You seem to know a lot of information about many different subjects. Do you do a lot of research that you incorporate into your books?
When I’m using hard statistical data, like the speed of an airplane, or the number of weapons a country maintains, then, yes I do research that information. However, a lot of the information I use I make up. I fictionalize things based on what I’ve heard about or saw in a movie.
Which authors influenced you?
When I was in high school, I read a lot of Stephen King. Although he had great horror books, like The Shining, Carrie, Firestarter, Cujo, the list could go on and on, he also wrote a lot of non-supernatural books or short stories. Two of my favorite Stephen King stories that were made into movies were Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me.
After I started working for State Farm, at the recommendation of a co-worker, I started reading Tom Clancy. I was hooked and read all of his early stuff; Patriot Games, Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger. It was great to see all of those books become movies. My favorite book by Clancy was Red Storm Rising. I’d always wished that a movie was made of that book.
The one author that I have read all of his fiction books is John Grisham. My sister told me that I have a lot in common with Grisham in terms of my age when I started pursuing a writing career combined with our occupations. Although Grisham was an attorney and later a politician, I was an insurance claims adjuster and later Casualty Superintendent. It seemed I was always up to my neck with lawsuits and strange claim scenarios.
My favorite Grisham books are The Client and The King of Torts. Although I read all types of genres and authors, the ones that had the biggest influence on my writing style are Stephen King, Tom Clancy and John Grisham.
What is your style? Do you have a common thread to your writing style?
I do. I like to take a tidbit of truth similar to historical fiction. I keep my eye out for some unusual piece of information that is factually accurate yet unknown to the general public. Like the existence of invasion tunnels dug by the DPRK, for example. Using that piece of fact, I try to weave a thrilling story surrounded by interesting and engaging characters to not only entertain the reader, but also, in some way, inform them about something important that deserves a closer examination.
In my book Tunnels, I wanted to explain the reality and tragic back story explaining why Korea was divided after World War II. Or in my book Rule One Twenty, I felt compelled to share the concept that challenges the reader to contemplate the amount of control our government agencies have when it comes to providing security for our country.
How do you take on the monumental task of writing a novel?
The first thing I do is create an outline. I will start out with a very general idea. Then, I write a paragraph about the main idea, and then add key points, conflicts and obstacles as well as a conclusion to the dilemma.
After I create this general outline of about four or five paragraphs, I put it away giving me time to think about it. Throughout the next few days, I mentally revisit the project and consider “how” I want to tell the story; from which character’s point of view. I think about different potential character types that would help drive the story. After some mental gymnastics, I return to the prior outline and begin to create characters to tell the story.
As I create each character, I start bullet-pointing their background, strengths, weaknesses as well as any particular achievements or goals that each character needs to attain or overcome to further the story. After I develop each character, I again, table the project a few days while I do more mental gymnastics.
Finally, as I’m about to start the real writing process, I create another much more detailed working outline. This outline will run from the beginning to the end almost being broken down into chapters. This outline will still be flexible so I can add a sub-plot here, or create another character to help me achieve some objective there. I massage this document for the next few days until it is relatively tight. From there, once I have a clear image of where I’m starting and where I want to go, I start to write.
Wow, that’s very detailed. Do you type your manuscript or go about it old school and hand write it?
My first novel, I typed the entire thing. Big mistake. I assumed because I’m a very fast typist, I would be saving time. Although this approach works with my non-creative writing stuff (work related reports), for me typing is all wrong from a “creative” point of view.
Why? What’s the difference?
When I type, it’s like my analytical brain is turned on and fully engaged. The rules of punctuation, sentence structure, spelling,…all that stuff gets in the way. Immediately after I completed a paragraph, I found myself editing that paragraph to perfection before continuing. I would edit that same paragraph three or more times before I’d move one. But with so much critical thinking and editing going on, my creative brain could never get revved up. The creative mind would get tired of waiting for the editor-mind to catchup. Eventually, the editor-mind killed the creativity.
So you literally handwrite your books?
Yes, I do. It sounds like a lot of effort. But for me, it’s much faster that way. When I handwrite the manuscript, I refuse to worry about spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and grammar. I let my creative mind just go non-stop, unrestricted. It’s awesome.
It’s better that way? How much time did you actually save?
Granted, my first book took forever. At the time I started Rule One Twenty, I didn’t have any clear vision of pursuing a career as a writer. I was just intellectually curious if I could do it. Write a book. It started out more as a project of notes and ideas. I had no self-imposed deadline, no estimated completion date, none of that. I just plodded along, literally paragraph immediately followed by painfully edited paragraph with no real flow. Rule One Twenty took me about two years to write.
