But Allan is one of those writers who excels in the dark reaches of the mind. Sink into one of his stories and you sink into an ocean of dark mood. Or abject horror! Really, you gotta love a writer who brings out your suppressed emotions and hidden fears and exposes them fully and unabashedly for all to see.
I'm always curious to hear another writer's views on the nuts and bolts of his profession/obsession. For many of us it actually is more of an obsession than a profession. How a writer writes, and thinks about writing, is instructive to me. As, I suspect, it might be to a large number of bloggers who tune in occasionally and read this blog.
So without wasting another word, let's get to it. And keep an eye out for question number five and his answer. That one hit home for me.
1. All right, up front and to the point: you write dark mystery and dark horror. But which one is closest to your heart? And tell us why.
I like to write books and stories where the protagonist faces challenges above and beyond what he feels capable of overcoming, and then see how he responds. When he does, I throw more stuff in the way. It’s the classic genre fiction recipe. Once you start down that road, the difference between mystery and horror becomes much less than you might think. It’s a difference of degree, more than anything else.
Horror, mystery, cozy mystery, noir, they all contain many of the same components. Generally speaking, the body count – and the gore component - might be higher, say, in a horror novel than a cozy mystery, but at their hearts, the genres share many similarities.
Closest to my heart? For me, it all boils down to whatever I’m working on at the moment. I’m currently in the editing phase of a thriller set at the end of the Cold War titled PARALLAX VIEW, so right now I love thrillers the most. If you had asked me this question six months ago, when I had just released the second of two consecutive supernatural suspense novels, my answer would probably have been horror.
I’m a genre writer through and through. I have nothing against literary fiction, but I write books I would want to read, and I’ve been reading King, Poe, Child, Block,
and other genre masters for as long as I can remember. Westlake
2. It seems like a lot of horror folds into the plot the supernatural. Is that because the supernatural represents the mysterious unknown that surrounds us? Or does it speak more about the dark fears inhabiting all of us in our subconscious?
The monster under the bed. Or in the closet. Who hasn’t gone to bed at night and heard a noise you couldn’t identify, and pictured a fanged monster shambling down the hall, gibbering and bloodthirsty? I hope it’s not just me.
I think the fear of the unknown is ingrained in all of us, and it goes back to the earliest days of our species, when we huddled in caves trying to keep the night and its dangers away with little more than fire and superstition. The supernatural element in horror fiction puts us back in bed with that monster shambling down the hall; it brings us right back to our ancient roots, where every snap of a twig outside that cave entrance represented the possibility of violence and death.
If you think about the modern world, the horrors we face are things we understand to some degree, even if we abhor them. Kidnappers, rapists, pedophiles – they might be the worst of the worst, but their offenses can be studied and quantified. With the supernatural, an element of uncertainty is added into the mix. How can the revenant be overcome? Is it even possible?
3. You inhabit a field that is literately bursting at the seams with others who write in a similar fashion. How do you separate yourself . . . make your own distinctive style . . . and promote yourself?
That’s a question every writer not named Lee Child or Steve Berry or Stephen King probably struggles with. I know I sure do.
A few years ago I attended Thrillerfest, held annually in July in
A big part of Thrillerfest is the Craftfest portion, where readers, aspiring
writers, and fans can attend workshops given by some of the biggest names in
the thriller genre. I was fortunate enough to attend one given by Lee Child,
and he said one thing I’ll never forget (it’s been awhile, so I’m paraphrasing
here): everything’s been done, and probably by a better writer than you. New York City
At first glance, that’s a pretty deflating thought. If everything’s been done, why bother?
But the point he was making is just the opposite. Don’t try to be the next Lee Child or the next Elmore Leonard or the next Dean Koontz. Be the first Allan Leverone, be the first B.R. Stateham. Write what appeals to you and tell absolutely the best story you possibly can. After that, it’s out of your hands.
When you think about it in those terms, it’s kind of liberating. I’m obsessive about editing and rewriting, but once I’ve put the book out in front of people, their reaction to it is out of my control. Some will like it, hopefully, and some won’t, but as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and not have regrets about the tale you told, that should be good enough.
As far as promoting goes, if I knew the answer to that question I would be selling a hell of a lot more books than I am! But writing novels is a marathon, not a sprint, the rare overnight successes notwithstanding. My goal has always been, and still is, to write the best books I can and build a solid core of readers, then hopefully expand that core with each succeeding book.
4. What pleasures are there in writing for you? Do you find yourself sitting back and admiring a sentence, or a paragraph, or an entire book that you've just written? And how long does that pleasure vibrate within you?
