I have been asked the same questions (and had the same conversation and interview so many times) I thought I’d spare myself the bother of further repetition and simply put the gist of it in print.  In future similar situations I fully intend to refer people to this website rather than plodding through the same cant.  So for those who are interested… here goes:

 

1.      “How can I be a writer?”

  Umm… write something?  Really, there isn’t a whole lot more to it than that.  If you write things then you are, by definition, a writer.  What more did you expect?  The tantara of trumpets heralding your arrival upon the literary scene?   The world doesn’t work that way; less than 4% of the United States purchases or reads books for pleasure beyond age twenty-four; most people who purchase books do not read them because they are picture-books or coffee-table books intended for display and when they do read it is because they have to for their job or some other purpose like learning “Excel” or how to use the latest version of “Windows”.  So don’t worry about fame or acclaim.  Writers write; painters paint; ad nauseam.  So write things and… et voila!  You become a writer.  If that seems too simplistic I won’t apologize because in life the truth of many things often proves simplicity itself—so accustom yourself to the concept. 

  If you decide to let people read the things you write, ignore every word they have to say—especially the plaudits and “mash notes” from people who love your work.  If people hate your work… that is also good.  But ignore that as well.  Do not let any praise, any suggestion, any deprecating comment deter you for one moment or alter your conceits and intent.  Art is meant to provoke an emotional response; if you provoke one you have done your job properly.  Not all emotional responses are joy and happiness and acceptance; do you really think anyone LIKES the look of a Jackson Pollack canvas???  Vomit looks more appealing with a crowd of dogs lapping at it.  So the simplest answer to the question in bold is that you will know you are a writer if you write things…  If you give one thought to what the rest of the world thinks of you then you are probably the wrong person for the job; writers have an obligation to take their audience to horrific and vile places at times.  If you are worried people will question your morality or ethics based on what you write then you are getting into the wrong business.

 

2.      “What is your process?”

  I detest this question.  I dislike the word “process” to describe any artistic endeavor.  “Process” is one of the buzz-words which became overly-popular in the late ‘90s… just after Political Correctness made way for “Compassion Babble”.  So now terms like “proactive” and “process” and the bizarre “intrapreneuring” are tossed about by people who want to sound clever and important.  The terms are usually misused and poorly understood by those who utter them.  And I find such patronizing language, and all language designed to remove meaning and emotion, beyond contempt.  Calling toilet paper “bathroom tissue” so one does not evoke the nasty image of a dirty restroom has proven the “thin edge of the wedge…  Such pointless linguistic legerdemain has toppled our language into an Orwellian pursuit of double-speak; it has nearly eliminated any real emotion or conscious thought from the words most people use in their daily lives.  It’s worse than “small talk”; the incessant pointless verbiage rings of primate ooking to my ears and nothing more.  Art is not PROCESS.  Art is like giving birth.  Ask a painter, a scientist, a teacher, or ask me.  Those people all make “art” of one kind or another and you will quickly learn that progeny and art are all that will survive you once you depart this world.  What you create (whether it comes in the form of children or new antibiotics or music or simply the impressions you make in the minds of others) remains your entire legacy.  So create something good.  Whatever you choose, just do it well.  But “process”?  I don’t think in terms like that.  If you want to sound clever then by all means stick to your double-speak.  If you want to know how I do something then why not just ask outright, “Gee… how’d you do that?”  I am far more likely to answer that question.

 

3.      “Okay… then how do YOU do it???”

  Okay, I’ll tell you.  You won’t like it but I will tell you.

  It starts with a line.  Just a line.  Any line at all… a line just pops into my mind.  It could occur at any moment—in the shower, waiting at the bank, out walking my wolf.   The line can appear without warning anywhere or at any interval.  It has happened in my deepest sleep and awakened me.  The line.  Gods, not again.  The damned first line.  My life, as I know and prefer to live it, has come to a close for the next few months.

  I go to my keyboard and I type the line.  And truly, any line at all could appear.  Such as:

  “I hoped never to relate the tragic and horrifying events of that winter in Nepal; I thought I had put that nightmare long behind and moved on with my life,” Carter told the investigator from across the pitted surface of the interrogation-room table, with innominate dread misting in his weary eyes.

