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Thomas F. Monteleone Interview

This interview was conducted in May for the Maryland Writers' Association Conference.

INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS F. MONTELEONE

1‭) ‬What was it like when you published your first book and how has the industry changed since then in terms of how authors are getting their books sold,‭ ‬both to publishers and to audiences‭?

TFM:‭ ‬You know,‭ ‬it’s a shame because it really has changed,‭ ‬and I think the industry has changed drastically.‭ ‬I’ve seen the marketplace go through some unbelievable changes.‭ ‬I started out writing short stories‭; ‬I think I published 20 to 25 stories in science fiction magazines in the early‭ ‘‬70s.‭ ‬One year I was at this convention,‭ ‬and I met this young agent who was looking for new writers,‭ ‬young writers,‭ ‬and he said,‭ “‬Have you written any novels yet‭?” ‬and I told him no.‭ ‬I couldn’t even imagine writing something that long.‭ ‬At that point 40 pages was‭ “‬wow‭!” ‬So he told me that he could get me some contracts with publishers that were looking for new writers.‭ ‬He said,‭ “‬If you can put in a proposal and learn how to write a novel while you go along,‭ ‬I’ll pay you for it.‭”

So long story short,‭ ‬the first few novels I did were paperback originals.‭ ‬I think I got‭ $‬1500,‭ $‬2500,‭ ‬which back then wasn’t good money but it wasn’t terrible.‭ ‬And back then‭ (‬this will show you how the industry’s changed‭) ‬back then if you wrote mystery novels,‭ ‬the hardcore fans would go to the bookstores, and whatever new mysteries were out the fans would buy them because the books were paperbacks and they were 35,‭ 40‬ cents,‭ ‬whatever they were.‭ ‬And this hardcore audience bought paperback original novels like crazy.‭

Whatever you were writing at that time,‭ ‬if you wrote mysteries or romance or Gothic or spy novels—whatever you wrote—the publisher knew there was a hardcore audience that,‭ ‬say,‭ ‬if he published a spy novel,‭ ‬he knew he was going to sell‭ ‬50,000‭ ‬copies of it,‭ ‬and that’s if it was by nobody they’d ever heard of.‭ ‬If it was by somebody known,‭ ‬it was going to sell a million.‭ ‬There was an audience for all this stuff.

Do you know what the midlist is‭?

NG:‭ ‬Yeah.

TFM:‭ ‬The midlist was very good back then,‭ ‬and you could make a living selling one paperback original novel a year,‭ ‬for $25,000 or $30,000 and another $15,000 in royalties.‭ ‬And you could make a living doing that.

The midlist is kind of fading away now‭; ‬a publisher’s thinking today is to either buy blockbusters where they try to knock it out of the park and do a movie and a DVD and a video game and a whole business,‭ ‬or they buy first novels from people for practically nothing.‭ ‬But people aren’t reading the midlist authors like they used to.‭ ‬And then the genres,‭ ‬science fiction and horror and thrillers and mysteries and all of those,‭ ‬half of that readership plays video games.‭ ‬Instead of reading about a pilot of a spaceship hunting a monster,‭ ‬or a spy thriller,‭ ‬they just get into the game and be the character.‭ ‬And that’s really hurt book sales.‭

So I’ve seen a really vibrant paperback original industry almost disappear.‭ ‬And one of the problems is—what I didn’t know getting into this—is that if you wrote paperback originals,‭ ‬you didn’t get reviewed in the newspapers,‭ ‬or the trade publications,‭ ‬or the library journals,‭ ‬none of them.‭ ‬So it was much harder to build an audience.‭ ‬So it took me a while‭; ‬I started selling in hardback in the‭ ‘‬80s and that really helped.‭

But then Stephen King came along and started selling horror novels for a hundred million dollars,‭ ‬and that cranked up the paperback original market again.‭ ‬So in the mid ’80s if you were writing a horror novel you could get $30,000,‭ $40,000‬ for it and it would go to the news-stands and sell like crazy if it looked like a Stephen King novel.‭

So I stopped writing hardcovers for about five or six years and went back to writing paperback originals again,‭ ‬and,‭ ‬you know,‭ ‬you lose your audience that way.‭ ‬You lose your reviewers,‭ ‬you lose everything.‭

It’s a very strange industry, and I’ve seen it go through all sorts or permutations in the‭ ‬30‭ ‬years I’ve been writing,‭ ‬and I don’t know if I want my kids getting into it‭!

