How do you deal with writer’s block?
I wish I had a simple answer—a formula—that every aspiring writer could follow when they face a bout of writer’s block. But the reasons for reaching what appears to be a dead end vary and, for me at least, the solution does to. Often taking a break and doing something completely different—like going a walk, running an errand or even “sleeping on it”—will clear my mind and allow it to generate that creative spark and the words soon begin to flow again. It’s strange but the answer to what happens next will often pop into my mind at the oddest times—when I’m at the gym, when I’m in my car or even in the middle of the night—especially when I’m not actively thinking about my predicament. The second thing I would recommend is to take a break from writing and do some research. Often times, the block comes from not knowing the technical aspects of the scene, or the character’s profession, or the physical attributes of a particular location. The research often sparks a number of ideas. I jot them down one by one and in the process, something will click and I’ve found a path forward. It also helps, I think if you know where your story is going—not that it won’t take many twists and turns along the way. But having the big picture in mind allows you to put a problem scene to the side and to focus on a different scene or on a different character for a while. You can always come back to the road block later. Finally, when all else fails, take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine, sit back, take a sip relax and remember the medieval proverb that this too shall pass. Most importantly, save a glass for me!
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
The two best things about being a writer are the commute and the office dress policy! All kidding aside, I think the coolest thing about being a writer is the way the story seems to take on a life of its own. Often times, the characters and the plot itself seem to develop and evolve over time and in ways that I never imagined when I first sat down and began typing. More than once, I’ve found myself reflecting on something a character just did and thinking that I hadn’t envisioned that the character would do something like that when I first created him or her a dozen chapters earlier. Sometimes, a minor character who I created for one scene comes back to play a much more prominent role later on. At times, it feels like the characters and the plot tend to go in their own directions and often I’m left following along as the scribe. Then there are the reviews. There’s nothing better than hearing a reader say, “Wow! That was great! When is your next book coming out?”
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
The advice I heard most often when I started writing was to write every day, for as long as you can, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. While I’ll admit that I don’t always follow that advice, like any skill, writing takes practice and you will become better over time. The second thing is to read everything you can within your genre or chosen field. Learn how writers approach their craft and along the way you’ll learn what an intriguing protagonist, a compelling plot, or engaging dialogue look and sound like. It’s also good to network with other writers. We tend to think alike and, even if it’s to commiserate on the rapid changes taking place within the publishing industry, writers tend to be very supportive of each other. At the same time, I would learn as much as I could about publishing, whether it’s traditional or self-publishing. Most importantly: get feedback. Find a handful of people who will give you objective advice about your writing. You can’t get better unless you know where you need to improve. Finally, hang on to the dream! Perseverance is as much a part of being a writer as a computer and a dictionary are!
What are you currently working on?
My current project is a historical thriller titled The Devil’s Due, which is based loosely on my mother’s father. Family legend held that my grandfather fled Ireland in 1920 with a price on his head by both the British and by the IRA. I spent some time in Dublin and in Limerick researching military archives and the War for Independence, meeting with historians, tracing my roots, and, of course, enjoying a pint or two because, after all, I was in Ireland! The cool thing is that the Irish Army was able to locate my grandfather’s military records and I was able to confirm that he did indeed serve in the IRA during the war. It’s there that the history gets a little murky. He does appear to have left Ireland in a hurry, but as to why, I can only speculate. Still my research paints a picture of a very tenuous time where the temporary alliance cobbled together to defeat the British crumbled easily under the weight of ancient divisions; where suspicion of disloyalty often resulted in death; and where past sins were rarely forgiven. It’s in this context that the story of my protagonist, Frank Kelleher, comes to life…and almost to his death.
How do you get inspired to write?
I write what I enjoy reading. I am an avid reader of thrillers and suspense novels, from authors such as David Baldacci, Vince Flynn, Steve Berry, Michael Connolly, Mike Lawson and Brad Thor. My first novel, In Sheep’s Clothing, is a political thriller and I’m certain that it was influenced by the works of these and many other fine writers. It’s interesting; this book was over 20 years in the making. I actually began writing this book before my daughter was born—and she’s in college now. But as often happens, life, family, career and a host of other things got in the way and the book sat dormant for a long, long time. It wasn’t until several years ago when I had the opportunity to focus on finishing the story. I’m sure all those years I spent away from the keyboard—traveling extensively, relocating multiple times, and even living and working abroad for several years—had a subtle influence on the final story.
