working 5-6 days a week but in less of white heat.

Spending time with M.J. Rose at ThrillerFest VIII.

Spending time with M.J. Rose at ThrillerFest VIII.

As was discussed at length at ThrillerFest, some authors are plotters while others are pantsers. Do you draft an outline before sitting down to write a novel or do you have a rough idea of what you want to say and let the story unfold one page at a time?

I do a bit of both. I can’t over-plot or I’d be too bored to ever write the story but I do a lot of research and need to know quite a lot about the characters and have a list of the top 10 to 15 main scenes and the end before I start.

You wrote a book called What To Do Before Your Book Launch with Randy Susan Meyers that provides writers with information on how to be successful, and your company, AuthorBuzz helps authors market their books. What was the inspiration for this book and service?

When I first got published in 1999, it was a very different world. Authors wrote and publishers published. And a lot of opportunity was falling through the cracks. Together with a wonderful author and one of my closest friends, Douglas Clegg, I wrote a book and started teaching classes called Buzz Your Book. In 2005, that lead to my opening the first marketing firm expressly to help authors (but we work with publishers too). And then last year, Randy and I both realized we’d each written a lot of blog posts that would make an interesting workbook and put What To Do Before Your Book Launch together.

Have you had any authors serve as mentors during your career as a writer?

I was in advertising during the years I was writing my first few books and didn’t know any other authors and so never had a mentor. But I have been very lucky to have a group of amazing friends who are amazing writers and I have learned so much about the craft of writing and story telling from them.

SeductionYour newest novel, Seduction, features Victor Hugo. Has his work inspired yours, and was it a challenge working a historical figure into a novel?

I was always in awe of Hugo and yes, I found his work inspiring but on a grand scale I don’t think I’m at all capable of. As for Seduction I came up with the idea for the book without quite realizing that I’d have to write in his voice. And when it came time to start, I panicked and almost bailed. What hubris! I gave up three times. It was when my agent suggested I read his letters to his friends and family that I might get past the genius thing. Sure enough the letters weren’t as intimidating as his fiction and I started thinking I might pull it off. But it wasn’t until I started writing with a fountain pen and on paper – the way Hugo wrote – that I finally was able to begin. I wrote the whole book – 120,000 words – by hand.

Seduction features two storylines and two time periods. How do you go about keeping the reader emotionally invested in both storylines while advancing the plot at the same time?

As a reader I get bored easily – so I try to keep myself emotionally invested. I figure if I can keep myself excited and I know the story, I might have a shot with the readers.

Some authors dread research while other relish it. When it’s necessary, how do you go about conducting research and do you enjoy it?

I love it. So much so that sometimes I think that I write as an excuse to do the research. In fact I have to force myself to stop.

Do you have any exciting new projects you’re working on?

Yes, I’m starting a new book Sept 1 and it’s a bit different and a big challenge.

Author Interview: Donald Bain

Donald Bain

Donald Bain

I had the pleasure of meeting Donald Bain after he participated in a panel at this year’s ThrillerFest. For the uninitiated, he’s the author of more than 115 books, many of which have been bestsellers. Bain is most famous for being the author of the long-running Murder, She Wrote series. If you’re a fan of the show or just enjoy a good mystery, I highly recommend that you read these novels – they’re good, clean fun.

Below is my interview with the author; I hope you enjoy it.

In your memoir, Murder, HE Wrote, you stated, “I never wanted to be a writer.” What did you want to be, and how did you wind up becoming a writer?

I was headed for a career in broadcasting. I received Purdue University’s top award for my work on the university’s educational radio and TV stations, and intended to seek a job with a radio or TV station after fulfilling my three-year Air Force commitment (I was ROTC at Purdue). I ended up being officer-in-charge of the Armed Forces Radio and TV stations in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Following that I was the base PR officer in Amarillo, Texas, where I worked in my spare time as a DJ at a radio station. Upon being discharged I stayed in Amarillo and was an on-air personality at the ABC TV station, and continued to work in radio along with owning a piece of a nightclub where I led a jazz quintet.

