1) Your novels seem to be quite a step away from both your legal career and your volleyball book, THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF VOLLEYBALL COACHING, Insights From the Trenches. Why did you write The19th Element? What initiated this particular burst of creativity?
Just before I penned the volleyball book, Coaching Volleyball Magazine – a national volleyball coaching publication – had featured my picture and a recent volleyball article on their cover. It was the April/May, 2009 issue. I like to joke that the USA Olympic Gold-Medal-Winning Men's Volleyball Coach, Hugh McCutcheon, had to wait until June to get his picture on the same magazine's cover. That statement is true. But it certainly has nothing to do with my story being more important than his. It's just a fun tidbit to tell.
For about eight years before publication of that volleyball article, I had been involved with youth volleyball in my home town. Writing volleyball articles for Coaching Volleyball – there were three articles in all – was a natural offshoot of the experiences I was seeing play out before me in the volleyball coaching world.
I coached my last year in 2008 - 2009. That spring, my youngest daughter graduated from high school. With her advancement beyond youth sports . . . and a concurrent decrease in my involvement therein . . . I had spare time on my hands.
One night my wife, who loves to read mysteries and thrillers, was lamenting that she was running out of good books to read. She suggested to me that I spend some of my new-found leisure on trying to fix that situation.
I had a few ideas. I was intrigued by a new challenge and all the learning that would accompany it. So I dove in. I found I enjoyed both the writing and the learning, and haven't looked back since.
2.) Does your story line develop organically or is it a gestalt before you begin?
The main plot is pretty well fixed before I write the first word of the book. This is because I do lots of research before writing, including frequent in-person interviews. The story forms during the research stage.
Other than side plots and red herrings, the story line is, as you say, a gestalt – an already functioning unit – by the time I start my first draft.
3.) This appears to be your second novel. Was the creative experience any different for this book than for The Missing Element?
You are correct that I published The Missing Element a few months before The 19th Element. But The 19th Element is the first book in the Beck suspense/thriller series. Why?
I started writing The 19th Element first. Then I set it aside to gain some distance from the first draft. While I was busy “distancing,” I decided to write The Missing Element.
As it turned out, my writing skills had improved from book one to book two – so much so, that I actually finished book two first. Confused yet?
Since it was “done”, I published The Missing Element. But I continued to re-write and re-edit The 19th Element until I could maneuver my flawed first novel into a book I was proud of.
At present, I’m pleased with both books. But I know the third book in the series will be better still. There’s nothing like exercising that writing muscle to make it strong.
4.) Do you have a favorite character in this book and if so why?
I’d have to say my favorite character in The 19th Element is Bull. He’s an American Indian with an enigmatic past. No one, including me, knows much about his history.
I know he has military skills and is fiercely loyal to Beck. But I want to know what he’s been up to for the past twenty years. And most of all, I want to know what makes him tick. I pretty sure I’ll find out some of these answers in book three.
5.) What do you like the most about writing?
Researching is my favorite part. In writing two novels, and researching a third, I’ve had the pleasure of – trap shooting with a cop; taking a ride in a small plane with an avionics expert; learning the world INSIDE computer chips from a technology company president; talking nuclear chemistry with (guess who) a nuclear chemist; learning about drug trade from a Drug Task Force Officer; and maybe my favorite so far, discussing tactics, terminology and weaponry with a retired Army Ranger over a few beers.
6.) Where do your new story ideas come from?
On a macro scale, my stories arise out of life and the people around me. Not just family and friends – but society in general. When I write a book, I want it to be relevant in today’s world.
On a different level, plotlines develop out of the give and take discussions I hold with expert consultants. Usually, I look at the world from different perspectives than they do – at least when it comes to their areas of expertise.
For instance, I once asked a drug enforcement officer if he thought it would be possible for someone to operate a large scale meth production facility in our county without being discovered. He said “No.”
Then we spent ten minutes discussing specific law enforcement tactics, sources of information, and logistics concerning meth operations. Once I had learned how law enforcement works to fight meth production, I proposed a scenario that he agreed would, indeed, be plausible.
He knew the ways cops catch criminals. He didn’t know the artifices of the criminals who never get caught.
There’s always a clever way for the unexpected to be accomplished. I try to make my bad guys clever – and my good guys even more so.
7.) What advice has helped the most in your writing?
The best advice I have received is to just keep writing. Whether I think I’m writing well at the time or not . . . keep on writing. I can always go back later and fix bad writing. It’s hard to fix an empty page.
8.) What is next on your agenda?
The third installment of the Beck series should be in print by mid-2011. It will feature the same cast of core characters fans have come to love. At the same time, it will delve into the effects that Mexican Drug Cartels have, or might have, in the Midwest.
Readers should expect lots of action. Oh . . . and we’ll learn some things about Bull’s past, too.
9.) Who is your favorite author and why?
I have lots of favorites. Robert B. Parker, John Sandford, Brian Haig, Peter Morin. There are too many more to list.
The plotting, action and taut prose are the main factors that draw me to these writers. There’s never a word wasted.
10.) What advice would you give for the want to be writer?
There’s never been a better time to be a writer. The traditional publishing industry is in turmoil. Self- and indie-publishing are on the ascent. Today, more than ever, you can get your book into print or digital form and make it available to the masses . . . with little or no upfront costs.
If you have been waiting to try your hand at writing, go for it!
Thank you for your willingness to share your time and your expertise.
Thank you for hosting me today, and thank you to your readers for . . . well . . . reading.