Thursday September 11th, 2014

Jacquelyn Mitchard

jacquelyn-mitchardJacquelyn Mitchard entered the national consciousness when Oprah Winfrey chose her debut novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, as the show’s first ever book club pick. But she stayed there because of the quality of her writing.

All of Mitchard’s novels have been greater or lesser bestsellers – and include The Most Wanted, A Theory of Relativity, Twelve Times Blessed, The Breakdown Lane, Cage of Stars, Still Summer, No Time to Wave Goodbye and Second Nature. Critics have praised them for their authentic humanity and skillful command of story. Readers identify because they see reflected, in her characters – however extreme their circumstances – emotions they already understand.

Mitchard also has written seven novels for young adults: Now You See Her, All We Know of Heaven, the trilogy of The Midnight Twins, Look Both Ways and Watch for Me by Moonlight, paranormal teen mysteries about identical twin sisters born on New Year’s Eve – one a minute before and a minute after midnight, one twin can see only events of the future and one can see only the past and its ghosts. Mitchard’s most recent teen series is the story of three teens who can never see the sunlight (not because they are vampires, but because they have the deadly genetic sensitivity to light called XP). They can and do see the secret landscape of the night – and one horrific secret in particular. What We Saw at Night premiered in January, 2013, and What We Lost in the Dark followed in 2014.

She is completing her next adult novel.

Mitchard recently became the editor in chief of Merit Press, a mature Young Adult imprint under the aegis of F&W Media. To date, she has acquired twenty novels, six of which have enjoyed substantial critical acclaim.

A longtime journalist, Mitchard is a contributing editor for More magazine. With an MFA in Creative Writing, she has taught at Fairfield University and Southern New Hampshire University.

At the local coffee shop, Mitchard is best-known as the mother of Rob, Dan, Marty, Francie, Merit, Mia, Will, Marta and Atticus – and she can repeat those names in sequence in the space of two seconds – the wife of sturdy Chris Brent and the best pal of the extremely photogenic and handsome brown poodle, Dante. For more on Jacquelyn, check out

Jackie, as she is called by friends, recently took the time to answer a few questions for us.

Interview Questions for Jacquelyn Mitchard

When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and then when did you actually put pen to paper and begin to write?
I wrote poems and stories (ALL mercifully lost to history; my dad’s first girlfriend after my mother died destroyed all of them) since I could write, since I could spell (and here’s my one bragging point. I could always spell hahahaha! I never misspelled anything.) I wrote my first hideously weird and sentimental stories in high school. When I began college, I was 16. I wrote what I would call my first real short story then. In my 20s, I wrote an autobiographical book that turned out to be quite a hit, but didn’t write my first novel until I was almost 40, almost 18 years ago.

What in your background prepared you to be a writer?
I came from a long line of people whose sole source of entertainment was trying to best each other telling stories. After the meal, after the cards, out would come the stories, each more harrowing and scarier than the one before. I didn’t take a writing class until the freshman elective in college, and I didn’t study writing, as such, until my graduate studies five years ago.

Your first book, The Deep End of the Ocean, was Oprah’s first book club pick and went on to be a tremendous success.  How did such an enormous success with your first novel inform your writing?  How did it inform your career?
I loved it! I LOVED it! It was the quick way to solidify my reputation as a writer and it gave me huge momentum.

Plot vs. Character.  Everyone seems to have an opinion on which is more important to story.  What is your opinion on this and why?
Character is more important than plot and plot is more important than character. They reign equally, the king and the queen of narrative. Plot without character isn’t a Sue Grafton novel (in which the character is quite wonderful) but a well … JA Jance novel, where what happens is everything. Novels in which characters simply ruminate are dull; endless event is dull, too, almost like pornography is dull. The meld of both elements is the sweet spot.

Who do you picture as your audience as you write?
Whatever friend or grown child of mine I told the story to … I follow them around saying, “This woman was dumped by her best friend, and she became obsessed. But she didn’t want to hurt her …”

What do you hope your readers take away from your books?
Ordinary people are caught in the headlights every day. It happens to everyone. The way we survive is what matters.

How difficult or easy was it to write second shift in the beginning of your writing career? What made you persevere as a writer?
All writers who have any success persevere, and refuse to take no for an answer. It’s a mark of their character. Those kind of people have an obsessional quality. They will simply not hear no. As an editor with my own imprint, I now write “second shift” again. And it’s really, really hard. And I wish I could just write, as much as I do love my job, and as proud as I am of the work I do there.

