Author Q & A
A: I love telling stories. I believe the desire to telland hearstories is what makes us human. Once upon a time, naturalists thought human beings were unique for all kinds of reasons. We were supposedly the only animals capable of emotion, speech, rational thought, the Macarenayou name it. As we've come to understand our world better, we've discovered our species is actually not that unusual. Dolphins, for example, can be trained to dance the Macarena. But it turns out there's one thing that separates us from the beasts: We are the only species capable of assembling our experiences into narrative form and relating them to other members of our tribe.
A: I'll steal a line from one of the all-time great Jersey Girls, Dorothy Parker: "I hate writing. I love having written."
How do you plot your novels?
: I know where my story beginswith a newspaper article about a crimeand I know my characters. But I have absolutely no idea how Carter is going to find the bad guy or how things are going to resolve themselves. I let the characters figure that out as the story moves forward. If you're one of those super-readers who has everything figured out by page 50? Congratulations. You're a lot smarter than I am. Because I can guarantee you when I was writing page 50, I didn't have a clue what was going to happen next.
What writers do you read? Who has inspired you?
: If I were stuck on a desert island with just one writer's work to entertain me for the rest of my days, I'd have to go with John D. MacDonald. His ability to create character and sense of place is on loan from the gods. Among contemporaries, my favorites are a pair of Jersey authors: Harlan Coben, who is not only a fabulous writer but an all-around good guy; and Mary Higgins Clark, who is now in her 80's but is still as good at building suspense as anyone in the business. They're also great role models for aspiring writers, because they paid their dues before they made it to the bestseller list. Harlan toiled in quasi-anonymity for years, banging out one great book after another until he finally got noticed. Mary raised five kids as a single mother but still found the energy to get up at 4 a.m. each day to write at the kitchen table before she went off to work.
What's your writing process?
: I drink a lot of diet soda. Otherwise, I will invoke the second forward in "On Writing
," Stephen King's memoir, which nicely explicates my thoughts on this matter. "This is a short book," he begins, "because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they donot why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less bullshit."
What advice do you give to young writers?
: The key to good writing is to do a lot of bad writing first. So find a place where you can get your bad writing out of the way: A school literary magazine, a writing group, a journal, whatever. I inflicted my bad writing on a variety of newspapers, writing literally thousands of articlesa lot of which (just ask my editors) were real stinkers. But eventually, you'll find your own voice. Writing is like a muscle. The harder you work it, the stronger it gets.
What advice would you give writers who are trying to get published?
: Untold numbers of articles/books/blogs have been written on this subject, and most of them make you think there's some magic secret to it. There's not. Just keep trying to become the best writer you can be and keep writing until you find someone to put it in print. Oh, and get an agent.
How long did it take you to get published?
: I started researching my first manuscript in 2000. It's a coming-of-age tale about a high school football star, set in early 1960's Youngstown, Ohio. I completed it in 2004, and it's still in a desk drawer somewhere, waiting to be discovered. In 2005, I started working on my second manuscript, a murder mystery told through the eyes of an investigative reporter named Carter Ross. I completed that one in 2006. It took my agent 18 months to sell it, then another 18 months to appear in print. So, from start to finish, it was a nine-year process.
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