I’ve been mired in a significant amount of screenwriterly duties during the last few months. There were a couple of rewrite gigs, four script critiques, and a spec web series pilot. I was happy and enthused to work on each of these assignments, and I’m thankful for the money I made on the paid gigs, but lemme tell ya…it’s soooooo wonderful getting back to my prose writing. As I discovered with my first novel a few years ago, it’s the most gratifying type of writing I’ve ever done. Seriously. I love the freedom of it. When I’m writing a novel, I feel like a horse-mounted cowboy riding the wide open, endless prairie. I’ll admit, I’ve been kinda grouchy and a little moody these last few months, but now I’m back in the saddle (pun intended) with the two novels, cranking out word after word, sentence after sentence, page after page…and it’s truly glorious!
Whatever type of writing YOU prefer—screenplays, novels, poetry, short stories, extensive grocery lists—I wish you the same sense of fulfillment!
“Writing a novel is a very hard thing to
do because it covers so long a span of time, and if you get
discouraged it is not a bad sign, but a good one. If you think you are not
doing it well, you are thinking the way real novelists do. I never knew one who
did not feel greatly discouraged at times, and some get desperate, and I have
always found that to be a good symptom."
(1884-1947), Charles Scribner's Sons
A: I had
no choice. From a very early age it was a natural gift that came very easily to
me. In 7thgrade,
my teacher thought my essays were too good and were being written by someone at
home, either by my parents or older siblings. In order to catch me cheating,
she changed the day’s entire lesson and had each of us write an impromptu essay
at our desks. Of course, I had no idea about any of this, and it was only
revealed later at a Parent-Teacher Conference when she explained the trap to my
mother. She told her that I wrote an even better essay than any of my former
ones on that particular day, and thought I was destined to be a writer. No one
at that age could write like that! As a result of this stunt, that’s all my
beaming mother ever said to me when a career choice came up, “You should be a
writer.” I’m sure that made her day to hear about my abilities from my teacher,
but I can’t really take any credit for a gift from God. It’s innate. I have no
idea how it works. I will say that, despite such accolades, I was slow coming
to the writing table. I became a pastor out of college and did ministry for over
20 years, but I always knew I was a writer and eventually gave in to His
is your typical writing day like?
Routine bores me. I appreciate discipline and schedules, but it doesn’t help me
to be creative. For me, “variety is the spice of life.” It sounds
contradictory, but I need to have lots going on to stay focused. It also
depends what my project is that day. A screenplay is different from a newspaper
column, a novel, a blog post, or an article. Usually I start late and write late.
I am not a morning person and all the dribble about “up at dawn” doesn’t work
for me. I usually write for a while, a couple of hours, and then take a break
and walk around outside or post something on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
Then I’m back at it for another couple of hours. If I’m on a deadline, the
breaks are fewer. If I’m writing for myself (not being paid), then it’s a
slower process with lots of time to percolate ideas. That is critical, to let
ideas simmer and form themselves. I like to have several things going at once
so I can jump around between projects. (If I get bored or stuck on one thing,
then I can go to something fresh and this makes for a continuous flow of ideas.)
Q: Do you
outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?
A: I hate outlines. If I do one, it is very sparse. I have a general idea of
where I’m going with a scene or chapter, and so I just write it. I do know the
overall story, and I usually have a synopsis of it (one page and then a longer
version of 8-10 pages), but not anything too detailed as far as an outline.
many revisions will you typically do on a novel?
not like most writers, I think. I don’t move on until it is absolutely the best
it can possibly be (for me, at this stage of my abilities). I will rewrite and
revise until it’s perfect, and only then will I go on to the next chapter or
scene. The first chapter or two gets polished so many times I can’t even say
with certainty how many passes it gets. I go by the “five and dime” rule. Any
reader will read the first five pages and the last ten to see if it’s any good
before buying or recommending it, so I spend a good deal of time on the front
and back end of my stories. So an actual number of revisions would be hard to
nail down. Maybe 50-100 per chapter? They say easy reading is hard
writing, and I think that’s true for me. I revise it until it’s just right.
is your best tip for editing a manuscript?
it when you finish it. Put it away for several months and let it rest. You
can’t see the forest for the trees after being in so deep on every decision;
your objectivity is shot. Your brain needs to relax and get recharged with
other things before you can really see what’s wrong with it. If you did your
best, when you read it again it should impress you. If it doesn’t, then you’re
not done. Your first read of it in this period should get this reaction: “That
was pretty dang good!” If you don’t like it, neither will the reader. You are
not writing for you, you are writing forthem.
writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?
