If you're new to the tour, then let me quickly explain it so you can get a feel for the enormity of the set. It goes a little something like this: an author is given a set list that pertains to his or her personal writing process. The questions are addressed on said author's blog, at the end of which he or she passes the baton to another author to do the same on their blog. In the intro, the author makes mention of who it was that handed the tour off to them. In my case, Douglas Dorow shot me a request seeing if I'd be interested in following his act. Of course I would. And here I am (thanks, Doug!). By the way, if you haven't read Doug's debut novel, The Ninth District, you should. Even one of my characters is reading it! Anyway, on to my part of the show!
WHAT AM I WORKING ON?
This is one of those questions I hate answering at picnics and awkward run-ins with people I haven't seen in a while. It must be the only thing they can think of to ask (if they even know I'm an author). Not that I mind talking about my projects. Far from it! The thing I hate about the question is the trying to answer it, knowing the person asking doesn't give two tiny farts what my new book is about. By the time I've reduced my story to a "this movie" meets "this movie" with a twist of "this book" staring "this character" from "this show", the person is usually giving me the smile and nod treatment while not so discreetly looking for a way of escape - (envision "I don't care! I don't care!" as they throw themselves awkwardly out a three story window). But, oh! when one of those few, sweet people comes along, that person who considers themselves an actual "fan" of your work, someone who has actually read you... Wow. Now that is a fun conversation indeed. And it is to those "fans", however few and far between, that I compose this leg of the tour (with hopes, of course, that someone new might be tempted to sample one of my stories).
Right now, I'm halfway through the sequel to my novel Progeny (click the title to view the trailer). It's taking longer than I would like, but that's my life right now. Between reading books on Special Forces unarmed combat, the history of the Navy Seals, browsing weapons encyclopedias, and unfolding this giant tourist map of Bermuda every time my characters have to go somewhere, I also have to write the book in the midst of life. And unlike those authors I envy, my writing is not my main source of income. Which means I have to work. Ugh. And I also have three kids, the oldest of which just started kindergarten and the youngest who is starting to take her first steps (ie. diving face first onto the floor). So...life is chaos. And sometimes in the whirlwind I get to settle into Remnant: Progeny Book II. Aw heck. Why not? I'm halfway through as I said, so I guess I'll just go ahead and reveal the artwork right here and now. So surprise for all you Progeny fans that have been waiting for a taste of what is to come!
Okay, where was I? Oh, yes. What am I working on? So that's one thing. I was in the middle of a sci-fi conspiracy mystery novel when I decided I just had to get the second Progeny installment done. I'm looking forward to finishing the sci-fi story though, as it's an idea that I've been putting off for over ten years. And thanks to Elysium and The Island and movies such as these, people will think I stole the concept from them, when in fact...I did not (and the first published version of Progeny was in 2005 - entitled Noahic - so no one can accuse me of stealing that idea from Lost either!).
It's hard to talk about Remnant without giving anything away for those who haven't yet read Progeny. What I will say is that this book brings some of the peripheral characters from Progeny into the forefront, and we get a very up close and personal look into each of their own stories. I hope that those of you who who enjoyed the first book will appreciate the darker, even more supernatural turn the sequel takes.
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN THE SAME GENRE?
That's a tough one to answer so I guess I'll just be honest. It doesn't. At all. Just kidding. Hmm... It depends, because my stories tend to cross genres. I have the aforementioned Progeny series that sort of meshes action/adventure into supernatural horror thriller, but the thing that probably sets it apart the most is the magnitude of research that is presented between the pages. There are very few novels that I've read that contain so much information, but if the topic is something that interests me, then those are the novels I buy and keep on my shelf, planning to refer back to them if ever I should feel the need. I wrote Progeny in that way, hoping that the facts would fascinate people as much as the story. Many people loved it because they found the subject matter interesting, while those who didn't care about pre-history, megalithic mysteries, the mind-boggling Giza ground plan, and the fact that Antarctica was once mapped when free of ice, complained that they wanted more character development. The Solomon Key was written in a similar way, both books colossal in terms of what went into them. Frankly, it was exhausting doing the research. And while I loved every second of it, time doesn't exactly allow me that luxury anymore. So that would be the primary thing that sets those two books apart from others in the genre.
With two of my latest writings, The Demon Signet and Remnant, I've adopted a peculiar method. My first draft I'll write in the style of your usual action/adventure stories. But then, in the second pass, I'll make sure I'm reading a Stephen King novel. Why? Because I love the way Stephen King gets into his characters' heads, the kind of off-beat way he makes the most absurd situation seem terrifyingly real by making his people real. You may not believe the story, but you believe the characters. That's something I don't see very much of in the action/adventure genre. Usually, the story is all about the scene and the chase. But I like to try and apply a Stephen King-ish veneer to those scenes (with apologies to Stephen, of course). It's not that I'm trying to emulate King's writing or even his style, but writing while I read him helps expand the scope of my story, forcing me to remember the people in my book and not just what they're doing. So whereas my first pass will have the action scenes, etc, I find my second draft expanding the characters, their inner thoughts, trying to make them relatable and realistic to the reader. I like to think of the effect (or at least the one I'm going for) as a Hollywood action movie shot in an indie sort of style. Something over the top and loud but filmed in the gritty, up in your face camera work that gives it that added sense of realism. So I would say, at least with my most recent action stories, that is one cognizant difference that I'm going for. I must say, however, that while I've gotten reviews like, "Unlike anything I've ever read before!" - reviews praising what would be the difference between my writing and those in the same genre (at least in the reviewer's mind), I've also gotten reviews like, "Tries too hard to be like so and so and doesn't pull it off." I've never read the so and so they're referring to, so proves they don't know what they're talking about. What I'm guessing they're really trying to say, however, is, "this book is too different from all the other ones I read. He tries to be like them but isn't." So I guess some people are looking for something original and others would prefer all their genre authors to stay in a nice little box they can continue to understand.
