Athol Dickson’s mystery, suspense, and literary novels have won three Christy Awards and an Audie Award. Suspense fans who enjoyed Athol’s THEY SHALL SEE GOD will love his latest novel, JANUARY JUSTICE, the first installment in a new mystery series called The Malcolm Cutter Memoirs. The second and third novels in the series, FREE FALL IN FEBRUARY, and A MARCH MURDER, are coming in 2013.
Critics have favorably compared Athol’s work to such diverse authors as Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly), Hermann Hesse (The New York Journal of Books) and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). Athol lives with his wife in southern California. Please visit his website at www.AtholDickson.com, and like his Facebook fan page.
What inspires you to write?
Oddly enough, one of my strongest inspirations is fine art. Whenever I visit an art gallery with good work, or a museum with beautiful paintings and sculptures, I come away filled with the urge to create. And in my case, that urge expresses itself in words. It’s strange, but very few novels make me feel that way. There are a few exceptions. When I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, I often had to stop and get up and go work on my own novel. I think the reason is, his work is so visual, like a painting.
Tell us about your writing process
It’s fairly systematic. I collect ideas all the time, by which I mean I pay attention to the odd little things that I come across, stories friends tell me, items in the news, stuff I see on the Internet. Eventually I start seeing ways to fit some of them together. Ideally, those combinations will be unexpected, three or four ideas that don’t seem to fit together at first glance. Then I sit down and start working on a synopsis. Once that’s done, I break the synopsis down into scenes, and then I start the first draft. I usually follow the scenes pretty closely, but they’re always vague enough to leave a lot of room for unexpected characterization, and sometimes things do veer off in a direction I didn’t plan. After that draft is done, I rewrite it once or twice, then I send it to the editor for the first of what usually ends up being three rounds of critiques. Unlike a lot of artists and authors, I see huge value in getting wise input. Paying attention to good editors has been a major factor in my success as a writer, and on my last three novels I’ve been blessed to work with Nicci Jordon Hubert, a brilliant editor. I’m open to major changes right up until the final copy edit stage, so I rewrite every novel a minimum of five times, and often more.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Well, not literally. I mean, I do realize they’re not actually in the room. 🙂 But what you hear a lot of authors say does apply to me: sometimes a character will seem to want to do something unexpected, and when that happens, I often let them have their own way.
What advice would you give other writers?
Write. A lot. And don’t fall in love with the idea of getting any particular story or novel published. Sometimes new authors get a novel finished and become so wrapped up in trying to get it published that they stop writing while the promote it. Big mistake. If you’re working to improve your craft and paying attention to your mistakes, your next novel will be better than your first. And trust me, we all love our most recent novel most of all, right up until the time we’re done with chapter one of the next one. Then the work in progress starts to interest us more than the one we’ve finished. At least that’s the way it is for people who write because they love to write. So don’t let getting published become the main thing. Make it about writing. If you do that, and you’re talented, the publishing will come.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Back when I wrote my first novel, nearly 20 years ago, self publishing meant vanity publishing, pure and simple. It was a racket, in which unsavory people with printing presses preyed on people who lusted to see their name in print and would pay thousands to make it happen. People who actually wrote for love of storytelling generally didn’t have that much ego invested; they did it for love, not glory, if you will. So they tended to be immune to the vanity press allure. That meant mainly egomaniacs self-published, and egomaniacs generally don’t take well to critiques or editing, so if you had 100,000 self published novels, maybe one would be well written. Seriously, that’s about what the ratio was. And because of that, no respectable periodical would review a self published novel, and no book store would stock them, and the whole thing got a terrible reputation among publishing professionals and readers alike. Then of course along came the Internet, and print on demand technology, and purpose built electronic reading devices, and suddenly people who truly love storytelling could get their work in front of readers without dealing with all the messy vanity business. Very fine self-published stories started popping up all over the place. Readers noticed, and started paying for them. Enterprising website owners started making ways to market self-published material with ease. And old fashioned traditionally published authors like me started wondering why we were giving up so much creative control and money to our publishers, when we could make our own decisions about covers and titles, and where and how to promote a novel, all while keeping more of the proceeds for ourselves. So I saw all that and after a year or two of thinking about it, made the switch to self-publishing last year. Now I’ve self-published four of my old novels, after adding brand new forwards and rewriting them from cover to cover, and I’ve released my first all new self-published novel, JANUARY JUSTICE. I’m halfway through the next installment of that series, and gathering ideas for the third, and having a great time.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think it’s very bright for readers and writers. Not so bright for the traditional publishing houses. Under the old model, there were maybe 100 people working for a half dozen of the largest publishing houses who decided what new novels the world would read. Think about that. About 100 people controlled probably 98% of all the novels in the stores. If none of them liked an author’s work, that author didn’t have a chance. Yet history is full of brilliant novelists who were rejected by those people dozens of times before they finally got discovered somehow by chance. John Grisham is one example, Herman Melville is another. So for readers and writers, the new Internet system represents a kind of freedom that never existed before. We no longer have to abide by the opinions of a few anonymous and unelected people in some New York office building. We can decide for ourselves. Which means it’s no longer about office politics, or the latest social agenda, but rather it’s about telling a good story, entertaining, amazing, and impressing. So what matters now as a writer is whether or not you’re good, but whether or not you’re lucky or connected. I’m just extremely excited about that. Who knows what kinds of fantastic things we’ll see in print, no that we have this new freedom? I think we’re standing at the dawn of a new Renaissance in literature.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print
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