Three Questions and a Cover — a short interview with one of my favorite authors, along with one of the author’s covers.
Steven Womack is the Edgar and Shamus Award-winning author of eleven novels, including Dead Folks Blues, By Blood Written, and The New York Times Notable Book, Murphy’s Fault. His latest book, Resurrection Bay, was written in collaboration with New York-based screenwriter Wayne McDaniel. His novels have been published in five languages. He also co-edited and wrote the introduction to The True Crime Files Of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In his role as screenwriter, Womack co-wrote the CableAce-nominated PROUDHEART and the ABC-Television movie VOLCANO: FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN. Check out his website: StevenWomack.com
1. How much of your own personality do you share with your characters? Is that a choice, or does it happen on its own?
The human personality is a really messy soup made up of a lot of different things. Our upbringing, our backstory, how we perceive the world, the way we feel about things, the things we value… Our disappointments and hurts, our joys and delights. Our dreams and aspirations, most of which invariably get crushed. All of this goes into making us who we are. Fiction writers are different animals from writers of anything else. Somebody once asked me what did for a living and I answered: “I’m a professional liar.”
And that’s what we do. We make shit up that’s not real and doesn’t exist and, for a brief amount of time, we try to convince an audience that it is. In the process, we try to take them out of their own humdrum, tedious, mediocre lives into something that feels more alive, larger and more intense. In short, we entertain them and, we hope, move them emotionally.
By the way, I didn’t mean to insult readers’ lives. We all live humdrum, mediocre, tedious lives. To paraphrase Hitchcock, movies are real life with the dull stuff stripped out.
So yes, who I am, what my personality is, informs everything I write. It’s not really a choice. It’s something that comes organically out of the process. To write it any other way would come off as artifice, not genuine.
2) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I write in bursts. I spent about a decade in corporate publishing, mostly setting type in art departments. So I can still type 70 or 80 words a minute, even better on a good day. And that matches the way my mind works. During a workday, I’ll type out two or three hundred words in a couple minutes, then the well will go dry and I’ll switch over to Freecell or CNN or Twitter (I have two monitors on my desktop computer) and I’ll just play or get distracted… Maybe I’ve got a touch of the ADHD; I don’t know. But I’ll just do something else for a few minutes, then suddenly without even thinking about it, I’ll jump back on the keyboard and type another couple of hundred words.
So I’m not the guy who closes the door, silences the phone, gets every other distraction out of the way, and focuses on writing for a set number of hours. I’m the exact opposite. My first professional writing jobs were on the City Desk at the New Orleans Daily Record and at United Press International. In both those jobs, you were surrounded by chaos and a million distractions, people yelling around you, phones ringing, teletypes chattering and clacking away, and a million interruptions. You learned to check in and out…
It happened today. I woke up, drank coffee, went through probably a hundred emails, printed some checks, mailed some bills, played a few games of Freecell, then ate lunch. Made a few phone calls, left a few voicemails… Finally came upstairs around 1:30 and went to work. Wrote a few hundred words, played Freecell, wrote a couple hundred more, jumped on Twitter for awhile. Wrote a couple hundred more words, copyedited what I’d done today, checked the stock market, went on the New York Times to see that crazy man in the White House is up to today, then wrote some more. Stared out the window for awhile, then went for an hour long walk in Percy Warner Park, got home, took a thirty minute nap, ate dinner with my wife, had a couple of glasses of wine, came back upstairs and wrote until just about an hour ago.
At the end of the day, I came up just short of 2700 words…
It’s kind of crazy, but somehow it works.
3) What warning can you give to aspiring writers?
That’s a tough one, because in the writing life there are so many things to be warned against. I know writers for whom great success seems to just come naturally, almost without effort (although I know that’s not true). And I know many more writers who struggle professionally, artistically, financially, emotionally. Bottom line, this is a bitch of a way to live your life and you should only do it if you can’t imagine doing anything else.
Beyond that, here are a couple of other caveats. This is really the greatest time in human history to be a writer. With advances in technology and communication, publishing has been completely reinvented. The invention of the Kindle and eBooks and the evolution of audiobooks are the most significant and powerful revolutions in publishing since Gutenberg invented movable type. In the days when you can I came up, you wrote a novel and then you begged a literary agent (one at a time, no multiple submissions) to take you on or you begged the few publishers who read unagented submissions to reach down from their exalted heights and deign to make your work worthy of their efforts.
That’s a load of horseshit today. When I started out, I literally spent years querying agents, begging editors to read my manuscripts, hoping against hope that somebody would put me into print. If I were a young writer today with my first novel out there, I’d pay a good editor to help me get it in shape (after all, the book’s got to be good in the first place), then I’d query 25 agents at once and give them each thirty days. I might spend a few months, tops, trying to attract a traditional New York publisher.
If it didn’t work, I’d have it up on Amazon.com, Draft2Digital.com, and Ingram Spark within 72 hours. Then I’d start buying Book Bub, Facebook, and AMS ads and sell the hell out of it. You don’t think it can be done? Just Google Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath…
So that’s my biggest warning. Don’t buy into that lame bullshit about traditional publishing being the only way to have a viable career. Be innovative, learn the indie publishing industry, and take control of your own careers. The gatekeepers have been slaughtered and the gates are down.
That’s what I’m doing. I published 11 novels through traditional publishers. The last time I tried to go that route, I spent three years writing a partial that was the most commercial novel I’d ever written. My agent didn’t have much fire in her belly for it, so she only sent it to six publishers. The last one to turn it down took nearly a year to make up her mind and she turned it down with a four-line email.
I fired my agent and vowed never to subject myself to that kind of treatment again. Don’t you sell yourself short either.