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?
Originally, my book SLEEPING DOG would have had a much different title. I got the idea for the book from an article in the Los Angeles Times about racehorses being stolen in California and transported into Mexico where they would literally be run to death in small tracks there. The plot popped into my head: when a teenage boy’s beloved animal is horsenapped by a Mexican cartel, he and a grumpy, not-entirely-sober horse trainer would undergo a series of adventures searching for the horse. Alas, the book and especially the popular film BLACK STALLION appeared suddenly and it seemed the boy, the trainer and the horse story, while considerably different from mine, was not different enough. I put the concept aside for a while, but one morning a local television news show carried a feature about dogs that were being stolen locally to be used to train illegal fighting dogs. I thought I could have my young heroine, Serendipity Dalquist, discover her dog is missing. After getting the run-around from the police she decides to hire the human bloodhound, private eye Leo Bloodworth, to find the dog. He refuses. His sleazy office mate, takes the case and is murdered. And Serendipity’s and Leo’s adventures begin.
As for my approach, I decided to play with the first person narrative, letting Serendipity and Leo narrate their own chapters, not always agreeing on what really happened.
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 get an idea for a story (from news reports, a person I notice on the street, a comment someone makes, whatever). I don’t think too much of it at the time, but if it persists, I’ll spend a few minutes spinning it around and either wind up discarding it or noting it down in an “Ideas” file. Most of these remain in the file, but on rare occasions, two or more of the ideas seem to coalesce. And that will be my next book.
How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?
A friend says he believes research to be a writer’s tar baby: you can get so caught up in it, the book is never written. That won’t happen to me. I keep research at a minimum, either by writing about things I know very well, making stuff up, or by spending quality time with my good assistant Google.
SLEEPING DOG was a different situation. Written before Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page were even in their teens, it required a number of hours in neighbourhood libraries studying maps of California, current news about dogfights and dog thefts, the 1960s hippie movement, banking conventions, conversations with members of the Los Angeles Police Department, a working private detective, bankers, and visits to various locations in Southern and Northern California.
What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?
See answer to 3.
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?
The easy way to get cooperation from the police is to go through their public relations department. That’s true for business executives, too. But you have to be very careful in making your request sound as if your subject’s contribution will benefit the organization.
How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?
SLEEPING DOG was my first novel. On the first week it was submitted, it was turned down by one publisher and purchased almost immediately by another.
Did you need to self-publish on e-books before a publisher took you up?
No. All of my book originally have been brought out by publishers.
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?
Sorry, but I have no practical experience in self-publishing. If you want an uneducated opinion, I would recommend an aspiring novelist submit her or his work to a publisher first. The success of 50 SHADES and the handful of other examples of self-publishing best sellers strike me as rare as white alligators.
Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?
I’d say the income will probably not be sufficient enough. SLEEPING DOG was a fairly successful first novel that went into three printings and earned a very nice paperback advance, along with an advance for the next two novels. That, and the very quick option of film rights, meant I could cut back on journalism, which was my occupation at the time. But many of my writer friends have continued their day jobs. And that’s another plus for the writing profession: you don’t have to give up the day job.
What is the best piece of advice you were given that you could pass on to aspiring writers?
The advice is painfully simple: finish the book. Don’t keep polishing that first chapter until it shines. Don’t get four or five chapters down and set it aside to start “something more saleable.” Don’t talk yourself into turning your idea into a screenplay. Write the book, all 90,000 words. And then show what you’ve done to the most critical person you know – preferably someone with no empathy affect. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but if they trigger any doubts, pay attention to them.