Archive for the ‘How-to’ Category


As I’m sure I’ve already mentioned, character writing is my favorite part of the fiction process. Nothing else–except maybe the finished product–is as satisfying to me personally as the moment a character begins to tell his or her story. Sometimes, they reveal themselves in slow sections, teasing you with their secrets and the private details of their personas. Sometimes, they come fully-formed in an in-your-face moment of undeniable clarity.

My intrigue with the process of character development is what keeps me writing, and it is what has prompted me to elaborate on it here, and dig a little deeper into some of the characters I’ve created, with the purpose of learning more about the mystery of it in general, and maybe even learning a little more about my own process. And, one of the most frequently asked questions any writer receives is about the development of characters, so I thought it might also be fun for the folks who have read my work to see the inner workings of my imaginary friends 🙂

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The first character that comes to mind, for some reason, is Brytt Tanner, Sterling Bronson’s dim-witted side-kick in Beautiful Monster, so I’ll start with him.

Brytt came into existence pretty early on in the plotting of Monster,  and if I remember correctly, it all started–as it often does–with his name. My co-author, Mimi A. Williams, met a man named Brytt in the workplace. The moment she mentioned the guy’s name, I knew I had to use it.

The first thing I knew about Brytt was that he was a stripper. I’m not sure why that was–again, probably the name. It just sounds kind of strippery, I guess.

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Next came his physical appearance. I figured a bulky, muscle-bound blond guy would be an interesting antithesis to Sterling’s dark, brooding good looks. I don’t like to create characters who look too much alike, and second, I’m a sucker for contrast. After ascertaining the basics of Brytt’s appearance, the next thing I did was start browsing the internet for his doppelgänger. This isn’t something I always do, but at times, I’ve found it helpful. So, I found a photograph of a guy that fit the mold, and referred to said picture when I needed to expound on details. I considered posting that picture here, but have ultimately decided against it. I think it’s best to let readers fill in their own blanks and use their own imaginations.

Not all of Brytt was pre-planned. He–like all good characters–came with a little of his own agenda, and one of the first things that surprised me was his dim-wittedness. I don’t know that I would have deliberately created him to be such a lunkhead, but as is so often the case, this is how he kind of “revealed” himself as I wrote him.

And it worked… which is also very often the case when you trust your characters to do their own things.

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It was also a surprise to me that Brytt was almost–but not quite–as morally corrupt, sexually deviant, and as dangerous as Sterling. In the beginning, Brytt was created, I think, simply as a means to give Sterling–who lives by himself–more opportunity for dialogue. But as the story progressed and began to demand artistic unity, Brytt began to play a significant role in the novel.

Brytt’s last name was tricky. A strange thing happened as we got further into the story. We started noticing a pattern… an absolute overuse–and abuse, really–of the letter C. We had Claire, Connie, Carlson, Cassidy, Carson, Carlisle, and probably several other names that began with the letter. I wish I could tell you why C became such a prominent player, but I can’t–I don’t know. Wierd things happen sometimes. So, after we made the discovery of the letter Cs undeniable overuse, Brytt’s last name–Carson–was changed to Tanner. Tanner, because at the time, I worked for a company with the word “Tanner” in the title. I’d been at the company for thirteen years, and figured it deserved some kind of recognition for paying my bills all that time. Unfortunately, Brytt probably isn’t really the most complimentary thing to be associated with, but for what’s it’s worth, I like him. He amused the hell out of me… and hey, it’s the thought that counts…

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I can’t remember if Brytt’s addiction to cocaine was a surprise or part of the plan, but this was the most fun, and most challenging thing about him. His constant “pit stops” kind of became his calling card, his personal catch-phrase in a sense, and it was interesting to describe the physical symptoms, like his glassy eyes and powder-congealed nostrils–and it was a total blast describing the actual snorting of the cocaine. I know… I’m kinda twisted that way, but it was fun. The snorting of coke is not glamorous. I wanted that to be very clear when Brytt did his thing, and it turned out being more hilarious than anything.

