It's always interesting to see different authors' processes. Everybody does it differently, so here goes:
1. What am I working on?
Since the sequel to White Heat is done and that, along with another novel, are with an agent, I'm working on a couple of different things. Two novellas right now. One for a publisher that specializes in novellas and the other one is just for me, at least for now.
The first is a hardboiled, noirish story of a soldier coming back from the war in Afghanistan. While there he and his buddies pull a fast one and now that they're back they find their scam is catching up to them in more ways than one.
The other novella is a mystery, more of a mainstream mystery than hardboiled or noir. But it does have an unusual angle in that it's all set in one location. And that created some challenges, but half the fun is overcoming those challenges. I guess you could call it "high concept".
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
We all bring a part of ourselves to whatever we write, so my personal experiences color everything I write, as every other writer's experiences color what they write.
There's really nothing new under the sun if we want to be honest. It might hurt our egos a bit, but it's been said that there are five (or seven, depending on who's talking) basic plots and they were all done by Shakespeare a long time ago. So what makes any of our works different is what we bring to them, the little pieces of ourselves that we insert, the insights, our personal and life experiences.
Even when just doing a work-for-hire rewrite job, I will do it differently than the next person because of who I am. So what makes my story and novel writing different? I think my characters live in a world of grays rather than black and white. Most of my characters are flawed, nobody wears the proverbial white hat, more so they wear a "gray" hat.
Also, several of my lead characters are people out of "time"—not in the sense that time is running out, although maybe that too—but in the sense that time has passed them by. They are "dinosaurs," living in the present in their bodies but their minds are in the past and they look at the world from that perspective. They have to adjust to the way things are today, and sometimes that isn't so easy. Often, my characters are not just "out of time," but also out of place, not quite fitting into the world in which they live.
And in my story Angels Flight, from the collection L.A. Late @ Night, Tom Holland, the main character and an LAPD cop, is definitley out of his element in both time and place when he's assigned to work with a community liason from the mayor's office, who is about as opposite from him as anyone can be.
They are also often haunted by the past. In White Heat, the main character, Duke, is haunted by his past and all the mistakes he has made and continues to make. Bobbie in The Blues Don’t Care, the other novel I mentioned that's with the agent, is out of place in the sense of not fitting in with 1940’s American society.
3. Why do I write what I do?
'Cause I don't know anything about making frappés. The cartoon character Popeye says, "I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam." And it's true, what else can we be, what else can we do? And what else can we write, if not what speaks to us personally?
I write a variety of things, but most would fall into the mystery genre or one of its sub-genres. That said, I've had over 30 short stories published. Some are mainstream, some humorous or satirical and many are noir or hardboiled stories. So to try to come up with a unified field theory that would apply to all of them: I write what I do because I’m trying to understand something or get a question answered. Something that puzzles me or intrigues me or bothers me. Even in my mysteries, at least most of them, I’m trying not just to solve the mystery but to explore some aspect of society and/or the characters. To see where they and we are coming from and where they and we are going. Sometimes the road isn't pretty or has a lot of potholes, but at least I can learn something from the journey.
For example, in my story Dead Man's Curve, from the Last Exit to Murder anthology, there is a mystery and a dead body. But the part that interests me the most is the main character, Ray Hood's, bumpy road to (hopeful and possible) redemption, which occurs in the context of trying to solve the mystery, but to me is the much more interesting aspect of the story.
I also tend to write a lot about, or at least set a lot of stories in, Los Angeles. My family goes back here longer than most and it's a city that intrigues me, both in terms of its reality and its literary and movie heritage. It's a place that lives both in the past and the present and, especially, the future. There are still, though fading fast, remnants of the old L.A. of my grandparents and then there's the new L.A. that's hip and trendy and that dichotomy of the old and new, the "in" and "out" is what intrigues me and inspires much of my writing.
