- Guest Author -
Welcome to an interview with a very successful author from the USA who has been in this business for a long time.
Welcome, Rebecca ...
1.TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
Unlike most writers, I didn't dream of being a writer. I never kept journals or wrote poetry. I was a student. I earned my B.A. and MBA and embarked a business career - fashion and travel were my specialty. I went to China for my client in 1983 and that trip turned me into a travelholic. In November 2014 I lived in Tirana, Albania for five weeks while my husband taught at the Tirana Law School as a Fulbright Specialist. My husband is a superior court judge here in Los Angeles and I'm a mom to two grown son: one is an incredible playwright and novelist; the other is a businessman, his company is The Green Room Talent Management Agency in Hollywood. Dinner parties are my favourite form of entertainment. Pretty much I'll try everything once except bungee jumping or skydiving. Every single experience I have had, every tangent I've taken, has prepared me for this writing career. Now I am working on my thirtieth book in 30 years and each one is as exciting as the last.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I published my first book 30 years ago. At the time, I had a client who preferred that I bring my team to his home for meetings. His wife would often come in and out of the room to ask him questions. In my frustration one evening I asked my secretary, "Who does that woman think she is?" To which my secretary replied, "That's Danielle Steel." I didn't know who Danielle Steel was, but I learned quickly. When I made a flip remark that "I could write a book", my secretary dared me to do it. The challenge was on. No one was more surprised than me when my very first book was published. That was the beginning of a journey during which I found my true passion. However, I actually became a 'writer' years later. I had a lot to learn about the craft. I'm sure I still do.
3.WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
A little of both. I must have a title before I begin because that drives the theme and plot. The Witness Series books are especially intricate with dual story lines, sometimes moving back and forth between time periods, so I will often make notes to keep continuity on track. But I always know down to the last piece of dialogue how the book opens and closes. It's like seeing a movie in my head. I also do a lot of research especially in terms of the law and politics. I want my stories to be as spot-on-realistic as possible. I think it makes a novel more exciting if readers ask themselves 'does that really happen?'
4.WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I love the challenge of putting all the pieces together: characterization, pacing, plotting, story. I don't want the reader to see the building blocks, the tape and glue that hold the book together. It's like finishing a big puzzle - sky and everything. The craft is exhilarating.
5.WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
That people think it's easy.
6.WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I was an advertising executive at a time when few women were on the business end of things. Most women were in the creative departments but I found marketing fascinating. I have also been a counter girl at Kentucky Fried Chicken, a bar maid in a Chicago dive, a secretary, a seamstress, worked in a pet shop and a wig store, and have been a writing instructor at the UCLA Writers Program. I've been working since I was 15 and every job I've ever held influenced my writing.
7.WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
The creation of The Witness Series. I wasn't sure I could write three books when Penguin Putnam suggested that Josie Bates was a worthy series character. Now there are 7 books. I think following the characters' lives instead of continually creating courtroom dramas has made this unique in the genre and that is satisfying.
8.WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT.
Two new series. The first will be a police procedural and the lead novel is Severed Relations. The second is a step out of my comfort zone - humor. I can't wait to see how those books are received. I laughed while I was writing them, but I'm not sure that counts.
9.WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
My husband. He worked his way through law school as a moving man - he can still pack a mean truck. As an attorney, he was a federal prosecutor specializing in organized crime and terrorism. He was one of the youngest judges appointed to the California bench and handled some very high profile criminal and civil cases. He was presiding judge of the largest court in the world (L.A.). He is nice and funny and smart. He inspires me everyday to be curious about the world and to never ever make judgements until I hear both sides of a story. I think that counsel is reflected in my books. I try to have a character to voice all aspects of the theme I choose to write about.
10.WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I write legal and political thrillers for the most part. I am fascinated by our exquisite and yet exquisitely flawed systems. They are rich backgrounds to a character's story and provide ethical and moral dilemmas I find fascinating.
11.DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Your fourth draft of a book might be ready to send to publishers. I learned the hard way that editing is where the good writing happens.