  Or:

  Vrk-blin waved a distracted antennae at the girl and went back to drilling the Embassy safe door on Tarkus IV, knowing full well he had less than two micro-spans to complete the work before a plethora of red-skinned Djushishian guards plowed through the hastily-erected barricade.

  Or even:

  The greatest secret behind Lyndon Baines Johnson’s efficacy as President lay in his unfailing ability to appropriately delegate matters of national import to his staff—not least his wife—and these hand-picked and talented people covered any areas which lay beyond his expertise.

  I can give you 400,000 words on any of those openings without a single thought… in less than a week.  But I know that once I type the first line, the next lines will come whether I like it or not—whether I choose them or not.  And again I tumble into the trap and lose a few months of my life.

  So I type the first line and save the file.  Then I read the line.  With no transition or warning, the next one comes.  So I type that.  And I continue on, as if taking dictation from someone in a foul mood who speaks too fast and doesn’t answer questions and refuses to repeat.  I type as many lines as I possibly can and try not to miss anything because it goes faster than my fingers can move and my typing speed is 110 w.p.m.  I continue on until my vision is so blurred I can no longer see what I am typing.  Sometimes I arrive at the keyboard wrapped in a towel because the line dragged me out of a hot shower; in such circumstances I look up and realize it is some ten hours later and I require another shower.  Other times the line appears at less inconvenient intervals.  In any case, at the end of ten hours I find I have written about eighty pages and have no idea what I wrote.  I don’t recall character names or the plot or any situation or conversation whatsoever. 

  As each line is perceived by my mind (and spent onto the keyboard) it vanishes and all I recall is the last few lines I typed.  It is like asking William Shatner a question about Episode 72 “Turnabout Intruder” from his days in the 1960’s on Star Trek; he will look at you blankly and try and remind you that it was a script, from a T.V. show, and he’s read and performed hundreds of scripts for television and film since then and has no specific recollection of most scenes in which he starred.  That is precisely how it feels to me.  When I finally finish a manuscript and read the entire thing… I assure you I do so as a complete stranger to the work, as surprised as any other potential reader by the turns and twists of the plot.  During the course of my writing I have no idea who my characters are, what they look like, where they are going, what they are doing, what they actually mean when they speak, or why they are doing anything at all.  I understand that sounds quite impossible; it is nevertheless precise in every detail.

  So it begins with a line, and ends ten hours later.  No matter the line or when/where it occurs, the line remains ubiquitous and inescapable.  The line is all things and I am nothing at all.  At ALL times the line prevents me doing any other task until it is typed. And then the dictation begins in my mind and I have no choice but to try and get it all down as fast as humanly possible.  And when I stop (some ten hours later in most cases) I need food; a cigarette; sleep; to take my wolf out; all sorts of things.  When I wake the next morning, the next line may or may not come.  I have no way to tell.  Sometimes it is a few hours or days; sometimes it pulls me from my sleep less than four hours later and the narration resumes where it left off.

  I do NOT read any of the previous day’s work.  I try to avoid the computer if possible because there is a chance that reading the last line of the current novel could prompt the next line immediately and most days I would prefer to shower, shave, maybe have some breakfast.  Perhaps put on some clothing or go for a walk.  But once I know the next line, once the work begins, I am doomed—and when it comes I will find myself locked in a chair for the better part of a dozen hours unable to do anything beyond type. That feeling of loss-of-control is not one I personally enjoy so I put it off if I can.  Once I managed to stall a book for an entire week by turning off my computer and staying at the house of a friend.  But long, it cannot last.  Eventually I am compelled to return to the keyboard.

  The next line forces its way into notice, and the next, and ten hours later I have another eighty pages or more.  This situation repeats itself for a week usually and by the end I have about 500,000 words on nearly 600 pages and no clue at all what happened to me. I just know it is finished.  I feel that somehow; I get a sense of completion even if I don’t see the words “The End” on the screen in front of me.

