What won’t a writer do for a best seller?
Tell us a little about that.
In Miami’s Coconut Grove, they have an old Bahamian cemetery. Bodies are entombed above ground in crypts. Walking through this old cemetery at midnight is how I came up with the title for my novel, Afraid of the Dark. It was worth the trip.
I have no problem visiting a cemetery in the daytime but night…I couldn’t do it. So I take my hat off to you.
To welcome you here today we’ve prepared a drink for you called “Magic Potion Punch.” I hope you readers will join us, be sure and make you some of this delicious punch.
Ingredients are 2 packages (3 ounces each) lime gelatin, ½ cup sugar, 1 cup boiling water, 3 cups cold water, 1 quart noncarbonated lemon-lime drink, chilled, 1 ½ quarts lemon-lime soda, child and the directions are: Dissolve gelatin and sugar in boiling water; add cold water. Transfer to a punch bowl. Stir in lemon-lime drink and soda. Yield: about 4 quarts. For more information go to http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/magic-potion-punch.
The internet is every writer’s best friend and worst enemy. I use the internet extensively but it’s also important to go to the places you write about and meet the type of people who will be the family, friends and neighbors of the characters you create.
I guess that is one reason your books have such good dialogue, because you do visit the places.
Tell me about developing your dialogue.
The most effective way to develop dialogue is to hear people talk. I wrote a book called Intent to Kill, partly set in Rhode Island. Dialogue didn’t work until I went there, sat in a diner in Pawtucket, and heard how people in Rhode Island talk. There’s nothing more gratifying than to get letters from readers who live in a place you write about and have them ask, “Are you from here?”. That praise happens when you write authentic dialogue, not just when you check Google Maps and determine Main Street runs north and south.”
Tell me about James Swyteck, your protagonist.
He’s a criminal defense lawyer and has been in 11 of my 21 novels. I’ve been hearing his voice in my head since my book The Pardon debuted in 1994. It does become a problem in my stand-alone novels. One trick that works for me is once a week or so start my writing day by reading, at random, one of the earlier chapters I’ve written. It’s a great way to test for consistency in that lead character’s voice.
How do you begin your day in writing?
I never roll right out of bed and go to the keyboard. I walk the neighborhood. It really does help you realize that the dream you had last night was not that good, and that it’s probably not the seed for the next “Gone with the Wind”. I start my writing day by self-editing whatever I wrote the previous day. It helps clean up yesterday’s mistakes, but it also gives a running start into the next chapter.
What kind of schedule do you keep?
“I used to write into the wee hours of the morning, at all hours of the day, whenever the inspiration moved me. Or maybe it was that the rhythmic tapping of keys helped put our crying babies to sleep. Now, my approach is very different. Morning time is my writing time. If I’m on deadline, I usually target a certain number of pages rather than hours or minutes per day. I’ll try to average three pages a day (that’s 12 point type, one and half spacing, which correlates pretty closely to a printed book page). Less than that means, I’m slacking off. More than that means I’m rushing it.”
What’s the Artie Exercise?
When I first started writing, I’d get excited about a plot idea, pick up the phone and immediately tell my agent. My thoughts were all over the place. Artie would listen and say, “Type up three pages and send it to me.” I’d bang out three pages and fire it off. Artie would call me right back: “Can you get it to a page?” I’d grumble, but I’d cut it down to a page and send it to him. Artie would call again: “You know, what I really want is just a paragraph.” I’d protest loudly and tell him I couldn’t possibly get it down to a paragraph. I did, of course, and I would send it off to New York. I’d get one more call from Artie: “All I want is one sentence,” he’d say, “and I want you to start that sentence with the words ‘This is the story of …” I’d go back to my computer, and I’d write that one sentence. It was then that I realized I was ready to write my story. It’s still step one in development of a book plot.
What’s step two?
Step two is the outline. I don’t mean Roman numerals followed by points A, B, C etc. Write a condensed version of the book that is anywhere from 20 to 80 pages in length. I never outline beyond the point of conflict in the story. The resolution always comes out in the writing. I find that if I am writing to a specific ending, the ending is contrived. It’s a bit of a leap of faith to write 250 pages and not know how the story is going to end. Some of the greatest plot twists I’ve come up were developed this way.
I’ve written marital dramas before (Beyond Suspicion and Lying with Strangers ) and I was feeling the urge to write one with a great twist. Over the past couple of years, I watched my brother-in-law rebuild his life after my younger sister died in a car accident on her way home from the grocery store in Atlanta. The struggle faced by my lead character, Abe, is what I imagined it would be like to lose your true love and then remarry. Of course, I’m not writing romance, and when Abe’s new wife goes missing, suspicion mounts around him. That’s when the suspense kicks in, and the pages start turning. It was especially fun to draw this story against the dark back drop of Florida’s sugar cane industry. As a young lawyer, I was heavily involved in the lawsuits brought by the men who harvested sugar cane by hand, wielding their razor-sharp machetes against twelve-foot stalks all day long in the blazing Florida sun. For my readers, I hope that they will pardon the pun that is the title (Cane and Abe), that the serial killer known as “Cutter” will send chills down their spine, and that the ending will be one that they never saw coming.
You’ve got a busy year in 2015. Tell me about it.
I have a huge year. My 22nd novel, Cane and Abe just released this January and the 23rd book, Cash Landing releases in June by Harper Collins. In October my first novella, The Penny Jumper, will be released in hardcover and e-book. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing the new Jack Swyteck novel for release in early 2016. I really do feel as though I’m writing faster and better than ever before, and that’s an exciting place to be in this digital world where one book a year doesn’t seem to keep readers satisfied anymore. So long as I’m having fun, I’ll sustain the pace. I don’t ever want this to feel like “a job.”
You were just interviewed in Southern Writers Magazine, the January/February issue and you were the cover. We’ve had wonderful comments on your interview. Thank you. For your readers who don’t know, according to U. S. News and World Report you have been at the top of the legal-thriller ladder for some time. Congratulations.
I really appreciate you being with us today James. I am a fan. And I anxiously await your new book in June. Be sure and send us the cover. I hope you will drop back by and share it with us.
“Thanks for having me Susan and promoting my books.”
Be sure and check out James’s books and his website. He loves to hear from his readers, and you can ask questions.
Visit his website: www.jamesgrippando.com