Enter the PI and the Dancing Shoes

Here Robert Downs talks about how he writes his books on Casey Holden.

Graceful immortality by Robert Downs is reviewed here in: “Grace and Dancing: Murder and TV “on my Dec 21st 2014 blog post.

  1. Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?

I’m a big fan of hard-boiled mysteries, and I like to think of myself as the consummate underdog. I’ve never been the smartest kid, or the fastest, or the most athletic, even in my own neighborhood, but when it comes to persistence or perseverance, “giving up” is a phrase that’s never been in my vocabulary.

What I wanted was a character who wouldn’t give up, and who was more or less my alter-ego. Needless to say, I probably wrote him a little too well, because he pisses nearly everyone off, except me. And that’s because while Casey Holden may have his flaws, he has an inner-strength that’s pretty impressive.

Writing starts with character, and since I like to think of myself as unique, I tried to create a unique character. Near as I can tell, I’ve succeeded, because I haven’t read anything quite like him. That may mean he and I end up taking a few punches, but we’ve prepared ourselves well in advance for the possible consequences.

  1. How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a note book where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?

I’m going to turn to a favorite writer cliché, but it applies here and often elsewhere as well: Every story is different. Most of the time a story, or an idea, will germinate in my mind over a period of time (which often differs for each story). The seed grows, then it becomes an itch, and then I’m forced to write about it, as I try to make sense of it. I started the Casey Holden, Private Investigator series around 2004, and the first novel in the series was published in 2011. So, hopefully, that gives you some idea. But I like to think I’m a bit smarter about the writing process now, and I wrote plenty of other manuscripts during that period of time. One will come out later this year, and a few more I’m either shopping around now, or will be in the next year or so.

I use scraps of notebook paper, blank pieces of paper, my phone, and voice recorders. I never know when an idea will hit me, and I need to be ready to go at any time.

  1. How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?

I take John Grisham’s approach to research: I do as little as possible. I want to do enough to create a believable story, but I also hate breaking up the writing process to do research. But I also love to learn random tidbits of information, so I’m always reading and observing. I’m filled with all kinds of useless information, and I like to sprinkle these random bits around whenever the story warrants it.

I did very little research. I knew I needed an awesome car, but I had no idea which one I was going to use. I believe I was standing in a Barnes & Noble looking through some book on automobiles, and I saw the Dodge Viper SRT-10, and I said, “That’s Casey’s car.” There wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind. But as far as research on detectives and PIs, all I can say is I read a lot, and I watch plenty of TV.

  1. What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?

Other books. Those are my main resource, along with TV, Microsoft Word, the Internet, a good dictionary, a thesaurus, and my own imagination, of course. For the longest time, I never would have said I had an active imagination, but I guess it was there all along, and all it needed was the right spark.

  1. How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police when you say you want to write about them? Is there a good way to approach them in your experience?

I haven’t spoken to the police directly. I know nothing beats that firsthand knowledge, but there’s plenty I can find out on the Internet, and I have heard them speak at writer’s groups and whatnot. Again, I listen, file that knowledge away, and regurgitate it when the story warrants it.

  1. How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?

My stack of rejection letters is a mountain that keeps getting higher and higher. Did I mention I’m persistent? I’ve never actually calculated the exact figure, because it would depress me, but if I’m not pushing four figures yet, I’m probably not trying hard enough. It won’t be long before I’ve crossed that barrier if I haven’t already. I’ve been rejected for over a decade, and I plan to be rejected quite a bit more. Rejection doesn’t bother me. It feeds my underdog story. What I hate, though, is hearing nothing. I know how to deal with success, and I know how to deal with failure, but I haven’t yet figured out how to deal with hearing crickets.

  1. Did you need to self-publish on e-books before a publisher took you up?

No, I decided long ago that I didn’t want to go the self-publishing route, and despite that hard and fast rule, I nearly gave in and self-published. But I’m glad I didn’t…for me. I add the last part, because it was a personal decision on my part. I know plenty of people have had success going the self-publishing route, but I wanted validation, and I wanted a publisher’s support and backing, because I knew I didn’t know everything the first go round, and there’s plenty of stuff I’m still figuring out. But writing is a process, and so is the marketing of a novel, and I’m always learning something new.

  1. Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?

It really depends on the author, and the author’s situation. I don’t think you can say, “Yes, thou shalt go the self-publishing route; and you there, you shalt try your hand at traditional publishing.” The self-publishing approach has worked for some to build an audience, and the traditional approach has worked for others. But there are plenty of self-published writers that readers have never heard of, and there are plenty of traditional writers who have been cut loose by their publishers. There are no hard and fast rules. That can be scary, but it can also be freeing.

Whatever an author decides to do, he or she needs to go into it with realistic expectations in the marketing arena, and realize that it may be years or decades, if ever, before a writer is truly discovered by the reading public. If a writer does it for himself, and then the reader, and doesn’t expect to get rich anytime soon, then I don’t think he has anything to worry about. But if he thinks the wine, women, and song will flow freely, along with the royalty checks, odds are he’s going to be disappointed.

  1. Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?

Not exactly. There’s a term: starving artist. If most artists are starving, my dad said, “I’d be dead.” And he’s probably not too far from the truth. But lucky for me, I have a day job that I thoroughly enjoy, and so I write on nights and weekends, and the occasional morning when the opportunity and the muse present itself.

I’ve discovered days that begin with writing are better than days that don’t, but I also figured out pretty quickly that 4:30 or so comes pretty early in the morning, and I can’t do that all the time, and still keep my sanity.

If the sufficient income scenario ever does happen, that’d be awesome, but I won’t hold my breath.

  1. What was the funniest or strangest thing to happen when you were writing or on a book tour?

I don’t have any really good stories. I wish I did. I guess I save those for my writing. But I will say that if I can surprise myself during the writing process, which I have done on more than one occasion, I’d like to believe I can surprise the reader as well.

Website: http://www.RobertDowns.net

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/RobertDownsBooks
I find it very interesting that all the authors so far interviewed say two things:

1. It was very difficult to get published and it took many rejections before they were but  they never gave up; and

2. It is very difficult indeed to make a living as writer. good job i don’t need to be paid to write my blog – i have sufficient income from job and pension!

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