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Brytt is, believe it or not, one of my favorites. He was fun because he didn’t allow Sterling to take himself so seriously. Well, maybe Sterling took himself seriously, but Brytt made it impossible for me to take him–and the rest of the story–as seriously. Brytt is one of the reasons Beautiful Monster was so much fun for me. He moved the story along like a good character, he played by the rules by not demanding more stage time than his part required, and he forced me to learn more about the darker, sleazier side of life. I absolutely love him, and I have no doubt he will reincarnate, in some form or another, in my future writes.

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Beautiful Monster is available in paperback and ebook format at www.damnationbooks.com, and everywhere books are sold.

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Being a writer isn’t a choice. It’s a condition and those of us afflicted are intimately acquainted with the suffering we were born to endure. Because our tortured lives are lived in the service of our art, we strive to sacrifice our very souls at the altar of literature for the sake of presenting the world with the beauty of our pain.

Today, we have decided to share with you the burdensome joy of our oft-flailing endeavors to create for you, Dear Reader, the finest, most insightful fiction our poet-souls can spew forth.  We shall reveal our rituals and our deepest secrets so that you may understand what all writers go through every day of their tormented lives to give the gift of verseful prose and to keep the word-thirsty demons of our condition at bay and our sanity at least partially intact.

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TT: So, Jerod, I used to use heroin to spark my imagination, but that wasn’t quite elegiac enough, so now I make my own absinthe. Not only is it a staple of great literary tradition, I also find the color green clarifying and provocative and it allows me to maintain both creativity and beauty in my life. Do you have a similar support system?

JS: I gave up absinthe when my liver protested too much. I replaced that sweet nectar by the very bonnet Laura Ingalls Wilder wore when she was compelled to write her Little House on the Prairie series. It still brandishes the magic of long ago, which really was beneficial when channeling Sterling Bronson in Beautiful Monster. http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Monster-Mimi-A-Williams/dp/1615727752/ref=sr_1_17?ie=UTF8&qid=1364787121&sr=8-17&keywords=Beautiful+Monster Tamara, what attire do you don to conjure up your tortured brilliance?

TT: I dress as a Union gunnery officer, circa 1864, because after all, isn’t writing a war with words?  Words are my rifle, my computer is my sabre and rattling it is my life.  I’ve worn this outfit for all my novels except Moonfall when I found it necessary to dress in a full Felician nun’s habit, complete with the garters and holey leggings of the Benedictine monks.  Do you perform any rituals to enhance your performance?

JS:  I believe that to get to the creative depths of our souls, we must maintain the precarious balance of each of our universes by creating and destroying in equal portions. That being said, my rituals include but are not limited to breaking furniture, smashing mirrors, throwing champagne glasses into the fireplace, watching I Dream of Jeannie reruns, and animal husbandry.

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No, but seriously, my real rituals are far less spectacular than any of those.  I like to wear electronic nipple clamps while I’m slaving over my work. There’s something about the power juicing through my body that I believe adds an adventurous edge to my writing. I also center myself by counting the hairs on the back of my left hand.  There are many hairs and this helps me find inner peace. It’s my Zen moment of the day and I always look forward to it.  Do you have any rituals, Tamara?

TT: I do, but none as interesting as yours, I’m afraid.  I keep a framed signed photograph of a young Samuel Clemens over my computer.  It’s been handed down in my family since he presented it to my great-great-grandparents, Chester and Sarah Bellham as a wedding gift in 1859.  (They were traveling after their wedding on the very first steamboat he piloted after receiving his license.)  Each evening, at the end of the working day, I close my computer and light a votive candle kept on the little altar below the portrait.   Then I choose thirteen ants out of my husband’s ant farm and hold them, one by one, over the flame with long tweezers until they crisp while I recite these lines partially from Tolkien:

Cut the cloth and tread the fat!

Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!

Pour the milk on the pantry floor!

Splash the wine on every door!

Hubba hubba shebop shebop

Hobbits, don’t let my new book flop!

 Those lines have spoken to me since I was ten years old in ways I can’t begin to explain, even to myself. Perhaps it’s merely silly superstition, but I believe that these small sacrifices aid my creativity.