You are now also an editor, acquiring works for a publishing house.  What do you look for in an author?  In a book?
It’s called Merit Press, and I co-created it under the aegis of F&W Media. It’s an independent publisher, but part of a large media conglomerate. In an author, I look for a resilient personality and a willingness to get out there and create a platform. In a book, I look for a strong voice, because these are novels for teens, and voice is more important than either character OR plot. The voice is essential, because, to kids who read these books, those characters are real. Then I look for drama and mystery and a fresh, unexpected twist.

Who do you read?  What authors have influenced your writing?
EVERYTHING. I read natural history and biography, memoir and poetry. The Brontes and Flaubert influenced my work, Nabokov and Shirley Jackson, Anne Morrow, Andrea Barrett, Stephen King. McKinlay Cantor, Rumer Godden, Hilary Mantel, Scott Berg, Lorrie Moore, Connie May Fowler, Most of all, Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and Truman Capote (In Cold Blood). Their great heart. Their immaculate prose.

What is the best advice you ever received as an author?  And what advice do you find yourself giving to aspiring writers?
The best advice I ever received as an author is, you don’t have to tell everything you know. This is also the best advice I ever received as a person. When I teach, I tell writers, be simple; that is itself original. And if you aren’t obsessed with reading, reading at least four or five books a month, oh my gosh, why are you writing?

What is one fun thing your fans probably don’t know about you – and would be surprised to know?
I’ve never had a steak. I’ve never had a beer. Not even a bite. Not even a sip.

Thursday September 11th, 2014

Phil Margolin

phil-margolinAn attorney who has appealed death penalty cases before the Supreme Court, Phil Margolin grew up in New York’s Long Island and knew as a kid that he wanted to be an attorney – one much like Perry Mason. So after a stint in the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Liberia, he attended New York University Law School. With a practice in Oregon from 1972 to 1996 specializing in criminal defense, Phil was the first Oregon attorney to us the Battered Women’s Syndrome to defend a battered woman accused of murdering her spouse.

Since 1996 Phil has written full time, with all of his novels becoming NY Times bestseller. His first novel, Heartstone, was nominated or an Edgar for best original paperback mystery. His second, The Last Innocent Man, was made into an HBO movie. Gone, But Not Forgotten, was sold to more than 25 countries and debuted as a miniseries in 2004.

In addition to his novels, Phil has published short stories and non-fiction articles in magazines and law journals. His short story, The Jailhouse Lawyer, was selected for the 1999 anthology, The Best American Mystery Stories. The House on Pine Terrace was selected for the 2010 anthology, The Best American Mystery Stories.

With Vanishing Acts, a Nancy Drew type mystery for the 21st century, Phil ventured into both writing for young adults and collaborative writing, penning the book together with his daughter, Ami.

Phil Margolin is a writer who pays it forward. From 1996 to 2009 Phil serves as the President and Chairman of the Board of Chess for Success. He returned to the Board after a one year absence in 2010. Chess for Success is a non-profit charity that uses chess to teach elementary and middle school children in Title I schools study skills. From 2007 to the present, he has been on the Board of Literary Arts, which sponsors the Oregon Book Awards, The Writers in the Schools program and Portland Arts and Lectures. For more on Phil, check out

Phil recently answers a few questions we posed to him and shared some thoughts on writing in general.

Interview Questions for Phil Margolin

When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and then when did you actually put pen to paper and begin to write?
When I was in the 7th grade, I decided I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney like Perry Mason, and that’s what I did for 25 years. I’ve been an avid reader starting in first grade and I was in awe of writers, so it never occurred to me that I could be one. In my last semester of law school I had some free time and decided to write a novel just to see if I could write more than 25 pages. My 187-page novel wasn’t very good but I enjoyed writing, so it became a hobby.

What in your background prepared you to be a writer?
Reading a lot of books was my only preparation. I only had one writing class and I received a C+ in it.

Readers so often confuse thriller and mystery. Which do you write, and how does a reader differentiate between the two?
Mysteries have clues that lead a reader to the solution of a crime. Ellery Queen, Ross McDonald and Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar books are excellent examples of mysteries. Thrillers may or may not have a mystery in them but they do have non-stop action. My books have elements of both because I have non-stop action but I usually don’t let the reader know whodunit until the end of the book and I try to provide clues they can use to figure out the killer.

How did your career as a trial attorney inform your writing?
Lawyers are trained to be organized and to be objective when evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their cases. When I write a novel, I outline and think about my plot and characters for a long time before I write. Then I try to be objective and not let my ego get in the way when I edit.

I also handled 30 murder cases and represented 100s of clients, so when I write a courtroom scene or a scene where a lawyer visits a death row inmate or interviews a client it is easy for me to write the scene because I’ve done in real life what my characters are doing.

