the publication of my first novel in 1993, friends and strangers alike have
let me in on a little secretthey, too, have novels in them. It seems
everyone does, and it seems everyone has questions for a published author.
After a while, I noticed certain themes emerge from these queries, so Ive
put together a list of the Big Ten, my most frequently asked questions.
If theres something on your mind thats not covered below, feel
free to send me an e-mail; just click
here. Id be happy to hear from you.
Where do you
get your ideas?
Its often said that writers write about the things they know best,
and in my case, thats certainly true. Many interests that have developed
over the course of my life have found their way into my bookstheater,
music, architecture, cats, and more. These interests have equipped me
with minor areas of ready-made expertise that can add color,
depth, and credibility to storytelling. As to the germ of
each story, the inspiration, it seems to be waiting for me when the time
comes to start a new project. When a new story is looming, I raise
my creative antenna and put myself in a more receptive mode for
ideas. The inspiration may come from a news story, from an overheard snatch
of conversation, or from something that Ive been sitting on all
my life. But its always out there. The trick for the writer, of
course, is to learn to recognize it.
the characters in your books based on real people?
Of course not! Well, sort of. I dont think any writer is capable
of creating a fully developed three-dimensional character out of thin
air. So naturally, I draw on people I know, or know of, in patching together
the characters for my stories. Thats the essence of iteach
character is really an amalgam of many people I know, with a good dash
of myself thrown in. At the same time, no single character is me.
And no, I am not Mark Manning. (I’m not Claire Gray, either.)
your editors ask for a lot of changes?
In the early days of the Mark Manning series, my editor at Kensington,
John Scognamiglio, asked for extensive changes. When I started writing
Flight Dreams, long before it was sold, I didnt conceive
of the story as a murder mystery at all, and John was remarkably patient
in showing me the ropes of writing a more conventional mystery. It wasnt
really till I got around to the third Mark Manning, Body Language,
that I fully understood the expectations of mystery readers and was able
to bring that understanding to the writing process from its conceptual
start. The result, I think, was a better story, and my editor asked for
very little revision.
you ever get writers block?
I always work from an outline (actually, its a brief narrative scene-by-scene
description of everything that happens in the book), which is especially
valuable to the mystery genre because theres so much riding on the
plot. Recently, while approaching the task of outlining the first book
in a new series, I rediscovered a technique that had been preached to
me since fifth grade, 3-by-5 cards. I was amazed by the organizational
flexibility this allowed, and I will never again approach a new outline
without this important preliminary step. (For a peek at this process,
see photos.) The outline itself may go through
a revision or two (which is immeasurably easier than making bone-deep
changes to a manuscript), with my editor ultimately signing-off on it.
Then, when it comes time to do the intensive work of drafting, Im
writing from an approved outline, and theres never any doubt as
to whats next. Therefore, no, I never get writers
books coming out yearly, how far ahead do you work?
With books coming out yearly, the obvious answer is that it takes a year
to write one, but the process isnt that neat and tidythe pipeline
stretches well beyond a year. In fact, the publisher has the finished
manuscript in hand for nearly a year before the finished book hits the
shelf. At the point when one of my books is released, the next one is
fully drafted, and the one after that is in the outline stage. In general
terms, then, I work a year ahead on writing and two years ahead on thinking.
are you planning to write next?
With my seventh Mark Manning mystery, Bitch Slap, and my fourth Claire Gray, Desert Summer, now in print, I have taken a brief hiatus from novel writing. This has been anything but a slack period, however, as I have recently completed a move from Wisconsin to California and have also begun working toward a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing with a graduate program in Los Angeles. Grad school will allow me, I hope, to reassess my goals as a writer and to recapture some of the creative focus I have lost during the past year, which, at a personal level, has been tumultuous. I already feel that I'm getting a sense of my new bearings, and the ideas have begun to flow. I should be able to announce my next novel soon, so please check this site again later.
other writers do you like to read?
In the gay-mystery genre, Ive especially enjoyed R.D. Zimmermans
Todd Mills series and John Morgan Wilsons books. Even though Wilsons
rough-edged reporter hero, Benjamin Justice, is in many ways the polar
opposite of my own gay hero, Mark Manning, I am drawn to Wilsons
books by their unapologetically erotic slanta trait shared by my
own series. Indeed, Im baffled by whatever reasoning makes so many
gay fiction writers shy away from eroticism. In the more general realm
of gay writing, Ive been especially fond of the novels of Chicago
humorist Robert Rodi, whom I consider a friend. And in the general realm
of literature, Im a devotee of Ayn Rand, whose novels inspired me
to try my own hand at writing, and whose philosophy of objectivism taught
me (I hope!) to be a rational thinker.
your identity as a gay writer helped you or hurt you?
Early on, when I was first trying to get published, I felt that my gay
identity might have been a detriment. Then, when I finally did secure
a contract for the Mark Manning series, there was no question that my
gayness had worked to my benefit because the series was bought to serve
a niche market, the gay market, where Ive built an audience. Now,
ironically, that niche has become somewhat limiting, and I feel that its
time for me to address a more general readership. But I am what I am.
At most, a future shift in my public identity would be from that of a
gay writer to that of a writer who is gay.
long have you been out?
Since September of 1969. I remember it wellit was the Friday night
of the first week of the fall semester of my sophomore year at college.
It, well . . . happened. Id been totally naive on these matters
prior to that night, and then I was suddenly enlightened. I think of that
night as my coming out in the most important senseits
when I finally leveled with myself and understood who I was. I came out
to friends throughout that school year and to my family during the next
summer vacation. I have never concealed my sexual identity from an employer,
and my gayness has never, to my knowledge, worked against me on a job.
In 1993, I came out in a very public way with the release of my first
novel and the publicity that attended that event. Given this level of
self-comfort with my sexual identity, many people have described me as
openly gay. I appreciate that the term is commonly understood
in a positive sense, but I have never much cared for it. Openly
gaydoesnt it seem to imply that there was something
to hide in the first place? I much prefer to describe myself as unremarkably
gay. Which is simply to say, like most folks, Im a law-abiding,
taxpaying, good-natured, fair-minded citizen. I happen to be gay, and
I happen to write books.
And finally, my MOST frequently asked question:
you get to meet the models featured on the Mark Manning covers?
’Fraid not. I’ve been asked, variously, if I get to pick them, meet them, wine them, dine them, or attend the photo shoots. None of the above. The publisher retains total control over the books’ covers (titles, too, as a matter of fact). While my suggestions have always been welcome up front, I’ve had no involvement in actually producing the jackets, with the notable exception of Desert Winter, Desert Spring, and Desert Summer, which all display photos I snapped in California.
Click here to return to main page.