We are a product of our environment. I am an avid reader of thrillers and suspense novels, from authors like David Baldacci, Steve Berry, Michael Connolly, Mike Lawson and Brad Thor. My first novel, In Sheep’s Clothing, is a political thriller and I’m certain that it was influenced by the works of these and many other fine authors. But in many subtle ways, it was also influenced by my own experiences: the places I’ve lived, the events that took place, both in the broader world and in my own back yard.
This is my journey.
As a young child, one of my most vivid memories is moving every few years to a new town, to a new house, as my father climbed the corporate ladder. Little did I realize at the time that my own life would follow a similar path.
By rights, I could call myself a southern boy, but that wouldn’t be accurate. I was born in Georgia and a few years later, we moved to Louisiana. My early child years were during the 1960s, a turbulent time for America dominated by the struggle for racial equality and the Civil Rights movement; the growing threat of the Soviet Union, both in the race to the moon and in the race to bear arms; civil unrest and riots in Watts and Newark, and later, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and by the war raging in South East Asia.
The decade was marred by the growing body count in Vietnam and by the assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother, Robert, and Dr. Martin Luther King. The British invaded, Beatle Mania swept the nation and while we listened to Rock and Roll, we watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. With the exception of the moon landing, it wasn’t until I was much older that I learned of many of the events that had occurred during what I had viewed as my carefree childhood years. Still, the events of the 1960s, in many subtle ways, would have an effect on me.
By the end of the decade, my father’s job took us to Pennsylvania and as the 1970s began, we relocated again, this time to New Jersey. The turbulence continued with the still-unexplained shooting of innocent students at Kent State, the Watergate Scandal and the resignation of a president, and the final withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. All three would weigh heavily on the nation for years to come. Oil embargoes left us waiting on long gas lines, the Beatles broke up and Elvis, after a long public struggle to escape his personal demons, finally did.
Life moved on and, even in the midst of a rash of kidnappings and hijackings, technology leapt forward with the introduction of microprocessors and computer chips, VCRs and floppy disks, and the start-up of something Bill Gates called Microsoft. As the decade ended, a peanut farmer from my birth state became president and his only notable accomplishment was brokering a peace accord between Israeli and Egypt. Meanwhile, students in neighboring Iran stormed the US embassy and took Americans hostage.
Despite having moved so many times as a young child, most of my childhood was spent in the Garden State, less than an hour from New York City. My life consisted of Little League baseball in the spring, Pee Wee football in the fall, summers at the town pool and winters sleigh riding. On Thanksgiving Day, we stood on 34th Street in Manhattan and watched the parade in front of Macy’s. On July 4th, we watched the fireworks over the East River.
Outside of school, life was trouble free and I spent many hours biking around town, hiking, playing in the streams near our house and building forts in the woods. In high school, my athletic pursuits switched to soccer and ice hockey. Long gone was my thick, southern accent.
I attended college in New York during the 1980’s, which began somewhat prophetically when a group of kids my own age defeated the seemingly unstoppable Olympic Ice Hockey Team from the former Soviet Union, ending their twenty-year Gold Medal streak. Suddenly, there was a renewed pride in America ending the collective funk from Vietnam, Nixon’s disgraced presidency and the stagflation of the Carter years.
For me, nothing exemplified America’s renewed strength better than President Ronald Reagan, who shortly after he took office, defied an assassin’s bullet and, despite being seriously wounded, walked into the hospital unassisted. Reagan survived and, several years later, challenged the Soviet Union again, not to hockey this time, rather to tear down a wall in Berlin. By the end of the decade, the wall, symbolic of the Iron Curtain, did fall, and with it, one by one, the communist governments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as well.
