- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Yes. Both. It exhausts me in the short term – I can’t really hammer out more than 2,500 words in a day, even if I have the time.
But it energizes me in the long term. Without writing, the world becomes kind of grey and flavorless. I guess writing is like sex that way – exhausting while you’re doing it, but not something you’d want to give up.
- What is your writing Kryptonite?
Oh, wow. Interior monologue. And lots of it. In my first novel, I had a full chapter of a character walking and doing an interior – and somewhat whiny – monologue about how put-on he was. Until my beloved beta readers berated me harshly. I rewrote that fully, and I can still hear them in the back of my brain when I slip into interior monologue again.
- Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I have. I wanted to reinvent myself and renaming is a great way to do that. When I started writing again after too long a break, I wanted to separate myself from who I’d become without writing.
I was talked out of it. And good thing. With my name, I bring a much bigger platform than with a new one.
(Though, really, everything I do is under a pseudonym anyway! Sh!)
- What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
From my close group of writer friends? Rob Bose – he’s a pulp, crime and fantasy writer (check out Fishing with the Devil) – he keeps me honest. Often, I can get a little tongue in cheek. Rob’s writing keeps me connected to that honesty that’s easy to lose touch with, especially when writing genre.
From Laurie Zottmann (and her imaginary raccoon friend – check out her blog, Dark Little Critter) I stay in touch with my first love – making people laugh. I truly believe the best way to effect real change is to wrap it in laughs and good feelings. I’ve learned more about who I am from dumb comedies than from however many dark, brooding indie flicks. Laurie keeps me remembering funny first.
And from Sarah L Johnson (a truly fine writer – check out the short story collection Suicide Stitch and the novel Infractus) – where do I start? There are so many ways Sarah makes me into a better writer. And into the writer I am now. First, she challenges just about every single instance of me being complacent. She recently read my manuscript for Kiss of the Cockroach Queen, and said something like, “Yeah, it’s good enough. I’d read it and probably get the next one. But you can make it great. You’ve got the chops.”
So now I guess I have to make it great.
When I’ve had the privilege of introducing Sarah at events, I like to misquote my favorite poet, Kenneth Koch, and say that, as a writer, you need to have someone around who’s better than you’ll ever be at some aspect of writing. That keeps you striving up an impossible hill. For me, that person is Sarah L. Johnson.
There are others – so many others! – that I can’t list here, but, if they’re reading this, I appreciate all of them, too. I’m very lucky to have found a strong, talented community of writers. And not even across town!
- Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Well, there are definitely connections, but not necessarily physical or world or character connections.
No matter what fictional world I’m writing in, or no matter what how-to thing I’m discussing, all my work tends to deal with the stories that we tell ourselves. The stories that define us as humans. That’s the connection between each book.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Engaging a publicist. Hands down. I love working with Creative Edge, my publicist agency. Wish I would have started earlier. If you’re serious about being a writer – if you’re ready to turn pro – I’d really recommend a publicist.
- What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
A few weeks before I turned 15, I found a brand-new, 3-cassette boxed set of Bob Dylan. I’d been listening to his greatest hits record from my father’s collection, and something compelled me to lay out the $50 or whatever – pretty much the only money I had – for this thing. I took it home and listened to every side that day, and something old and good at the center of who I was responded to the ability to use words in that way. Not for conscious thought, not for getting a point across or explain something, but to slip around the brain into the amygdala or whatever and change the way I looked at myself.
I started writing songs that year. I’ve been writing in some way or other since, though only really turned pro a little while ago.
- What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I don’t know about under-appreciated – Harold Bloom puts it on his Western canon list – but no other writer I’ve talked to has read it. John Crowley’s Little, Big. The idea of it is that it gets bigger the farther in you go. If I were a better writer, I’d be able to explain exactly how Crowley does this. But, no.
- As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Ha! I’ve never thought about that. I want to say something cool like a dragon. But probably not. I should be so lucky. Maybe a lemur? Yeah, my spirit animal when it comes to writing is a lemur. Me and my writing style tend to leap around, be playful. It’s a good thing I have a keen-eyed, Taurus editor (who’s also my wife – sorry, ladies).
- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Right now? I’ve got a couple scheduled to come out in the next year. I’ve also got the novel that brought me back into writing – but I’m waiting until I’m a better writer to finish that.
I also have a little piece of fluff about a World War II superhero that no will ever see. Ever.
And then I have a drawerful of ideas. The best books are always the one I haven’t written yet.
- What does literary success look like to you?
Oh, you know, much like anybody – yachts, bathing beauties, bottles of Cristal in the VIP room. What? No? Not everyone became a writer for the fabulous wealth?
Seriously, though. Literary success? I’d like to supplement my income, and, through the non-fiction writing I do, spin that into a day job with talks, special projects and consulting. That’s success to me.
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Oh, wow. The stuff I could tell you. Wikipedia and I are living in sin. I tend to need facts as I’m feverishly typing out an idea, so I research on the fly. I’ve learned more things about cockroaches than I care to know. That’s for the next novel. I also know what the three different types of erections are (yep, 3). That’s for the novel after that. I’ve had really odd looks from my wife in conversation. I have to explain I know these things from book research. Not from my checkered past.
- How many hours a day/week do you write?
I spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day writing, first thing in the morning, before I get muddled with the day-to-day. That often spins into an hour if things are going well.
Of course, I write a lot more come deadline times, and there always seem to be deadline times!
- How do you select the names of your characters?
I’m not sure I’ve thought about it much. I usually start off with a pun, then realize I don’t even find it that clever, so just go with what sounds right. It’s all about the overtones and connotations. Naming Wood Sweeney, the protagonist in Stones in My Passway, took on the natural sense of wood, and the demon barber or T.S. Eliot flavor of Sweeney.
And with King Wong, the world’s only exoterric consultant who deals with Otherkind case in Hong Kong in Kiss of the Cockroach Queen, “Wong” is a Chinese surname that means “king,” so it’s a play on that.
- What was your hardest scene to write?
Sex that isn’t funny I find it hard to write. I find sex essentially comical (except when I’m doing it … well, most of the time, at least.)
The vast majority of sex scenes in Dispatches from an Accidental Sex Tourist are funny. But there was a point in the story where I needed to write a sex scene that was tender, unfunny and at least a bit erotic. I’ll let you know how well that worked when I get the manuscript back from beta readers.
- Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
It’s probably just impatience that makes me write in different genres. I want to do it all, man! Limiting myself feels, well … limiting. I should probably stick to one thing and do it really well, but I’m not one to listen to should. I once met a dragon that had the words you should etched onto every scale. I didn’t care for him.
Balancing is hard. I try to be writing in two different genres at the same time, but that isn’t always an option with the schedule I’ve put on myself. I guess I compartmentalize. And maybe have multiple personalities – that helps!
- What inspires you?
Oh, I really wish I could say something like walking in nature or meditating at dawn on the deck, but the honest answer is I don’t know. The ideas come. Sometimes. When they do, I write them down. When they don’t, I write something down. Then the ideas usually come after that, and I write those ones down.
Not very helpful, I know. But that’s how it is. I don’t want to crack open the process too much for fear of breaking of it!
18. What projects are you working on at the present?
Right now, I’m working on co-writing the soulful sex comedy Dispatches from an Accidental Sex Tourist. Also, come next fall, there will be the sequel to Stones in My Passway – called Devil Got My Woman. That’s a multi-perspective look at the fallout of a devil’s deal – with some laughs and even scarier hellhounds. And more to come!
19. What do your plans for future projects include?
There’s an idea that I’ve … what? Struggled with? Flirted with? Anyway, this idea had been haunting me for years. A couple years ago while traveling, I was having a glass of wine in the Library Room bar (fitting!) of the Royal York hotel in Toronto, and the idea showed itself to me in all its glory. I started writing that, but I want to wait until I’m a better writer until I finish. The idea deserves that. (I still go back to that bar every time I’m in Toronto as a kind of pilgrimage to thank the idea for being there).
20. Share a link to your author website.