You write independently, but you also collaborated with your daughter on a middle grade novel, a 21st century Nancy Drew. What are the benefits of writing collaboratively? What are the benefits of writing with your daughter?
I loved writing “Vanishing Acts” with Ami because she’s my daughter and we get along so well. This is the only time I’ve collaborated and I prefer to work alone, but writing with Ami is the most enjoyable time I’ve had as a writer.

Plot vs. Character. Everyone seems to have an opinion on which is more important to story. What is your opinion on this and why?
I am a plot guy. I love to solve crossword puzzles and I played chess competitively. Writing a novel for me is like solving a puzzle. I have the plot idea, some scenes and characters. Can I put them together to make a book my reader will enjoy? Character is important, but I had to learn how to develop characters to make them real and three-dimensional.

Who do you read? What authors have influenced your writing?
I read two to three books a week and I read everything from classics and serious contemporary literature to sci-fi and mysteries and some non-fiction. Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner influenced me. Ellery because he wrote puzzle mysteries and Erle because he inspired me to be a real criminal lawyer and write about fictional lawyers.

What is the best advice you ever received as an author? And what advice do you find yourself giving to aspiring writers?
The best advice I received was when my professor told the class that “writing is writing” whether it’s Hamlet or a bodice ripper romance. Meaning, write about what turns you on and don’t worry about snooty critics who look down on “genre” writers.

My advice to new writers is DON’T WRITE, THINK. If you get a great idea, let it stew around. Make sure you know how your book will end, who your heroine and bad guy are, etc. I’ve spent 3 years, 10 years and 30 years between getting an idea and getting it written and published and my books were better for it.

What is one fun thing your fans probably don’t know about you – and would be surprised to know?
I have no taste, so I enjoy really serious movies and novels, sci-fi original movies like “Sharknado” and everything in between. It’s great to have no taste because I don’t limit what I read and see.

Thursday September 11th, 2014

#1 NY Times Bestselling Author, Lisa Jackson

lisa-jacksonThe number-one New York Times bestselling author of more than 85 novels, including Afraid to Die, Tell Me, You Don’t Want to Know, Running Scared, Without Mercy, Malice, and Shiver, Lisa Jackson is also the co-author of the Colony Series, co-written with her sister, Nancy Bush. There are over 20 million copies of Lisa Jackson’s books in print in twenty languages.
Before she became a nationally bestselling author, Lisa Jackson was a mother struggling to keep food on the table by writing novels, hoping against hope that someone would pay her for them. Today Lisa is neck deep in murder, with her books appearing on The New York Times, the USA Today, and the Publishers Weekly national bestseller lists.

With over thirty bestsellers to her name, Lisa Jackson is a master of taking readers to the edge of sanity – and back – in novels that buzz with dangerous secrets and deadly passions.  She continues to be fascinated by the minds and motives of both her killers and their pursuers—the personal, the professional, and the downright twisted.  As she builds the puzzle of relationships, actions, clues, lies, and personal histories that haunt her protagonists, she must also confront the fear and terror faced by her victims, and the harsh and enduring truth that, in the real world, terror and madness touch far too many lives and families.  For more on Lisa, check out

Recently, Lisa took some time to share a few thoughts on writing with us.

Interview Questions for Lisa Jackson

When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and then when did you actually put pen to paper and begin to write?
I didn’t start writing seriously until my sister read an article in Time magazine about young mothers who were making a living writing and selling romance novels. The market was hot, hot, hot but I wasn’t sure we could actually write and sell a book as we’d never read romance. Thankfully, Sister Nan, (author Nancy Bush) is like a terrier with a bone and we gave it a whirl. (The first book, written with another woman as well, died a slow and painful death and was never published.)

What in your background prepared you to be a writer?
I was an English major in college, though never finished school. I always had a writing bend and am a voracious reader of fiction, have been from the time I was a little kid. Determination is what paid off for me.

You broke out of romance into thriller. What made you choose to do so, and how do elements of both romance and thriller inform your storytelling?
I grew up loving romantic suspense and mysteries. When I was first contracted at Harlequin I was told to keep the suspense out of the books. That was difficult. Later, when approached to write a “big book” in the early 90’s, I was able to inject the suspense I love. Luckily, the timing was right and with each successive book I was able to add more intrigue and mystery. I actually planned my career at that time. I saw a clear spot for me, a niche in the writing world. At the time, I thought most female writers got the romance down, but couldn’t quite pull of the suspense, and a good portion of the male authors I read did just the opposite: great suspense but crappy romance. I saw myself in the middle, able to blend the genres to my liking. Fortunately, it worked. (No one could have been more surprised that I!)

