Steve Liskow interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Oct 26, 2017 10:26:37 PM
Steve Liskow interview with David Alan Binder
Short bio from him:
Steve Liskow is the only Connecticut writer to have been a finalist for both the Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America and the Shamus Award from Private Eye Writers of America. He has also won the Black Orchid Novella Award twice and Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard Story Award three times.
A former English teacher and theatrical director and actor, he now serves as a mentor and panelist for both Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. When he’s not writing, he does freelance editing and conducts fiction writing workshops throughout Connecticut to satisfy his teaching Jones. He also plays guitar.
His novels, many set in Connecticut, deal with issues such as teen sex-trafficking, a shooting in a public school, and teen drug abuse. The Kids Are All Right was a finalist for the Shamus Award, and Blood On the Tracks won Honorable Mention for the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Novel Award.
Website: www.steveliskow.com with links to Amazon
My Facebook Author page is www.facebook.com/steveliskowcrimewriter.
I also blog every other Monday on Sleuthsayers.org
1. How do you pronounce your name?
Long “O,” rhymes with “Crisco.” Some of my grade school classmates called me that because the shortening was on a lot of TV commercials back then.
2. Where are you currently living?
Central Connecticut, a few miles south of Hartford.
3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
No matter how much you revise and polish your work, SOMEBODY ELSE has to read it before you send it out. There’s always something you miss because you’re too close to it. And, the more you revise, the more invested you are in what’s already there. Someone else may see a problem you no longer notice because you know what you meant.
4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I don’t know if this is a quirk, but my “outline” is a list of scenes with three or four lines telling the main action of that scene, in what I think is the right order. It’s like a story-board for film. It keeps changing as I write and discover what I’ve left out or repeated. By the time I complete my first “full” draft, that list is often in its fifteenth version or more. I actually consider that list my “real” first draft because I’m finding the right sequence for the story. And that list usually takes me about two months because plotting is hard for me. My mind doesn’t work in a linear fashion.
5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
I publish my short stories in traditional markets: Alfred Hitchcock, Sherlock Holmes, various anthologies. I’d like to sell more of them. My first novel was with a small traditional publisher and I learned immediately that we were a terrible fit for each other. As more and more agents failed to respond in spite of my winning awards and getting notice from a few “names,” I turned to self-publishing. I like the flexibility, the control over cover design and the freedom to experiment instead of being jammed into one series or genre. I wish I had someone else to help with promotion and that I made a lot more money, but that’s the trade-off.
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located?
I use CreateSpace. They respond to problems promptly and produce a good product. I also publish my books on Kindle because the royalty rate is good.
6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
eBooks cost nothing to publish on CreateSpace if you’ve already produced the MS, and I get a good royalty rate. I get a good author’s price for the paperbacks, too, but few bookstores or libraries will buy them because they can’t get the usual distribution discount. I don’t like to order many copies because they take up space and I’m selling fewer books at events now. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s becoming an issue. I’m not even sure what you mean by “alternative” unless that’s self-publishing or small indie press.
7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
Write every day until you can produce X number of words on demand whenever you sit down at the keyboard or legal pad. Go to workshops, read books on craft, revise the hell out of your stuff and refuse to settle until you know it’s the best book you can write. Then show it to people who know writing and listen to their feedback. Use whatever feedback will make it better, then do it all again. If you decide to self-publish, understand that a lot of the stuff out there is junk and that you have a responsibility not to add to that list.
8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
I think the traditional publishing industry has thrown agents under the bus and nobody in his/her right mind should consider becoming one now. I received nearly 400 rejections from agents over a period of about seven years, and only three or four of them—I remember them by name—treated me as a professional instead of a nuisance. Two of them would be over 80 years old now if they’re still working. During the time I was submitting to agents, I was a quarter-finalist for the Amazon Breakthru Novel contest (17 unanswered queries for that book, which eventually became my first self-pubbed novel), Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard Award from the New England Chapter of MWA three times, and various other recognition. Nobody cared. I’ve been a finalist for both the Edgar and the Shamus since then but don’t believe either a traditional publisher or an agent could do better for me unless I live to be 100, which doesn’t seem likely. If you’re younger than about 35 and want to write the same stuff everyone KNOWS they can sell rather than take chances, check the Writer’s Digest Guide to Agents and online sites like Agent Query. Learn to write a killer synopsis and query, and good luck.
9. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
See number 7. I was an English teacher for years and knew I could write a decent sentence and good paragraph, but I had to learn how to tell a good story. That means you MUST know how to structure a plot and develop characters and use language correctly. Those things take time and practice. If you’re going to write, it’s a difficult job and you have to have the skills. It’s as difficult as brain surgery, and the only difference is that if you do it badly you probably won’t kill anyone.