I married and returned to New York, taking various jobs until my cousin, Jack Pearl, a prolific writer, got me magazine assignments. He also introduced me to an editor at a major publishing company who gave me an assignment to ghostwrite the history of stock car racing. That led to another book, Coffee, Tea or Me? and I became a writer despite my intentions to not be one.

You’ve been writing the Murder, She Wrote novels for many years. How did this opportunity come about? And did you think it would last this long?

I’d been ghostwriting DC-based murder mysteries for a well-known person when a publisher approached my agent to see if I’d be interested in writing a novel using characters from the popular TV show, Murder, She Wrote. I took the assignment and here I am 25 years later starting the 42nd book in the series. I never dreamed it would last this long.

How do you keep track of everything your characters have done since the inception of the Murder, She Wrote series?

With great difficulty. Fans of the TV show and of the series of novels have a much better grasp of the characters and events than my wife and I do (we’ve been collaborating on the series for quite a while).

Murder, She Wrote - The Queen's Jewels

You’ve ghostwritten many books over the years. Do you have any favorites among them, and how does the experience differ from being a named author?

Ghostwriting demands being sensitive to the “voice” of the person for whom I’m ghosting, and precludes me, to a great extent, from using my own voice. I’m especially proud of the 26 books in the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series. Since her death, the novels contain my byline, which frees me up to out more of me in the books.

Speaking of favorites, at ThrillerFest you told me you really enjoyed writing The Queen’s Jewels. What other Murder, She Wrote books are among your favorites?

The Queen’s Jewels takes place on the Queen Mary Two, a magnificent vessel and a wonderful background for the story. I also enjoyed writing Murder on the QE2, another splendid ship. Trick or Treachery is a favorite because of the way the novel ends, and The Highland Fling Murders took me back to my family’s origins in Scotland. But every book in the series has something about it that pleased me.

Do you plot out your books ahead of time, from start to finish, or do you just start and see where the story takes you?

My wife, Renée, and I come up with a rough outline before starting writing, but it changes as the characters assume lives of their own and take the story in different directions.

How have you managed to keep the Murder, She Wrote series fresh over the past 20 years?

Having Jessica Fletcher travel help keep things fresh and new. Locations provide not only changing backdrops for the tales, they can become characters of their own. And having Jessica do things that the reader doesn’t expect of her also helps.

Do you aim to write a specific amount of words every day, and for how long do you write?

I used to aim for 10 pages a day, then start the next day rewriting those pages. I tend to write fewer pages each day now. What’s important to me is not allowing a day to pass without writing something.

Years ago you were an award-winning public relations executive. How did your writing and experiences in that field help you as an author?

I’m not sure that it did help me as an author, at least not the writing aspect of it. What I loved about PR was that it demanded that you develop a sense of what the public wanted and to come up with ways to satisfy those needs. It also brought me into contact with a wide variety of people and situations, each providing a learning experience.

Murder, She Wrote - Coffee, Tea, or Murder

In your free time, what kind of books do you like to read?

I don’t read much fiction when I’m writing a book, but I do read a number of non-fiction books that bear upon whatever it is that I’m writing at the moment. During those rare times when I’m between writing books I enjoy spy novels (good ones), and reading murder mysteries by those writers who I consider to be at the top of their game.
How has it been collaborating with your wife on the Murder, She Wrote series?

It’s a joy collaborating with Renée on the Murder, She Wrote series. She’s a really good writer who brings a dimension to the series that makes it better. She also provides a woman’s perception that gives the female characters more depth.

What are you working on now, and what’s next for Jessica Fletcher?

We’ve just completed Aloha Betrayed and have sent it to the publisher. At the moment we’re working on the storyline for the next book, which will take place in Cabot Cove and has high school football as a background. The working title is Deadly Rivalry.

ThrillerFest VIII – Day 4

I picked up more than 35 books at ThrillerFest.

I picked up more than 35 books at ThrillerFest.

