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Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere and nowhere. From songs, commercials, snippets of conversation, a news story, literally anything can trigger a story. Sometimes the story grows and ends up not being anything like the original seed. Sometimes it just gets filed in my idea document and molders there. There is a great T-shirt I’ve seen being sold by writing chapters: BEWARE OF WHAT YOU SAY. IT MIGHT BE USED IN MY BOOK. That about sums it up.
Do you ever put real people in your books?
Sometimes. It’s a neat way to honor my friends and family. There have been times where a friend has just “popped” into a story. I see a character as that person. I love when that happens. Other times, I fit them in. They’re almost always minor characters, since I have to get so intimate with my main characters. It would feel a bit weird to “see” that character as a friend. I mean, come on, I see them naked! And doing, er, adult things. I really don’t want to picture my good friends doing those things.
I do use their traits or sayings at times. As for putting in a cameo appearance, I always ask their permission. (I’ve only had one person say no, though I’m not sure why.) The difficult part is capturing them. As well as I know them, it’s very hard to capture that person and his/her quirks. So usually the character is a composite of them, not a duplicate.
Yeah, okay, but do you put people you hate in your books and make them bad or kill them off?
Very, very carefully. (heh heh)
Your books seem like they’d make great movies. Can you have one made?
It amuses me that some folks seem to think I have control over these things, like I could just get it done but haven’t thought of it yet. I have control over nothing but my books. Getting a book made into a movie is a long, chancy, one in a million happening. It can take years and years even after they buy the rights, and after that, it can still fizzle. I’d be very excited about having a book made into a movie, even though I know they’d probably change the script, the characters, and the ending and then I’d probably hate it, but I’d still go for it. I think it will happen someday, but until then, I’ll just focus on the books.
How can I get published?
I get asked for advice from time to time. Being a writer is great fun. Being a published writer is hard, hard work. There are books and books written on the subject, and I suggest reading every one of those books and find the advice therein that rings true to you. Find a writer’s group in your area. If you write romance, join Romance Writers of America. It’s a great resource.
Overall, I try to be encouraging, because I think everyone should follow their dreams. As long as it really is their dream and not others saying, “You write so well, you should get published.” Once you decide to write professionally, and once you’ve got a real handle on the craft of writing itself, then you have a whole lot to learn about the business of writing. How to find a publisher, where does your book fit in the marketplace, do you need an agent, how do you get an agent…all I can say in this short space is, learn, learn, learn. (And check out my Writing Articles link) Network with other writers, search the Internet (but don’t believe everything you read), don’t ever pay for an agent to read your work or to edit your work, and don’t give up when you get your fiftieth rejection if the desire burns within you.
I’ve got a great idea, but I can’t write. Want to write it for me?
I get this question a lot at booksignings. One man actually brought notes and pictures to discuss with me. One couple wanted me to ply them with drinks and dinner and then they’d share their story. Everyone has a story inside him or her. I have fourteen thousand, two hundred and fifty-three story ideas inside me, all waiting to get out. I won’t get to write all of them, so I definitely won’t be able to write yours. I encourage you to write it out, see if there’s enough of a story to make a book out of it. Maybe you can sell it yourself and get to keep all the money.
Do you have a writing schedule?
Absolutely. You have to be disciplined if you hope to write for a living. Treating your writing like a regular day job is a good way to approach it, even if you already have a day job and write at night. I worked full time at a computer software company and wrote during the evenings and on the weekends. Then I worked part time for a while. It took about five years of being steadily published before I was comfortable enough to do it full time. Oddly enough, when you have more time to do it, you still feel as though you never catch up. I still get up early, early for me, anyway, and get to work by 9 am. The only time the television goes on is when I break for lunch. Television is a huge temptation, except for the music-only channels.
You seem like such a nice, normal person. How can you write books about evil, demented people?
I had a nice, normal childhood, but right from the beginning I liked to make up stories with bad guys. I can remember running around my neighborhood with my friends dodging bad guys or shooting at them with sparking guns. I climbed trees and big bulletin boards and loved make-believe adventure.
One thing that perhaps influenced me was the murder of my childhood friend, Molly. Her father killed her, her mother, and her brother, and then led police on a chase before killing himself. This in our nice, normal little neighborhood. You just never know people.
Recently I discovered that one of my friends is a psychopath with schizophrenic tendencies. Right under my nose, the kind of person I write about, and I didn’t even see it. For shame. Once that person revealed himself by trying to pull a devious scheme in the name of righteousness, I could see the characteristics. I have read that most people will come into contact with a sociopath at some time in their lives. Most sociopaths are not dangerous, just manipulative, egocentric, and possessing an alarming lack of empathy. May your journey be free of someone like this.
Do you believe in psychic abilities?
I believe we all have the ability to be psychic. If we tune into our Inner Selves, we can tap into joy and wisdom and peace. Unfortunately, the world gives us way too many ways to distract us, and we miss a lot of those signals. But haven’t you had a knowing about something? A flash of insight or a clear warning bell that goes off in your head? Have you ever thought of someone you haven’t seen in years and then either run into them or they call out of the blue? We are all connected by the same energy, so it makes sense that we can tap into other people’s feelings. And when you get into string theory, quantum physics, and all of that magical, scientific stuff, being able to see the future isn’t so outlandish either.
I believe there are many real psychics out there who express their talents in different modalities. There are, sadly enough, even more phonies and scam artists who prey on people’s fears and vulnerabilities. Trust your instincts when dealing with anyone or, really, anything in life. Your instincts are how your inner self speaks to you.
I’ve heard authors get letters from prisoners. Had any inmate mail?
Yep. Early on I got a fan letter from the first woman on death row in one of the Midwestern states. Most are from men, and it astounds and, frankly, disturbs me that books about killers are put into prison libraries. Fortunately I’ve never had any strange prison mail. Most prisoners are articulate, complimentary, and don’t ask for anything other than a reply. Since I reply to all of my fan mail, I also reply to them. One guy did a pencil sketch of the picture in the back of my book and doodled all over the envelope. He was very talented. I always take the opportunity to encourage someone who has strayed off the good path but wants to get back on.
It must be really cool to be a writer for a living.
It definitely is. It’s also nerve-wracking, exhilarating, stressful, satisfying, flexible and all consuming. Every writer has aspects that they love and that they hate. I love when an idea first blooms in my mind and I start to see the different scenes in my mind. I love the writing process, especially when everything’s flowing. I love the first round of edits, when I get to trim and enrich the story. I love hearing from readers. I don’t love the second and third round of editing. I don’t love the business aspect: distribution, sell-throughs, promotion. I love being able to go to work in my sweats and work from my home. And mostly, I love creating people and worlds and drama. And that makes the unpleasant aspects worth enduring.