Where do you get your ideas?

For me, most ideas don’t come fully formed.  It’ll start with a moment–say, stepping into the shower in the morning and finding a silverfish scuttling around the mouth of the drain.  For one reason or another, the moment will strike me as poignant or significant or interesting.  I’ll make a note on a scrap of paper and put it in a banker’s box that’s full of such bits and pieces.

Alone, a moment like that can’t tell a whole story.  But when it combines with another notable moment OR an interesting (often contrasting) character/trait OR with a theme or larger premise… BOOM, there’s a seed, an IDEA.

So, for this example, take my love of ghosts and haunted houses; like most writers in my genre, I’ve taken a stab or two at guessing what happens after people die.  Haunted houses, a silverfish near the drain–that combination was the “idea” moment for the story “Geist,” which you can find (among others) in the Stories section of this site!

 

How often do you write?

When I first started writing seriously, I made it a point to crank out 2,000 words a day, every day.  This is a benchmark I took from one of my childhood idols, Stephen King (and one that many other writers of my generation have also used).  As time went on, I began to realize that, although I was writing a LOT, I was more focused on hitting that number every day than I was on the quality of what I had written.  So as I became even MORE serious about writing, I scaled back my quota and spent the extra time I’d gained being deliberate (and I started to see more sales).  These days, I try to do 1,000 words a sitting (but rarely MORE, so I don’t burn out), about five days a week.

 

How much do you get paid for your stories?

Depends on the market.  Some pay by word, others offer a flat rate, others pay in copies.  I do not currently make my living from my writing–I work in a regular office job, where my duties have nothing to do with my writing life.

 

How many stories have you written that have NOT been published?

Many, many, MANY, many, many.  Can’t even make an educated guess, in fact.  But publication is just the icing for a writer–it’s the desire, the compulsion, the sheer joy of doing it that keep me coming back every day, publication or not, payment or not.  Every story that HAS been published stands on the shoulders of all those that haven’t.  Writing things that are never published is something ALL writers do (and do LOTS of, in my experience).

 

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

If you love anything else as much as you love writing, concentrate your efforts and your education on that, and write only for fun.  Writing–that is, writing professionally, particularly fiction–is very, VERY difficult, and there are a LOT of lean years.  I have been at it so long that if I’d been depending on it to make money to survive, I’d have been dead last decade.

That said–if you know, deep down, that writing is what you were born to do, I’d advise you to shut your eyes and your ears to everything and everyone who will tell you that your time would be more valuably invested elsewhere, and WRITE.  Don’t worry about what your peers are doing, or how much money you could be making in some other line of work–do what you LOVE.  The rest is out of your hands.

 

What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?

“I’ve seen writers.  You don’t look like a writer to me.”  This, from a customer in my early, early days working at a newspaper, just out of college.  He asked what my degree was in–can’t even remember why.  When I told him I had a BA in writing, the above was his response.

Conversely, one of the funnier and more uplifting things I’ve ever been told came from a writer whose stories I listened to every night as a kid.  His name is Garrison Keillor, and he’s best known for his news from Lake Wobegon, which he delivers weekly on NPR as part of his Prairie Home Companion radio broadcasts.  At a reading and signing event, when he asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I told him, “Write novels.”  He looked at me for a long moment, then said, “You’ve got good hair for a novelist.”  Hopefully my creative stores don’t recede quite as fast.

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