Here’s where I’m probably going to disappoint you. My sole motivation when I write a book (fiction, naturally) is simply to tell a good story. Not to educate or necessarily edify, but hopefully, to entertain. I don’t care if
people think I’m a “great” writer; I’d much prefer to be known as a good storyteller. If people can put down a book of mine and feel they’ve had an enjoyable read that maybe took them away from themselves for a while, having become immersed in the characters and situations, then I’m satisfied.
What do you read, besides your day job work?
I spend most of my workday (the dreaded day job to which, unfortunately, most writers must succumb) reading and editing trade and association publications, which, frankly, is deadly dull, affording virtually no creative stimulation. Often by day’s end I can’t bear to look at another printed word and, at that point, will usually watch a good movie instead. On weekends, though, and on those weeknights when my brain needs a jump-start of literary stimulation, I generally read biographies and histories. Definitely read some Westerns, of course. There are a lot of talented, dedicated Western writers out there whose books I enjoy and from whose styles I can learn. Avalon, in particular, has a terrific stable of authors, among whom I am now immensely proud to be included.
When you sit down to write a good story, what are the things you enjoy about writing?
Good, interesting characters, of course, whose lives, loves and adventures you enjoy exploring along with them. Most of all, I love surprise. I like to suddenly veer into an unexpected direction in the narrative and thereby, hopefully, throw the reader off course. I really am not a fan of formulaic fiction, where you know from the first chapter exactly how the story is going to develop and how it will be resolved. I think I tossed a pretty good curve ball at the end of Denim Ryder, which at first even Avalon, I’m told, questioned. But I didn’t want readers of that story simply to put down the book at the end and say maybe that it was a satisfying read, nothing more. I wanted to leave them with a “kicker”, as it were. Something they did not expect. And from comments I’ve received from readers of that book, I believe I succeeded.
When that good story isn’t going well, what keeps you working?
Ah-hah, the dreaded writer’s block – or when you have those days when you sit down to write and later you take a look at the day’s results and think your five year-old daughter had composed it. Had many of ’em. Those terrible periods when you say to yourself: “What makes me possibly think I’m a writer?” Fortunately, what I’ve learned is simply to chalk it up to just having a bad day, forget about it and try again tomorrow. Don’t get discouraged, just keep at it. Usually (at least in my case) the next day you write “gold”. You stumble,
get back up again.
If you know the story isn’t going to work, what do you do with the aborted effort?
Boy, that’s something else I’ve experienced. I’ve submitted partials which (even after I’d established something of a publishing track record) were rejected numerous times by various publishers and finally gave up on the book and moved onto something else. But fortunately (or not), I’ve never started a story that part- or mid-way through I realized I couldn’t finish because the narrative strayed or I simply lost interest. Such has happened, but I’ve stubbornly stuck through it and eventually finished the book. It’s only when frequent rejections hammer it into me that the story is not marketable that I’ll give up the ghost and not finish the book – after all, writers don’t necessarily want to write in a vacuum. For me, at least, I write to be read. I confess I own a writer’s trunk of incompletes and rejected manuscripts. Don’t visit it often, though.
In your trunk of backlist manuscripts, is there one book you regret letting go?
If you’d asked me that maybe ten years ago, I’d probably say ‘yes’. But now, not so much. Some of the stuff hidden amongst the mothballs is pretty raw. But I certainly don’t regret having written them. You learn by writing, whether your stuff is published or not.
I’ll tell you a funny story, though. After I’d somewhat established myself as a horror writer back in the mid-80s, I wrote a teenage vampire novel, which, in many ways, was quite similar to “Twilight”. Submitted it to my publisher, who rejected it, commenting that there just wasn’t a market for vampire fiction at the time. Same thing when I submitted another manuscript about a vampire hitman. Two strikes and I was out when it came to bloodsuckers. Who would have guessed the market turnaround. Yet that’s encouraging. Because even though the Western genre might be in a bit of a slump at the moment, a turnaround could be right around the corner.
If you had the chance to begin your writing career over, is there anything you would want to change?
Oh God, Leigh, is there a writer alive who wouldn’t want one last crack at a published manuscript. We’re our own worst critics, though the reality is, even if we could make those final, final changes, down the line we’d probably want yet another shot at it. I can definitely say that about myself. I’m a nagging perfectionist and confess that errors that got through in books of mine published twenty years ago still irk me.
And maybe one more thing. After my third horror book was published, I’d decided to tackle other genres; the market seemed to be slowing and I didn’t want to become typecast. I wrote and submitted a gangster book to a publisher who, though not interested in that particular book, somehow knew of me and asked if I’d consider writing horror books for their company. Like the twaddle I sometimes am, I refused their offer and ended up not writing another book for almost 15 years. I look back now and contemplate the “what if . . . ” scenario.
You’ve written non-fiction and fiction, westerns and horror. Is there another genre waiting in the wings for you?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier I’m currently working on completing a gangster novel called The Chicago Boys.
It’s a fictional telling of what happened to the Chicago mob after Al Capone was sent away to prison on an income tax rap. It deals with the internal power struggle among the Outfit and their attempted extortion of Hollywood studios during the 30s. There’s lots of facts and real-life characters, but it is a novel so I can use my imagination to create situations or creatively expand upon stuff that really did happen during that era. As you know, I’m a gangster addict, and this has been something I’ve been developing for a long time. Fortunately, I also have a publisher interested. There always seems to be some market for these types of books. And the interest in Capone never really seems to waver.
Now that The Last Outlaw is published, is the party over?
I hope not. I do have ideas for other Westerns that I’d like to write, including a sequel to Denim Ryder. I’d love to do some promotions for all of my Westerns, but that’s somewhat difficult with them not available in Canadian bookstores. That’s always a handicap when it comes to author publicity, as I’ve unfortunately discovered. I’ve experienced some local media who are resistant to do an interview BECAUSE a book of mine is not in stores. I suppose they may feel that any book that is not in stores is not a “true” publication and maybe a “vanity” effort, which can be a bad rap. Personally, I feel that, shelf competition aside, it is vital for books to be placed in brick-and-mortar stores – for visibility and to give potential readers tangible evidence of the book’s worth. But that’s probably best for another story another day.
Thank you, Stone, for this opportunity to talk with you. It has been a pleasure to become better acquainted. My copy of The Last Outlaw is on its way to me and I’m anxious to follow Cash McCall into his dark world.
Addendum: My copy of The Last Outlaw was delivered at the last possible moment at end of my stay in West Hartford, CT in July 2011. I couldn’t put it down.