Why would I lie?

Occasionally I have an opportunity to be interviewed. These are either web sites or blogs about authors and writing. The structure of these interviews is usually a written Q and A. Some of the questions can be pretty lame but all and all these people work hard to make the interview interesting. This is not a give and take type interview so the exchange can be very static; but recently did one and thought it might be interesting.

Q. How did you come to see yourself as a writer, and what inspired you to seek publication?
A. From a very early age reading was a vital part of my life. I think many avid readers imagine themselves writing a book someday—and I was no exception. Family and career dominated my life for the majority of my working years so I never wrote that book. Towards the end of my career and as indie writers had more opportunities to get a book published, I decided to give it a try. It was not a complete disaster– but close. From that humbling experience I spent time learning a new craft, along with understanding the process of writing and publishing. Some years later I published my first book “The Bootlegger’s Legacy.” Currently I have written ten books and now self-identify as an author. You can’t change your past, but if there is one thing I would re-do, it would be the waiting so long to become a writer.

Q. Tell us something about your writing process that’s unusual or that you haven’t revealed before.
A. The unusual thing about my writing process is that it is not unusual. I write at a desk with a laptop and an extra-large monitor. Most of my writing happens in the morning. I’m an early riser and will have written for several hours by the time the household begins to stir. I may write some throughout the day but the heavy lifting is always in the early morning.

My original answer to this question included that I wrote while submerged in a vat of lime Jell-O; it was funny, to me, but sounded stupid–so I deleted it.

Q. Which of your characters would you most and least like to trade places with?
A. While he is probably my favorite character right now; he would also be the character I would least like to trade places with–Vincent Malone. A man so flawed he is almost toxic. From what was going to be a great life of privilege and honor; disaster occurred as everything fell apart due to his weaknesses. For the next few decades he punished himself because of his failings. I wanted the reader to sense that Malone was a good man who had lost all of his confidence and was merely looking for a way to die in peace. He was done, a broken man. He had paid the price for his tremendous shortcomings and now wanted to be left alone. That is how Santa Fe Mojo starts–he’s just about at the end. The story of how he finds his “mojo” in Santa Fe is uplifting, but I don’t think I would like to experience the lows of Malone’s life.

The character I would most like to trade places with is Joe Meadows from The Bootlegger’s Legacy. This may be odd in a way because Joe is probably the character most like me. It is not me, but we had many similarities. Through twists and turns that can only occur in a book Joe finds wealth and great happiness. Most everybody would want to be like Joe.

Q. Which of your characters would you most and least like to become romantically involved with?
A. One-word answer for most likely; Sally. A portion of The Bootlegger’s Legacy takes place in the past when a 1950s Oklahoma bootlegger and his mistress (Sally) plant the seed that is the “legacy” which drives the main story about the next generation. This is my favorite portion of any of my books, and Sally is one of the best characters I’ve written about.

Least likely would be Joe Louongo—I shudder at the thought. He is a secondary character in the Muckraker series. Louongo is a loud, foul-mouth attorney who has no ethics and maybe no redeeming qualities of any kind—but a great addition to those books. These less than admirable characters make writing so much fun.

Q. What advice, as relates to your writing career, would you give your younger self?
A. The best advice is to keep doing. I have had many different occupations and few have offered the satisfaction I have gained from writing. It would have been very easy for me to think that the chance to be a writer was something I had passed up; but that was not true. My advice to my younger self would have been to not give up on your dreams.

Q. What experience in your past or general aspect of your life has most affected your writing?
A. I had a long career in business which impacted my writing. Much of that time was as a financial adviser related to business acquisitions. While number crunching does not lead to very many novels, I have been fortunate to meet an amazing number of unique characters. That stored resource of all of those wonderful, awful, funny, sad, smart, stupid and unique people has been a fantastic treasure trove to populate the books. And it’s not just the characters. My next book Four Corners War is loosely based on actual happenings I experienced while working on a business transaction in New Mexico. My books have consistently been affected by what I actually saw and then enhanced by a few murders, millions in lost treasure, dogs, crazy sheriffs and heroic detectives.

Time to Write?

One of the recommendations I keep reading about on how to be a successful author is to write more books—one every three months is often suggested as a standard—why not one every week? In some ways it seems absurd to measure the success of a creative enterprise based on the time you spend creating. But, of course, what is being measured is more about marketing and the short cycle of attention that demands something new every day. Having a new book every three months would maximize marketing dollars and increase the author’s visibility so it must be good. Or is it?

I write quickly, when I’m writing, so producing a book every three months would be within my capability. But as an Indie author I spend about as much time dealing with other aspects of book writing as I do writing. The details of publishing and the time consumed by marketing will usually be about the same as writing. Of course someone else could do that—but I’m not in the position to hire someone for those other tasks. That probably means that two to three books a year is about my limit.

Usually I’m carrying around with me every day at least two, sometimes ten ideas for a book. They just sort of bubble around inside my head until one day I begin the story. Very little prep work –I just start. There are authors who will spend almost as much time preparing to write as they do writing—I really admire this approach and wish I could do it. Prepare a detailed outline, develop a story board for scenes, list all of the important characters, even write character descriptions—wow, this is so impressive. Authors also do extensive research on locations, the elements of law in a book, details about specific issues related to crime, the courts, jails, anything you can think of; it is amazing the details that will be in a book—even a book of fiction. This is not how I work—I wish I could. It just sounds so orderly and efficient.

I have said this before and it still sounds a little goofy, but it seems to me the characters write my books. I start the process and lay out the basics but often the story takes on a whole new approach as I’m writing. The characters by their actions will dictate how a story progresses. I didn’t plan it—it just happened.

The first book I wrote, The Bootlegger’s Legacy, was not going to be about a bootlegger (obviously that was not even the title of the book when I began) it was going to be about two normal guys, honest business-people who found themselves in financial trouble and decided to do a drug deal to save their businesses and their families. That idea came from something I had actually seen happen. From day one that kernel of an idea grew, changed, and then exploded into something entirely different. It was still two guys dealing with financial and family issues but it became a different story. A much better story I might add—with almost all of it made-up. The kernel of fact turned into something unknown to me until I started writing.

Some writers need the details planned in advance, for me that would be a serious mistake. I need to start an adventure and see where it leads. That first book taught me to write on the fly and see where it goes. But I still envy the writers who can plan and devise details in advance of writing—it just sounds so organized and mature.

That three-month cycle of writing books is a recent ideal, no doubt, based on something to do with Amazon algorithms. Authors are infamous for taking as long as it takes to write books. Many famous authors took what in Amazon terms would be a lifetime to write a book. Margaret Mitchell took ten years to write Gone with the Wind—and supposedly only began writing because she was bored and never intended it to be published. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit and was asked to write a follow up. Some seventeen years later he finished The Lord of the Rings. The manuscript was 9,250 pages which his publisher decided to break up into three books. Based on the Amazon driven standard of four books a year Tolkien would have written 68 books during that time not just three. Maybe the 68 books would have all been great; but somehow I think we’re better off with the three Tolkien actually wrote, no matter how long it took.

Since I’m not Tolkien or Mitchell I will stick with my goal of two to three books a year because it’s what I can do and it seems to work on Amazon—which I guess is a good thing?

PS. The 9,000 plus pages of Tolkien’s manuscript could easily have been 25 books rather than 3. Must have been a massive editing job. Wonder what was cut? I cannot imagine writing that many pages and then have it chopped down to maybe less than 20% of what I wrote. I think I would have been cursing the editor. From one write-on-the-fly guy to another –maybe Tolkien should have planned better.