NG:‭ ‬You want a secure future for your children.

TFM:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬exactly.‭ ‬I’ve been in it all my life,‭ ‬it’s all I know.‭ ‬I’ve never really had a‭ “‬grown-up‭” ‬job—writing is what I do,‭ ‬it’s who I am,‭ ‬and I can’t do anything else at this point.‭

2‭) ‬You discovered a horror comic when you were a kid,‭ ‬and it sparked your interest in the macabre‭; ‬your father also shared the interest in speculative fiction.‭ ‬How did that help to develop your talent as a young writer‭? ‬What advice do you have for young writers that encounter opposition to their interest in speculative fiction,‭ ‬especially dark fiction‭?

TFM:‭ ‬Can I ask,‭ ‬where did you get that stuff from‭?

NG:‭ ‬I just read up on some interviews and stuff on the Internet.‭ ‬I wanted to make sure I wasn’t repeating too many questions.

TFM:‭ ‬These are good questions,‭ ‬good job,‭ ‬I’m very impressed.

NG:‭ ‬Thank you.

TFM:‭ ‬One of the things my father did for me was buy comics for me as a kid.‭ ‬This was back when I was 10 and there were only three channels on the TV‭; ‬you couldn’t throw in a DVD anytime you felt like it.‭ ‬Reading was a much bigger avenue,‭ ‬like comic books for younger kids.‭ ‬There was a lot of strange,‭ ‬interesting stuff out there.‭

My father was into that stuff too,‭ ‬and he had read pulp in the earlier generation,‭ ‬pulp magazines in the‭ ‘‬30s and‭ ‘‬40s,‭ ‬and he liked watching strange movies and he used to take me to horror films all the time.‭ ‬That really helped build my sense of wonder,‭ ‬sense of curiosity about the world.‭

I think if you want to write fiction,‭ ‬whatever it is—romance,‭ ‬mysteries,‭ ‬fantasies,‭ ‬spy thrillers,‭ ‬family sagas,‭ ‬whatever—you have to have this imaginative view of the world.‭ ‬You have to look at everything you see and ask questions about things,‭ ‬wonder where they came from.‭ ‬Ask questions about what it would be like if it was different.‭ ‬All the things writers learn to do unconsciously,‭ ‬we did when we were kids,‭ ‬looking at the world like,‭ “‬Gosh,‭ ‬gee,‭ ‬wow,‭ ‬what the heck is that‭?” ‬And I think we should keep that.‭ ‬The secret to being creative,‭ ‬and not just writing—music,‭ ‬dance,‭ ‬theater,‭ ‬painting too—is that you wonder about the world,‭ ‬what’s going on,‭ ‬how things tick,‭ ‬and what would happen if things changed a little bit or if they changed a lot.‭ ‬Always ask yourself questions.

I went to Jesuit high school at Baltimore Loyola,‭ ‬and I had some really good teachers that really challenged the way you think and the way you look at the world philosophically.‭ ‬One teacher told me that one thing you can always do is ask the next question‭; ‬don’t ever take any particular answer for your final answer.‭ ‬And that was a really amazing thing for me.‭ ‬I never forgot it.‭ ‬It allows the writer to trust his instincts when he’s telling a story.

I hope that makes sense.

NG:‭ ‬It does.‭ ‬I remember in high school some of the teachers that encouraged me,‭ ‬and it really does make a difference at that age.‭

TFM:Yeah,‭ ‬it makes the difference between somebody telling you‭ “‬are you crazy‭; ‬you’re just a dreamer,‭ ‬get your head out of the clouds,‭ ‬go get a real job.‭” ‬And I had people tell me that as I was moving along.‭ ‬It’s really funny.‭ ‬It’s like when you quit smoking and all of your friends are still smoking.‭ ‬They’re glad you quit,‭ ‬but they’re pissed off because they’re still smoking.‭ ‬It’s like,‭ ‬yeah,‭ ‬they’re glad you sold a short story to Playboy for‭ ‬$3000,‭ ‬but they’re pissed off because you’re accomplishing things that they’re not.

So there’s always that.‭ ‬You’re always going to have people that are going to tell you to forget about your dreams.‭ ‬But you have to know what you want to do and do it.‭ ‬If you want to be a writer,‭ ‬ask questions.