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I WRITE?
Again, hard question to answer as it varies per story. The overall question would be, why do I write at all? The answer to that is simple. Because I have to. I can't help but to write. Writing is a way for me to make sense of my thoughts. In my head, concepts, scenes, characters, philosophies, scenarios...they're all tangled together in a big ball of twine (or like an extension cord, which was once explained to me by an electrician I used to work with as being one of life's axioms - no matter what you do, it will always end up twisted and tangled). Writing out my thoughts is how I find the loose end and unravel the whole mess, setting it out in an orderly, coherent fashion. As I said, I have to write, and while I've always liked to write, that need isn't what got me started. I remember writing stories on notebook paper when I was a kid, but my real passion was movies. I always wanted to direct a movie or be in a movie. Well, when I was 18, I found myself at a Bible college in California, not exactly on the road to Hollywood. I knew I'd never have hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a picture for the big screen, so I decided to write my own movie. And that turned into Noahic (please don't read that!) which ultimately turned into Progeny (read that instead!).
But the reason I wrote Noahic and the reason I wrote Progeny was very different. Whereas I wrote Noahic to take the place of those scenes in my head that I'd never see in the theater, I wrote Progeny because I needed to. And that's the difference between Progeny, The Solomon Key, and everything since. Those two books chose me. The subject matter so enthralled me and so consumed me, that I needed a way to flush it all out, to see it put down in a practical story setting.
So why do I write what I write? Depends which books you're talking about. Other than those two (or since those two), I write because I get an idea or a scene in my head that just builds a nest up there, continuing to grow until it's so annoying I have to do something about it - mainly move the creature out of my head and onto paper. There are a few nests going on in my head right now, and I have to force myself to be patient, knowing I will get to each of them in time.
And right now, I write for myself. I write what I think I would like to read. I know that can be exclusive, as certain subject matters that I deal with may not be for "everyone," but writing for a niche or a certain target audience wouldn't be enough to get me up at 5 in the morning (which usually proves futile anyway, since at least one of my kids seems capable of detecting the exact moment my feet hit the floor). Someday, when I have more time, I plan on writing a character series meant for a broader audience (because let's face it, not all thriller readers go for giants and fallen angels). But for now, I write what interests me and for those who share such interests.
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
Okay, this is where you have to realize that my "process" is not up to me at this point. You will read a lot of different authors who say to do this that and the other thing, and I totally agree with them. However, most of these authors have been blessed to write full time and don't have to spend two hours a day driving to and from work and then have three kids chasing them around the house screaming, "Carry me! Carry me! Carry me!" I mean, I can't even remember what year it was that I last slept straight through the night, so...forgive me, but my writing process at this point is what it is. I wish it wasn't, heaven knows I'd be done three more books by now, but hey, like I said, it's life (and for the record, I do love my kids...even more than sleep).
Instead of telling you how I manage to do things now, on planet Chaos, I'll tell you how I've done things in the past when I've had more time and solitude and then mix it with what I've learned since. First, I started out as a "seat of the pants" writer, or "make it up as you go." I stopped doing that for the most part because I hate rewriting, and I always had to spend more time rewriting those stories than I did writing them. It was too much work. And yet, I think the only story I truly outlined was A Man Overboard, and that was only because the story was complicated and I had to make sure it all made sense in the end. But even that was just going to be a short story about a guy that gets thrown off a cruise ship, stemming from what would be that terrible feeling of treading water in the middle of the ocean at night while watching the ship's lights fade in the distance. I had to get it out. And so that's what I started to do, and then the story kind of developed a life of its own. Once the life got too big, I had to sit back and outline it.
Now, for the most part, I have specific scenes in my head, and I write chapter to chapter until I get to those "bench mark" scenes. Sometimes I have no idea where the story will end up, I'm just trying to get to that scene. Once I'm there, I pick my head up and try to get my bearings, trying to spot another scene. Oh, there it is, and I put my head down and continue to go chapter to chapter until I get to that scene.
The best writing habit that I would endorse is to write every day, either for a certain amount of time or to hit a certain number of words. There was a time when I was out of work and I was able to do this. It's how I wrote The Demon Signet. I'd get up and go to Starbucks or the library and write for two or three hours or two or three thousands words every day. That way, the story remained fresh and I could spend my time writing forward rather than having to backtrack, trying to pick up my own trail again. Now when I write, sometimes there are days (even weeks) between when I get a chance to settle down with my laptop, and I spend half the time trying to remember what weapon so and so had, what he or she was wearing, etc. It's very annoying. Much better to keep your mind engaged with the story if possible.
I also used to write a chapter over and over until I thought it was close to perfect before moving on to the next. I hated starting a new chapter when I knew the last one wasn't finished. But that also hampers the progress of the story. So now I "plow" through. After my first pass, I'll go through it again, looking to apply those other coats of detail I mentioned before. Once my second is done, I'll print it out and go through it a third time with a pen. Then I'll make a kindle file and have my wife read it on the Kindle for me, making notes and highlighting. Once she's done that (and I make the one or two changes I agree with:) I send it off to the editor.
And that's my writing method.
Next up is Helen Hanson. Her techno-thrillers are Kindle best-sellers. The name of her site is "Geeky Thrillers for Nerds." CIA, mobsters, hackers... Not sold? You can sample the beginning of both our novels, A Man Overboard and 3 Lies in the free sampler, Mystery Thrills & Spills. And so the tour continues here. Hope you're having fun!