As I began a career in accounting and finance, writing was far from my mind. Although I had written a short story or two in both high school and college, earning praise and publication in school anthologies, I never thought of myself as a writer. It wasn’t until many years later that I began to wonder whether something was missing from my life.
I met my wife shortly after college. Strangely enough, we had attended the same school but it wasn’t until a Halloween party several years later that we finally met. We married and not only worked full time in our respective careers, but we both attended Grad school at night as well. Starting a family was put off, but kids soon joined us and while my wife doted on them, I continued my journey up the corporate ladder.
Our journey took us from New York to Michigan to Illinois, then back to Michigan again. One day, after we had been in our house for about a year, my youngest, in his third house in four years, asked if it was time to move again. Little did he or I know at the time, but, several years later, we did, this time to Mexico.
We lived in an old colonial city several hours north of Mexico City where we met many fantastic people and enjoyed the country and the culture in a way that a tourist never could. Although Mexico was, and still is, embroiled in a war with drug cartels, and security has become a growing concern, it was a wonderful experience for me, my wife and my three children. Three years later we were back in Michigan again and, by this time, I was a senior executive for a Fortune 500 company.
I was living the American dream: wonderful wife, great kids, nice house, rewarding career. Still, when I thought about my life, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something I needed to do, a creative urge I needed to explore. In my chosen field, accounting and finance, bouts of creativity are usually followed by a prison sentence. I don’t look good in prison stripes, or so I kept telling myself, so one day, I decided it was time to do something different. With the support of my family, I began writing.
It has been a long, rambling journey full of many unexpected twists and turns while the broader events of the world seemed to unfold on their own around me. All of this somehow found its way from the dark recesses of my brain to the pages of my book. I hope you enjoy the read.
Not one to sit idle, I am currently working on several other projects, including a sequel to In Sheep’s Clothing titled An Eye For An Eye, as well as a historical thriller set in Ireland in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Stay tuned…
Writing is a journey. Not only for you the reader but, in many ways, for me, the writer, and, believe it or not, for the characters in the book as well. The first one is obvious. If I’ve done my job right, you’ll escape, for a short while anyway, into the lives of my characters, vicariously sharing their thoughts, their challenges, their struggles, their dark moments, as well as their triumphs. You’ll root for the good guys and you’ll hate the bad guys. You’ll stay up late into the night, caught in the suspense, anxiously waiting to see what happens next. At the end, hopefully, you’ll close the book with a satisfied smile.
Writing is a journey for me too. A lot of thriller and suspense fiction is the classic struggle between good and evil. The good guy, or gal, faces some horrific, usually life-threatening challenges, and often times, some internal demons as well. The bad guy won’t stop until he’s achieved whatever evil he’s pursuing. The climax of the story is often the showdown between good and evil, and the ultimate triumph of one or the other. How I get from this generic big picture to the actual words on the page is my journey. Usually, thoughts and ideas seem to find their way to the paper and I write until I hit a point where I realize that I am woefully uneducated. What type of gun does the Secret Service use? How does Air Traffic Control work? What does the inside of the White House look like? Research fills in the blanks and, along the way, I get to meet some wonderful people. Inspired, new ideas will pop into my head and I can’t wait to start writing again.
Then there are questions that only my characters can answer. What does the protagonist look like? What is her struggle? How does he react under stress? Will she stand up for herself? What seems loose and fuzzy in the beginning will hopefully become clear as the journey progresses and the words make their way to the page.
In much the same way, writing is a journey for the characters. It may sound odd for a writer to say this, but characters, and the plot itself, seem to develop and evolve over time and in ways that I never imagined when I first sat down and started typing. More than once, I’ve found myself reflecting on something a character just did and thinking that I hadn’t envisioned that the character would do something like that when I first created him or her a dozen chapters earlier. Sometimes, a minor character who I created for one scene comes back to play a much more prominent role later on. The characters and the plot seem to go in directions that only they can choose and often I’m left following along.
I hope that you enjoy your journey reading In Sheep’s Clothing as much as I’ve enjoyed my journey writing it. As for the characters, I’ll let them speak for themselves.