You write independently, but you also often collaborate with your sister, Nancy Bush. What are the benefits of writing collaboratively?
Oh, it’s fun. Nancy and I are best friends and we’ve been reading and editing each other’s work, including plotting stories together, for years. We wanted to do something together. On a road trip to Seattle we worked out the basic premise for The Colony Series set on the Oregon Coast. With cultish elements and a tad of the paranormal along with our usual romance and suspense, we created the series of WICKED GAME, WICKED LIES, SOMETHING WICKED and WICKED WAYS which will be out this December. Collaboration is difficult at times, but fun as well. When you write with another person, he/she should be as invested as you in the writing of the story. I have to admit, though, there have been instances where the conversation was getting tense, so we shut down the computers and found a stiff drink!

Plot vs. Character. Everyone seems to have an opinion on which is more important to story. What is your opinion on this and why?
I used to say plot, but really, characters are the reason a reader is connected to the story. That said, the most intriguing character in the world is pretty empty without a great plot. So I’m in the 50/50 club on this one.

Was there ever a point at which you considered giving up your dream of becoming a published author?
Yes, but that was before I actually sold. I was flat broke so I’d gotten a “real job” that fortunately fell through just as I sold. Phew. Since that time? No. I think I’m the luckiest woman in the world. Yes, it’s frustrating at times and difficult, but so worth it.

Who do you read? What authors have influenced your writing?
I read books that grace the bestseller lists and I always read authors who I believe are much stronger writers than I. They give me inspiration. My taste is somewhat eclectic, though I tend toward mystery, suspense, some fantasy and horror. Oh, and Gothic. Yeah, I like those. I love Stephen King, Linwood Barclay, Harlan Coban, Michael Connelly, Gillian Flynn, Daphne Du Maurier and Charlotte Bronte. That’s just a few.

What is the best advice you ever received as an author? And what advice do you find yourself giving to aspiring writers?
Several clichés come to mind: “Don’t quit your day job.” “KISS—Keep It Simple, Stupid.” “Never Give up.” And “Don’t fall in love with your own words.” I think the best thing is to write the entire book. So many people have “ideas” or great first chapters or even a fabulous ending, or tell me their life story would make a good book. So write it. All of it. Beginning, middle and end. Writing a book is the best course in writing a book.

What is one fun thing your fans probably don’t know about you – and would be surprised to know?
That I’m actually shy around new people, I suppose. I guess I’m a pretty good faker.

Thursday September 11th, 2014

Tess Gerritsen

Tess-GerritsenInternationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen took an unusual route to a writing career. A graduate of Stanford University, Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was awarded her M.D.

While on maternity leave from her work as a physician, she began to write fiction. In 1987, her first novel was published. Call After Midnight, a romantic thriller, was followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, “Adrift”, which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson.

Tess’s first medical thriller, Harvest, was released in hardcover in 1996, and it marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Her suspense novels since then have been: Life Support (1997), Bloodstream (1998), Gravity (1999), The Surgeon (2001), The Apprentice (2002), The Sinner (2003), Body Double (2004), Vanish (2005), The Mephisto Club (2006), The Bone Garden (2007), The Keepsake (2008; UK title: Keeping the Dead), Ice Cold (2010; UK title: The Killing Place), The Silent Girl (2011), and Last To Die (August 2012.) Her books have been published in forty countries, and more than 30 million copies have been sold around the world.

Her books have been top-3 bestsellers in the United States and number one bestsellers abroad. She has won both the Nero Wolfe Award (for Vanish) and the Rita Award (for The Surgeon). Critics around the world have praised her novels as “Pulse-pounding fun” (Philadelphia Inquirer), “Scary and brilliant” (Toronto Globe and Mail), and “Polished, riveting prose” (Chicago Tribune). Publisher Weekly has dubbed her the “medical suspense queen”.
Her series of novels featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the TNT television series “Rizzoli & Isles” starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander.

Now retired from medicine, she writes full time. She lives in Maine. For more on Tess, visit her website.

Interview Questions for Tess Gerritsen

Recently, Tess answered a few questions about writing for us.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and then when did you actually put pen to paper and begin to write?
I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was only seven years old. In fact, I wrote my first “book” around that time, and even bound it myself with needle and thread. But my father — who didn’t believe anyone could make a living in the arts — convinced me to go to medical school instead. I didn’t seriously put pen to paper until years later, while I was on maternity leave from hospital work.

What in your background prepared you to be a writer?
The best background of all is to be a reader. As a child, my nose was always in a book, and that gave me a sense of story. My training in medicine came in useful later, as I began to weave science into my stories.

America knows you for your characters, Rizzoli & Isles. How difficult or easy is it for you, as the author who birthed these buddies, to hand them over to a team of television writers?
I don’t feel any obsessive sense of ownership over Jane and Maura, and I knew that adaptation would change them. TV Jane and Maura are gorgeous best friends (unlike the books, where they’re not gorgeous, and they have an uneasy friendship) but I understand why those changes were made, and agree that it works well on television.

