I was raised in Harwood Heights, IL, a city surrounded by Chicago. In fact, it’s often called an “Island Within a City” for that very reason. I’ve been interested in writing all my life and in 2005, Potomac Publishers, as part of their Most Wanted series, released my book Chicago’s Most Wanted, the Top 10 Book of Murderous Mobsters, Midway Monsters and Windy City Oddities. In 2010, they published my book Vampires’ Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Bloodthirsy Biters, Stake-wielding Slayers and Other Undead Oddities. In February, Dagda Publishing in Nottingham, England released To Touch the Sun, the first book in my vampire series set in Chicago. It was a bit of a surprise project (though most of my writing projects have been surprises). I’d never had a burning desire to write a vampire book, but when I noticed that an agent I’d been in contact with represented a vampire series, I thought I’d try my hand at it. Months later, I didn’t get the agent (he left the business), but I had a vampire novel I was really in love with. So much so that while looking for a publisher, I wrote three more books in the series and a spin-off novel featuring two paranormal investigators that appear in the third novel.
What inspires you to write?
I guess I just love telling stories. My first love is fiction, but even with the nonfiction projects, I get really jazzed researching information and figuring out a way to present it so it’ll have an impact on people.
Tell us about your writing process.
I’ve never really been much of an outliner, though I think that is helpful to people. I’ve done it more with this series because there are dates to keep track of. Normally though, I’ll finish a novel and then go back and work up an outline if it’s necessary (I have an Asian dragon novel that I had to go back and make a list of provinces, characters and events). I need to get it out, and get out all the characters first. Most time I go into a novel with a clear idea on plot and characters and about midway through it, maybe a bit later, I start trying to figure out how to wind it up. I guess one could say I do both seat of my pants, then outline. To Touch the Sun was something completely new cause I had no idea, outside of a two-word concept, “vampire chef”, what I was going to do. Didn’t have a clue on who the characters were, what tense I would use, what the background story was. It was only as I played with the idea that all that came about. It definitely evolved over time. And in some respects I’m glad that I didn’t immediately find a publisher for it cause it allowed me to write the next books in the series and really get to know the world I was creating. I was then able to make changes to the first one if necessary. It was kind of fun. Some of the directions the plot took me surprised even me.
When it comes to what I use to outline (when I finally get around to it) I generally use paper. Unfortunately, I find myself better able to write free handed. I say unfortunately because it’s so much easier to type it all into a computer program right away (as opposed to free handing, then typing it in, though I use that as a way to proof, so it’s handy for that). So when it comes to ciphering dates and all that, I’ll write a chart of some sort on paper. I might put it in a file on the computer, but it begins on paper. Somewhere I have a couple copies of the map that I drew up for the Asian dragon novel.
I think it’s really important for people to do what they’re comfortable with. That being said, I think it’s also important to try different ways. For example, while it’s easier for the writing to flow when I free hand, I will also try to invent scenes that I type immediately into a file on the computer. It’s always good to stretch and learn new skills.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I don’t hear characters talking to me, but I definitely hear them talking in scenes. There are a number of accents going on in To Touch the Sun (Indian, Chicago, British…) and I’m more an aural learner so I hear these conversations going on very easily in those accents. And I’ll often talk them out while I’m writing (and yes I do the accents). It’s kind of difficult sometimes cause a lot of times I’m coming up with scenes while I’m doing other things like waiting in a line or driving (I’ve always been really good at day dreaming). You may look a little crazy doing scenes out loud while in a line at the store. But again, since I can hear them so clearly in my head, it’s not that big a deal to do it silently.
I don’t think it’s a bad idea to play with interacting with the characters. You get to know them and even if what comes up during the “conversation” doesn’t pertain exactly to the novel, it can help the writer understand a character.
What advice would you give other writers?
