I’ve had enough people ask me about my creative process and history that I decided to make a Q&A about it. Enjoy!
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
I was six years old when I saw Star Wars for the first time, and my mouth hung open for two hours straight. I’m not even sure I blinked. The story absorbed every molecule of me.
After seeing it three times, I had the whole script down. Then I began to make changes in my head—new subplots, new characters, new worlds, the whole Megillah. I also cast myself as Luke’s plucky young Jedi brother…but that’s not important.
It soon became pretty obvious that I was a real nut for storytelling. My mom bought me a notebook and a big pack of pens, and that was it for me. It’s her fault I never became a doctor.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Not particularly. Most of what I learned was through trial and error. Lots of error. At every stage of my life, I was fortunate to have a network of people to give me sharp and honest feedback.
Did you always know you wanted to become a novelist in particular?
No. I’d moved to Los Angeles with the specific intent of becoming a screenwriter. I stayed for the weather.
How did you get an agent?
I’d written a screenplay that combined my love of media satire with my love of science fiction. It ended up making the quarterfinals in a bunch of contests, including the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship. I worked that buzz into a query letter and sent it out to a hundred agents. Of that hundred, twelve asked to me to send them my screenplay. Of that twelve, three offered to represent me. I went with the guy who didn’t promise me the moon and the stars. He just said “Well, let’s see what we can do together.”
Eighteen years later, he’s still my agent. He’s stuck with me through thick and thin, even when I made the crazy decision to switch to prose fiction.
How long did it take to get your first book published?
Slick made many rounds among the New York publishing houses, both as a partial and as a completed manuscript. Within six months, I’d earned enough glowing rejections to insulate my apartment. Little, Brown toyed with the idea of buying it for several weeks, until somebody somewhere in the approval chain said “meh.”
Then about a year into the process, a young editor at Random House fought like a bear to get it published at their Villard imprint. Amazingly, he pulled it off.
What was your first publishing experience like?
The people there were a dream to work with. I’d expected them to make me change half the book for “marketing reasons,” but I didn’t get a single note like that. Their only goal was helping Slick become the best story it could possibly be.
I was also stunned that the publisher actually listened to me when I told them that their first three jacket designs didn’t fit the tone of my novel. The fourth one was a home run.
The only disappointment was the marketing phase. The book didn’t get nearly as much as PR support as I expected, but that’s just the reality of the publishing business.
What would you have done differently in hindsight?
I would have done a hell of a lot more grassroots networking, especially within the public relations industry. Slick is one of the few novels out there that actually humanizes the modern day publicist. All the PR people who read it loved it. They could have done wonders in spreading the word.
How long did it take to sell your next novel?
The ink had barely dried on The Flight of the Silvers when Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin, bought the book and its yet-to-be-written sequel.
So I’ve been a Penguin author, a Random House author, and now a Penguin Random House author.
What has the publishing experience been like with Silvers?
Once again, I’ve encountered nothing but nice people, ones who have a genuine passion for books. There were more creative differences with The Flight of the Silvers, but nothing too dramatic. On hindsight, I’m very glad I listened to them on certain issues. And I’m glad I stuck my guns on others.
Would you consider self-publishing in the future?
The future? Hell, I’m doing it now. I got the rights back to Slick and I’m releasing it as an Amazon e-book. I have nothing but respect for authors who self-publish, as long as they subject their novel to rigorous professional editing. To push a book out otherwise is like serving half-cooked fish. You’re not doing anyone any favors.
How do you come up with your stories?
That’s between me and my court-appointed therapist.
Honestly, it all starts with an ending, a grand finale that (if I’m lucky) no one’s done before. I can’t even talk about what prompted me to write The Flight of the Silvers without spoiling the whole saga. The first thing that came to me was the very last scene.
What’s your writing routine?
Suspiciously similar to my old office routine. Wake up at 7. Get ready for work. Sit at the computer from 8 to 5. On those particular days when the deadline looms over me, I push myself into overtime. That rarely works out well. By 6PM, I’m writing in Swahili.
What hardware/software do you use?
Hardware: Mac mini computer hooked up to an HDTV. Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad in the living room. It’s heaven.
Software: Scrivener. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best word processor I’ve used so far. It’s also the only one I know of that exports directly to Kindle and ePub, which is incredibly useful for sending out chapters to my test readers.
Do you keep notes?
No. I keep all relevant story details in my head. It’s strange, I know, but notes really screw me up.
Do you write your stories sequentially or do you jump around?
I am the very model of the sequential writer. I can’t jump one word ahead until I’m absolutely satisfied with the pages that came before it.
Do you work from a rigid story outline or do you improvise?
I always have a strong skeleton to work with, and a very vivid finale in mind. But I occasionally encounter surprises on the way to the ending. Sometimes the characters take me in strange new directions.
Do you share your books with others while they’re still in progress?
Absolutely. I have three trusted friends and one trusted mother who get my novels on a chapter by chapter basis. I find their feedback crucial for getting me out of my head and finding passages that could be better explained.
What advice do you have for writers?
I’d provide a nice, thoughtful answer but there is no way in hell it would be as good as Seanan McGuire’s “50 Thoughts on Writing.” Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.
Have a question that isn’t answered here? Need clarification on something I posted? Send me an e-mail and I’ll see what I can do.