The fourth and final day of ThrillerFest was just as enjoyable as the ones that preceded it. As you can see from the photo above, I left the conference with a ton of books. Below are highlights, photos and videos from the final day of ThrillerFest, including the entire 43-minute interview with Michael Connelly. I’m attending next year’s conference, which I’m sure will be even better. Now I have to try and finish these books before next July. Wish me luck!

Does Speed Kill?

Does Speed Kill?

Does Speed Kill?

  • “Writing expository material in my books makes me feel like I’m running in mud.” – Andrew Gross
  • “I don’t like to write books that feel like screenplays.” – A.J. Hartley
  • “If you have a sprint from the beginning of the book to the end, without slowing down, there’s no depth to it at that point.” – Sheldon Siegel
  • “If my wife stops reading my book in the middle of a chapter, I ask her why.” – John Gilstrap
  • “I love to go to plays to see where the acts end and whether or not people get up from their seats during the intermission. It’s a great way to learn about pacing.” – Heather Graham
Meeting T. Jefferson Parker.

Meeting T. Jefferson Parker.

T. Jefferson Parker Interview

  • “I decided to be a reporter so I could pursue my passion for writing and in my free time work on novels.”
  • “I didn’t want to be a series writer. I didn’t see myself in that place, at that time.”
  • “The great thing about being a writer is you can be sitting on the boardwalk in Laguna Beach, minding your own business, and the main character in your next novel can walk right in front of you.”
  • “When it comes to the writing process, I’m a Monday through Friday kind of guy, from 7 to 5 pm. If I can get five pages done, it’s a good day.”
  • “The hardest part for me is not writing. It takes me three months to come up with an idea good enough to start writing. Then it takes me about six months to finish the first draft, and another three months to make it as good as I can before I send it off to my agent.”
  • “The shortest outline I wrote was on a bar napkin. After explaining the outline to the publisher, my agent called me the next day and said, ‘I don’t know what you wrote on that napkin but the publisher just bought it.’”
  • “For Laguna Heat, I threw away 2,500 pages over a five year period. I never worked so hard to make a book readable. In total, there were six drafts.”
  • “I love to read; it’s nourishment for me. I usually have two or three books going at a time. If I didn’t read while I write, I’d never read.”
  • Young writers’ first goal should be to find their own voice, and stop trying to write like their heroes.”
  • “I still feel that my best work is ahead.”
Are Young Adult Novels Meant For Adults?

Are Young Adult Novels Meant For Adults?

Are Young Adult Novels Meant For Adults?

  • “A lot of my readers are adults because they grew up with me. I’m nostalgia to them. I’m Hall & Oates.” – R.L. Stine
  • “There was a statistic saying that 52% of YA readers are adults. But if you remove The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, I’m not sure that’s true.” – Michelle Gagnon
  • “I wrote my first young adult book in five weeks.” – Barry Lyga
  • “I write YA because that’s what I like to read.” – Linda Gerber
  • “Young adult novels have a direct, powerful and emotional point of view.” – Allen Zadoff
  • “On social media, 30% of my followers are adults.” – Lissa Price
  • “I don’t think it’s so remarkable that adults read YA. We all used to be teenagers.” – Kat Rosenfield
Photo 2013-07-17 12.34.34 AM

Michael Connelly being interviewed by Jon Land.

ThrillerFest – AgentFest

AgentFestDuring the second half of day two of ThrillerFest was AgentFest, which is best described as speed dating between aspiring authors and agents. Hundreds of authors looking to get published lined up in four or five rooms waiting to have five minutes or less to pitch a book to a variety of agents. The agents were very nice to the authors, and they had timers to make sure each person was given a fair shot. This went on for three and a half hours. In the end, some authors were asked to email the agents a few chapters or an entire manuscript, while others were kindly rejected. The rooms were filled with so much hope and anxiety it was palpable. In case you’re curious, I didn’t pitch anything; my books aren’t far enough along to warrant a review, but next year, who knows.

ThrillerFest – FanFest

Andrew Gross - ThrillerFest VIII

Hanging out with Andrew Gross at FanFest.