I was the first one in my family to go to college.‭ ‬My grandfather came over here from Sicily when he was 15,‭ ‬and he had a bakery in New York,‭ ‬but he didn’t go to college,‭ ‬none of his kids went to college‭; ‬I was one of the first kids born after WWII to go to college.‭ ‬So that was a big deal.‭ ‬I came from one of those families.

NG:‭ ‬You worked hard and found what it was you wanted to do.

TFM:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ my father‬ worked Bethlehem Steel in a shipyard for 30 years.

NG:‭ ‬Wow.‭ ‬Very cool.

3‭) ‬Borderlands has a boot camp for writers of dark fiction.‭ ‬You and your wife,‭ ‬Elizabeth,‭ ‬decided to start it after getting many submissions that needed some work.‭ ‬How was the camp received when it first started,‭ ‬and how has it evolved over the years‭? ‬Also,‭ ‬you just had one this past winter‭; ‬how did that go.

TFM:‭ ‬We just had our most recent boot camp,‭ ‬which was one of our most successful,‭ ‬I think.‭ ‬The way we do it is we have people send in samples,‭ ‬and we advertise the boot camp.‭

We try to bring out all the things that go into life,‭ ‬that separate good writing from bad writing.‭ ‬And one of the things Elizabeth and I try to do is find 20 writers of all about the same level and skill of accomplishment.‭ ‬You’re never going to see already hugely successful writers there‭; ‬if someone sends me something that’s so brilliantly done,‭ ‬what’s the point‭? ‬Or if someone sends me something that’s so‭ ‬.‭ ‬.‭ ‬.

NG:‭ ‬Bad‭?

TFM:‭ ‬Not bad,‭ ‬necessarily,‭ ‬but something that’s at a very,‭ ‬very beginning novice level,‭ ‬where they’re at the point where they barely understand subtext or dialog or what it is or how you even format it,‭ ‬then they’re going to get overwhelmed in the boot camp.‭ ‬So we don’t want someone that’s so behind the curve that they’re going to get pulverized by the level of criticism.‭ ‬We try to find writers that are in that mid-level,‭ ‬where the have skill but maybe haven’t polished their ability yet or they have gaps in their understanding.

And what happens is they come in on Friday‭ ‬and we do a panel discussion and pre-planned exercises.‭ ‬The heavy day is Saturday, where we workshop from about‭ ‬8am to‭ ‬2am.‭ ‬We really beat them up.‭ ‬The re-worked pieces submitted on Sunday are so vastly improved from what they originally submitted,‭ ‬it’s like sorcery.‭ ‬It’s like,‭ “‬How the hell did that happen‭?” ‬They really do learn,‭ ‬and they really are fun to watch because they want to absorb that information.‭ ‬They’ve never had feedback or interacted with other writers like that before.

Every boot camp we’ve done—it’s been going on for four years now,‭ ‬about twice a year—we’ll do a short fiction and novel workshop.‭ ‬And people get together and trade e-mails back and forth,‭ ‬critique back and forth,‭ ‬and a little support group forms.‭ ‬Isn’t that cool‭?

NG:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬it is.

TFM: It really works.‭ ‬Out of‭ ‬140‭ ‬or so writers that have come through our program,‭ ‬I’d say we’ve had‭ ‬15%‭ ‬or‭ ‬20%‭ ‬or so that have gone on to become professional writers.

We didn’t always have this process all figured out‭; ‬we just kind of stumbled along and through trial and error figured out what works and what doesn’t.‭ ‬And we get great writers to come in as instructors.‭ ‬We’ve had David Morrell several times,‭ ‬the guy that did First Blood.‭ ‬We’ve had Peter Straub,‭ ‬F.‭ ‬Paul Wilson,‭ ‬Jack Ketchum‭; ‬we’ve had really good writers come in.‭ ‬And the participants really want to say,‭ “‬Hey,‭ ‬I hung out with Jack Ketchum this weekend.‭”

We have to have people send in writing samples so that we can get a gauge as to where they are.‭ ‬And it’s not cheap‭ [‬the boot camp‭] ‬because we have to‭ ‬pay a premium for insurance,‭ ‬and we have to pay our instructors.‭ ‬But it’s a good program.

NG:‭ ‬It sounds very rewarding.