A: Write the scene you see. You do not have to know everything
about your story. Sometimes you get stalled by not knowing what the next scene
should be. Forget it. Write the ones you know. Don’t be a perfectionist
initially. The first step is just to get some “clay” on the page that you can
mold later on. That’s when perfectionism comes into play, later in the rewrite.
For now, just get the clay on the page. Stay in the chair [and] resist the urge
to get up. Keep writing. Find a mentor when you’re first starting out. Go to
writer’s conferences and make friends with writers who are further along,
network with them, and ask them if they’ll look at just one chapter. Try to
keep those relationships alive. Learn to say no to things. It may be TV,
events, people, appeals for your help, etc. You cannot do everything. I
always pray and ask God for help. If He’s really my Creator, and I think He is,
then how stupid of me to think I can do what He does (create something out of
nothing) without His help. I only look dumb.
Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?
It’s a fallacy. The real issue [is] fear. Stephen King said,“I’m convinced that fear is at the
root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather;
you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for
the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the
feather; the magic was in him.”The
magic is still in you, despite what you feel. If not fear, then it’s just being
lazy. You can write. The question is: Do you want to writetoday? Either you’re afraid or
you’re not ready. Writer’s block is an excuse. To think you cannot write when
you obviouslycanwrite (you’ve already proven that) is
drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?
Overall, [it was] movies, especially war movies, and books that I was exposed
to as a kid. Seeing history on the screen or in my mind just fascinated me.
There’s something about true historical stories, like the Wright brothers, and
Civil War heroes like Mosby. The history of the world is so amazing when you
realize these people really walked the earth. Alexander the Great,
Jackson, Napoleon, and Lincoln were real men. I’d also say becoming a Christian
led to my enjoyment of supernatural thrillers. The spiritual element of life,
how God fits into history, fascinates me—and truth is stranger than fiction,
Q: Do you
utilize beta readers?
I will show what I’m doing to a select few folks I trust. But I’ve found that
most people are not writers so they either say things your mom would say that
doesn’t help you improve (“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever read in my
entire life!”), or they don’t have any idea what they’re talking about and give
you criticisms that only depress or confuse you. The best thing to do is find
someone who can write or who reads a lot and ask specific questions of them
after they read your stuff (one chapter at a time or they’ll never finish it).
My biggest question with them is: Did I wake them up from the dream of my story
world? I don’t want anything to jar them awake to the reality that
they’re just looking at a piece of paper. The other option is to join, or
start, a writing group, the smaller the better, where you review each other’s
stuff. That, of course, takes time, so you lose that aspect of it having to
read other’s stuff.
your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed
is a hard one to answer, but if I were honest I’d have to say there are three
of them: the Prologue toXposurebecause I spent a lot of time on it
and it really rolls, and you feel like you’re in the Vatican; the following
chapter because I love turkey hunting and it captured the thrill of it so well;
and the very next chapter on Stan being activated as a sleeper agent in Ybor
City’s pawn shop. That last one really smokes. You can visualize what I write
in all three, which is my strength as a writer, but the last one admittedly
seems so very real.
makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?
guess it’d help to know the gist of theXposurestory first.Xposureis about a conflicted Soviet “sleeper”
agent—Stan Stanislaw, a US Navy SEAL—who reneges on a deal his parents made
during World War II, and now without a country, tries to survive long enough to
expose a plot that threatens more than an antiquated Cold War agenda. He
discovers that the future of the human race is up for grabs after stumbling
onto a UFO aspect to his activation as a spy. Stan is special because he was
inspired by a real Navy SEAL that I know, and the research involved with who a
SEAL is made him very genuine to me. I did make him fit my story and who I
wanted him to be, but the core of Stan is very real. The other aspect is that
it uses some theology theories I have on the Book of Genesis…so it has a
personal appeal to me regarding demonology and UFOs.
is your best advice for author self-promotion?