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JS: That’s amazing, Tamara. I do the same thing, but I didn’t admit it earlier because I didn’t want PETA to go after me.  I do it a little differently. My altar includes a painting of Stevie Nicks and a tambourine, which I shake vigorously before sacrificing my ants to her. After the sacrifices have been executed, I look up to the Stevie Nicks painting and recite the following lines three times:

“Just like the white-winged dove…

Sings a song, sounds like she’s singin’

Ooh, baby, ooh, said, ooh…”

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TT: Why Stevie Nicks?

JS:  Why Mark Twain?

TT: Good point.  We all contend with our private demons in our own ways.  Jerod, they say no book is written by just one person, so tell me what role your wife plays in your writing life.

JS: She lies. She tells people I’m a plumber because she’s very embarrassed, but in private, she’s quite supportive, going so far as to help me count the hairs on the back of my hand to help me focus. I couldn’t do it without her because she’s a far keener mathematician than I.  What of Robert Damien?  How does he cope with your literary mistress?

TT: Threesomes.  Well, Jerod, in closing, what advice would you give to new writers?

JS: As a natural born writer, you’re surely already hanging on to life by the thinnest of threads, so my advice to invest in plenty of anti-depressants, read books such as The Story of O by Pauline Réage, Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann, and of course, The Back Passage by James Lear. Also, find a good luck charm – worry stones. It’s nice to have something to rub whilst pounding away at your work, and according to ancient legend, worry stones are also good for your circulation depending on the vigor of your worry. Additionally, porn is good because it clears the mind, but make sure you have a keyboard cover.  Exercise.  Kegels are great because you can do them right at your desk and the keyboard cover also comes in handy. Also I glue leather elbow patches to my Lycra Spandex unitard and carry around a meerschaum pipe because it makes me look literary. I advise all new writers do something similar. Think like the writer — BE the writer! What’s your advice, TT?

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TT: I advise always taking writing very, very seriously. There’s no joking around when it comes to being a Published Author.  This is a business, damn it, and you must be a professional at all times. Make sure, as well, that your subtext is well thought out and inserted consistently so that people will know just how brilliant you are–and obviously, you must be sure there are always many deeper meanings in whatever you are writing. Thinking like Camus is excellent for romance writers, and I recommend Nietzsche for humorists, but the cant of any serious philosopher will fit the other genres.

Any more to add, Jerod?

JS:  Yes. I agree one hundred and seven percent.  You must take your art as seriously as you do every breath you take. Each move you make and each claim you stake in writing is important. You don’t have to put on the red light. Just write. Write like the wind. And remember, I’ll be watching you.

TT: One last question, Jerod. However did you get the original Laura Ingalls Wilder bonnet?

JS: eBay.

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Though I’ve been taught to never start writing a book without having my beginning, middle, and end in mind, I have continually insisted on sitting down and blindly tapping away at the keyboard, trusting the plot to work itself out as I go. And sometimes, the story does just that…but sometimes it doesn’t, and when it doesn’t, as I’ve recently learned the hard way, it’s a mess.

Since deciding that the book I’m currently working on might be stronger if it were written in the third person point of view (and I have to virtually start the book over anyway), I’ve refused to make that mistake again. Therefore, I’ve spent the majority of the past week or so working on an outline for the book.

Here’s what I’m learning:

1) My characters need a little structure. What I mean by that is, although I love the surprises my characters present to me as I write along, I need to keep them under control, to a point. As any writer knows, characters have a way of taking the story into their own fictitious little hands, and guiding the plot their own way. Sometimes, this is a blessing. Other times, it’s a curse. I’m finding that giving them freedom, but within the confines of the stories structure, works out well as long as the boundaries are set in place.

2) My outlines never go exactly as I plan them. Even with a solid outline, the characters bring their own attitudes and actions to the story, the same way actors do with their scripts, so for me, having an outline really doesn’t limit my creative freedom.

3) Outlining is a great way to know what comes next. Nothing sucks worse than getting 35,000 words into a story and suddenly wondering now what? I’m finding that having an outline in place eliminates this problem, and for me, that is awesome.