TFM:‭ ‬It is,‭ ‬it’s a challenge.‭ ‬It’s a good program‭; ‬we like to spread the word about it and make sure people get what they pay for.‭ ‬People can apply at www.borderlandspress.com

4‭) ‬You’re the keynote speaker for the Maryland Writers‭’ ‬Association‭ ‬20th Anniversary Conference.‭ ‬How do you prepare for such events‭?

TFM:‭ ‬I’ve done a lot of public speaking and public readings,‭ ‬and I know this is going to sound ridiculous,‭ ‬but I do very little preparation beforehand.‭ ‬I basically write a few points on a card,‭ ‬then go up there and try to keep it like we’re on the front porch kicking stuff around.‭ ‬I can’t stand these canned speeches where these people read off of note cards and sound like someone stuck a broomstick up their butt.‭ ‬Or,‭ ‬worse,‭ ‬that they just read their speech.‭ ‬I can’t stand that.‭ ‬And I’ve found over time that I know so much crap about what I do,‭ ‬I can just turn it on and off.‭ ‬My wife has heard all this stuff a thousand times,‭ ‬and she says,‭ “‬Don’t bore them,‭” ‬or‭ “‬Don’t forget you’re not funny.‭” ‬And I’m okay with that,‭ ‬she’s heard it a bunch of times.‭ ‬I like to keep it informal,‭ ‬and open it up with questions.‭ ‬The worst thing you can do is come up there with this prepackaged thing that just lays an egg.‭

I don’t like to prepare.‭ ‬I have a lot of confidence in my ability to just get up there and wing it,‭ ‬so that’s pretty much what‭ ‘‬m going to be doing.‭ ‬Are you going‭?

NG:‭ ‬I’m thinking about volunteering so that I can go.

TFM: Have you written a lot yourself‭?

NG:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬but I still feel I have a lot to learn.

TFM: Well,‭ ‬you know what,‭ ‬so do I.‭ ‬Don’t kid yourself.‭ ‬I’m not sitting here like I’m rolling knowledge down the slopes of Mount Olympus here.‭ ‬Every day I’m learning new stuff.

One of the things I tell new writers is that once you become a writer,‭ ‬once you learn what good writing is,‭ ‬you’ll never just read for pleasure again.‭ ‬Anytime you read something that really works,‭ ‬you’re going to re-read and deconstruct and try to figure out what that writer did and why it works.

NG:‭ ‬That’s so true.‭ ‬I find myself wondering why a writer used a certain word,‭ ‬or why they choose to write a sentence a certain way.

TFM:‭ ‬It’s an amazing process,‭ ‬the learning never stops.‭ ‬Once you get your own style,‭ ‬you don’t worry about the mechanics like you used to,‭ ‬but you have to continue learning.‭ ‬You have to always be willing to learn a new trick.

5‭) ‬This also goes with the previous question.‭ ‬What was it like the first time you were asked to speak at an event‭?

TFM:‭ ‬Oh,‭ ‬God,‭ ‬I’ll never forget it.‭ ‬When I was going to grad school at the University of Maryland, I was living in a little town called Greenbelt,‭ ‬which is just outside of Maryland.‭ ‬I was at the library—they had a little library—and I was in there one afternoon doing research for a story.‭ ‬You know,‭ ‬I wasn’t one of those guys that went around telling everyone that I was an author or any of that crap.‭ ‬I was selling short stories to little digests and science fiction magazines.‭ ‬But the librarian asked me if I was a writer and then asked me to come in for the monthly talk,‭ ‬the book group they had.‭

Anyway,‭ ‬there was one older guy in the audience,‭ ‬this really cranky character‭; ‬he was apparently there to take issue with whatever I said.‭ ‬He really tried to make it difficult.‭ ‬And I’m an Italian guy‭; ‬when I was younger,‭ ‬I had a chip on my shoulder all the time—don’t mess with me.‭ ‬That was my attitude.‭ ‬I was always the skinny kid,‭ ‬the small kid,‭ ‬people always wrote me off.‭

So I’m trying to give this nice talk in this small town library,‭ ‬and this guy’s messing with me.‭ ‬So I had it out with him,‭ ‬right there.‭ ‬Not physically,‭ ‬but I called him out and said,‭ “‬Hey,‭ ‬what the hell is your problem‭? ‬You want to mess around with me‭? ‬You want to get up here and do this‭? ‬I’ll sit in the audience while you get up here and talk.‭”