I would tell them to be very clear on what they want from this career (and if they even want a career). If they’re doing this as a hobby, that’s fine. There are a lot of really great sites for them to share their work. But if they want it as a career, then they need to understand that the work doesn’t stop at the end of the book. In fact, it’s just beginning. A friend once told me that marketing can be a full time job and he’s true. I don’t think a lot of people realize what the business of writing entails. It can be really great, but it can also be a lot of work. You’re marketing your book, and also yourself cause you want repeat readers and you want them coming back to read your next published book. When you finally get into it, it can be quite an eye opener how much there is to do. And in some respects, while social media can be great, it can also mean more work cause you have that many more platforms (Facebook, Twitter, website, etc.) to maintain. So again, just be very clear on what you want and be clear that to get it, it might require a lot of work. But if you’re successful, it’s worth it.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
It’s a bit of a funny story. As I said, To Touch the Sun was written in an attempt to impress an agent. Well even my first book Chicago’s Most Wanted wasn’t necessarily something I had wanted to do. What I mean was that my first love was fiction and I never envisioned writing a nonfiction book. Loved to read them. But I was all about fiction. But by 2004, I must have been in the right frame of mind when a friend suggested that I could get a foot in the door in the industry if I tried writing nonfiction. He turned me onto Potomac’s Most Wanted series for which he had written a few books and even gave me the email to his editor. I suggested a book on Chicago and the guy accepted it. I was both elated and scared cause I had never done anything like that book before, but once it was all done, and I looked back on the research and writing, it was a hell of a lot of fun. It was great to dig up these stories and information. I even learned things about Chicago that I hadn’t known. Well, years go by and I’m still trying to sell my fiction (while marketing Chicago. I really enjoyed doing talks on that book). That’s when I wrote To Touch the Sun. But I wasn’t having luck, after the initial agent left the scene, in finding a home for it. That’s when Potomac contacted me and asked if I wanted to write another book in the series. I thought, how about a book on vampires. It’s topic more varied than you may think and it might help give me some credibility when I go shopping To Touch the Sun around. And that’s how my second published book came about. Again, originally had no plan to write such a book, but did so for ulterior motives. And ended up really enjoying the experience on that as well. Eventually I was able to find Dagda and they were interested in publishing it.
I prefer having a publisher. There’s a lot of freedom to self-publishing, but there’s also a lot of work. And handing the manuscript over to Dagda to work out intricacies of getting it physically published allowed me to concentrate on trying to market it (Dagda also did some marketing which helped a lot). A lot of people will scoff at getting an agent or publisher (“why should I pay them for stuff I could do on my own?”). Well, that’s why. Cause they’re one more resource that frees you up to do other things.
The nice thing about the publishing platforms that are out there is that if you can’t find a publisher (because let’s be honest, so many of the little guys are gone and the big guys aren’t interested in nurturing the career of a writer), you can get it out fairly easy. Just be professional about it. Make sure it’s proofed. Vampires’ Most Wanted was proofed I think three times and that was fantastic (and because Potomac published it, I didn’t have to worry about getting people to proof it). So many people are just throwing this stuff out there and I don’t think it’s fair to the reader or to the industry as a whole.
But one thing I would definitely say about getting published is to try different things. My original goal years ago was to publish fiction. I ended up having to zig zag a bit to accomplish it. Be wiling to try new things cause it might end up helping you achieve what you’re goal.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think it’s too hard to tell now. People are singing the praises of the ebook (and saying libraries are dead). But you know there are still a lot of people out there who can’t afford the toys required to read the ebook. They use the libraries to get these books. And you still have a lot of people who like the feel of a book. It’s the same with self-publishing. People say the publishing industry is dead, but I don’t think so. I think the big publishers have sort of shot themselves in the foot by buying up all the small publishers. Now they’re relying on big names like Patterson, King, Evanovich to keep bringing in the bread. I don’t think that can last forever cause that’s going to get stale to the readers. I think, because publishing platforms are easier to find now, there’s a rise in the independent publisher. Small publishers. They may not make billions, but they’re out there and publishing the stuff that the big guys ignore cause they don’t think it can make enough profit for them. The small guys are also willing to give more time for the book or the author to develop a following. Potomac is a small publisher. You find more small publishers for nonfiction but it’s rising for fiction as well. Dagda is a small publisher. They’re filling a niche now. It’s a bit like what happened in music in the late 80s and 90s. You had all these great artists putting out records on independent labels. And I think this is incredibly important because it will allow the authors just starting out to grow. So hopefully it’s something that can be sustained.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer
What genres do you write?
Vampires, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, nonfiction
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print