Talk us through your writing process.
I’m not a words-per-day kind of guy. I always felt that if you have an artificial number, it probably means that you don’t want to be writing, anyway. If you say, okay I do 2000 words, but what if the next words would’ve been fantastic? You’re just going to stop and go play golf? You can also produce 2000 words that are crap. So I sit down to write when I’m ready to write, when things crystallize in my head and I know what I want to say. I work on multiple projects a day, so I might spend three or four hours on my next adult thriller, then a few hours on a screenplay. I might work for a few hours on editing, or on a young adult book. For me, three or four hours on one project, I’ve probably exhausted my energy for that. But rather than just calling it a day, and going on home, I’ll move on to some other project. I just love to write. It’s not a job, it never has been. It’s a lifestyle. If I’m not writing or plotting, I’m not a happy camper. It just keeps me going.
Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its plot, before the writing begins. Do you like to map out your books ahead of time, or just let it flow?
I’m very much a writer who lets the story develop. I don’t plot everything out, and I have no idea how the book is going to end when I sit down to write it. I wouldn’t want to, because then it’d feel like I’m writing to an outline. It would feel like a drudge. And I don’t know what my characters are capable of until I spend a hundred pages with them. So how can I know what they’d do at the end of the book, if I don’t know them well enough to begin with? I stick my toes in the water, feel what it’s all about, and then let it flow. Sometimes I go by the seat of my pants, sometimes I have a bit of it planned out. I’m always thinking about it. I don’t use super-detailed outlines, because I feel like it’s easy to write an outline, because in an outline everything works. But when you actually execute it on the page, you look at the outline, look at the page, and think, “Well, it sounded good in the outline, but it’s not really working…”
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What has to happen on page one, and in chapter one, to make for a successful book that urges you to read on?
One of two things, hopefully both. I have to give you an interesting character who you can either root for or against. And second, something has to happen. I don’t mean that someone has to die or something has to get blown up. You just have to present some sort of conundrum, problem, or issue that this character, who you’ve hopefully begun to grow interested in over the first few pages, has to overcome. It’s much like the first act in a film. Any screenplay, movie you go to see, is three acts. The first act you have about ten minutes or ten pages to set up everything—who the characters are, the problem they face or the journey they have to take. Then the long second and the far shorter third act, and a resolution of some five pages at the end. In books I want to be descriptive, I want to put you in the moment, feel the atmosphere, to give you a character who’s interesting and who you can grow to care about for some reason, either like or hate. And give them an interesting problem they have to solve.