So the whole thing was a disaster.‭ ‬I was 25-years-old at the time,‭ ‬and people were like,‭ “‬Who is this crazy kid‭?” ‬So my first speaking engagement was not great.‭ ‬It wasn’t like I went in and I was nervous and all that.‭ ‬I just figured I’d go in and tell them how I got started,‭ ‬here’s what I did—I beat my brains in for three years.‭ ‬I sent out stories to like 35,‭ 40‬ different magazines.‭ ‬I got 231 rejections before I sold my first story—and,‭ ‬yes,‭ ‬I did count them—I sold my first story for‭ ‬$30‭ ‬at a penny a word.‭ ‬Back then there was no e-mail.‭ ‬You put stamps on an envelope and mailed out your manuscript.‭ ‬And you kept doing it until someone noticed.‭ ‬And that was the message I tried to tell to 11 people at the library that day.‭ ‬The 12th didn’t give a shit.‭

NG:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬I guess the heckler did learn something that day.

TFM: Yeah,‭ ‬don’t mess with Tom.

6‭) ‬Having been in the business for so long,‭ ‬what are some common mistakes that you see new authors making‭?

TFM:‭ ‬I think it depends on the stage in the career‭; ‬we make mistakes all the way through,‭ ‬just different mistakes.‭ ‬When writers are first getting started,‭ ‬the initial assumption is that’s it’s pretty easy.‭ ‬And this has happened more recently with online places like blogs.

Every once in a while,‭ ‬Elizabeth and I will get stories with cover letters that will say something like,‭ “‬Hello,‭ ‬my name is Mickey.‭ ‬I’ve sold‭ ‬183‭ ‬stories,‭ ‬and I hope you like this one.‭” ‬And I think,‭ ‬183‭ ‬stories‭? ‬Where the hell has he published‭ ‬183‭ ‬stories‭? ‬First of all,‭ ‬I’ve never heard of this guy.‭ ‬I’ve been writing short fiction for 30 years and I’ve published maybe a hundred.‭ ‬But they’re all real‭! ‬They’re in magazines and anthologies.‭ ‬So I’ll look these people up and see that they’re publishing on blogs or in online magazines that three people click on.‭ ‬And it’s sad.‭ ‬It’s a big mistake that writers are still making.‭ ‬They’re taking any phantom acceptance for validation of their professional status.‭ ‬They’re not learning anything when they do that.‭

I can’t tell you how many times people come into the workshop and get surprised by the criticism.‭ ‬And they can’t believe it.‭ ‬They’ll say,‭ “‬But this was accepted by‭ ‬Dark Intestines Magazine on the web and the editor said it was great.‭”

The other error that writers make,‭ ‬as they get more into it,‭ ‬is that they get discouraged because they don’t realize that rejection and criticism are part of the process of becoming a writer.‭ ‬And they get to a point where they just can’t take it anymore.‭

Or they think they’ve paid their dues and are beyond criticism.‭ ‬Once you start believing your own press clippings,‭ ‬that’s dangerous,‭ ‬because then you start to alienate other writers,‭ ‬editors,‭ ‬and publishers you work with,‭ ‬and that’s bad.‭ ‬I’ve gotten submissions where they’ll say they won’t accept anything less than 12 cents a word.‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬good for you.

NG:‭ ‬Bye‭!

TFM:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬let me deal with that.‭ ‬That’s my decision,‭ ‬not yours.‭ ‬Let me read it,‭ ‬tell you what I’m paying.‭ ‬Then you decide if that’s something you want to accept or not.‭ ‬Don’t come in the door telling me what I have to pay you.‭ ‬That’s ridiculous.

NG:‭ ‬I think the publishing industry tends to be more forgiving to writers if they can learn from their mistakes.

TFM:‭ ‬Absolutely.‭ ‬One thing writers have to remember is that the more persistent they are,‭ ‬the more editors and publishers remember them.‭ ‬If a writer keeps sending stories in,‭ ‬after a while you start to remember their name.‭ ‬What happens—and I’ve talked to plenty of editors that say the same thing—you start to pull for these people.‭ ‬You want them do well,‭ ‬because you want to see that kind of persistence rewarded.

NG:‭ ‬This is getting a little off of the interview,‭ ‬but I was reading something a little while ago about people sending back rude e-mails to a standard rejection,‭ ‬and that always surprises me.

