When will your next book be published?
What's the last story you wrote?
"The Fourth Link on the Back Nine"
"The Fourth Link on the Back Nine" is a golf story about three men who head out to play eighteen holes, but they don't make it all the way to the nineteenth hole (the bar), well, at least not all of them do...If you find golf frustrating, maybe a golf course is the perfect place for a murder. Just murder your clubs, not each other!
Of your own characters, who is your favorite?
Paul Morphy or William Marwood
I know, I gave two answers. It's hard for Paul Morphy not to be my favorite: he was the inspiration behind a lot of my writing, and my first full-length novel, The Knight of New Orleans, The Pride and Sorrow of Paul Morphy. I liked his shy, yet knowing character so much, I had to include his name in the title. William Marwood, the hangman from The Murderess and the Hangman is a close second: his insistence on perfecting the hanging technique being overtaken by his interest in the female killer makes him a curiously conflicted study, and one that enjoyed pursuing on the twists and turns of his pursuit...all the way to the scaffold. Fortunately, his son was able to take over his occupation, or what would the nineteenth century be without the continuing tradition of hangmen?
Do you know how your books will end?
I try to
When I embark on a story, I do try and write a few lines about where the story will end up. I'd say about 75% of the time, this turns out to be the ending. The other 25%, something happens along the way that proves far more interesting. I have to follow this new lead. Why wouldn't I? Otherwise they'd be no fun in the ending for me either. My recent story "The Last Page of Friendship" I wrote without any conception of the ending: the idea of two middle-aged women embarking on a literary rivalry was enough to get me started, but I had no idea about how their relationship would develop (well, deteriorate) until I was mid-story. The best ending often end up as an amalgam of my planned ending and where the story has led me: the story is in charge.
How long does it take you to write a book?
About six months
To fully realize a book takes about a year. As a friend of mine says, if you can get your work done between 9 and 5, you're not working hard enough. That's a philosophy I enjoy, though I don't always stick to it. Woody Allen preaches the same idea: he has to play clarinet every Monday night (even missing the Oscars for Annie Hall to play), often heading home early to watch basketball. He still makes a movie a year. For a full-length book, it can be summarizes as taking six months to actually write, but three months to edit, and three months to see through the publishing process. If you can get started on your next project for the annual calendar, you're lucky, and that would be a great way to work. The writing process could then by cyclical, along with the weather, and ideally would become more instinctive...
What's your writing schedule?
In two-hour bursts
I write in two-hour bursts. I find this is the maximum amount of time I can concentrate, and I think of writing as generating a kind of 'white heat' where you forget yourself in the creation on the page. I was surprised to discover that Jeffrey Archer uses this same technique, as explained on his website. I generally set an alarm clock and place it on the other side of the room, and turn it away from me. Usually, I can write for about ninety minutes and then I get restless, sometimes going back over the writing and fixing details just to get through that last thirty minutes!
Where do you get your ideas from?
People, the news, and history
Mostly I get my ideas from the news: the stories already in existence, whether they happened today or hundreds of years ago. Right now, I am writing more contemporary stories, about the here and now, but my first two novels were set in the nineteenth century. At the same time, a snippet of speech often leads to a story for me, or a title. I need a title to write a story, even a working title, as it gives a sense of the 'feel' of the story, its atmosphere. From that comes the characters, the setting, the situation (often a dilemma). I think of stories as mainly composed of 'elements': character, place, and action being primary.
What's the first story you wrote?
I wish I knew
I'm tempted to say my birth scream, since I can't recall my first ever story. My first memory is of a spinning top on a hard wooden floor. I remember sitting near a sliding French door opening into the garden, aged about three or four. I pushed down on a thin plastic handle sprouting from its head and the top spun like the globe, as well as spun away. I wrote about this as a first memory as few years ago, but as yet I haven't turned it into a story. As for a first story, probably something in school about 'What I Did With My Weekend.'
What are your favorite books?
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (all-time favorite)
I'm currently reading My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, an epic six-part adventure into the soul of one person. It's an inspiring read, since Knausgaard is focused on his daily struggle to write (and live).
Other long-time favorites include:
-- Little Dorritt by Charles Dickens (all the prison scenes)
-- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
-- Novels by Kingsley Amis and Evelyn Waugh
What's your favorite music?
Country, blues, rock
I've got a soft spot for country music, and last year I saw Hank Williams III in Richmond, Virginia. He was hyper-intense playing his country, but then pulls his hair down and segues into a hard rock band. Totally unexpected. Recently, I also saw The Fratellis in concert in DC, and I'm off to see Blur in November. I'm a fan of People's Blues of Richmond too, a little known three-piece that plays hard driving blues rock (great website too). In the last few weeks, I've got back into jazz too, exploring Wes Montgomery's records (Movin' Wes is a good one).
What are your favorite movies?
Rocky is my all-time favorite
-- Jaws (for the boat)
-- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (for the cuckoo)
-- Rocky (for the jacket)
--The Third Man (for the spotlight)