For those of us who call ourselves writers, writing fiction is viral. It’s like a disease. Once the bug hits you, you can’t stop. I spend hours every day lost in the world of my latest book. Most of the writers I know do the same thing. You can’t stop.
After you get published, and it becomes a business, it’s more than just the mental obsession. I have regular discussions with my editor and publisher as we work through the bugs of the second book, and what’s going on in marketing for the first book. Every meeting seems to end the same way: I say, “That’s it. I’m sick of this BS, I am going back to lawyering (my day job) full time. No more writing. I can’t do it.” The response, of course, is a sly grin, a nod of the head, and a quip from the editor. “Sure Dick, you do that. But I don’t believe you.” They know I can’t stop. They work with many authors, and I have talked too many to fall for the bluff. Once you catch the bug, you’re done. I am presently working on the third book of the Gauntlet trilogy, though I’m meant to be doing other things. But how can I work on anything else when I have novels dancing in my head?
So how does one write a book? I’m a visual person, so my approach is to treat it like building a skyscraper. A gigantic hole is carved in the ground, and for months laborers are hustling around said hole, scurrying about like ants. On the face of it, they aren’t doing anything structured or orderly. Day after day after day nothing seems to be happening. But once the foundation is set, they will erect a floor of glass and steel every day. Within a week a building will stand where none stood before.
Writing is like that. I start by working on plotlines, character development, themes, content of chapters and, most importantly, the outline of the novel. I start with a broad outline of the entire book, which doesn’t include content for specific chapters; all it does is set out the large themes and major plotlines. This part happens mostly in my head, and describes the beginning, middle, and end of the book. I call the outline components “blocks.” Then I develop the characters. I create subdirectories for each one, and I give their names, ages, and other personal information. I describe their strengths, flaws, and background histories. But at this point everything is scattered – a million puzzle pieces waiting to be put together. I can work on a book this way for three months, with little to show for it; bits and pieces stuffed away in various directories.
Once I have my characters and plot set, though, I start putting them where they belong. I divide each block into chapters, and each chapter into segments. Within each segment are the links and developments of three interweaving plotlines. And within those plots, of course, are my characters, playing their parts. Ultimately, I end up with a detailed outline, consisting of blocks, chapters, and segments of chapters. THEN I begin to write. This is the erecting the steel and glass of the skyscraper. That’s when the bug truly hits. I become focused on writing, to the exclusion of all else.
The main difficulty as a writer is understanding that the outline will change as you write. Some segment will creates an unbelievable plot development, or prove to be inconsistent with other passages of the book. Your editor will pick out a specific plot thread and tell you it doesn’t work. Your publisher will tell you that the book needs a different ending. You need to be flexible, and you need the strength and humility to revise. It will never be perfect, though we the other obsession of a writer is striving for that perfection.
Tell us a little about your latest novel and when and where we can get it.
The latest novel is called Gauntlet. It’s a high-tech novel of international intrigue, pitting a young autistic mathematician (Turbee) in a small American intelligence agency against a sophisticated terrorist ring bent on wreaking terror for profit. The plot is standard fare, the telling is not. To start, four and a half tons of Semtex go missing in Libya. Within hours, a brooding holy man in Afghanistan threatens a massive terrorist attack against the United States. Hijinx ensue as the Semtex makes its way across the globe, with many unexpected twists and turns. Turbee is the one man capable of tracking the terrorists, but is hampered by his autism in communicating this with his peers in the agency. For all of the “cutting-edge research, complex plotting and in depth characterizations” (Publisher’s Weekly), you will need to buy the book.
The book is available at all major bookstores, Amazon, and http://www.RichardAaron.com.
How do you balance the creative process of writing with the demands of public appearances, maintenance of your website, and your family?
Balancing the creative process with the necessity of public appearances and family demands is enormously difficult. In fact, for me, as an emerging as opposed to a well-established writer, there is yet another dimension adding to the complex mix. Writing is not, nor can it be, my “day job.” I am a practicing, well-established lawyer, with a busy practice and a staff of 30. That means that I don’t have time to sit and write for days on end… as much as I’d like to. It also means that I’m not able to take weeks off at will, to flog the book. The only answer is that I have had to become very astute at delegating, in both my careers. I have been fortunate in that I am surrounded by very capable, hard-working, and clever colleagues, in both the legal and publishing worlds, who assist me in many things. However, the simple answer here is that the “normal working hours” are devoted to law, and the early mornings, weekends, and often evenings are spent writing. I write every day, usually about two or three hours. I have a very capable assistant who schedules time for me in advance to do book tours and personal appearances. Right now it’s a matter of keeping all the balls in the air, and not letting it drive any of us crazy.
About the great ‘rule’ debate: we are told you can’t do this and you can’t write that. But it is stepping outside the lines that gets many authors noticed and eventually published. What are your opinions on the rules?