TFM:‭ ‬You mean they get pissed off because they get rejected‭?

NG:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬like,‭ “‬Oh,‭ ‬what the f‭— ‬do you know,‭ ‬f‭— ‬you,‭ ‬man.‭”

TFM:‭ ‬Wow,‭ ‬not only is that counterproductive,‭ ‬it cements the fact that you’ll never get published by that particular magazine.

Every once in a while we’ll have proven pros submit,‭ ‬that have sold lots of stories and published novels,‭ ‬and they just assume that because of who they are you’re going to buy it.‭ ‬We’ve rejected stories from seasoned pros, and some will take it the right way,‭ ‬say,‭ “‬Eh,‭ ‬it’s all right,‭ ‬way it goes,‭” ‬and other ones will get unbelievably pissy.‭ ‬Wow,‭ ‬get some decorum.‭ ‬You’re supposed to be a pro,‭ ‬take it like a pro.

7‭) ‬You’ve mentioned before that it seems that horror is losing its fan base in the mainstream markets.‭ ‬Besides writing good stories,‭ ‬what do you think writers can do to turn the tide‭? ‬What are you seeing in the speculative fiction field that gives you some hope for future generations of horror writers‭?

TFM:‭ ‬It’s funny that you narrowed it down that way.‭ ‬I do think that of all of the genres,‭ ‬the Gothic has roots,‭ ‬and horror as well,‭ ‬in the beginnings of American literature—Poe,‭ ‬Hawthorn,‭ ‬people like that.‭ ‬I don’t think that horror will go away.‭ ‬People are constantly concerned with fear—fear of the unknown,‭ ‬fear of death,‭ ‬what’s beyond the closed door—these are almost animistic parts of us.‭ ‬That’s always going to be viable.‭

It’s‭ [‬horror‭] ‬just going to ride the roller coaster of what’s in and what’s not.‭ ‬And I think with most writers that achieve a certain status,‭ ‬the audience gets pissed off because they’re not doing the same thing.‭ ‬It’s like with bands—fans go to the concerts to see their favorite songs performed and start to get peeved when the band does their new stuff.‭

But I don’t think you can predict what’s going to sell.‭ ‬You have to write what you like,‭ ‬write what works for you,‭ ‬and believe you’re going to find your audience.‭ ‬If you try to tailor it to the market,‭ ‬you’re not going to be happy.‭ ‬You’ll end up writing dead prose that’s not coming from inside you.

NG:‭ ‬Right.‭ ‬By the time you finish it and get it out there,‭ ‬the tide will already have changed.

TFM:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬you have to write what you like and hope you’re in a commercial literary movement.‭ ‬That’s how it happens.‭ ‬It’s not a science‭; ‬it’s the difference between art and science.

8‭) ‬For those that are unfamiliar with your work,‭ ‬what can they expect when they pick up one of your story collections or novels‭?

I think I write differently in the short form than in the long form.‭ ‬In short form I lean more towards less controlled language,‭ ‬more imagery and symbolism.‭ ‬Maybe surreal and odd.‭ ‬I’m not a literary writer,‭ ‬I’m a storyteller.‭ ‬I think that no matter what I’m writing.

I know that if I was born a thousand years ago, I’d be the guy running around the castle all the time,‭ ‬in that funny little hat with a puppet on a stick.‭ ‬That’d be my job.‭ ‬And I’d be okay with that.‭ ‬So that’s my first priority,‭ ‬to entertain.

With novels,‭ ‬I try to write a lean,‭ ‬mean story-oriented plot.‭ ‬I try to set up psychological characters that get mixed up in situations,‭ ‬and see where they take the story.‭ ‬I try to write cinematically—change point of view,‭ ‬change scenes,‭ ‬experiment with the narrative thread–to make the reader piece together what I leave out.‭ It’s like that old‬ cliche,‭ that‬ old trick used to keep th reader turning the page.‭ ‬They never know what’s coming next.‭

I always know how I want a novel to end,‭ ‬and I set up the beginning.‭ ‬Part of the fun for me is seeing how it’s going to get to the end.‭ ‬But with short stories,‭ ‬I never know where it’s going to go.‭ ‬I start with an idea,‭ ‬or question,‭ ‬and then I just let it go.‭ ‬Sometimes it doesn’t work,‭ ‬sometimes it takes me places I‭ ‬never thought I was going to go.

9‭) ‬Do you write every day‭?

