- Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?
First of all, grammar, spelling, and punctuation are the DNA of writing. I think it is critical that a writer understand this intimately. However, like Darwinian Evolution, it is genetic mutations that produce new and robust species. By consistent efforts to improve one’s grasp of grammar, a writer can better know when to break the rules to enhance his writing.
- If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
This is a difficult question. Reading has always played such a big part of my life. The books that had an influence are numerous. To answer the question, I would say The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Now that I have taken on the challenge of writing a fictional novel and having an intimate familiarity with the difficulties of consistency and structure, Tolkien’s creating not just a fantastic story but an entire world complete with history, languages, peoples, and events is astounding. I aspire to such an accomplishment despite the daunting reality of the task.
- What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?
The world of crime and criminals offers an unlimited supply of stories and characters. Well-crafted thrillers lure readers in, pulls them into the story, and drives the adrenaline rush to the story’s climactic end.
As a retired police officer, I experienced the dark side of humanity up close and personal. The possibilities are endless.
- How important is research to you when writing a book?
Research comes right behind grammar. Every genre has a technical side. Science fiction, despite the speculative nature, requires a fundamental understanding of physics which comes from research. In crime novels, understanding the process of criminal investigations, legal proceedings, etc. then molding the authenticity into the creativity adds credibility to the author. By way of example, I once read a pre-publication manuscript where the main character (a criminal defense lawyer) slapped a witness in the middle of a trial. The witness then went on to confess to lying about the crime. Such nonsense detracts from what was otherwise a well-written and exciting The particular scene played a minor role in the novel, but the adverse effect was significant.
- When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?
Almost from the moment I began to read, I started writing my own stories. Some people write because they want to. Some write because they have something to say and want to share it. Some people, me being one of them, write because we have to. The stories roil and boil I my mind demanding to be released. Some people hear voices in their head and act on them. I write them down and put them in my readers’ heads.
- What inspires you to write?
The imagination and craft of other writers. Hemingway, Orson Scott Card, James Lee Burke, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, L. Frank Baum, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, and so many others take twenty-six letters, a few punctuation marks, and mold them through the magic of imagination into stories.
- How often do you write?
Every day. Minimum of two hours in the morning, sometimes more if the mood strikes me. My mind seems to churn the ideas all night, and I wake up with them bursting to flow to the screen. I try to organize my novel writing in stages; writing, editing, re-writing, editing. However, I often blend the two. Spelling errors, in particular, irritate me. I cannot avoid fixing them when I notice them.
- Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
I try to maintain a schedule and write every day in the morning, but I often jot down ideas whenever they appear. I have note apps on my phone, iPad, Kindle, and always have a pen on me. I find I am most creative in the morning and more inclined to produce workable writing. The editing and review process comes after I have exhausted whatever inspiration arrives in the night. I believe Stephen King refers to them in his book “On Writing” as the “men in the basement.” They are where those ideas arise.
- How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?
I am fortunate in that I rarely cannot write something. Some days are less productive than others, but I have become so accustomed to writing it is now an ingrained habit.
- Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
I write until I sense I am forcing the words, then I stop. Sometimes that may be after 10000 words sometimes after one or two pages.
- Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
Writing is a solo sport. While a finished novel is a collaboration with editors, beta readers, reviewers, and others, writing one is a solitary
Being a writer by its nature requires you to spend time alone with your work. This does not mean holed up in some room segregated from everyone. I often will sit in a coffee shop or pub and write. The background noise acts as a comfort measure against being lonely. As a bonus, I have often overheard snippets of conversations that I have used in my work. As the saying goes, “good writers borrow, great writers steal.”
- Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
I let the story steer the direction. Each of my novels started as a mental outline, then took on a life of their own as I began writing. As I have grown as a writer and become more familiar with the technical aspects of the plot, character development, and structure. I have adapted to a blend of creative flow and outlining. I find outlining helps you craft more complex stories without limiting creative exploration.
- What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
Self-doubt. I find as I am reading other works, the well-executed ones sometimes cause me to despair in my abilities. The poorly written ones make me wonder if others see my writing in the same light. However, despite this, I am compelled by my inner self to continue to work at it.
- What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?
Creating ideas for new stories or plotlines comes easy to me. I have a file in Evernote devoted to locations, characters, and plot ideas. At my last calculation, I need to live to 175 to work each idea into a book.
- Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
I read everything. If you want to write, you have to I have some favorite authors, Tolkien, James Lee Burke, to name just two, but I read all the time. I average two books a week but often read more. Before I retired, I would listen to audiobooks on my commute. It got to the point where it did not matter what books I chose; I needed to hear something while I was driving. I found quite a few excellent, and an even greater number of terrible, authors that way.
In a way, I was learning the difference between good and bad writing. Even for genres I do not care for, Stephen King’s novels being one example, I recognized the genius in his writing.
- Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
My ability to see structural errors or problems in my work. As I worked at my writing, I have learned to spot plot or character flaws that drag the story down. When I first started working on novel-length stories, I focused on the beginning, middle, and end, leaving out much of the necessary structure to a well-written story. I have become more sensitive to these issues and learned to weave them in as the main story flows from my initial idea to the finished work.
- Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?
I do both. I use a combination of editing software, self-proofing, and paid services.
- Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?
Stephen King wrote an excellent book called “On Writing” in which he recommends putting a finished book aside for several months and then revisiting it. I have become a big fan of such advice. Ofttimes in the final stages of writing, we are too close to the story to see the problems. Putting the book aside and working on something else pays enormous
- If you had the choice to rewrite any of your books, which one would it be and why?
My first novel, Collision Course, like a recording of your first recital all you hear are the mistakes. I have gone back and fixed the most glaring errors, and the book has received many good reviews, yet I would redo much of it. Although I have chosen to move on and learn from the experience
- Does a bad review affect your writing?
A bad review, if written to point out errors or criticism of the writing quality can be most helpful. Reviews written by people who like to make themselves feel important are useless.
I once had a reviewer complain about a scene in one of my novels where the protagonist (a police officer) writes a letter to his wife whom he thinks he lost to his dedication to the job. The reviewer complained that this “unbelievably poignant” letter being written by a mere police officer was not realistic. Thus, they rated the book three stars despite having loved the book. They apparently missed the part about the book author is a retired police officer.
I have learned to find the nuggets of usefulness in bad reviews and ignore the ones that are just empty complaints without basis.
- Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
Recognize that writing would always be an essential part of your life and work at it sooner.