Another thing I’ve slowly learned is KEEP EVERYTHING, even if you think it’s horrible. Stick it on a flash drive and label it so you can find it again. I wrote 8 or 9 novels that never got published, but I find bits and pieces to recycle. It might be a character, a description, a line of dialogue that’s perfect in a new setting. A few years ago, I was about 60 pages into a book that wasn’t working and I figured out why. Then I recycled several of the character names (only changed a couple of the characters slightly, too) into The Kids Are All Right, which was nominated for the Shamus as Best Indie Novel. I’m still looking for the place to recycle a character I liked but had to cut from another early book.
When you think you have the MS as polished as you can make it, take a printed copy and walk around the room reading it out loud. Walking and your speech rhythms are closely connected and you’ll either break stride or stumble over the words whenever you’ve written something clumsy. Fix it. Every time.
10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned with your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
Once I got started, the energy was self-sustaining and I started cranking out stuff very quickly. I learned to produce junk at an incredible rate. Once you have something on paper, you can usually find a way to fix it or to dump the part that doesn’t work and recycle the rest.
11. How many books have you written?
I wrote 8 or 9 books that were terrible and will never see the light of day, but they helped me find my own process. At this moment, I’ve published twelve novels, a collection of my previously published short stories, and have six more stories appearing in various magazines by the end of this year. I’m in final revisions for my fourth Chris “Woody” Guthrie novel, which should be out early next year, and I have begun the first draft of my sixth Zach Barnes novel. If that goes well, it might be out late next year. I have six or seven short stories floating around trying to find a buyer, and I’m trying to write more of them. I love short stories, but they’re hard for me.
12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
Read the writers you admire and study how they do things: how do they set up a conflict or a twist? How do they hide clues? How do they depict character? How do they use dialogue? You can’t take an idea, but steal any technique you can. And don’t read JUST in your genre. Read some romance or SF or paranormal and mystery. Read nonfiction, too: history, biography, science, economics. Some of it will help you with research. Poetry (aloud) is great for developing your ear. Plays are good for structure. I wish I had a stronger background in social sciences, especially history, but I don’t. My social science minor in college was mostly psychology because I became a teacher, but I feel borderline or worse on a lot of world history.
Exercise regularly, too. You can’t sit around all day and expect to stay alert and healthy. Your brain will turn to mush and your ass will turn to lard. And have at least one OTHER creative hobby you can turn to. They’ll give you distance and feed each other. I play guitar and hit at least one open mic a week. I used to do lots of theater (my wife still does) and music and theater help me see structure more clearly. Theater helps me envision action scenes. I used to do photography even though I’m not really that visual. It helped me used different parts of the brain. That’s vital. I’m vaguely teaching myself piano, which is a whole different way of seeing and hearing music from guitar, too.
13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
Plot twists are very hard for me. I often figure how to do (or not do) something on my fifth or sixth draft. Chris Knopf once told a group that he writes a story (I don’t think he outlines, but I do) with two or three possible endings in mind. When he gets near the end, he selects the ending that feels the most surprising. Then he goes back and changes what he need to so it makes sense. I often find that when I’m revising I find a way of taking my “ending” one step farther. That happened in The Night Has 1000 Eyes, and it happened in my current WIP, where I was half-way through the first draft and realized that a different culprit would be much more shattering.
14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
Character. There are a finite number of plots. That’s why we don’t refer to a book an “another murder set in LA” or “a love story.” We refer to “A Harry Potter Book,” a “Harry Bosch mystery,” or “another Boone Daniels story.”
15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
I have a website, www.steveliskow.com with excerpts of all my books and buy links to Amazon. My Facebook Author page is www.facebook.com/steveliskowcrimewriter. I also blog every other Monday on Sleuthsayers.org with 14 other writers, most of whom have published a lot more than I have and are better writers, so I learn from them. I serve on panels for both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. I conduct writing workshops in local libraries (harder to get gigs now that budgets have been slashed). I do freelance fiction editing. I have bookmarks and business cards. I occasionally get the chance to participate in a podcast or an interview like yours. Thanks for inviting me.
16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
I wrote five or six terrible books in the seventies without studying the craft. If I had it to do over, I would have studied it more seriously. When I started again, I attended workshops and conferences and read dozens of books on the craft: plot, characters, setting, description, dialogue, revision, etc. I might have figured out how to salvage one or two of those early books. If I’d done that, maybe I would have found an agent and a publisher when that was still the way to do it, and maybe I’d have a lot more stuff out there now. Maybe someone would even know who I am.
17. Anything else you would like to say?
I actually got the inspiration to write (again) when I went to my high school reunion and met a former classmate who was a session keyboard player in Detroit. We’d never known each other in school, but we hit it off and I ended up interviewing her during the meal about what it was like being “the girl in the band.” She played with or knew Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, Dick Wagner, Ted Nugent, and other Detroit royalty, and she inspired the character of Megan Traine in my Woody Guthrie series. I saw Woody as a wannabe guitar player from the start, so almost all my titles are song titles or references to songs. I have a list of over 200 song titles that suggest a basic plot and I add to it constantly.
Thanks for having me on, Dave.