Interview with Patrick Dent, Author of “Execution of Justice”

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

The Military Action Adventure genre is special to me for at least four reasons.

I received Advanced Infantry Training while stationed at Fort Benning. My experiences in the military provided the initial inspiration for “Execution of Justice”, a story driven by advanced military tactics.

My degree in Political Science helped me incorporate the geopolitical boiling pot of the early 1970s with a military action adventure plot.

My Master’s degree in chemistry provided a foundation for some of the more creative military tactics used in “Execution of Justice”.

I wanted to incorporate deep characterization and the exploration of some philosophical concepts into an action-driven story.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

One must have a familiarity and some level of experience with the subject matter to have that first spark of inspiration. Beyond that, painstaking research is critical. Often, getting the tiniest details right makes a huge difference to experienced readers of the genre.

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

Mustering the self-confidence to begin a novel was a huge obstacle for me. Once that hurdle was behind me, I couldn’t stop myself from typing. For me, the key was to get rough ideas down on paper on a daily basis until reaching the ending. Then rewrite and polish many, many times.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

It’s a combination of the two. I certainly sketch out an outline of the plot as early as possible in the process. Some days, I’ll have a specific scene in mind and write that. Other days, I’ll have plot points in mind and write that. Each process constantly informs and updates the other.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last?

I sometimes take weeks or months to contemplate elements of major story structure. Ideas float around my subconscious until I have that “Eureka!” moment. As far as the daily grind of churning out words, I rarely get hung up.

Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

I think writer’s block is often caused by feeling the first draft must be the finished product. Just get rough thoughts down on paper. They will later turn out to contain the nuggets you need to craft your story. When you don’t write, you’ll never know how many ideas were lost because they were imperfectly formed at the time.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

Tom Clancy is a master at bringing multiple parallel plotlines together to form a crescendo. Stephen King’s pacing is brilliant. He can keep the reader engaged for 600 pages while subtly setting the stage for the upcoming action. Michael Crichton communicates complex technical information to readers with no technical background. He does this with little to no exposition, but through dialogue. Pat Conroy may be the most eloquent writer of modern times.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

The book must create and sustain the curiosity of the reader. Of course, the curiosity must be completely satisfied at the end. I’m not a fan of unanswered questions.

Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?

“My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. I must have been about ten.

Do you read any of your own work?

Aside from the one hundred rewrites, I do not read my own work.

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

Nearly everything I write begins with a kernel of a real event. Then, I ask, “What if it had happened differently? What if the stakes were huge? What if the person with that experience was a hero or villain?”

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

My current project is a techno-thriller, “Mortal Coil”. It addresses the potential catastrophic consequences of genetic engineering and the hubris of Man.

Poets and writers in general, have a reputation of committing suicide; in your opinion, why is that the case?

I believe they feel things much more powerfully than the average person. This hyper-empathy is often linked to clinical depression.

Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy, how true is that?

There are perhaps a dozen or a few dozen people in America who make a living solely from writing. It is rarefied air.

From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?

This may be a trope based on Stephen King being an alcoholic writer who writes books about alcoholic writers. Alcoholism has a huge genetic component. Also, alcoholism causes seclusion. Seclusion does not cause alcoholism.

Is it true that authors write word-perfect first drafts?

The only author I’m aware of to make that claim is Stephen King, and I’m skeptical of it. Perhaps editors polish his work and he never sees it. I rewrite dozens of times, removing adjectives, fixing continuity errors, eliminating exposition, etc. I can’t imagine any other way to produce a quality product.

Have you ever taken any help from other writers?

Of course! I’m a member of many online collaborative groups. A fresh perspective on a small detail or phrasing is invaluable.

What advice would you like to give writers who are struggling with their first novels?

Just start typing. The first draft may seem like garbage, but it gets all your raw ideas down on paper. There is plenty of time to rewrite, polish and get advice from trusted sources after you reach “The End” for the first time. Don’t rush to market. When you think you’re done rewriting, put it down for a while, then rewrite again. Join online writer communities for advice and support. The authors in these groups genuinely want to help you.

Does it get frustrating if you are unable to recall an idea you had in your mind some time earlier?

Yes, which is why I advocate getting every thought down on paper every day, no matter how incomplete or unrefined.

Have you ever written a character based on the real you in some part?

Nearly every character contains a little piece of myself. That piece will be exaggerated and re-formed, but in knowing yourself, you know all people in a way.

Did you ever change sentences more than five times just because it didn’t hit the right notes?

Constantly.