A: Make a short video trailer for your book. That does more than
almost anything because then you have something to share on social media. You
can see two of mine forXposureandSomething
Grayon my website [linked in
name caption above]. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are also very helpful
to get the word out. You can join groups on Facebook that relate to your genre,
and give away free chapters to members there, or create a page for it or a related
field like archaeology or some aspect of your book. (I have two FB pages on
Civil War history and supernatural events with periodic promotional stuff
posted on my writing.) Write articles on LinkedIn about writing tips or your
genre with related news/articles. You can also promote it for free on certain
book sites, as well as through Amazon’s KDP Select program. Just Google free
books and lots will come up. Sometimes it has to be scheduled well in advance,
so don’t wait too long to contact them about your giveaway. You should also
include writing samples on your website. I have several chapters and articles
there for folks to read. Also add your website link to your signature on your
emails. Or you can skip all that and just pay someone a lot of money to do it
Q: How do
you deal with negative reviews?
think of Clark Gable inIt
Happened One Nightwhen he
says, “Don’t make me laugh.” It’s easy to criticize, but unless they have some
credibility, ignore them. You’ll sleep better. Same principle as beta readers.
One “writer” posted a negative review that bugged me initially, until I went
and read some of her stuff. It was absolutely awful. I felt much better after
that because she couldn’t write…at all. So just because someone has an opinion,
it doesn’t mean they’re right. You need to value therightopinion because the person has
credentials. Tolkien said,“I am dreading the publication, for it will be
impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at.”No matter what you write, somebody
will not like it. So be it.
is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?
money! Ha! Seriously, I’ve never thought about that. The freedom is nice when
you hear friends complain about their job or not getting time off to go
somewhere. It’s just who I am and what I do. I will say that it’s pretty
rewarding when people read stuff you made up and your words make them cry (in a
good way), or they compliment you profusely. It’s nice to be liked, but I write
because I can and never thought much about adulation or perks.
is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?
nice to be paid for putting words on a page, but it doesn’t pay a lot. Not
unless you have some big platform to promote yourself. In life, you usually
have time or money, but almost never do you have both. I guess I’d say a
guaranteed paycheck is nice every two weeks, but that steady income will come
eventually if you’re good.
is your current writing project?
A: I have
three screenplays going; two are paid gigs and one is my own spec script. There
are also two more books on the slate in theXposuretrilogy. And regular things like my
newspaper column or some freelance stuff always seems to come in, too.
are three of your favorite novels?
Tolkien’sLord of the Ringstrilogy is hard to beat, butThe Chronicles of Narniastill works on so many levels, and on
several that are just being discovered now with Lewis’ love of planets coming
to light. I’m not sure which of those would make a desert island easier to
take, but Tolkien has three versus seven for Clive, so I’ll sayLOTR(if I can haveThe Hobbittossed in). Seriously,LOTRis epic and still stands up pretty
Q: If you
could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would
talk to them about?
Charles Dickens, hands down. I’d ask him every question I could think of aboutA Christmas Carol, which is a
timeless classic that changed so much about the world’s view of Christmas and
the Industrial Age abuses of the poor and children. LikeLOTR, it holds up even today,
and it’s nearly perfect in so many aspects. That is a classic that holds a ton
of skillful writing in very, very few pages. If you have not readA Christmas Carol, do so
is your best piece of advice for budding authors?
every book you can on writing before you go to a good writer’s conference. Then
repeat that advice for the next year. If you can afford it, repeat again. Be
friendly and outgoing; meet and eat with as many people as you can; walk with
speakers to the next session, ask questions, give away business cards and get
as many as you can in return.
is your favorite inspirational quote?
A:“Don’t fool yourself. You
cannot create without knowing the Creator. Read the Bible, still the number one
bestseller of all time.”
No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about a guy trying to live the Hollywood dream...