12.DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
I sometimes make things harder than they need to be so I'm not sure if that's writer's block or simply building my own wall to ram my head into. I fight it by doing something physical: playing tennis, taking a hike, cleaning the house, sewing, quilting. The best cure for writer's block is travel - doesn't have to be exotic or expensive - but it works. When I'm at conferences I love to talk about Creative Travel for writers because it's worked so well for me.
13.DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I work like I did when I was a corporate maven. I start work about 7:30 a.m. and work until about 2:00 p.m. Then I do my errands and chores. I'm usually back to work answering emails, attending to social media and editing until 9:00 or 10:00. I do some sort of work seven days a week. I'm one of those people who need a disciplined schedule.
14.DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
For 15 years I have been going to a local coffee shop, Coffee Cartel, to write. The baristas will take messages for me and there are regulars who inquire how the new book is going. It's an eclectic place so I also get lots of character inspiration. If I stay home I'll clean the house or raid the fridge. Best to get away.
15.WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Getting an email or a letter from a reader. I still write to my first fan. We've been pen pals for 29 years. Her grandkids and my kids grew up on the pages of our snail mail letters and then our emails.
16.WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
There is no one favourite author. I like Stephen King's early work. He is superb at characterization. Wilkie Collins' Woman In White, considered the first legal thriller, inspired me greatly. Recently, I read a book called I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. After 800 pages I wanted more. His style, dialogue, characterization were fantastic. His story was seamless. Independent authors who have become favourites are David Wisehart who wrote Devil's Lair. David is one of the smartest writers I've read and he changed my mind about Indies. And, of course, Eric Czuleger, Immortal L.A. Eric is my son but he is an exceptionally talented novelist and playwright. Both these Indies brought me into the world of Magical Realism with intricate history laced books. Their unique use of the language is just like a four course meal with a decadent desert.
17.WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
"Even without the cover, I would know I was reading one of your books." That comment told me I had finally found my true writing voice.
18.WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Early in my career an editor once sent a rejection letter saying that it was "a pity Ms. Forster was not as intelligent on the page as she was in person". Ouch.
19.WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
20.OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Travel, travel, travel. Traveling with my family. Traveling to speaking engagements. Traveling just because. Adventures. I spent two days on the USS Nimitz and landed by tail hook on the deck of the carrier. Very cool. Cooking, sewing, tennis, reading, movies. Throwing dinner parties - one side of the table judges and lawyers, the other side creative types. It is always lively around our table.
21.DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes. I've worked with Jenny Jensen for years. I credit her with pushing me to ever more sophisticated story levels. Line editing is important, but content editing is critical. She worked on Keeping Counsel and that book became a USA Today Bestseller. She guided me through the Witness Series and those books were on the Amazon U.S. and U.K. top ten lists for two years. She's awesome.
22.DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Tennis early in the morning (I play on a competitive team), fitting into my favourite jeans, getting my favourite table at Coffee Cartel, writing 4,000 words without flinching, having my husband email and ask me on a dinner date where we'll have Chinese food and I'll get a great fortune in my cookie. Oh, and then my sons would surprise me with a visit. Eric would bring a new book idea to discuss and Alex would bring my grand dog Tucker. Perfect day.
23.IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
My husband. We've been married 38 years. I know I could count on him to get coconuts, make a fire, be funny and I would never be afraid even when it got really dark.
24.WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
When you speak, please actually say something.
25.WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Always more writing. I have a movie script - a romantic comedy - with wonderful attachments. I would love to see that produced so if you know anyone with a million dollars send him (or her) my way. I will spend time with my mom who is 90 and still carries her own suitcase at the airport when she travels. Write some more. Travel some more. Be curious.
26.WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
I love these questions! The Jambalaya Cookbook, Eyewitness (can I take one of my own?), a letter my grandfather wrote (not a book but a great story), Goodnight Moon, Immortal L.A.
27.DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I hear myself in each of my characters, including villains.