On the other hand, when I started writing my second book Michaso, I was treating it very seriously. Experimenting with this book, I hand-wrote the entire thing. It took me six months, from start to finish. The entire process. My next book Tunnels, had double the word count and took about eight months to write. However, after receiving feedback on my prior two books during a writing competition, I took a lot of extra time during the edit phase. Still, from start to finish, it took about a year.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Decide what your goal is early on. If you only want to self-publish one book to prove to yourself that you can do it, then enjoy the process and savor each part of the process. Take your time. Don’t stress about all of the other stuff.
However, if you want to become a professional full-time novelist, I would urge you to treat your hobby like a real job. Commit to a specific schedule and treat that time as an inflexible time to write. Also, don’t place unrealistic expectations about being a one book wonder. It happens and every author, regardless of what they say, dream of that happening to them. Typically, that does not happen. Before a writer is discovered, it will take several books.
My suggestion to any person aspiring to become a full-time writer with a goal of earning enough money selling books to support themselves, to keep their head down and write. Plan on writing for the next ten years. Set goals to produce “quality” books and pursue real constructive feedback from unbiased professionals. Friends’ and family members’ opinions matter and are great for your ego. However, most are afraid to hurt your feelings and will not be in a position to give you critical feedback. They don’t want to discourage you. As such, you’ll need to extend your readership to include unaffiliated professionals to provide honest criticism and feedback.
Finally, hire professionals. Spend money on a quality copy editor, a computer facilitator to upload your files, a web-designer, a printer/advertising assistant to create your marketing materials. Writing a novel is difficult enough without trying to do everything on your own. Somethings you can do. But for those writers that literally do it all themselves, frankly, it shows. The final product reflects their isolation and lack of a thorough review and edit by professionals.
I see you’re a self-published author. What are your goals? Are you earning enough to write full-time yet?
Not yet. I still have a full-time day job that pays the bills. But I have a sincere belief that in the very near future, I’ll be able to make the transition. I’ve already outlined an additional eight books, which will give me a total of eleven books. Based on my prior efforts and time schedule and publishing process, I have set a goal to publish all eleven books on or about 2021. By then, I’ll be almost 57 years old. With a little luck having my work read by the right set of eyes, I should be able to make the transition. At present, I am financially breaking even. From what I have read, that is a milestone. I published my first book on September 5, 2015.
What is your writing schedule?
After I have a completed detailed outline, and have completed the marketing things needed to launch my latest book, I’ll commit to writing the next book. To stay focused and on track, I’ll go to the library after my day job, from 5:30pm to 8:00pm Monday through Thursday. On the next book, Sentinel Event, I’m actually tracking the true number of hours it will take to write the book. I’m curious what the real number is. Using my prior two books as a benchmark, I’m able to complete about five thousand typed and edited words a week.
I look forward to the day I can dedicate my efforts full-time. It will be a much easier process to complete the books without having to share most of my time doing my day job. For now, there is no choice as I need to pay the bills. At present, my time is very limited. Most of my time is accounted for.
What prepared you the most to be a writer?
My job as an insurance claims adjustor as well as becoming a Claim Superintendent. For ten years, my job required me to investigate a variety of situations. From thefts, fires, tornados, floods, freeze damages, and injury claims, such as animal bites and mauling’s, shootings, even rapes, sexual harassment, accidental deaths and murders.
On bigger complicated cases, I completed detailed and lengthy reports documenting the circumstances surrounding the accident or occurrence. After my promotion, I averaged around three long detailed reports per week. For many years, I felt like my job required me to be an investigator and corporate writer. Without a doubt, these two jobs prepared me for a career as a writer. It demanded that I complete these reports in a timely manner. I had no opportunity to experience writer’s block. If I could not handle the demands of the job, and stayed on top of deadlines and submission of these long detailed reports, I would have lost my job. They would have searched for someone who could do it. Those two jobs were fabulous. I loved every minute of it.
Also, I love to watch movies. Since my son was very young, I would take him to the movie theatre at least twice a week. We rarely missed a week. I also collect DVD’s and own the last fifty years of Academy Award winning movie of the year, as well as thousands of other titles. Being an avid moviegoer, I tend to write my stories as if I am describing a movie scene. I try to use vivid imagery and descriptions to tell the story. After reading my books, many readers have told me that they felt like they had just watched a movie.