4) Outlining is hard, damn it. There seem to be two types of writers: those who excel and plot, and those whose strength lies in characterization. I am of the latter persuasion. I just kind of “get” characters. I understand how to make them move and speak, and I usually instinctively know “who” they are and what they want. Creating a strong plot to cast them in, however, isn’t so easy for me. I don’t know how other writers operate, but I see glimpses of story ~ small, seemingly unrelated flashes of action, dialogue, or events. It’s my job then to put these slices of plot into some kind of order, and to ultimately tell a solid and cohesive story. This, for me, is usually pretty challenging, but although it’s difficult (for me anyway), it saves me a lot of trouble in the long run.

5) Process is unique to every writer. I’ve talked to many writers about their process, and none of them use exactly the same methods. This is both a blessing and a curse for the beginning writer. On one hand, it’s great because the possibilities are endless, and the new writer doesn’t feel restrained by the advice of other writers. On the other hand, every writer needs to develop his or her own process, and that takes time, practice, and requires a few (or a lot of) dead-end attempts.

6) Process can change from book to book. For me, some stories work just fine without an outline. When I was writing Sterling Bronson for Beautiful Monster, I rarely referenced the outline, although we had one made up. Sterling just kind of did his own thing, and since he divided his time with Brenna, Mimi’s character, there wasn’t any room for dawdling. The book I’m currently working on now however, needed to be outlined. This one is a more layered storyline and I don’t think there’s any way I could finish the book without a solid knowledge of where I’m going with it.

7) Finally, what I’ve learned from outlining is that whether or not you map your stories out at all, the most important thing in writing anything is still to simply sit down and do it. It doesn’t matter how you do it…just that you do it. I’ve heard of writers who spend so much time working out convoluted character development sheets, learning every detail of each character to the point of what this character’s favorite kind of socks are, that very little actual writing gets done. My advice: outline, even if it’s very skeletal…but let the story come to life as it’s being written. Let the details fill themselves in as the characters and the plot invent or require them.

Until next time,

Happy writing!

(What a typical outline of mine looks like!)

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Of the many difficult aspects of writing that exist, none has surprised me more than the difficulty I’ve had with finding the right titles for my books. The title Beautiful Monster didn’t come into existence until the very last round revisions that Mimi and I did on the novel. First, we called it, very simply, An Evil Heart, deciding that would do just fine until something more powerful came along.

Then, for the longest time, we called the manuscript Gallery of Dolls, in reference to the abandoned mine shafts Sterling Bronson takes his victims to. I was never happy with that title, though, and probably drove Mimi crazy with my fixation on finding just the right name for this book. It sounded too much like The Valley of the Dolls to me.

Then, during the book’s final round of revisions, Mimi’s character, Brenna, said something about “the monster behind the beautiful mask…” and I knew that, somewhere in there, was our title. We played around with it a little before settling on Beautiful Monster. This kind of focus on the title of a book can be completely in vain though, as many publishers will change the title of the book if they don’t think it’s a marketable one. Still, my obsession doesn’t cease.

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Now, I am re-writing the novel formerly known as The White Room, which I recently changed to Cadence, which now is simply known as untitled. I don’t know why having a title is so important to me. I somehow feel like I can’t fully envision the book without the title intact, and yet, I usually don’t come up with the titles until the end of the process.

It’s my hope that as I’m plugging along, the perfect title will present itself to me when the time is right. I’ve been told by many other authors that this is how it usually goes, and I believe it.

If anyone else has a problem finding titles for their work, I found a useful article on the Writer’s Digest website that addresses the issue. I plan to look it over and incorporate the information: http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/7-tips-to-nail-the-perfect-title

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Have a great weekend!

All best.


Of the many totally awesome benefits to getting your book published, probably nothing is as cool as getting letters from your readers, and in the short time since Beautiful Monster has been published, I’ve discovered there are three basic types of mail that readers will send an author: fan mail, hate mail, and just plain-strange-mail.