Besides the lovable Rizzoli & Isles, you have written some frightening characters. How real are your characters to you? Do any of them ever insinuate themselves into your life?
There’s a part of me in every character I write, even the villains. The serial killer in The Surgeon, for instance, shares my fascination for the dark side of history. During the writing of that book, he became so real to me that I could almost hear his voice in my head. In fact he was the one who insisted I write him into a sequel to The Surgeon. So I did — and ended up with a crime series.

Plot vs. Character. Everyone seems to have an opinion on which is more important to story. What is your opinion on this and why?
They’re both important. I don’t see how you can skimp on either element, without the book falling apart.

What do you hope your readers take away from your books?
A common theme in most of my books is that even a seemingly insignificant person can turn into a hero, when pushed to the limit. I want my readers to feel like heroes, too.

Was there ever a point at which you considered giving up your dream of becoming a published author? What made you persevere as a writer?
I never considered giving it up. I knew I’d keep writing, whether or not I was ever published, because I loved telling stories.

Who do you read? What authors have influenced your writing?
I read an enormous amount of nonfiction because I’m interested in a number of topics, from archaeology to food science. As for influences on my writing, Michael Crichton’s work taught me how to integrate science into fiction, Stephen King’s books taught me that ordinary people make extraordinary characters, and Ken Follett’s books taught me tension.

What is the best advice you ever received as an author? And what advice do you find yourself giving to aspiring writers?
My literary agent gave me the best advice: “Readers want to know secrets.” And that’s what I do when I write medical and scientific details in my books. I’m revealing secrets about the professions. My number one piece of advice to aspiring writers is: Don’t stop to revise. Write all the way through to the end of the story. Then go back and revise. I think that the act of editing while you’re still spinning the plot makes you see all the flaws, and it can stop you cold.

What is one fun thing your fans probably don’t know about you – and would be surprised to know?
I play the fiddle. Some of my best times involve playing Irish fiddle tunes with my musician friends.

Thursday September 11th, 2014

Linwood Barclay

linwood_barclayBorn in the US, Linwood Barclay settled into a Toronto suburb with his parents just shy of his fourth birthday. A commercial artist whose illustrations of automobiles appeared in Life, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post, Linwood’s father had been offered a job north of the border, and so it was in Canada that Linwood would grow up.

As the major car accounts switched more to photography for their magazine advertising instead of illustrations, Linwood’s parents bought a cottage resort and trailer park in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. But when Linwood was 16, his father died, and he essentially took over running the family business (an experience he wrote about in his memoir, Last Resort).
At the age of 22, Linwood left the resort and got his first newspaper job, at the Peterborough Examiner, and in 1981 he joined the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper. For twelve years he held a variety of editing positions, then became the paper’s humour columnist in 1993. A few thousand columns later, he retired from the paper in 2008 to write books full-time.

After writing four comic thrillers featuring the character Zack Walker, Linwood turned to darker, standalone novels, starting with No Time for Goodbye, which became an international hit. The novel has been translated into nearly forty languages, was the single bestselling novel in the UK in 2008, and has been optioned for film by Eric McCormack. Since then, all of Linwood’s novels have appeared on bestseller lists, including the NY Times, and more his books have been optioned.

Linwood studied English Literature at Trent University. He was fortunate to have some very fine mentors, in particular the celebrated Canadian author Margaret Laurence, whom Linwood first met while she was serving as writer-in-residence at Trent, and Kenneth Millar, who, under the name Ross Macdonald, wrote the acclaimed series of mystery novels featuring the private eye Lew Archer.

It was at Trent where he met his wife Neetha. They have been married more than thirty years, and have two children, Spencer and Paige.

Interview Questions for Linwood Barclay

When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and then when did you actually put pen to paper and begin to write?
I knew around Grade 3 or 4. I was filling notebooks with single stories in my overly chunky handwriting. By the seventh or eighth grade i was writing novellas (my father had taught me how to type by this point) based on my favorite TV shows, what we’d call fan fiction today. At that time I was certain i wanted to write scripts for television.

What in your background prepared you to be a writer?
Nearly 30 years in newspapers helps. It teaches you that writing is work. Great work, but work. Of course, I was writing before I joined my first newspaper at the age of 22, but I wasn’t published. Another thing that is terrific for becoming a writer is a strange, dysfunctional family. I got lucky there.

You are from Canada. Were you published first in the US or in Canada?  How do those two markets differ, and how are they the same?
I did three humor books and a memoir in Canada, but my first novel was bought by a US publisher. The Canadian market is much smaller and has historically had a more literary bent, so it was easier to find a publisher for my first crime novel south of the border. But as my audience grew, a Canadian publisher expressed interest in representing me up here, and they’ve been great.

