I have received a number of questions via comments and e-mail since posting a blog several weeks ago asking for interview questions, and because I’m a considerate, kind example of humanity, I thought I’d respond to the more interesting ones. Unlike my invented, humorous “interviews.” I (mostly) answer these sincerely. Most are writing process related, which doesn’t surprise me since most of my Twitter followers are writers. So, in no particular order, here they are.
Question: Why do you have such graphic torture scenes in Fatal Exchange, and yet in Geronimo Breach you have no graphic violence?
Me: I was trying a number of different things in both books. In Fatal, I wanted to craft a book that worked like a season of “24” – a series of short, percussive scenes with high impact and a racing plot, with two distinctly different story lines – that of the foreign government counterfeiting US banknotes and sending a hit team to silence the leaks, and that of the serial killer who is stalking the bike messengers. Part of my experiment was to see if graphic scenes could shock the reader’s system at desired beat points, compelling them to stay engaged. Another major experiment was to see if I could write a convincing female protag that worked for both sexes. Some love the graphic shock, some not so much. Mostly positive, though.
On Geronimo Breach, I wanted to do a different experiment – write the most offensive protagonist on the planet and see if I could make him engaging so readers root for him even though he’s a despicable sh#tgrub of a human. And I also wanted to see if I could sustain an element of suspense over the underlying conspiracy plot till the final two or three pages. For that I didn’t require violence – it’s a different approach to the thriller genre than Fatal, so I wrote what I needed to in order to successfully accomplish what I’d hoped to achieve. Both have gotten rave reviews, but Geronimo’s have been particularly good, so I think both approaches are valid depending upon what you want to achieve. My instinct is that future books won’t have much graphic sex of violence, as it’s proved unnecessary to moving the story along or making it more compelling.
Question: Have you sold a Gazillion books yet?
Me: As described in my book, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), I am on an exponential curve to sell a Gazillion shortly. An understanding of math and physics will tell you why I’m confident. Critical acclaim has been overwhelmingly generous, and sales are on track with expectations.
Question: How do you incorporate layering into your books? What is your reasoning for doing so?
Me: I try to make the books work on a number of levels. At the obvious level, and then at a deeper philosophical level, and finally at an experimental technique level, for authors. I do it using proprietary approaches only Goldman Sachs and I have access to. I do it because I bore easily, and I enjoy when I can reread a book and get an entirely different experience out of it the second or third time around. And also so I can take an intellectually superior tone with anyone foolish enough to cross me.
Question: What’s next for you? Are you going to serialize a character as John Lock advises? Write a heartfelt blog about someone topical?
Me: If I thought I could write a blog about someone newsworthy and insert myself into the discourse to broaden awareness of my work, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I don’t believe that will ever work again, presuming it ever did, claims notwithstanding. The reason is one of efficient market theory: once all facts are known, and a technique is broadly understood, it by definition loses its effectiveness. Unfortunately, while Locke’s book is filled with interesting advice and techniques, I have yet to see them work for anyone but him, thus I find it interesting as a post hoc reasoning piece and a historical analysis of why he thinks he hit when he did, but not particularly helpful as a moving-forward guide. Perhaps I’m an A-hole, and others are having miraculous success with his approach, but I have yet to see it. If you are aware of anyone, speak up. We would all love to know the secret sauce and see it validated via reproducibility. Because that’s the test of any hypothesis – can you repeat the experiment, in a vacuum, and achieve the same result? So far, not so much, as far as I’m aware.
As to serializing a character, I want to see how my next trilogy does. Zero Sum is a trio of Wall Street thrillers, which follow the trials and tribulations of Dr. Steven Cross as he battles a powerful financier adversary in a biotech pump and dump scheme. I don’t have any particular drive to serialize any character thus far, but I’m open to it. If I do so it will because I feel that character has more to say, or is appropriate for another story – not because it appears to be a favorable marketing strategy. Ludlum had a pretty good run of it without serializing until he did the Bourne trio, and Grisham and King and many others have done nicely without serializing, so in the end I think it’s a function of what you want to write – what interests you. If Zero Sum does well and acclaim is uniform, I’m thinking of using Dr. Cross as the protagonist in one of my next novels.
As far as other characters go, I love Al from Geronimo. He’s was one of my favorite characters to write, ever. But I’m not sure he has another adventure that requires telling. Tess, from Fatal Exchange, is another compelling character, in my own admittedly not-so-humble opinion, but I’m not sure she’s going to ever appear again.
