|Simon & Schuster (2005)|
I spent about twenty-five years as a journalist, working first at a small newspaper in Missouri for a year and a half, then at The Miami Herald, and finally at the St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press. For most of that time I was reporting, although I spent about three years working in various editing jobs in Miami. The editing experience was valuable, not only because I learned editing techniques, but because I also definitively learned that I was a natural reporter and writer, and not a natural editor. For example, I have little emotional response to the question of adverbs, although I have learned not to use them.
|Pocket Books (2005)|
I'm a fan as well as a writer, and I know what I like in a genre novel. Explaining what that is, what I like, is harder. I like the sense that the author won't let me down; that I won't say, "Aw, that could never happen." (I know that I've written lots of scenes that cops might read and say, "That's pretty unlikely..." but not that they'd say couldn't happen...) I enjoy tightly plotted novels with solid, likable characters; I like a little romance, I like a really BAD bad guy -- but maybe a bad guy who's aware of his own problems -- and I like a big bang at the end, rather than a whimper. Do you have the whole plot in your head before you start writing, or does it develop as you write?
When I start writing, I usually have the plot idea in place, but I don't know exactly how it will develop. One thing that fans don't usually think about, but that experienced writers know, is that a writer really doesn't have to see the entire plot ahead of time. This is a project, a book, that will take months to complete. You write five chapters, then you go back and change the five chapters. You write another five chapters, and then you go back and change all ten. You write new characters, you delete old characters, you think up new plot lines and discard those that don't seem to work; life gets a little stale, and you pipe up the bad guy to shoot somebody. What seems like a single piece to a reader is actually a carefully constructed, and massively manipulated, piece of text. A book may be 100,000 words long, but it's written 750 words at a time, over six or eight months. Unlike the case with journalism, with a book you actually have time to think. Which of your novels has been the most enjoyable to write? What aspect of writing gives you the most satisfaction?
I don't really have personal favourites among my books, but the two about the Clara Rinker character, Certain Prey and Mortal Prey, seemed almost to write themselves. Sometimes books are nothing but nine miles of struggle. With the Rinker novels, I could write a thousand words a day and go home knowing I'd done some fairly good work. There's something about a really good character that you create, and who becomes so real that you can almost see her, that brings an intense satisfaction. That's one of the most satisfying things about writing: to create new friends, who exist out there like an old pal that you just haven't seen recently. That's how I feel about Lucas Davenport -- that I might bump into him at the grocery store, and have a nice chat.
One of the hardest problems of doing a long-running series is to keep it fresh, and I'm not sure that I've always succeeded. The thing that works best is to come up with a compelling story, to better show your heroes in action. If the story is lacklustre, no amount of fine characterization will bail your butt out of trouble. At least not mine; maybe Jane Austin could do it. At the core of my stories you will usually find a single thought, or a situation that perhaps I experienced as a reporter, or read about in a newspaper. For example, I'm a deer hunter -- and it occurred to me, one year while I was hunting, how easy it would be to shoot somebody out in the deep north woods, and have the shooting viewed as just another accident. After all, there are several hunting accidents every year in the big hunting states of the northern plains. Also, in the more rural areas, there is often little effective investigation. So I took that thought, dreamt up on a hunting stand, and embroidered it...and pretty soon, it's looking like a novel. And because I've experienced hunting, the environment, the weapons involved, etc., I can write a solid scene that has at least the pose of reality. What do you read for pleasure? What do you do to relax?
Sometimes I think the need to find new stories keeps me reading. I read several hours, sometimes many hours, every week. I read both fiction and non-fiction -- I read archaeology and art history especially, in non-fiction, and two newspapers every day. I also read online. I read many of my contemporary genre writers: Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Robert Parker, Carl Hiaasen, Bernard Cornwell, Randy Wayne White, Chuck Logan, Theresa Monsour, Jim Born, and so on. I also talk to a lot of people; I'm an avid golfer and fisherman, and a photographer, and the involvement in the technical aspects of those pursuits feed into the novels -- how to run an outboard motor, golf jokes, characters who are fashion photographers...
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