  I close and save the file and try and live my life for a week and forget about the whole nasty business.  I do my best to put the entire affair completely out of my mind and try and get actual living accomplished.  I do laundry, clean the yard, putter about in the garage… the ordinary things of life I miss when I am forced to incubate some new fledgling manuscript.  Above all I revel in having free will and choice return to me; I bask in the simple pleasure of being able to light a cigarette or have a soda when I choose.  I live for the feeling which comes when I can get “out of the chair” in front of the computer monitor; it is akin to the relief one feels when they know they are leaving a sauna and about to breathe the free sweet cool air again without lava in their lungs.

  But within a week or two I will return to the computer and open the file.  I then read the entire book from beginning to end.  I am usually stunned to learn the story.  I could encounter a mystery set in the 1940’s or a fantasy on a distant alien world or wind up confronting a biography of an inbred racecar driver from NASCAR.  There is simply no way for me to tell until I read the thing.

  After reading, I digest.  When the work is typed NOTHING IS DESCRIBED.  The characters perform their actions, they speak their lines, the plot elements play out.  But not one face, not one room or location has any description whatsoever.  If a character “waves a lock of hair from their eyes” there is no mention of what color those eyes might be or what style or shade of hair the character possesses.  So I read the entire book and I get a sense of each of the people based on their actions, their words, the tones described in the narrative and my understanding of their eventual character-arc in the story.   I get a “feel” for each character and begin making notes.

  As an example, if I come upon a name like “Lady Trisha Harrold” I get an image in my mind.  Having read what she does in the book, I can then project her personality based on those actions.  I see her as a haughty woman of five-feet and four inches who is in her eighties but still walks her entire estate daily—with her dogs yapping beside her as if she were the Queen of England.  I can see her grey, stiff, short hair poking out of an angled wide-brim green hat her husband used to wear and I know that she dresses like a sportsman when she is at home but only lets herself be photographed (or seen in public) in elegant dresses she is far too old to wear.

  That’s all it takes; just a “feel” for the character and knowledge of how they talk and behave.  So I make notes on people and settings.  I write down every name and place I encounter.  If they are real people and places I watch every documentary and film I can find on them and research everything I reasonably can so that I may accurately relate a murder in Red Square or the crash of John Denver’s plane or whatever else I might run across in the book.  If they are imaginary places or non-specific (such as a generic hospital or warehouse or courtroom) I draw on my own sense of how things must look from the way things play out in each scene.  If a character throws a pen on a desk I know I am in an office or study and I can then proceed to invent the furnishings.  I write all these down copiously until I have a complete mental image of every passage, every room, every section of ceiling-tile, and every character’s freckles or where they keep their glasses and so forth.

  Once I have the list compiled I go back to page one and each time I run across any name or place I begin to inserts bits of the descriptions.  I add “blond” to “waves a lock of hair from his eyes” and so forth.  Gradually, the reader builds up the same picture of the character that I have discerned.  I do the same with locations; I build up the verisimilitude a line at a time until I make certain that every place and scene is clear in the mind of the reader.  I also labor to insure every character has attributes which conform to their actions (or conflict with them to increase the drama) so that people reading the work can envision the scenes as clearly as I do.  This entire research and insertion effort takes about a month.  The book is already written, of course.  But I still need to do research on what lays beyond Pluto or how many dogs it might take to rip a human being’s arm completely off at the shoulder, or what happened to Officer Dartmouth at the “Battle Of Bull Run”.  So until I can complete that research, and enter the details at appropriate points in my narrative, I cannot continue.

  The book took five days to write; the research usually multiplies that time by a factor of six.  Once all the insertion of context and transition and details is done, I return to page one and this time I edit.

  Editing is the single worst thing about writing.  It is worse if you feel you are editing someone else’s material.  You keep asking, “Why the hell would he have so-and-so DO that?  What the hell is the brass key for???” and so on.  Because I am afflicted with writing (I caught short stories once upon a time… but that is another tale) and because I am apparently a complete masochist I subject myself to the utter agony of editing everything I write personally.  SMART people hire someone to perform this task.  People who don’t want to suffer unnecessary angst… farm the job out.  I do it personally.  And since I am a complete masochist I edit each novel at least three times:

  The first edit corrects any typos and grammar problems and covers any word changes required—I am capable of using the same word too often in a chapter because it occurred to me first.  But  I don’t want my story to say “water” over and over when I can say “azure pool” or “chilled liquid” or “seeping droplets which accumulated” and so on.  So I clean up the language and make sure nothing reads awkwardly; I take pains not to overuse terminology. 