I’m not that calculating in my process. Generally, I get an idea, generally a “What if X was true, and as a result Y happened” and then I scribble an outline. Sometimes it goes into a drawer, and I add to it over time, and sometimes I’m compelled to sit down then and there and write the bloody thing. I have no control over it. With Gazillions, it started out as an idea for a 1200 word blog, and manifested into a book. With Geronimo, it began with conceptualizing Al, and a burst of insight over a possible conspiracy that would be world-changing in significance. With Fatal, it was the idea of doing a dual plot book in a post-“24″-sensibility manner. I wish I had more control over it, but I don’t. I just get an idea, and sometimes it sucks and I kill it, and sometimes it has legs.
Question: How long does it take you to write a book? Fiction and non-fiction?
Me: Depends. Generally speaking, however, non-fiction is much faster than fiction. Gazillions was written from July 2 to the 7th. 12 hours a day writing it. Laughing aloud much of the time, to the alarm of my dogs. Fiction, depending upon length, for a first draft,takes me between 140 and 200 hours for an 80K to 110K word novel. Also 12 hour days; generally contiguous days with no distractions. I find it far easier to immerse myself in the fictional world and scenario and remain there until done. But I usually have an outline of the plot on fiction before I start, so that speeds the process as I have a rough roadmap of where I want to go before I start.
On Geronimo, and Fatal, I did a chapter by chapter summary, two to three sentences, of what’s going to happen and who’s going to do what to whom. That makes it fast to write once I sit down and start. On Zero Sum, I tried it with no outline or chapter summaries. It took longer, but not that much longer, so I’m unsure how I’ll write in the future. Probably with outlines and chapter summaries, as I think it makes for a more coherent, and more complex, plot. It’s easier to keep 3 to 5 story lines running simultaneously with that approach, and I think it enforces intellectual discipline for the writer. You have to really think through all the pieces before you start, which enables you to ask yourself questions like, “Is it a good idea for the reader to know X at this point, or does it work better if he discovers X far later, and then realizes X was important earlier in the narrative?”
Question: Do you use any organizational tools, like Scrivner?
Me: Nope. I use MS word, and index cards. The glamor of technology hasn’t really had any appeal for me, mainly because I can’t maintain attention to figure out how to make the SW work. So far so good.
Question: You Tweet a lot. How as social media changed your approach, if at all?
Me: I do tweet a lot, but it runs in waves. If I’m working on a book, the tweeting will drop off to nothing. If sitting around, bored, I’ll tweet a bunch. I try to keep it random, and interesting, and funny, and not just a bunch of “Buy my book” clogging crap. I hate that, as it smacks of desperation and flop sweat, and ignores the obvious – it ain’t working. Again, if there are authors who have found twitter to have increased their sales significantly, I’d love to hear about it. But I don’t see it as a big contributor in the long run. Same with Facebook. I have a page, but I rarely update it. It’s just a timesuck. Most of the social media stuff seems to be.
Having said that, I’ve made some great friends on Twitter and Facebook, so from that aspect it’s been valuable. But overall, I don’t think most writers buy other writers’ work, so tweeting to a bunch of followers who are mostly writers, in an effort to get them to buy your work, seems low impact to me. We writers are usually a self-involved bunch, focusing on our own projects, so the work of others is not a priority. Or again, maybe that’s just me. But if I get to one book a month of my fellow writers, I’m doing well. Next on my list is David Lender’s Bull Street, and then Steve’s The Jakarta Pandemic.
Well, that’s the lot of them. I did get a few that asked some personal questions, but I’d prefer to keep some parts of my life private, so those won’t be seeing the light of day. No offense to anyone who sent one. But some things are none of anyone’s business but mine. You’ll note I actually tried to answer everything sincerely, and without my usual mockery and derision. That’s probably a rare exception, so don’t get too used to it. If I haven’t answered something here that you are curious about, as always, e-mail me or leave a comment, and I’ll add it to the next round of these.
A status update. Well, first off, acclaimed Aussie novelist Kath McDicken has devoted a marvelous new blog to reviewing several noteworthy authors’ work, not the least of which is John Locke, and the complete works of Russell Blake. She’s a fabulously entertaining writer with a style all her own, and I think her blog is one of the best I’ve read. It can be viewed here.
Next, I was invited to write a guest blog on the ins and outs of being a book whore, or more specifically, on being a book pimp, at John Mierau’s blog. John’s loose topic idea was “Book Pimping,” and what resulted was my first guest blog at his site, titled, “The Art of Pimping.” John’s a talent in his own right, and I have no idea why he’d sully his reputation by allowing my ramblings on his site, but it’s too late for him now — the blog is live. You can check it out here.
And finally, lest it gets lost, a few days ago author Steve Konkoly wrote a glowing review of The Geronimo Breach, which can be viewed here.
I’m hard at work editing my new Wall Street financial thriller trilogy, Zero Sum, which will be available, er, shortly. Please take out a moment to check out the above, and if you’d be kind enough to tweet about this blog, I’d owe you big time.