Each of these types of mail are important to the author who is interested in knowing his or her audience and/or learning more about his or her own strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It’s always great to get mail from readers, however, you have to be careful not to get too caught up in anyone’s take on your work. There’s something to be said about writing for one’s self.

I believe that anyone who writes a novel and gives it to the world has already got nerves of steel. Putting your work out there leaves you vulnerable, it makes you raw, and it is absolutely terrifying…but when you start getting feedback from readers, the good, the bad, and the ugly, that’s when things get real interesting. That being said, here are the types of mail you can expect to receive from your readers once your manuscript is published…based on my experience…

The first and best kind of mail is, of course, fan mail. This is the stuff that reminds you of why you wanted to do this in the first place. The writer’s of fan mail are always very excited about your characters and the world you’ve created. Many of these guys even share insights into your story and your characters that make you see your novel from an entirely new perspective. The writer’s of fan mail are your most important readers. These guys like you. They support you and they want more from you. Be very nice to these folks.

Another form of mail you’re likely to receive is the kind no one likes to get: hate mail. Before assuming that this kind of mail is limited only to writers of sex, violence and sensitive social subjects, be warned that receiving hate mail is almost inevitable. I know writers of the most delightfully sweet children’s books who have received their fair share. Realize that in a time when people are looking for reasons to be offended, there are no safe books to be written. The writer’s of hate mail like to tell you that you have no business writing. Sometimes, it’s your writing style that has set their vicious pens a-scribble. Other times, it’s the content. Too much sex, too much violence…not enough sex, not enough violence…these are all just a few of the triggers that get hate mailers in a dither of wrath. It’s best not to respond at all to these guys as any correspondence from you is only likely perpetuate the hate and increase the chances of them telling their friends and families what a prick you are…on top of being a lousy writer. That being said, don’t forget that even the hate mailers are important, though. As Oscar Wilde said, “there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.”

Finally, of the three kinds of mail, the just-plain-strange mail is far and beyond the most interesting. These folks like to confess deep things to you. I suppose they figure that (if you’re a horror writer) you somehow understand their darkest, secret fancies. (These folks also tend to get the idea that your characters are real people with whom they would get along famously with, but that is neither here nor there.) There is not, in most cases, anything wrong with getting these kinds of letters. These guys are reading your books, and that makes them cool as hell. That being said, there have, however, been a few letters that have given me pause, and I would caution readers against revealing too much to a stranger, even one who seems to let his freak flag fly. There are just some things that need to be kept under the toupee.

And that is, as far as I can tell, the three types of letters that readers like to send to authors. As I said, all letters from readers are important, and the fact that I’m getting any letters at all is wonderful. I am still in the beginning of all this, but for what it’s worth, this is what I’m learning: don’t let the fan mail go to your head, don’t let the hate mail go to your heart, and… well, as for the just-plain-strange mail, I’m still not sure what to do with that…


After putting my first manuscript, The White Room, in a dark corner and leaving it there for the past half a year or so, I have reluctantly unearthed it with serious intentions to re-vamp. As I’m looking it over, I realize how much work it needs before I’m willing to let my publisher come within five feet of it.  For the most part these re-writes should be somewhat simple, easy fixes, but there are a few things that I am really having a hard time with. The thing troubling me most right now is the prologue. The reason it’s so problematic is that I’ve chosen to write it in third person. I’ve made this decision because I feel I need to introduce the concept of the story before beginning the adventures of my protagonist…and he can’t be present in the scene.

I don’t know when, or even if, I ever made the conscious decision to write in the first person, but that’s what I’ve always done. We live our lives first person, so I guess writing from that same perspective just made sense to me. Regarding the books I read, I have no especial preference as to which method is used. If it’s a good story, it’s a good story and I don’t really care who’s telling it, but I didn’t think that in my own writing, shifting my person was going to be this difficult. It has taken me seven days to write six very mediocre pages.

The first problem I’m having is an inability to find my voice. When I write from a protagonist’s point of view, I am becoming the character. I know how he sees the world and how he responds to it. I know the things that fascinate him, and the things that he wouldn’t give a second thought to; I simply get into his state of mind and let him tell his story…but in third person, who am I? This may sound ridiculous, but I’m serious. Who is narrating this story? It can’t really be me, can it?