There is a rule of thumb that I am learning as my writing career begins to take off. People don’t like it, writers don’t WANT to follow it. But it’s there for a reason. My editor talks about it on a regular basis. I’ve heard it from my publisher, my marketing assistant, and my publicist. Other writers have spoken to me about it. And it’s quite simple, really: if you are going to be a full-time writer, there are three key things that demand attention. You are always publicizing one book, while you are proofing and editing the next book, while you are sketching out plot lines and developing characters and themes for the third. It’s a never ending process, and one in which you have to accept and EXPECT cooperation from all parties. Piloting a small ship through these rocks and hazards is a great challenge, and I’m learning as I go. My wife is not happy. Most of the time, my publisher isn’t happy either. But we’re all trying to find our way.
In regard to writing rules. There are rules. They are genre dependent. And again, they’re probably there for a reason – people expect certain things from certain genres, and especially as a new writer I believe it’s probably best to satisfy those expectations. Hopefully, you do so in a way that no one else has. If you write a spy thriller, for example, and you want to make your reader happy, the good guy should not be anti-American and should keep profanity to a minimum. I don’t personally believe that there’s a lot of room for sexuality in this genre, and horror scenes should be referred to indirectly or by allusion. (These are some of the guidelines I’ve been given by my editor in the writing of the second book, with which I struggle, but ultimately agree.) If you are writing horror, of the Koontz variety (and he is a writer of enormous skill) the rules describing the horror scenes are different. If you write for children, there is no violence other than cartoonish antics. If you write a legal brief, adverbs and adjectives are almost nonexistent, and there are likely encyclopedias of written rules devoted to the form and content of pleadings and proceedings of the tribunal before which you appear. It is obvious that there are rules. There is no debate about it. You can’t put the “f” word in a children’s book: it would be instantly rejected. You can’t put a cartoon in the middle of a legal brief: it will be struck down (I actually tried this once). Rules are always put in place for a good reason, and at this point in my career I’m trying to follow them.
The neat question, though, is the extent to which you can push the boundaries. How much horror can you slip into a romance novel? How much romance CAN you establish in a spy thriller? This is where the writer can be creative. This is how writers make their books different from anything else out there. And I believe this is how new genres are born.
Gauntlet pushes the boundaries, in many ways, and this has been noted and commented on positively by many critics. The protagonist is an autistic mathematician who becomes a James Bond in cyberspace. It’s something that hasn’t been done often in fiction, and is the construct that separates Gauntlet from the pack, drawing positive reviews and lots of attention. I would like to say at this point that I did this with calculated forethought, but I didn’t. I lucked into it. I have an autistic son, for whom I wrote the book, and it just happened to turn out the way it did. I was very lucky to land with a publisher who was willing to release something so far outside the bounds of “typical” in this genre. It is something that makes Gauntlet stand out, and something that I’m extremely proud of.
What music do you listen to when you write?
I listen to everything and anything when I write. I don’t have that “special space.” Typically, the TV is going, the phone is ringing, Nintendos and gadgets are whizzing and buzzing all around me. I have four teenage kids. I have worked for years, successfully, in the midst of such racket. However, if I have a large, important chunk of work to do, I can be found at the office at 5 AM, with only the noise of the click-clacking of keys and the sound of the air conditioner to keep me company. I did that today, as a matter of fact, when I sketched out the character, appearance, and backgrounds of one of the anti heroes in my next book.
If you could collaborate with any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?
If I could collaborate with any author, it would be either Koontz, Clancy, Grisham, or King. To me these are the writers with the finest writing skills, and tremendous storytelling abilities. I could learn much from such a collaboration, and I’d be very VERY interested in seeing the book that came out of it.
What are your thoughts on promotion for books?
My thoughts on promotion of books? I often feel uncomfortable, like a huckster, or a snake oil salesman. I am not a marketer, and I’m not good at sales, so it rubs me the wrong way. I usually end up talking to people about something entirely different than the book. But I also know how important it is. The marketplace is ridiculously crowded. I am at a tiny desk in a monstrous building, competing with a thousand of other writers, trying to be heard above the din, shouting that my potion is indeed the best. I don’t like shouting. I’d rather sit back and avoid notice, most of the time. But if I didn’t shout, how would anyone even know that I HAD a potion available? It’s a necessary evil. It’s also something that all authors should know and understand before they try to get into the industry, because it caught me completely by surprise.
What advice do you have for authors who haven’t quite gotten their manuscript to the next level, which for most is publishing?
My advice to authors who “haven’t quite gotten their manuscript to the next level” is this. It’s a long, hard, cruel road, with many a blind turn and box canyon. You’re going to have to learn to somehow NOT take it personally, and realize that you’re leaving the artistic world and entering into business. At the end of the day, it can be infinitely rewarding. Just know what you’re getting into. You need the consent of your spouse, and an understanding and supportive home life, because there are going to be days when you absolutely want to shoot yourself in the head – even after you’re published. On those days, there’s nothing like being able to go home, crack open a bottle of wine, and see that your family still loves you, even when your publisher is telling you that you have two days to get them the next book. You absolutely must have a good agent, or at the very least someone who is acting as your consultant and advisor. Perseverance is mandatory, long hours unavoidable. Realize this and be ready for it. Above all else, you must enjoy writing. If it stops being enjoyable to you, you’re definitely in the wrong business.
I know people who are trying to write books. I know I can’t help them, because authors really aren’t the ones in control of the industry. The best I can say is good luck, and if you need advice or someone to rant to, I’m there for you!