  The second edit corrects problems of the story.  Perhaps at one point I said a character wore a hat, and then later I had them scratch the top of their head.  But such a thing is impossible unless I first account for the moment when the character removed the hat to allow him access to scratch his head.  These may seem like small details but they ring glaringly to a reader.  If your character cannot drive and suddenly gets into a taxi and throws out the driver and pilots the vehicle away flawlessly you will lose your audience. PLOT HOLES are often hard to detect and exist in the greatest works.  In fact, one of the most acclaimed films of all time has plot holes you could waltz elephants through.   Citizen Kane.  Watch the film… it starts with a rich old bitter man dying completely alone with a snow-globe in his hands; as his life escapes and the globe tumbles to the floor he intones, “Rosebud” and that prompts reporters and everyone else in the movie to research his entire life and try and find the core of goodness which once existed in the man.  But Citizen Kane dies ALONE.  Completely alone.  So who the hell heard him whisper, “Rosebud”?  No one.  Not a soul.  And people watch that movie all the time and never notice.  How about this… In 1961, the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, borrowed Henry Matisse’s “Le Bateau” for an event; the painting hung upside-down for a remarkable 47 days until a stockbroker named Genevieve Habert noticed the mistake.  Thousands of people saw that exhibit and never noticed the painting’s inversion.  Millions have seen Citizen Kane and never noticed the glaring flaws that story contains.  I know, no matter how careful I am, I will make errors.  Nevertheless I do my level best to minimize or eliminate as many holes as I can find.  That’s the goal of the second edit… making sure my Matisse paintings all hang properly.  This edit takes about ten days and many re-readings and much taking of notes as to settings, costumes and action.  If you are wondering how I knew about the Matisse painting, that is simplicity itself: like everything I write, this piece you currently read has also been edited many times; during the second edit I researched “weird artistic mistakes” so I could provide the reader with more than just the Citizen Kane example I found in my own brain.  This “fleshing-out” is crucial to achieving clarity and assuring relevance as well as impact; people like to identify… so give them things they can relate to clearly.