28.DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
I get that publishing is a business and, truthfully, that part of the indusry is interesting to me. Many writers see only the creative side but I can't be too frustrated when I understand there are bottom lines to be met, distribution channels to maintain, incredible overhead, etc. What I find frustrating is my inability to make calculated professional decisions because of market whims and fashions. There is that magical, fairy dust thing going on that an author can never predict. Think of 50 Shades of Grey - who saw that coming? I do have a pet peeve that I suppose you could call a frustration and that is the celebrity advance. I have seen so many multi-million dollar deals for celebrity books that, once published, don't sell through. I'd like to see more reasonable advances to celebrities and then have publishers fund 10 new authors with potential. By that I mean publishers should identify potential in every genre, not just literary fiction. That would be a win/win for authors, readers, publishers and even the celebrities.
29.DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Yes, but not for the reason you think. After I read I Am Pilgrim and Gone Girl, I thought the great commercial books have now been written. Then I thought again. Why can't I top those? I started writing on a dare so daring myself to be a better writer seems an appropriate challenge. Those two books are the ones to beat in my mind.
30.WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
I've grown as an author, so I am proud of improving with each book. I do have a few that are close to my heart. Before Her Eyes is very personal. Both my father and father-in-law passed within three months of one another after long illnesses. In the last weeks I was privy to their perception of the world they were leaving. It was both fascinating and unsettling and strangely comforting. This book is a traditional police procedural in third person and a fantasy in first person. I am very proud that each section dovetails into the next by utilizing the senses - sight, scent, and sound - and that the very last page has been such a surprise to readers. It truly is the book of my heart. The next one was Eyewitness. That book was inspired by my first trip to Albania to visit my son in the Peace Corps. Combining history and modern day and finding common ground between ancient law and modern justice was an incredible - and incredibly satisfying - challenge.
31.HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
Each year of my writing life has had success markers: starting a book, finishing a book, my first contract, seeing my book in a bookstore, a signing, finding my book on the USA Today bestseller list, recovering and continuing to write when another didn't do well, eventually making a living as a writer. Each day an artist or writer plies their craft - puts pen to paper or brush to canvas - they experience a success. Many will say what they want to write a book but only a few will actually do it. That is success. Moving forward is success. Learning the business and applying it is success.
32.WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I hope my stories will stick with my readers long after they have finished reading the last page. I choose topics that I think I want to explore: father's rights, mind-control experiments our government conducted in the 50s, parental responsibility. I want readers to feel breathless after reading my books and maybe a little uneasy with the questions each story raises. That's the way I feel after I write one.
33.HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
So much! I'm just relaunched The Witness Series, Before Her Eyes and Character Witness with brand new covers that I think are beautiful and definitive. It was a long process.
34.WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
I dream of being read internationally. Currently Hostile Witness has been translated into French and German, so I'm making headway. To be honest, though, I'm pretty sure I am living the dream right now. I write everyday, I write about what is important to me, and I talk to readers and other authors from all over the world thanks to the Internet. When I wrote my first book on a typewriter my dream was typing a page without a typo. Who knew dreams come true?
35.WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
The marketing I do is very personal. I like to connect one person at a time and as often as possible. It makes me smile when people are surprised that I write back when they send me a message. They expect an automated response. For me that connection is a huge joy. I have to honor that kind of support by writing the best books I can. I do a lot of speaking engagements both to entertain philanthropic groups or bar associations or teach at conferences. I was a keynote at the Civil Judges Conference recently and to sit in the courts formal courtroom and speak to a gathering of judges about the law and inspiration was so cool. I love going to book groups. Bottom line I think my natural gregariousness serves to build a platform.
36.ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
I was traditionally published for 25 years. I've been an Indie for the last five. I do
have an agent who handles foreign and film rights.
37.DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Wife, mom, curious, hardworking, happy.
38.WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
39.WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
Broken April by Ismail Kadare. He is an Albanian author who wrote about blood feud (Albanian blood feud inspired my book, Eyewitness) and it was interesting to see how he handled the subject.
40.WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
Life is what you make it; make it interesting.
41.WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
Nothing could make me more content than I am now. I won't tempt the fates by asking for more. Then again, I wouldn't turn more down if it came my way.
42.ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
You pretty much covered everything with these great questions, so how about thank you to every reader who gives my work a go. That is always appreciated.
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Rebecca, for such detailed answers. Well, folks, yet again, another top-selling author has been presented. Check out Rebecca's books.