Though you are from Canada, your books are set in the US.  Why?  And how much research goes into the settings you choose?
I was born in the US, but my parents moved to Canada just as I was turning four. I am a dual citizen. Several of my books take place where my two aunts lived — Milford, Connecticut — and I went down to visit them every year until the last one passed away. It’s a perfect setting. And my other books take place in Promise Falls, which I made up. So, I don’t need to do a lot of research for either. One I know, and one I invented.

Plot vs. Character.  Everyone seems to have an opinion on which is more important to story.  What is your opinion on this and why?
They’re equally important, but plot is where I spend my most time. Writing character seems to come fairly naturally, but making sure the pieces of the story fit together well, and believably, takes effort.

Who do you picture as your audience as you write?
Anyone. I don’t think about the audience. Maybe I am the audience. If I’m entertained, if I’m not bored, I’m  happy.

What do you hope your readers take away from your books?
I don’t really think much about that. I just hope they enjoy reading them.

How long does it take you to write a book?
I can usually write a first draft in two to three months. But much depends on how good that first draft is. No Time for Goodbye was written in eight weeks, and didn’t require much rewriting. The first draft of the The Accident was written in about the same time, but it needed a couple of major rewrites before I nailed it, so it took the better part of five or six months.

Was there ever a point at which you considered giving up your dream of becoming a published author?  What made you persevere as a writer?
I put the dream aside for a long time. I was hoping to write novels in my twenties, but just wasn’t ready. So I went into newspapers where I could get paid money to write every day. Within four years I was at The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation paper, and spent 12 years as an editor, and was too busy to think about pursuing that dream. But all that started to change in 1993, when I got a columnist gig. Now I was back to writing full-time. Over the years, this would lead me back to doing novels.

As an author, what do you see as the benefits of going on tour?  Do you believe touring is essential to writers? Why or why not?
I can’t say for sure touring works, but I think touring is better than not touring. It’s great meeting readers in person, and it’s important to make personal connections with the people who sell your books. Be nice to them. Be very nice to them.

What have you personally done to build your platform and create buzz for your books?
I’m doing all the social media stuff. Facebook, Twitter. I try to honor most interview requests. I do as many festivals and events that I have energy for. But it never feels like enough. My son makes movie-like trailers for every one of my books that we post all over the place and give to my publishers for promotional purposes. Do they work? I don’t know. But we have a great time making them.

Who do you read?  What authors have influenced your writing?
I read more people than I could possibly mention, but the author who most influenced me, when I was in my teens, was Ross Macdonald, author of the Lew Archer novels. I was blown away by his books when I discovered them, and was fortunate enough to have a long correspondence with him, and even dinner. He was very encouraging and supportive of my dreams.

What is the best advice you ever received as an author?  And what advice do you find yourself giving to aspiring writers?
Slow down. And when I was writing the first novel that would get published, about halfway through, my agent, who had read it up to that point, asked, “Who did it?” And I said, “Well, it’s either — ” And my agent said: “Stop.” She told me to sit down and figure out the rest of the book before continuing. I did. And then the rest of the book pretty much wrote itself. As for advice to others, it’s pretty simple. Read a lot, write a lot. You may get discouraged at times, but keep on going. I was in my late forties before my first novel was published. It takes time.

What is one fun thing your fans probably don’t know about you – and would be surprised to know?
I have trains.

Thursday September 11th, 2014

James Grippando

James-GrippandoGrowing up in a subdivision of rural Illinois, attorney and author James Grippando had an idyllic childhood filled with football field on one side of the house and a baseball diamond on the other and a lake down the street they swam in during the summer and ice skated on in the winter. Bicycles was his primary mode of transportation, his Labrador Retriever followed him everywhere, and by the time Jim was 18 he was ready to leave.

Always the achiever, Jim graduated college Phi Beta Kappa, became the Executive Editor of the University of Florida Law Review and was selected to Order of the Coif. A coveted position clerking for an Federal Court of Appeals judge and then five years as a trial lawyer, and Jim was well along the fast track to success when he decided to pursue his dream of writing second shift.

The rejection of his first book didn’t stop Jim Grippando. After all, he had completed a manuscript. And a nighttime walk that nearly ended in an arrest. All of which propelled him into his second novel which became the internationally bestselling The Pardon, published in 1994.

Now 20 years and 21 bestselling books later – one of which was written for young adults – James Grippando is at the top of his game. Ever generous with aspiring authors, he recently took the time to answer some questions for us.

