For book/ebook authors, publishers, & self-publishers
“Do you have the whole thing plotted out in your head before you start?” This is the question I am most often asked when people find out that I am publishing a suspense novel and that I am in the midst of working on the second one. If the person asking the question is also an aspiring writer, who wishes that they could write a book, then there is usually more than a hint of anxiety behind the question. The only thing that I have to share on this subject is the benefit of my own experience, which is limited. I can only offer some thoughts here. I do know that there is a slider between “I only have the tiniest germ of an idea,” and “I know everything down to the tiniest detail.” Each writer will have to find for him or her self where that slider should come to rest, and it will probably have to be adjusted from project to project.
Writing In the Country of the Blind, I drew on many themes and events in my own life, some of them quite traumatic. I was not just writing a story, but also acting as historian, in a fictional way. I wanted to act as witness, in a metaphorical and spiritual sense, in order to give some meaning and closure to those events for myself and I hope, in some small way, for others. So there were certain stories and elements within the book that had to be told. But I was not sure starting out how or where they would all fit. The next book, right now called Cherchez la Perp, has fewer events and themes from my own life in it, but I still knew before I started who got killed and why. The how I am less clear on right now, but it’s coming.
At the beginning of the writing process for Blind, I had a very strong idea of my protagonist, Zach Brandis, where I wanted him to be in his life, and how this book would launch him into the larger life story that will play out in a macro way throughout the series. I have an bit of an idea of where the next book will take him on that larger journey, but beyond that, I don’t really see anything yet.
To me, the writing of Blind was a bit like making an onion. I knew before I started who killed who, and exactly how and why it happened. The fun was in constructing the layers of onion between that core and Zach. Zach goes out on a date with Cynthia. They return to her apartment. Her roommate dead. That’s the onion. Zach has to pick it up, brush the dirt off, get his fingernails under the papery bits of the outer skin, drop it when the membrane gets slippery, peel through some layers, struggle with the stink and the stinging in his eyes until he gets to the very inside.
What person can Zach bump into who will give him a piece of information that will lead to the next person or piece of information? How can I avoid this bit of information or person so that he doesn’t see what’s going on too quickly? It’s as if you, as writer, have all of the puzzle pieces, and you get to dole them out to your protagonist in the order that you want. Don’t give your detective too many pieces that sit right next to each other, or he’ll see the picture too quickly. And since it’s your puzzle, you get to recreate the picture as you go, if you need to. It’s a wild ride. Jump on, and enjoy it.