Yesterday was the third day of ThrillerFest, and last night was FanFest – a time for fans to spend time with the authors they love, get books autographed and have drinks. After FanFest, I had the honor of having dinner with one of my favorite authors, Andrew Gross. Below are photos from both events.

Meeting R.L. Stine.

Meeting R.L. Stine.

M.J. Rose

With M.J. Rose.

Spending time with Lincoln Child.

Spending time with Lincoln Child.

Hanging out with Steve Berry.

Meeting Joe Finder.

Spending time with Jon Land.

Spending time with Jon Land.

Having dinner with Andrew Gross.

Having dinner with Andrew Gross.

Dinner with Andrew Gross and fans.

Dinner with Andrew Gross and fans.

ThrillerFest VIII – Day 1

Hanging out with best-selling author Douglas Preston.

Hanging out with best-selling author Douglas Preston.

Today was the start of ThrillerFest, and I had the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the greatest writers in the business. Below are photos and highlights from some of the sessions.

Steve Berry

Steve Berry

Steve Berry – Six “C’s” of Story Structure

  1. Character 
  2. Conflict
  3. Crucible
  4. Complications
  5. Crisis
  6. Conclusion

Act 1

  • “In Act 1 you establish the character and create conflict.”
  • “Then you introduce the crucible – the reason why the character is willing to do something he wouldn’t normally do.”

Act 2

  • “Act 2 is when you introduce complications and focus on no more than two subplots.” 

Act 3

  • “At the start of Act 3 is the crisis point. By the time this takes place, there should only be 50 pages left in the book.” 
  • “After you’ve hit the crisis point, bring it home with a satisfying conclusion.”

Steve Berry – Point of View

  • “When you start your book, you need to decide who’s going to tell the story.” 
  • “Point-of-view characters are precious because they’re the only people’s heads we go into. You have a lot of characters in a novel, but you only go into the heads of a handful of them.”
  • “Some writers don’t feel this is important, but I respectfully disagree.”
  • “First person is the hardest point of view. Don’t even try it until you’ve written a million words; it will put pressure on you and tax your creativity.”
John Sanford

John Sanford

John Sanford – How to Tighten Your Manuscript 

  • “The first and last chapters are the most important ones in your book.”
  • “The first chapter needs to be emotionally engaging. The action needs to start in the first paragraph.”
  • “The last chapter is critical. You want it to go out with a bang and for people to leave with a smile on their face.”
  • “If you make too many unnecessary changes after you’ve finished a book, they’ll come back to bite you in the ass.”
Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly – How to Write a Good Series 

  • “Forget about writing a series. Just write the best book you can write.”
  • “I’m a visual writer. I see scenes in my head and I write them down.”
  • “You want to move forward and backward at the same time. You have to work in the backstory so people know where the character came from.”
  • “I’m writing for the people that have been riding with me.”
  • “I don’t outline, I just write.”
Lincoln Child & Douglas Preston

Lincoln Child & Douglas Preston

Lincoln Child & Douglas Preston – How to Have a Great Collaboration 

  • “A writing partnership is like a marriage. Unfortunately, in our case, the sex is no good.” – Douglas Preston
  • “You need to determine the potential partner’s strengths and weaknesses to see if he or she would be a good fit for you.” – Lincoln Child
  • “Lincoln writes vicious murder scenes. Underneath that white jacket beats a black heart.” – Douglas Preston
  •  “The editing process is like putting a literary zamboni over the manuscript.” – Lincoln Child
  • “I’ll write a series of chapters from one character’s point of view, and Lincoln will write a series of chapters from another character’s point of view, and then we’ll merge them.” Douglas Preston
  • “Writing, by its very definition, is an egotistical act.” – Lincoln Child

ThrillerFest Is Almost Here!

ThrillerFestNext week I’m attending my first ThrillerFest, and it should be a blast. I’ll have the opportunity to network with and learn from some of the best writers in the business. I’m sure I’ll have many great photos, videos and stories to share. Stay tuned to my blog for full coverage of the event.

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