Interview Questions for Jim Grippando

When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and then when did you actually put pen to paper and begin to write?
Becoming a writer was never a goal for me — it was a lifelong dream that started when I was about eleven. But having grown up in “The Land of Lincoln,” I also wanted to be a lawyer. I stayed on that track for years. In 1988, I was five years into the practice of law and tired of the fact that no one — including judges — seemed to be interested in any of the legal stuff I was writing. I also noted that the hottest show on television was L.A. Law, and the hottest book in the country was Scott Turow’s “Presumed Innocent.” There seemed to be this insatiable public appetite for stories about lawyers written by lawyers. So I started writing, nights and weekends, still practicing law full time. Finally, after four years, I had a 250,000-word monster in the box that no publisher wanted. But my agent assured me that I had received — get this — the most encouraging rejection letters he had ever seen. Over the next seven months, I wrote the first Jack Swyteck Novel, “The Pardon,” and it sold to HarperCollins in a weekend. There are now eleven novels in the Swyteck series and Cane and Abe, my 22nd overall, will be released in January. Don’t you love happy endings?

What in your background prepared you to be a writer?
I had a great high school English teacher, James Corrigain. With his gray hair and thick salt-and-pepper beard, he reminded me of Ernest Hemingway. Probably the most important thing he taught me was that, to be a good writer, you have to be a voracious reader. It was Mr. Corrigan who gave me one of the most unforgettable books I’ve ever read, the Pulitzer Prize winning play, A Man for All Seasons. It’s the story of Sir Thomas Moore, who was tried for treason and beheaded after he refused on principle to sign an oath approving the marriage of King Henry VIII to Ann Boleyn. I still have that book. It became especially meaningful to me in the early years of my legal career, when I was young and naïve and appalled to discover how many witnesses lied under oath. But it has also helped me in my writing. Readers are very good at spotting a writer who isn’t being honest.

You were an attorney when you started writing. How long did it take you to get published? And once published, how long was it before you were able to quit your day job to focus on writing?
My “overnight success” took about six years. I wasn’t one of those attorneys who wanted to write a novel because I hated practicing law. I really tried to make the two professions work. But this was well before the days of iPhones and other gadgets that made it so easy to telecommute. If I was going to be a writer, I had to commit. I resigned as partner in my law firm in September 1996—two months after my wife and I celebrated the birth of our first child. Needless to say, people thought I had flipped. But the firm is now defunct, and I’m still writing. I guess I look pretty smart.

Plot vs. Character. Everyone seems to have an opinion on which is more important to story.
What is your opinion on this and why?

My characters are like my second family (dysfunctional, I admit, but still family), and their problems feel like my own. I know Jack Swyteck—my serial protagonist—better than I know myself. Think of how attached readers get to serial characters just by reading one book a year over a few hours. The writer spends every day of his life with that character. People will often tell me how much they enjoyed this or that plot twist in The Pardon or another one of my novels, and many times I don’t even remember having written it. But the things that define a character—Jack’s relationship with his father, Jack’s trouble with women, the strange things that tequila does to Jack’s head when he drinks it “without training wheels” (salt and lemon)—are the things that stay with me.

Swyteck and Theo Knight, two of your characters, are both great friends and, in a sense, yin and yang. What does having such characters to play off each other bring to a story?
Jack is not super-cool, super-rich, or super-successful. But he is the kind of guy we all want as a friend—someone we care about enough to celebrate his good days and suffer through his bad ones as if they were our own. Theo, on the other hand, is the friend we all probably need—someone who makes us laugh, scares us a little, and reminds us “There are two kinds of people in this world, risk takers and s— takers. Someday, you gotta decide which you’re gonna be when you grow up.” Jack isn’t too full of himself to see the wisdom in those around him, and it makes for an interesting life in and out of the courtroom.

Who do you picture as your audience as you write?
I used to have the “Eleanor Rule.” Eleanor was my wife’s grandmother. She was a voracious reader and before she passed away was always one of the first to read my scripts. If the plot twists didn’t pay off for Eleanor, or if the characters weren’t worth rooting for, then I knew my book wasn’t working as entertainment. Eleanor lives on in spirit, but beyond that, I don’t get too caught up in the “who is my audience” question. When your books are reviewed by everyone from People magazine to U.S. News and World Report, it’s like the old saying goes: you can’t please everyone. The only picture I have of my audience is a shadowy figure stuck in hammock for hours, unable to put down my book.

What do you hope your readers take away from your books?
That I love to write. When that is no longer coming through in my writing, it will be time to quit.