TFM:‭ ‬Yes.‭ ‬If you don’t do that,‭ ‬you’re crazy.‭ ‬It has to be part of your everyday routine,‭ ‬like kissing your wife or eating food or whatever.‭ ‬I tell people the secret to this is to do three pages a day.‭ ‬Take time off on the weekend for good behavior,‭ ‬to do your chores,‭ ‬go to your kids‭’ ‬little league games.‭

That’s‭ ‬15‭ ‬pages a week,‭ ‬60‭ ‬pages a month.‭ ‬If you do that for six months,‭ ‬you have about a‭ ‬360‭ ‬page novel.‭ ‬It’s very simple.‭ ‬Three freakin‭’ ‬pages,‭ ‬that’s all I ever try to do.

Sometimes I do less,‭ ‬sometimes I do more,‭ ‬but I always shoot for three pages.‭ ‬If you don’t write every day you’re just playing around.

I lived up in New Hampshire for a while,‭ ‬my wife and I lived up there with our daughter,‭ ‬and we had a good time.‭ ‬But it was cold and when it came time for high school,‭ ‬we couldn’t find a good Catholic school for her,‭ ‬so we came back here.‭

I had a bunch of buddies there that worked at one of the universities there,‭ ‬and every once in a while I’d meet people in their English department,‭ ‬and they were writing a novel for seven years.‭ “‬Oh,‭ ‬yes,‭ ‬I’ve been working on a novel,‭ ‬bup-bup-bup.‭” ‬What a load of crap.‭ ‬What are you talking about‭? ‬Seven years‭? ‬These are the kind of guys that say,‭ “‬If I can write one sentence a day,‭ ‬I feel like I’ve done a day’s work.‭” ‬What‭? ‬No,‭ ‬you’ve just been crapping around.

When I was younger,‭ ‬those were the kinds of guys I ways wanted to pop.‭ ‬My wife has talked me down from that over the years.‭ ‬But what a joke.‭ ‬One sentence a day.

NG:‭ ‬One sentence‭; ‬everything they touch is gold.

TFM:‭ ‬I can’t stand that.‭ ‬Three pages a day.‭ ‬Grind it out,‭ ‬do your work.‭ ‬Even if you have a regular job.‭

Over the years I’ve known a lot of people that write for journals and newspapers but want to write novels.‭ ‬The problem with that is that they’re writing stuff all day,‭ ‬stuff they don’t like.‭ ‬And when they get home,‭ ‬they don’t want to write.‭ ‬I tell them to go get a job doing something else,‭ ‬get your mind off that writing so you can do the writing you want to do.

10‭) ‬You’ve also written screenplays.‭ ‬How do you think the process is different for writing screenplays verses novels or short stories‭?

TFM:‭ ‬One big difference is I get paid for my novels.‭ ‬I’ve written like 14 screenplays,‭ ‬and I got paid for a few of them,‭ ‬but they weren’t produced.‭ However, ‬I’ve had three or four television episodes produced.

The film industry is a different creature.‭ ‬It makes publishing look like a tea-and-crumpets party.‭ ‬It took me years to realize that it’s just a different planet.‭ ‬But I liked the process of learning how to write screenplays.‭ ‬It’s very different.‭ ‬It’s dialog oriented.‭ ‬The three-act structure—first act you expose the problem,‭ ‬second act you complicate the problem,‭ ‬third act you solve the problem.‭ ‬It’s good training.‭ ‬It doesn’t hurt anything to buy a few books and learn how to do it.

The problem with the industry is they look at writers like a necessary evil.‭ ‬They don’t want you around.‭ ‬And it’s a tradition that goes back to the old studio days when writers used to be staff.‭ ‬They had the writers come in for the day and write whatever they were told to write.‭ ‬Write a‭ ‬15‭ ‬minute comedy for Buster Keaton.‭ ‬Write me a PSA for bike safety.‭ ‬Write me whatever.‭ ‬And they were just looked upon as hired hands,‭ ‬like the guy that cut the hedges.‭ ‬And that attitude has persisted.‭

NG:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬I went to film school.‭

TFM:‭ ‬Oh,‭ ‬you did‭? ‬East Coast or West Coast‭?

NG:‭ ‬West Coast.

TFM: So you know what I’m talking about.

NG:‭ ‬I remember‭; ‬it’s totally different.