  The third edit is the hardest.  I have a list of words I keep in a file and I go back through the manuscript and search for each one.  The first section of the list contains all forms of the verb “to be/exist”.  So the list contains “am” and “are” and “was” and “were” and “is” and so forth.  I have a file containing every possible permutation of that verb.  As I locate each of the offenders I reword the sentence to remove it.  I will not be doing that to this piece because I am speaking to you, and you need not remove “is” and “are” and “was” and so forth from any character’s conversation; people speak in sloppy language.  But as an author I cannot use the verb overmuch in narration because it provides no action.  Don’t tell me what something is, tell me what it’s doing.  Give me action, activity.  One of the first thing editors check for (in evaluating a writer) is how often they use passive language like forms of “to be”.  Editors (and more importantly readers) desire active language; a good story demands it.  So I reword anything that says, “he was going to the store” to read, “on his way to the store he…” or “he headed towards the store and…” to eliminate the superfluous “was” from that line.  This is harder than you might think.  Try to say “To be or not to be” without using any form of passive language and you will see what I mean.  “Continue, or should I maybe die?” lacks the same impact and import.  Thank goodness Hamlet spoke the line in-character because it is lousy narration.  Characters are free to use slovenly language but writers cannot.  I swear to you I once had to write two entire additional pages into a novel just to eliminate four forms of the verb “to be” from a manuscript.  It is tedious work and annoying and if you do not feel up to the task you should consider writing everything in FIRST PERSON so you can just write the way you speak… with any sloppiness that happens to contain.  As an example of such rewording, I reworded a line above which originally read “The thing that made Lyndon Baines Johnson such an effective President was his ability to effectively delegate matters of national import to his staff—not least his wife—and these hand-picked talented people covered any areas which lay beyond his expertise” but now reads, “The greatest secret behind Lyndon Baines Johnson’s efficacy as President lay in his unfailing ability to appropriately delegate matters of national import to his staff—not least his wife—and these hand-picked and talented people covered any areas which lay beyond his expertise”.  All that rewording to remove the two underlined words; the first for passive language and the second as a superfluous form of the word "effect" in the same line.  It may seem ridiculous, but it is essential work nonetheless.  After I remove all the forms of “to be” that I possibly can (without making the manuscript unintelligible or sacrificing meaning) I go on to the rest of the words on my list.  But I always take care not to reword something so that it reads awkwardly because that is a mistake up with which I will not put.  If you re-read the last sentence you will find it grammatically perfect and I did not end it with a preposition because of the rewording; but it reads badly and would sound terrible aloud.  If you need to break the "rules of grammar" I suggest you do so.  Just be aware when you are using bad grammar and make sure you are doing it on purpose to improve the story, not because your editing is haphazard.  Once I remove all the "to be" variants I can comfortably manage there remain another few hundred entries on my list of things to delete or correct.  This list (and you will come up with one yourself over time) contains words such as “nearly”.  An innocent enough word: “nearly”.  Sounds harmless.  But it is passive and borders on oxymoronic language.  If something NEARLY-happened then the logical conclusion is that it didn’t happen.  If it didn’t occur, why, PLEASE are you boring me with relation of the event?  I can tell you millions of things that didn’t happen.  I didn’t just inhale this computer into my lungs and breathe out a wide cloud of luminous argent vapor.  Don’t tell me what nearly-happened; tell me what happened.  Then I go onto “clearly”… another seemingly innocent word—except it insults the reader so be careful of how you use it and how often.  If something is clearly visible then the reader knows it already; telling them what they already just read is like providing a recap of the entire book at the beginning of every new chapter (which I actually did in “The Layman’s Guide To Planet Dirt” but as an ironic plot element, and completely tongue-in-cheek) and it bores people.  It additionally insults their ability to recall.  If something is obvious or crystal clear, then move on; you don’t have to belabor the point.  My list contains over 200 words so this third edit is the most difficult of the all and can result in twenty extra pages or the loss of entire sections of text which are superfluous to the story.  I move onto "almost" and "said" and reword most of those; if something almost happened... then it didn't.  And using "said" ad infinitum when you have a plethora of alternatives from which to choose (such as, "ejaculated" or, "interjected" or, "declared" or, "decided" or, "summed up" or, "related, or "pronounced" or, "intoned" or, "whispered" or whatever words best suit the action and the scene) bespeaks laziness.  I can think of ten thousand ways to replace "said" without trying.  I suggest people who decide to write are wise to log onto an online thesaurus and keep it open while they work.  Otherwise, their efforts will bore them, and likely other people, interminably.  How long would you read a conversation if it went, "He said this and then she said that and then he said and she said and his father said and he said and she said but he said back and then..."?  How long would you listen to someone tell you a story like that in a club or at a party?  How about anywhere else in your personal life???  I would walk away from a tale like that after only a few moments.  So try not to "crack the wind of the poor phrase" because it can only do so much before it annoys.  After "said" comes "really" and "very" and so on.  I continue on through my list of words and when I am finished I might have gained twenty pages or lost fifty.  This edit also truly sucks on a personal level because it feels like taking a chainsaw to my child at times; like any good writer I am in love with the sound of my own voice and the taste of my words in my mouth and I hate to sacrifice any of them.  I once composed an eleven-hundred page work (which I thought would become a trilogy) and wound up with a tome of less than four-hundred pages.  Sacrifices must be made.

  Even after all this, sometimes a new line will pop into my head which requires insertion into some long-completed work.  Or I come upon a new fact or reference which is perfect for clarifying some point in one of my novels and I find a way to incorporate it. The three edits I perform are mandatory but by the time I am ready to submit a book it may have undergone as many as twenty edits or even had entire characters removed or entirely re-written.  The finished product is based on the original 5-days of writing, but often bears little relation to the initial manuscript.  I once turned a science-fiction novel about war in another galaxy into a Star Wars novel on a whim.  It took little re-working since Star Wars does everything so typically and with such iconic imagery and stereotyping.  When I had finished, I no longer liked the book and deleted it.  Sacrifices, as I said in the previous paragraph, must be made.