How difficult or easy was it to write second shift in the beginning of your writing career? What made you persevere as a writer?
I laid down a rule for myself when I decided to take a shot a writing a novel: “Keep it fun.” That worked for a while, but trying to practice law full time and write a novel, nights and weekends, was probably not as “fun” as some other things a single guy in his late twenties might be doing. I guess what kept me going was that, even when it wasn’t “fun,” I loved doing it. It probably also helped that I had no idea how slim the odds were that I would ever actually get published.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of your first novel, The Pardon. How have you evolved as a writer?
I wrote the first Jack Swyteck novel when I was single and a full-time trial lawyer. He’s still around twenty years later, but I’m married, have three children, and I’ve scaled back my practice enough to write two books a year. Jack has evolved too. He remarries in the most recent Swyteck adventure (“Black Horizon”) and he and his wife Andie Henning are thinking about a family, so obviously the changes in my own life affect the way my characters develop. The biggest change I’ve noticed in my writing, however, is that much less ends up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. I used to write a hundred pages or more before realizing that a story doesn’t work. Experience has made me a much better self-editor.

Who do you read? What authors have influenced your writing?
I read everything. No single author took me under his wing and mentored me, so the only way for me to gauge an author’s influence on my writer is the reaction I had to one of his or her works. I mentioned the impact of A Man for All Seasons. Here are some others:
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee — Atticus Finch is what every honest lawyer aspires to be, and what better way is there to address serious issues like racial prejudice than through the eyes of an eight-year-old narrator who likes to catch snowflakes on the end of her nose?
The Plague by Albert Camus — “Life is meaningless, but worth living, provided you recognize it’s meaningless.” Camus had me believing that stuff for a while. Then I got married and had kids.
Mutiny on the Bounty — I think of this book as the original legal thriller. Re-read it. You’ll see what I mean.
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison — One of my favorite professors, who happened to be black, recommended this book to me when I was a student in his class at the University of Florida. The book and our talks about it are equally memorable.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles — I first read it in high school, and it’s a book I still give as a gift to young readers.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck — How could any list not include Steinbeck?
The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway — I re-read just about everything Hemingway wrote while coping with back pain in my late twenties, and Brett Ashley was one of those characters who could really take my mind off my misery.
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane — As I read it, I couldn’t stop thinking “I wish I’d written this,” and when it ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters.
The Pigman by Paul Zindel — When I first read this young adult novel, it felt so real to me that I can remember insisting to my friends at school that it was a true story masquerading as fiction.
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe — At the time I read it, I was a young lawyer with “Masters of the Universe” as clients. Wolfe so nailed the spirit of the eighties.

What is the best advice you ever received as an author? And what advice do you find yourself giving to aspiring writers?
Elmore Leonard once remarked that when he wrote a novel he tried “to leave out the parts that people skip,” which I’ve passed along to aspiring writers from time to time. More than anything, however, I encourage aspiring writers to find the honest answer to one simple question: “Why do I write?” For some people the answer is “because I must.” That’s fine—some people have a story inside that just “has to be told.” For me, the answer is “I love it.” At age eleven I wrote a comedy western and put my friends in it so they would sit and listen to me read it to them. In high school and college I was the guy who actually looked for courses that required you to write a paper. As a lawyer I published in more academic journals than most tenured law professors. I keep an “idea file” in my closet, and I’ll never live long enough to write all the stories I want to write. It blows my mind that I actually get paid to do this. Truly. But my point is this: until you understand why you write, you’ll have a hard time figuring out who you are as a writer.

What is one fun thing your fans probably don’t know about you – and would be surprised to know?
My first published novel was actually inspired by a near arrest in a case of total mistaken identity. One night in October 1992, tired of staring at a blank computer screen, I went for a walk before going to bed. I got about three blocks from my house when, seemingly out of nowhere, a police car pulled up onto the grassy part of the curb in front of me. A cop jumped out and demanded to know where I was going. I told him that I was just out for a walk, that I lived in the neighborhood. He didn’t seem to believe me. “There’s been a report of a peeping tom,” he said. “I need to check this out.” I stood helplessly beside the squad car and listened as the officer called in on his radio for a description of the prowler. “Under six feet tall,” I heard the dispatcher say, “early to mid-thirties, brown hair, brown eyes, wearing blue shorts and a white t shirt.” I panicked inside. I was completely innocent, but it was exactly me! “And a mustache,” the dispatcher finally added. I sighed with relief. I had no mustache. The cop let me go. But as I walked home, I could only think of how close I’d come to disaster. Even though I was innocent, my arrest would have been a media event, and forever I would have been labeled as “the peeping tom lawyer.” It was almost 2 a.m. by the time I returned home, but I decided that I needed to write about this. I took the feeling of being wrongly accused to the most dramatic extreme I could think of. I wrote about a man hours away from execution for a crime he may not have committed. What I wrote that night became the opening scene of The Pardon.

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