Actually the most frequently asked question when people learn I’m an author is “Have you been published?” Which leads me to believe they haven’t read my books. The inevitable follow up is if any of my books have been made into movies. That tells me they’ll never read any of them. Here are a few more I get asked most often.
How did you get published?
I wish I had a long tale of struggle and rejection and how I never gave up hope and eventually managed to get my book in print, but the truth is I got lucky. A friend of my uncle is a book and magazine distributor. I gave him a manuscript copy of Vulcan’s Forge in the hopes that if he liked it he could pass it up the publishing food chain. He loved it and it turned out an old buddy, Bob Diforio, had been the publisher at New American Library for years and was just starting his own literary agency. He sent the manuscript to Bob and about a month later I learned Bob absolutely hated it. He was actually surprised that his friend would recommend such a piece of garbage. So I asked my uncle’s friend to find out what was so bad about it, so that if I ever tried to write another book I’d know what not to do. They talked about the book for a while and it became clear Bob hadn’t read my manuscript but another that had come in at the same time. He promised to read mine right away. Two weeks later he called wanting to represent me, and a short time after that, Tor/Forge books bought the novel. Bob and I still chuckle about whatever happened to the mystery manuscript. I now tease him it was probably Dan Brown’s first manuscript.
What is your typical working day like?
Because of my wife’s job, we’re typically awake by five thirty and she’s out the door by seven. That gets me to my desk early, leaving me plenty of time to play solitaire and free cell, a habit that probably eats an hour a day and makes me wish for a few minutes alone with Bill Gates for putting those damned games on Windows. I typically work until four in the afternoon, but the amount I write varies from day to day and depends on what part of the book I’m working on. The first hundred pages takes me months while I can finish the last hundred in a couple of weeks. I usually complete a rough draft in nine months and take another month to edit it myself before I give it to my agent and editor.
Is Harry White based on anyone you know?
Actually he’s a composite of several people I know, most of whom would kill me if they knew I’d turned them into an eighty-year-old rummy with one leg. One of them, however, was a sixty-year-old boozer named Georgie who lived in the boiler room of one of my father’s commercial buildings. He was a happy-go-lucky town drunk a bit like Otis on theAndy Griffith Show and when he died Burlington’s mayor said the eulogy at one of the biggest funerals this town had ever seen.
Where do your ideas come from?
I address this question in the Stories behind the Stories section of the site, but I want to add that I think most of it comes from having a pretty good memory. Generally when I read something it will stick with me. A case in point is the 1943 eruption of a volcano in Paricutin, Mexico I reference in Vulcan’s Forge. I learned about this peculiar, fast-growing volcano during my fourth grade social studies class and never forgot it. I believe recalling that story is what sparked the whole idea for the novel.
How much research do you do for your books?
The short answer is tons. Readers these days are savvy. They know when you get something wrong and once you lose credibility on the small details of a book, they won’t buy some of the more, shall I say, fictionalized aspects of the novel. An example is when you’re reading a book and the hero pulls a revolver with a silencer. Of course revolvers, by design, can’t be suppressed by a silencer so it’s clear the author doesn’t know weapons and you have to ask yourself what else don’t they know? What else is wrong here? It is a small point, but very distracting. So when I set out to write a story, I strive to get every detail correct. For Charon’s Landing, I spent a week reading two books and several articles about the sport of falconry for the sake of a short scene in which Khalid Khuddari hunts with his favorite falcon, Sahara. And when I write about a locale, I make sure I’ve been there, or learned enough about it and keep my descriptions vague enough, so someone who knows the regions won’t find some glaring blunder, like getting the address of a landmark wrong. That doesn’t mean I don’t screw up, and when someone points out a mistake, it’s a heel of an embarrassment.
Do you read much?
There are two schools of thought among authors about reading other people’s books. Some writers don’t read anything at all for fear of polluting their own work. Me? I read all the time, usually a book or two per week. I started writing because I loved reading and it makes no sense to give it up just because I’m getting my own books published. I’ll answer the obvious follow up by saying that other than research material, I read thrillers almost exclusively and you all know the names: Cussler, Smith (Wilbur and Martin Cruz), Ludlum, Follett, Forsythe, DeMille, Iles, Preston and Child, Morrell, Rollins, Flynn.
How can I get published?
This is always a tough one to answer. Like I said at the beginning of this section, I kind of fell into getting my first book published so I’m not really the one to ask for practical advice. What I can say is that you MUST have something completed when you start sending those query letters to agents. I think there are a lot of people who would love to be authors without the slightest idea how much work is required. Discipline is the key. If you want to be a writer, than write, don’t just talk about it. And only when you are satisfied with your work should you try to share it with the professionals.