  So there you have it… how to be a writer.  If you want a better answer then ask a better author.  If you don’t like my “process”… My first reaction as an ordinary human plying his art in the world is, “Fuck off, loser.  Go do better.”  I don’t frankly care for my “process” either.  The first five days are grueling.  The next month confusing.  The next weeks irritating.  The final edit… heart-breaking.  At the end of all this I usually have close to five-hundred pages of a readable story which I hope engages and captivates any readers.  But really, I worry more about making sure all the details are correct for ME; what the reader thinks is ultimately irrelevant.

  People who pontificate on the subject of authorship say, “Write what you know”.  That is complete bollucks.  Utter shash.  If people wrote only what they knew, would H.G. Wells have taken us to the moon or “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”???  Write about what you don’t know if you like—you can always look up the details or invent them for yourself at some later interval.  Speculate.  Challenge.  Irritate.  Annoy.  All that good stuff.  Others suggest, “Consider your audience…” and I assure you that is the last thing I intend to ever try.  Look at the average person a moment and think about it.  On reflection I am forced to consider my audience a bunch of low-I.Q. monkeys who shamble across the face of the globe with little direction or intent (or even understanding of their own choices and actions) and many of them are prone to excesses in drugs, violence, alcohol, gambling, overeating and too many other self-destructive activities to list at this moment.  There is no way I can write for all those people with all their different perspectives so they had better get used to MY PERSPECTIVE because that is what they are damned well getting.  “Consider your audience???”  SPARE ME THAT TRIPE.

  There are an estimated 7.125 BILLION people on this planet; you cannot effectively get the answer to “would you like a glass of water?” out of that many people in your lifetime… Methuseleh didn’t live that long.  Stopping to try and consider each of their individual philosophies, beliefs, and desires is an utterly ridiculous pursuit.  I wish you well of it.  But I have no intention of ever attempting such futility.  I have enough work on my plate just getting from novel to novel without feeling I’ve lost huge swathes of myself.  I don’t have time to “consider” any “audience” and frankly I don’t give a monkey’s-mister or a tinker’s-damn what anyone but me thinks of my own efforts.

  At the end of ten weeks of torture I have my book.  Then I return to trying to live a NORMAL LIFE without such interruptions.  Despite the “taking dictation” feel which begins the work, the ultimate result of the entire undertaking results in post-natal depression.  And I assure you I don’t want any more “kids” any time soon.  I don’t ever seek that first line of a story or try and force any plot or story to come into existence because I know precisely where it leads.  I know what it will cost me in time and effort and internal agony.  Like most folks, I tend to avoid primal agonies.

  But when that line comes, I type it dutifully.  I do my goddamned job.  I’m a writer so I write.  I perform my function like any other monkey on this benighted ball—when I am absolutely compelled by exigencies or need to do so… and not one minute sooner.  We all have jobs.  But does anyone REALLY want to get up in the morning, fight rush-hour traffic for an hour to get to a place like a steel-mill or a call-center full of people they detest?  To spend the day surrounded by others whom they would not allow into their home if given a choice?  And then to slave eight hours at a task that seems irrelevant or annoying, only to face another hour of traffic?  And after all that perhaps they are fortunate enough for dinner, possibly the news and sleep?  And then they start that routine all over the next day?  Forever???  Does anyone think people enjoy that???  No. 

  Need inspires such activity and life-choices compel such events; you want to pay your rent so you get in your car and deal with the rude idiots on the freeway.  That is the way of things.  My job does not contain such events as being “flipped off” by someone I cut off in traffic, or welder’s goggles, or even a white suit and tie.  But I assure you it contains its own horror and inequities.  I face the prospect of work like any other poor schmuck headed into the office on Monday morning.  I have a job and I do it.  Period.  I do it because I don’t have any other choice.  No matter what it costs me personally, I do my damned job.

  Now… whoever you are reading this… go do YOUR job and get out of my hair.  I feel a novel coming on…