I’m not sure, and I REALLY wish I’d done it sooner. I’ve always thought of myself as primarily a writer, but pursuing a career in radio & TV forces you to mostly write things that are, at most, two minutes long. I did write a very bad screenplay in my 20’s—I’m afraid to go back and read the thing. And I wrote a pretty darned good stage play that my friend, Phil Cowan, and I performed at the B Street Theatre in Sacramento a decade ago (sold out every show!). I don’t remember the moment when I decided to take the plunge and start the first novel, but once I did it was completely consuming.
The planning part is tedious, and I fear I may be excessively meticulous in the preparation. I’ll come up with an idea and work out a storyline—often through conversations with a couple of buddies who like the same kinds of books that I do: Ian, Joe, Phil. Then the details of the plot are worked out, chapter by chapter. I’ll write a couple of lines of a 3x5 note card to describe each chapter, and lay the cards out on the living room floor—different colored cards for major characters, different symbols for major plot points. See? Excessive. But that’s how I get an overview, and at that point I can move the chapters around, talk through the story with myself, get a sense for what works and what’s missing.
Once I get down to the actual writing of a novel, it’s like reading a story that I love… VERY SLOWLY. At least, that’s what it’s been like for me. It’s just like when you’re reading a book that you’re really enjoying, Avid readers know the fun of being in the middle of a great book—how it stays in the back of your mind and you look for an opportunity to get back to it and read a few more pages. That’s what my experience is with the writing process is. No kidding. It’s why I wrote a sequel and hope to write a bunch more.
Just about a year from start to finish. The darned day job gets in the way. If I were a full-time author, I think I could knock out two books a year and still have time for a couple of good vacations. And speaking of vacations, the first few chapters of the novel were written on a cruise my wife and I took.
Ummm. Kinda. I set out to pattern him after a running buddy of mine, and in my mind’s eye, those two still look very much alike. But over time, I’m afraid Sid’s personality became my own. The novel is written in the third person, but it’s clearly Sid’s voice. And it’s my voice. And in the interest of full disclosure, Sid and I are both runners, but he is fast and I am slow.
Yes, but when questioned directly I’ll deny everything. One of my favorite characters—Jock Bell—is very intentionally a combination to two guys that have been fairly high profile members of the Sacramento community through the years. And, just in case either of them becomes suspicious, let me add that, although he’s a creep in this first novel, you come to actually like him in the sequel. As a rule, I’ll say that most of the characters were drawn from people I know. And I’m completely guilty of chopping up the names of friends and acquaintances through the years to come up with the names of my characters. You know who you are.
I’ll start out with the obvious—I’ve lived here for 35 years, which makes me a semi-expert on Sacramento. I know the history, the good and bad neighborhoods, the impressive and the laughable things about it. I’ve seen the graffiti on the inside of the Capitol Dome. I like the place.
Which leads me to a second reason. Why not? It’s a perfectly fine place to set a mystery. I’ve had people comment that Sacramento may not be a great choice if I want to succeed nationally as an author, and I just don’t understand their view. Stephen King sets his stories in little New England towns I’ve never heard of and they’re terrific. Yes, Robert Crais put Elvis Cole in trendy SoCal and Harlan Coben put Myron Bolitar in New York and Robert B. Parker put Spencer in Boston. But Sandford’s Lucas Davenport is a Minneapolis cop, and I’m not sure Minneapolis has anything on Sacramento. Okay, they’ve got the Vikings and the Twins. Is that supposed to impress me?
I’m going to have to come up with a better answer to this question. I set the novel in a downtown deli in 1980 just because I thought that would be a fun book to write. In 1980 I was waiting tables at a restaurant not far from downtown. So, once again, I’m a semi-expert.
I’ve finished the first draft and am currently polishing up the sequel. The first novel is, essentially, the birth of Sacramento’s oddest Private Eye. In the next novel, we find out what Sid Bigler is up to five years later. It’s 1985 and Sid is now a real, licensed private investigator working out of the deli. Somebody shoots a couple of city council members, and one of them—Bertie Jones—is a woman Sid has had a crush on since he was a kid. Because I inexplicably like book titles that are questions, the sequel is titled, “Who Does It Hurt?” Look for it by mid-2014.
Fiction: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. The Green Mile, by Stephen King. Animal Farm, by George Orwell.
Non-Fiction: A Conflict of Visions, by Thomas Sowell. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. Animal Farm, by George Orwell (increasingly non-fiction, isn’t it?).