I was lucky enough to interview the legendary Lawrence Block on my blog a few months ago, and one of the things I asked him was whether there were any characters or any books he would go back in time and change if he could. He said, “I’m embarrassingly fond of my own work, so they’re all my favorites. And no, I wouldn’t change any of them.”
If that attitude’s good enough for Lawrence Block, I see no reason to feel any differently. While I’m writing, if I can pound out something I feel works really well, I might sit back and enjoy the moment, but I revise a lot, almost compulsively, so rather than feeling self-satisfied, I’m usually filed with doubt and convinced what I’m trying to say could be said much better if I’d only get my shit together.
It’s been said that writing is revising, or something to that effect, so by the time my work is ready to go out in to the world, I’ve usually been working on it for so long that I’m sick of it and ready to move on to something else. It’s more a feeling of hopeful relief than anything else.
5. Tell us about the business side of writing. How difficult is it to break into the bank vault called publishing success? Is there a thread of luck involved? Is talent the prevailing requirement to succeed? Are there any short cuts a novice might use to strengthen their chances of success?
Another great question, and another one I’m probably not qualified to answer.
First, the easy part: There are no shortcuts. A writer has to write. It’s like anything else – the more you do it, the better you’re going to get at it. Fortunately, most writers do it because they’re almost compelled to. Let’s face it: most of us are never going to write a New York Times bestseller. Most of us will never be able to support ourselves solely from our writing. If you’re writing to get rich, you should save yourself a lot of heartache and just take all of your money and buy lottery tickets. Your odds of success are much greater.
As far as achieving publishing success goes, I don’t think anyone would deny there is a thread of luck involved. Probably more than a thread. More like a rope. Like one of the ones they use to dock the Queen Mary. One of the things this “publishing revolution” has taught us is that there are scads of unbelievably talented writers out there who would never even have gotten a contract with a Big-6 publisher.
That’s not to take anything away from the folks who have written New York Times bestsellers. Most of them are talented, and it shows in their work. But talent alone isn’t enough, you have to be in the right place at the right time as well. It’s no different than in sports. Tom Brady was an unknown backup who would likely never have had the opportunity to play were it not for an injury to Drew Bledsoe, and Brady turned out to be arguably one of the top five NFL quarterbacks ever.
Talent and timing. My thriller, THE LONELY MILE, broke into Amazon’s Top 25 overall paid bestseller list back in February. I like to think I wrote a pretty darned good book, but let’s face it – StoneHouse Ink and I caught a wave at just the right time. If that hadn’t happened, the book would probably never have made a ripple.
6. Tell us about yourself. What was the trip-wire that was stepped on which compelled you to become a writer? What are you writing on now? What does the future hold for you?
From the time I first started reading I was in awe of the people who could write books and stories that held me in thrall. It seemed almost magical. Hell, it still kind of does. When I went to college, it was with the intention of majoring in journalism – I wanted to be a sportswriter. I changed majors after my freshman year, and that was the end of writing for me, for about the next three decades.
In January of 2006 I got back into it, with a sports blog at Foxsports.com, and over the next nine or ten months, started to build up a bit of a following, and was really enjoying myself. Then I had an epiphany. Blogging about sports was fun, but what I really wanted to do was write fiction. So one day I just started.
Now I can’t stop. The feeling of creating worlds and populating them with all these characters, good and bad, who get into seemingly unresolvable situations, only to pull themselves out (sometimes) is like no other. Maybe I have a God complex, I don’t know, but I do know this: I will write until I die. A good day of writing is better than any drug.
Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on a thriller titled PARALLAX VIEW. It takes place in 1987, at the tail end of the Cold War, and tells the story of
clandestine ops specialist Tracie Tanner, who is tasked with a fairly
straightforward job: deliver a secret communique from Communist Party General
Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Needless to say,
things aren’t as they seem, and before long Tracie Tanner is knee deep in plane
crashes, KGB spies, assassinations and double-crosses. It’s been a lot of fun
to write and I hope it will be well-received.
After that, I’ll probably begin work on the third entry in my series of supernatural suspense novels that take place in a fictional little town in
called Paskagankee. Oh yeah, and I want to write a novella to submit to
DarkFuse for their collectible hardcover horror novella series. Maybe write a
couple of short stories. Maine
Gonna be busy, I guess…
Thanks so much for having me. As writers of separate installments in the DRUNK ON THE MOON series featuring werewolf/PI Roman
, I feel
like we share a bond that’s even a little deeper than our mutual love for dark
fiction. I appreciate the opportunity to Dalton bore introduce myself to your