4. How does my writing process work?
I'm what's commonly referred to as a "pantster"—I write by the seat of my pants, at least for the first draft or two. I basically sit down at the computer and let it fly. Whatever comes comes—stream of consciousness and I don't care how good or bad it is or how much will be kept or cut. But I do get to know the characters and story this way. I have a basic idea for a story before I start, maybe even some notes for characters, scenes or other bits in my head or written down. But I hate outlining. I just don't think in those terms. And I usually do my first draft in screenplay format. Like:
EXT. BEACH – DAY
Joe runs from several men dressed in black Ninja outfits. They look out
of place on the beach, but Joe really looks out of place with his black tie
and tails running along the water's edge.
And the above is probably even more detailed than I would get in my first draft. It's mostly just the scene setting, in this case the beach, and dialogue, that goes down the middle of the page, plus maybe a little action. Little to no description.
So, in eseence, that screenplay draft is my outline, but it's also a story with dialogue and as bare as it is it's more fleshed out than a true outline.
And I may or may not keep much, most, any of it. But it's a start. But for me the real writing comes in the rewriting phases. That's where all the fine tuning and polishing and hopefully the magic happens. With each draft you see a clearer picture and everything starts to come into focus.
I've seen other people who labor over each word and sentence as they go along so they probably don't have as much revising to do. But for me, that's where it all really starts to take shape. I pretty much let it fly in the early drafts and the real shaping, honing, fine tuning, polishing, come together in the revising. I might have ten drafts – or more – on a project, but some of them may have only have a handful of changes while others have wholesale changes in plot, character and incidents, all of which need to 'come together' in 'the end'.
The worst part of the revision phase is that it's an endless process, because every time you read the story, even if it's been published, you find holes that need plugging and things that you want to change, from small things like typos, to major things like plot points and characters. And no matter how many times you go over it with the proverbial fine tooth comb, no matter how many times other people go over it, you will always miss something, even after it's published.
And so with this blog I’m sure I’ll find something that I wish I’d said differently, but luckily once I post it it’s done and I have to leave it alone ….or maybe just one more tweak?
Craig Faustus Buck is an L.A.-based journalist, nonfiction book author, TV writer-producer, screenwriter, short-story writer and novelist. Among his six nonfiction books, two were #1 NYT bestsellers. He wrote the Oscar-nominated short film Overnight Sensation. He was one of the writers on the seminal miniseries V: The Final Battle. His first noir mystery novel, Go Down Hard, which his agent is currently shopping, was First Runner Up for Killer Nashville's Claymore Award. His indie feature, Smuggling for Gandhi, is in preproduction. Stark Raving Group published his novella, Psycho Logic in May, and the novella's prequel, his short story "Dead End," is a current Anthony Award nominee.
Stephen Campbell was born and raised in Ohio, but after two blizzards in a single winter decided that enough was enough and moved to Florida to pursue his dream of becoming Travis McGee. While failing miserably at living the life of a boat bum doing favors for friends he did manage to graduate from the University of South Florida and stumble his way into the software business. Stephen loves reading fiction of all types, but most enjoys mysteries and thrillers. His first full-length novel, Hunters Gamble, will be published in 2014.
Pilot/novelist Mark W. Danielson has been flying and writing most of his life. Seeing his small article printed in a 1972 newspaper led to his having over one hundred non-fiction articles and five mystery novels published. Twice-selected as the US Navy’s top aviation safety author while on active duty, he now flies as an international airline pilot, spending much his time away writing. Spectral Gallows, the latest in his Fort Worth Homicide Detective Maxx Watts series, takes Watts and partner Blaine Spartan into the paranormal world at the haunted Scott Theater to solve a decades-old hanging. Please visit Markwdanielson.com
Dianne Emley is a Los Angeles Times bestselling author and has received critical acclaim for her Detective Nan Vining thrillers, including The First Cut and Love Kills, and the Iris Thorne mysteries including Pushover. Her standalone, paranormal thriller, The Night Visitor, will be published 9/16/14. Her short stories have been published in Literary Pasadena and other anthologies and her books have been translated into six languages. A Los Angeles native, she lives in the Central California wine country with her husband. “Emley masterfully twists, turns, and shocks.” —Tess Gerritsen