I’ve been an Air Force intelligence officer, information technology manager, computer-game artist, set designer, Jeopardy! contestant, and now an emergency management specialist. I’ve had training in architectural rendering, terrorist incident response and maritime archaeology, but not all at the same time. I tweet (@lcharnes) on shipwrecks, scuba diving, archaeology and art crime.
I have two published novels available in multiple editions: international thriller DOHA 12, and near-future thriller SOUTH.
What inspires you to write?
I’ve been writing off and on all my life. I enjoy looking at situations and wondering, “What if?” Those what-ifs become the seeds of my stories. Intelligence (my specialty for my last few years in the Air Force) is also an exercise in probing the what-ifs of the real world. So is my current profession (emergency management). You could say that my job and my writing use the same skill set.
I’ve been reading ever since I can remember. I was a young adult long before YA became a fiction category; I graduated from Encyclopedia Brown directly to Alistair Maclean and John D. MacDonald. In both fiction and non-fiction, I’ve enjoyed stories of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Those are the stories I also like to write.
Tell us about your writing process.
The kinds of novels I write consist of moving around large numbers of characters over large areas and having them come together at a particular place and time. There’s no way I could do that without planning and outlining. By the time I start writing, I have an extensive outline of what happens when, and who does it.
The first draft goes together in my head. I tell myself the story while I’m waiting for something, or driving to work, or trying to go to sleep. If I make it all the way to the end without getting bored or throwing the BS flag on the plot, I know I have something and I start writing it down.
The story dictates the characters. All my characters — both protagonists and antagonists — are relatively normal people who have clear, understandable motives for what they do, and they end up in (usually) violent opposition because of circumstances they (usually) don’t predict. Both sides need certain skills in order to potentially achieve their goals. I figure out how they came by those skills and came to be in these circumstances, and that tells me who they are. I develop each character’s background as if he/she is going to be a major character, because they sometimes surprise me and become much more important than I ever expected.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Sure. I hear them talking in a scene, and I write it down. Sometimes they surprise me with what they say or do, and I end up having to rework part of the plot because their ideas are better than mine. They get all stubborn and pissy when I try to make them do something they don’t want to do; that’s how I know I’m going the wrong way.
What advice would you give other writers?
Read a lot. Read widely, both in and outside your chosen genre. Look at YA for plot mechanics, romance for developing relationships, fantasy for world-building. Know the conventions of your chosen genre, and know how you can break them.
Write a lot, and finish what you write. There’s no better way to learn than to put a lot of words on paper (physical or virtual). Every time you write a complete work, you learn a lot. And by finishing, you get into the habit of finishing what you start. Even if it sucks and you hide the thing on your computer or in a drawer, you still learned stuff, and you still finish.
Join a critique group. You need to have people not related to you read your work and tell you what they think. Make sure the members of the group write in different genres; they’ll see things differently, ask different questions, and will have different ideas how to fix problems. This will require you to go out and meet with other writers, put your work out there for criticism, and learn how to take critiques professionally and learn to do something constructive with them. In addition to helping you improve your work and your craft, you’ll develop the thick skin you’ll need to survive this business.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
DOHA 12 wasn’t getting any traction with agents even though I knew it was the best and most commercial novel I’d written so far. The “no response means no” policy a lot of agents have adopted is especially maddening; I can deal with hearing “no,” but hearing nothing is truly frustrating.
At the same time, the self-publishing road had become paved and now had signs and service stations and rest areas. I’d also been reading about non-household-name authors with traditional publishing contracts who were having to do nearly as much work as self-publishers and were getting a fraction of the money for it. So finally I decided, what the hell. I’d been laid off from my previous job and wasn’t working, so I had the time. Even if I managed to sell only a couple dozen copies, that would be a couple dozen more people who would see DOHA 12 than if I simply let it rot on my hard drive.
The first time was a learning experience times 10, but I got DOHA 12 out on the market and people started buying it. Then people started reviewing it, and mostly liked it. Patterson has nothing to worry about from my sales, but I’ve reached a lot more people than I’d expected. Because I’m the publisher, I can have that book on sale forever.
When I finished SOUTH, I didn’t even bother querying agents — I went straight to self-publishing. The second time around was much easier, and so far SOUTH is selling faster than DOHA 12. Marketing isn’t fun and it can be discouraging, but I’d be doing it no matter how my books got on the market.
If you’re an author thinking of publishing, do your research. Read about both traditional and indie publishing, and decide which makes more sense for you. If you go with indie publishing, don’t rush it or think it’s the easy way. Make sure your product is as good as you can make it. Get it edited, or use beta readers, or both. Get a professional cover. Be prepared to spend some money. There’s a lot of crap out there; if you want to be found, you have to rise above it, which means acting like both a professional author and a professional publisher.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
What we call “traditional publishing” is actually only about 100 years old. Before that, authors would find sponsors who’d front the money to get their books printed, then find a printer and a bookbinder, manage the production of their books, distribute copies to the sponsors, then flog any extras to bookstores or readers. Some big names (such as Dickens and Twain) would build an audience by serializing their stories in newspapers, then produced the complete book afterwards.
What this means is, indie publishing is more like what publishing used to be before the Big 6 or Big 5 or whatever came on the scene.
Publishing isn’t going away. Humans have been publishing ever since there was written text. The form of publishing has changed over the centuries and continues to change. What we’re seeing now may be the new face of publishing, or it may be a diversion on the way to whatever’s next. But we’ll always have a demand for stories of all kinds, and there will always be some way of getting those stories to the readers.
What do you use?
Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
Thrillers, intrigue, action/adventure
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print