Where do you get your ideas?
This is the question most writers say they hate – I kind of hate it myself, to be honest – but it’s a legitimate one. I’d have to say that most of my ideas originate with everyday anxieties. What if I forgot to lock the door? What if a horrific crime happened next door? What if my daughter didn’t show up at work? What if I woke up one day and the house was empty?
How long does it take you to write a book?
I can usually write a first draft in two to three months. But much depends on how good that first draft is. No Time for Goodbye was written in eight weeks, and didn’t require much rewriting. The first draft of the The Accident was written in about the same time, but it needed a couple of major rewrites before I nailed it, so it took the better part of five or six months.
Do you have the whole book planned out before you write it?
Once I’ve settled on a good hook, or way into a story, I take a couple of weeks planning it before I start writing. I have a pretty good idea what the overall story is, but once I’m into a book, possibilities and opportunities start presenting themselves. So while the book may finish as I’d first planned it, how I get there may end up being quite different from what I’d first envisioned.
What’s your day like?
When I’m in the thick of writing a book, I usually start around nine and go until four or five, with plenty of breaks, some to play nine holes of golf on Nintendo Wii.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Around Grade 3. I was filling entire notebooks – in big, chunk handwriting, double-spaced – with single stories around that time. In Grade 5, I asked my father to show me how to type because writing stories longhand took too long. On our old Royal typewriter, which weighed about the same as a Volkswagen, he showed me where my fingers rested, and which fingers hit which keys. A five-minute lesson, and that was it.
Who are your own favourite writers?
There are so many I’d be afraid I’d leave someone else if I started listing them. But my all-time favourite writer is Ross Macdonald, who wrote the Lew Archer series of detective novels. He had a profound influence on me when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I was also privileged to know him, briefly. Another author whose work I admired, and who was very generous with her time and encouraged me endlessly during those same years was Margaret Laurence.
How can I get to be a writer?
Everyone’s path is different, but there two things you have to be doing. You have to be writing. And you have to be reading. You learn so much from reading a variety of different writers. I believe that if you’re really a writer, you’re already doing it. Writing poems, short stories, novellas. Maybe they’re not published, maybe no one but you is reading them. But you’re writing.
When you think you have something that might be publishable, start reading the acknowledgements in books that are similar to what you’re writing. Look for the names of the literary agents being thanked. Google them. Get an email address. Then send a very short covering letter saying who you are and what your book is about. Four paragraphs, tops. Do not say you’ve written the next Da Vinci Code. Do not say you’re the most brilliant writer ever.
Attach the first chapter of your book. You will live or die based on that first page, no matter how great your covering letter makes you out to be. If the agent sees potential, you’ll hear something. If the agent doesn’t, you won’t. Don’t be hurt if the agent does not critique your work in rejecting it. That’s not their job. Many agents receive fifty to a hundred inquiries every single day. If one agent doesn’t like your book, another may. Remember, there were people who turned down The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (They’ve probably jumped in front of a bus by now.)
By the way, the best book I’ve read about wanting to be a writer is Stephen King’s On Writing.
I’ve written a book and would like to send it to you. Is that okay?
I wish I had the time to read works from aspiring novelists, but writing my books, editing them, and promoting them, pretty much overwhelms me. And due to the volume of requests I receive, I only blurb books that come through my agent or editor, and even then I often can’t get to them.