Another issue is that I don’t know what details in the setting to focus on. This probably ties into not being able to find my voice. Since I don’t know who is telling the story, I’m not sure what to point out to the reader. The answer is obvious: point out what’s important…but my question to that is: important to who? Bob the gardener might care that the fern needs watering, but chances are slim that Rhoda the gold-hearted hooker is interested in ferns…which brings me to my next third person pitfall: point of view.

If I write third person limited, whose eyes do I decide to see the world through, and how can I show the readers anything that this character doesn’t see him or herself? If I write third person objective, I will convey my story with all the emotional zest of a tape recording, and finally, if I write third person omniscient, won’t I be head-hopping? Isn’t head-hopping a big no-no?

Writing this prologue has taught me that I need to expand my abilities. I don’t like being this confused and unsure of myself. I plan to get some books on point of view, as well as talk to some other writers I know who write in different styles than myself. I’m eager to get on with the rest of the story, which is written in the first person, but I don’t intend to simply avoid writing in third person just because I don’t have a firm grasp on it. I’ve been working at it, and am coming to more deeply appreciate all the different styles that are available to writers. As frustrating as it’s been, I guess sometimes you just need to learn to see things from a different point of view…


I discovered the books of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro just a few months ago, and have become a great fan of her work. I became acquainted with her through a friend of mine, and I was eager to get an interview with her. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is a kind, fascinating, and very talented writer. She’s been writing for 44 years, and has penned everything from science fiction, to horror, to westerns, to non-fiction. She is presently the author of 87 published novels, and I am honored to have her. I’ve been reading her Saint-Germaine vampire series, and I strongly recommend it to anyone. However, I’ve found one negative side effect to reading the books of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: she serves as a great reminder to me of how far I have to go to get as good as she is.

Visit Chelsea Quinn Yarbro at: http://www.chelseaquinnyarbro.net/

Q: You have written so many historical novels. How and why do you choose to write about the eras you do?

A:  In the case of the Saint-Germain novels, I originally set the stories — with the exception of Tempting Fate, which takes place after the historical man was dead — in places the real man had claimed to have been, and expanded from there.  Over the years I’ve developed a chronology for Saint-Germain, Roger, Olivia, Niklos, and Madelaine as well as some notes on what happens to others from his colorful past:  Rowena Saxon in Writ in Blood shows up again in Midnight Harvest, for example. In the case of other historical novels, which includes my two westerns, I chose times that interested me for their ripple effect on their time, or events that so appalled me that I  wanted to explore how they happened.

Q: Which are your favorite historical time eras and why?

A:  This one, because it’s where I live.

Q: You’ve been quoted as saying, “History is horror.” Can you elaborate on that?

A:  Not all history is horrifying, but a lot of it is. I call the Saint-Germain Cycle historical horror novels (and have from the first, meaning from Hotel Transylvania on; the sentimentalized “novel of forbidden love” was the publisher’s idea, which is why I cross it out in every copy I sign) because what people do to people tends to be more barbaric than anything a vampire could do.  Go ahead: compare, say, Stalin with one vampire, or a dozen of them.  Who is the more inhumane?

Q: Of the novels you’ve written, which ones were the most difficult to write, and how did you get through them?

A: Since I’m a character-driven writer, once the characters “come alive” the only way to shut them up is to finish the story; otherwise they linger.  I have two large portions-and-outlines that haven’t sold yet sitting in my head, and I would like to find them a home so they can retire from my thoughts.  It’s my general experience that stories drive themselves once the characters become “real”.  Any book worth its salt is difficult to write — that’s part of the deal.  Some are harder than others, but if they’re easy, the writer is cheating not only the reader, but him/herself as a story-teller.  For me, westerns are fun, but not easy.

Q: How important  do you think historical accuracy is when writing a novel set in a different time era?

A: It depends on the book.  In general I’m a stickler for historical accuracy, but I have done alternate history, like Ariosto, which I find challenging and engaging.

Q: How do you feel about narrative non-fiction?

