Do you base your characters on real people?
No. And I'm not just saying that because my attorney tells me to say it. Now, that said, will I steal physical descriptions from people I know? Yup. Will a close friend or two occasionally make a cameo appearance in a book? Sure. But I try to build characters from the inside out based on names, physical description, jobs and, well, you know... stuff that comes to me.
Where do you get your ideas?
Presumably from somewhere between my ears (versus somewhere between my toes, I suppose). Do people really wonder this? Where do YOU get your ideas? I always sort of liked writer Paul Guyot's response, that his muse was named Lloyd the Terse. I'm hoping my muse is Larry the Loquacious. All I have to do is read a book, listen to NPR, catch the nightly news, pick up the newspaper... or just sit down and say, "Okay, let's try to come up with an idea for a story." Now, a better question is: how do you get good ideas? The answer to that one is: sift through the garbage, baby, because there's plenty of garbage.
Do you give talks or do signings?
Yes. Find out more about my work as a speaker by downloading a PDF here. Find out about upcoming events by checking out the News section.
Who are your influences?
Presumably this question refers to literary influences, otherwise I have to say my parents, my brother, my sister, my wife, my children, my dog, every teacher I've ever had, every person I've every met, every book I've ever read...
In terms of literary influences, I got my inspiration to try writing from an essay by Stephen King called something like "The Making of a Brand Name." But the writers who most influence my writing style and the types of stories I like to write are Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, David Morrell, the late Ross Thomas, John Sandford, Dick Francis. I like what I guess you could call a propulsive type of writing--I want the plot to move right along, in other words. But the list of writing influences never really ends and it's best not to get me started unless there's a cold beverage in front of me. In which case I'd be glad to talk books for hours or until the bartender kicks us out. Randy Wayne White, Peter Lefcourt, J.A. Konrath, Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Paul Levine...
What's your writing process like?
Well, I don't outline, if that's the question. I typically have a title, a character and some sort of plot concept. It's often a sort of "high concept" if you will: terrorists get their hands on a genetically engineered super virus, for instance. I generally have some first scene that gets the book off to a good start. With any luck I have some conflicts I hope to see and some idea of the ending. Then I start writing. So my process is: write one word at a time, starting at the beginning and working on it regularly until I'm at the end.
In a more concrete way, I typically write about five pages per day (on a novel). I'm a fast writer. Once I finish a chapter I print it out. The next day or later in the day depending on what my writing schedule is like, I'll go to the manuscript with a colored felt pen. Something vibrant like red or blue, maybe green. I'll mark it up. Often I'll read it out loud. Then I make the changes in the computer, tinker with it a bit, print it out and save and move on. I do that all the way through until I'm done. Then if I have time, I let it sit for a few weeks or months. Usually I'm too anxious and want to work on it, but it's good to let a manuscript "age" a bit so you can see it with fresher eyes. Then I pick up the manuscript and I go to the living room couch and sprawl out and try to read it like I would a book I was reading for pleasure. Except I have a felt pen in hand to make general comments. And I read it like I would for fun, concentrating on flow and story. Then once I'm through with that, I'll start on rewrites, going over it chapter by chapter with my felt pens, marking up the manuscript, and changing it in the computer. When I get to the end, I re-read it again with an eye to typos, grammar, word repetition and minor discrepancies like a character having blue eyes in one chapter and brown eyes in another. Then it goes off to my agent who may or may not want changes, then to my various editors who may or may not want some changes.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Aside from "abandon hope all ye who enter here?" Well, I have tons of advice, and some of it's on my blog, but really it all comes down to persistence. You have to stick with it. Journalism is marginally easier to break into and infinitely easier to stay in than fiction, but fiction can be more satisfying from a creative viewpoint. The best advice I ever got concerning writing was "Learn to write well." That's a complicated thing, really, but there is a market of one type or another for decent writing.
Do you make a living writing?
Yes. I'm a fulltime freelance writer, editor and novelist. The proportions change frequently, but I've been writing fulltime since 2004 and loving every minute of it. In addition to the novels I write magazine and trade journal articles, book reviews, business reports and edit a technical/trade journal. Every day is different, which is wonderful.
Will you read my work in progress?
No. Maybe. Yes. I don't know. You can ask. It will depend greatly on time constraints. I've done a little bit of that, notably for the Mystery Writers of America mentor program, which I recommend. My advice here is to not count on it, although I make the occasional exception, particularly if it's structured through a mentoring program and I'm not swamped with work, which I have been lately. But like I said, you can ask.
How did you become a writer?
I have an odd background. In high school and earlier, I was very musical. I played saxophone and piano and taught both. Everyone thought I would major in music, but my brother did that and my parents objections were a significant influence in my not choosing the arts of some sort. I majored in Microbiology & Public Health, although I considered medical technology, technical writing (yeah, some irony there) and German before I finally just settled for micro, although I wasn't much of a student. Good in the lab, not so hot on the theory, and my grades reflected it.
Anyway, in the summer before my senior year at Michigan State, my girlfriend (now my wife) graduated and went home to get a job and my roommate (Hi Andy!) took an internship in Detroit, leaving me to live alone and work fulltime at a boring job at a veterinary laboratory mailroom. I took to haunting the bookstores and reading my brains out. I picked up a collection of essays about Stephen King, and there was an introduction by King called something like "The Making of a Brand Name." I was struck by many things in this, but one of them was that a writer was a person who writes things and sends them to magazines and they get published and you get paid. You don't necessarily go to school for it, you aren't born a writer, it's something you choose to do. So I did.
I first wrote a lengthy SF short story called "When Red Eyes Blue" about intergalactic war, and found I was hooked. Years later I started writing nonfiction and selling it and I kept plugging away at it until eventually I was making a living at it. It was a long process and it's definitely shorter for some people, but I think it was worth the trip.