TFM:‭ ‬They drove me crazy.‭ ‬I used to go out there—I have a TV agent—and every once in a while they would drag me out there to pitch something.‭ ‬I actually sold a television series to Columbia Tri-Star about seven or eight years ago,‭ ‬and CBS was partnering with it.‭ ‬And I wanted to write the pilot.‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬they weren’t having anything to do with that.‭ ‬CBS said,‭ “‬Oh,‭ ‬no,‭ ‬we have our own writers.‭” ‬So they brought in these writers that trashed the pilot so terribly that Columbia Tri-Star backed out.‭ ‬I got to keep the money.‭ ‬But they don’t trust writers.‭ ‬If you can write a novel,‭ ‬they look at you like you’re a freak.

I sold screenplays that never got produced.‭ ‬And I’ve had them buy my books and have other people write screenplays that were almost unrecognizable.‭ ‬I said to one producer,‭ “‬Why did you spend all that money to buy my book‭? ‬It’s not even the same story.‭ ‬You changed only everything.‭ ‬If I saw this movie,‭ ‬I would never say,‭ ‘‬Hey,‭ ‬you stole my book.‭’ ‬It’s not even the same story.‭”

It’s a different reality.‭ ‬If someone asked me,‭ “‬Would you write a screenplay on spec‭?” ‬my first tendency is to say no.‭ ‬And then I say,‭ ‬well,‭ ‬give me some gross points or something.‭ ‬Because they all want to talk net.

NG:‭ ‬Oh,‭ ‬yeah,‭ ‬yeah.‭ “N‬et.‭”

TFM:‭ ‬Net is just Hollywoodese for‭ “‬hide the money.‭”

NG:‭ ‬That money you were expecting‭? ‬Sorry.

TFM:‭ ‬The only net in Hollywood is the one they throw over you as they run away.‭ ‬But I continue to be seduced by Hollywood.

NG:‭ ‬It does have that quality.‭ ‬When I got into school,‭ ‬I was majoring in English.‭ ‬And by the end of my junior or senior year I was majoring in Cinema.

TFM:‭ ‬Are you a West Coast person‭?

NG:‭ ‬No,‭ ‬I was raised pretty much East Coast,‭ ‬though I’ve lived all over.

TFM:‭ ‬Are you a Balimore girl‭?

NG:‭ ‬I consider myself sort of one now,‭ ‬I guess;‭ ‬I’ve lived here for a while.‭ ‬The thing with the West Coast is it never felt entirely real,‭ ‬it felt like an office.

TFM:‭ ‬I totally agree.‭ ‬Especially in LA,‭ ‬there’s this‭ ‬über-culture of people making obscene amounts of money.‭ ‬They kind of wade through the regular people,‭ ‬and they look at everybody as if they’re only half there.‭ ‬But it would be like us living in a town where you buy a car for‭ ‬$180,‭ ‬or you go eat for 25 cents a night.‭ ‬They make so much money,‭ ‬prices don’t mean anything.

I was out there with a buddy of mine,‭ ‬an actor,‭ ‬and he was making a lot of money.‭ ‬So he wanted to go play golf,‭ ‬and it was‭ ‬$600‭ ‬a round.‭ ‬Are you crazy‭? ‬I lived in New Hampshire and paid‭ ‬$500‭ ‬a year to play golf.‭ ‬But they don’t even realize it.

Okay,‭ ‬I have to stop ranting.

11‭) ‬What other projects are you working on now‭?

TFM:‭ ‬I’m finishing a YA novel.‭ ‬I have about‭ ‬50‭ ‬pages left.‭ ‬Then I’ve got another novel,‭ ‬a‭ ‬600‭ ‬page thriller I’m working on.‭ ‬It alternates between the present and WWII.‭ ‬A historical thriller.‭ ‬It took a lot of research,‭ ‬and I had to do a couple of books in-between,‭ ‬so it’s taken me about two years to write—which I hate.‭ ‬I’m about‭ ‬40‭ ‬pages from finishing that.

I’m also doing a ghostwriting project.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬yeah,‭ ‬I’m very busy.

12‭) ‬Any other advice for writers‭?

TFM:‭ ‬The most important thing is that no one can stop you from becoming a professional writer besides yourself.‭ ‬You have to keep going after your dream.‭ ‬It takes a lot of hard work and persistence.‭ ‬You have to believe in your ability and in your dream.
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