A: It depends on how well it’s done, and unfortunately much of it is filled with sloppy writing.  When it’s done well, it’s quite intriguing.

Q: How many Saint-Germaine novels are there, and which are your favorites?

A:  There are 24 novels, including the one I just turned in, and 2 collections of shorter fiction.  My favorite book at any time is always my next one.  Collaborations are a bit different, but even they have charm for me.

Q: What do you hope readers come away with from reading your Saint-Germaine novels?

A: The satisfaction of money well-spent.  Anything beyond that is extra.

Q: What is the one thing you think most readers would be surprised to know about the Saint-Germaine novels?

A:  Probably that most of them were written in less than six months, some in less than four months.

Q: What do you think is the most fascinating or peculiar thing about life as a writer?

A:  Making sense of royalty reports.

Q: I’ve read that you have written over eighty novels, and that you release three to four books per year. How do you remain so prolific? And how many hours of writing do you do in the course of an average week?

A:  At present 87 books — novels, collections, non-fiction — and over 80 shorter works are listed on my bibliography; in my 44 years of professional writing, I’ve had five books completed canceled before publication, six completed novels that never sold — or haven’t sold yet — a couple of for-hire ventures that fell apart after my work had been done, and two books that vanished in a puff of smoke when the acquisitions editor left the acquiring publisher.  However my end of publication happens, it happens, I’m glad it does.  My average day goes like this:  up between 7 and 7:30, feed the cats, answer email and such, take a hot bath to get my arthritic joints moving (I’ve had arthritic knees since my 20s), then do writing until 12 or 1, when I stop for lunch, the main meal of my day.  Then I take an hour or so for chores such as shipping, shopping, watering the garden, and get back to work between 3 and 4, break at 5 for the news, come back to the machine either around 7 or 9, depending what’s on tv.  Toward the end of a book, I may go back to work at 10 or 11 and work until 1 or so, and then I get up an hour later than usual.  Sunday I visit friends in the South Bay, and I allow myself one half-day a week.  A couple times a year I have house-guests, and play tourist with my visitors.  I have lunch out a couple of times a month.  There are days when Crumpet, Butterscotch, and Ekaterina the Great, Empress of all the Russias demand more of my time than they usually do, but that’s pretty much it.

Q: Who are your own favorite writers and what are some of your favorite books?

A:  Shakespeare, all else is changeable.

Q: What are some things in a novel that bother you and will cause you to put it down?

A:  Poor grammar and syntax in narration will do it every time.  Dialogue can be a linguistic mess and that doesn’t bother me, but if I have to stop to parse a sentence or deal with a misused word, I am no longer “in” the story, and I quickly lose interest in it.  Obvious story lines and motivation based on stupidity can also turn me off.

Q: What are some things that make it impossible for you to put a book down?

A:  A friend wrote it, it’s not a genre I’m working in at the time and it’s well done, the characters are compelling, it has an unusual perspective or a narrative point-of-view that opens a lot of doors.  Style can also catch my attention. if the storytelling is solid.

Q: Do you outline your novels, or does the plot come to you as you write it?

A:  Yes, I outline, though I often wind up getting rerouted through the story line by the characters on my way to the end.  If the characters and the book isn’t mostly set in my mind, I can’t write it, but once the basic form is there, and the characters are established, I’m ready to go.

Q: Did you have any false illusions when you began life as a novelist, and if so, how have these evolving understandings changed your approach to your craft and the business of writing?

A: All illusions are false by definition.  When I began, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into.  Of course my understanding has been evolving, as has every writer’s:  publishing has been evolving, and at the moment more rapidly than in past decades, which certainly changed the business end of writing.  For one thing, advances are down sharply and print-runs are smaller.  Then there’s the whole matter of e-publishing, and who knows how that’s going to shake out.  At least for now, it is reviving the back-list so that mid-list writers like me are not compelled to live in garages or in spare rooms.  For now there is cause for encouragement, which is a nice change.

Q: What makes you laugh?

A: Mark Twain’s essay on “The Awful German Language” is sure to make me laugh.  My three cats.  The rest is timing and my state of mind.