Friday, May 24, 2013

On Writing

Here are some questions I answered about writing last week over at Tom Rizzo's blog: Rizzo Historical Adventure Fiction.  I thought I'd post the interview again here, since I haven't offered many writing tips lately.  The pic below of course is not Mean Pete, but I found it when looking for a general "Writer" pic to post.  It's Patricia Highsmith, and while I'm not a huge fan of her writing, I do love this writerly pic of her with the coffin nail and old typewriter, hammering it out.  She probably has a bottle of vodka in hiding.

StoryTeller's Seven Questions

1.            You've written a ton of books over the years as Peter Brandvold and as Frank Leslie. How many novels so far and in what circumstances do you use your Frank Leslie pen name?
I lost track several years ago of how many books I've penned under those two names.  I'd say around fifty.  I chose to work under a pen name when I started writing for Signet, which is under the same Penguin umbrella as my original publisher Berkley.  
Those two companies didn't want to compete with each other, thus Frank Leslie was born.  I don't really see much difference in the books I write under those names, but I will admit FEELING differently when I write as Frank rather than as Pete.  Not sure what that is.  Under the Leslie name, Yakima Henry, Spurr Morgan, and Colter Farrow were born.  Over the years, those characters have made guest appearances in my Berkley books.  That's always fun to do.  
I'm currently not contracted with Signet OR Berkley--we couldn't agree on money--and that's given me the opportunity to really fire up my own Mean Pete Press, which you can read about at my blog:  (The only contract I currently have with a traditional publisher is with Simon & Schuster.)  Mean Pete in all his frenzied, industrious nastiness intends to issue an e-book and possibly a pub-on-demand book a month until he's a hundred years old, possibly longer.  Which would be roughly 50 years from now.  (Mothers, hide your children!)  

2.            What's your latest project, and the "inspiration" behind it?
My latest project is/was (it just went live at Amazon and B&N) is a Rogue Lawman book:  HEED THE THUNDER.  I really can't talk about "inspiration," but I've been wanting to write another Rogue Lawman for several years but the bean counters at Berkley didn't want me to because my other series were selling better.  But I know that the Rogue Lawman has a loyal following, and I personally love ole Gideon Hawk, and I've wanted for a long time to set a book in the Superstition Mountains with the Dutchman of the "lost mine" fame as well as HEED THE THUNDER went snapping and crackling onto the computer screen.  It's doing pretty well now, too, as an ebook original.  I describe it as one part Edgar Rice Burroughs to one part Fawcett Gold Medal with a good dose of Mean Pete Brandvold thrown in to really keep things moving!
 3.            I read an interview where you mentioned the newer writers of westerns don't much appeal to you because of "cornball dialect" and characters that are "way too goody-goody." Would you elaborate on that a bit?
No.  They'll get drunk and drive by my house yelling nastiness or mess with my lawn ornaments.  But I will tell you that some of my current FAVORITE western scribes are James Reasoner (I just finished WEST OF THE LAW and loved his take on Bill Tilghman) as well as Wayne Dundee, Matthew P. Mayo, and my adopted mother, "Ma" Kit Prate.  She is absolutely the best western writer I've ever read from any time and it's a shame she hasn't written more.  But we're remedying that--wink, wink.
 4.            Tell us something about your work habits. What kind of planning is involved for someone who seems to have lots of irons in the fire? Outlines? Charts? Do you move from beginning to end?
I just take long walks up and down Horsetooth Mountain and ride my mountain bike (I'm a mountain-biking fiend) and let the movie in my head get going and come back and write it down.  For one book I take about as many notes as can fit on one legal pad page and most of those are just so I can keep guns and horses straight and remember names I come up with.  ("Claudia" as opposed to "Claudine" and that sort of thing.)  I don't plan very far ahead.  I just get the overall gist of the story and the opening scene--imagine it down to the finest detail including what that spider looked like that crawled over the hero's dusty boot, and then I roll up my shirtsleeves, pour a cup of coffee, and burn up the keypad, laughing maliciously.
 5.            You started your own eBook publishing company called "Mean Pete Press." Give us an idea of what you're trying to accomplish with in.
 I'm just publishing everything that Berkley and Signet used to publish.  Very little difference except that the books might be a little shorter and definitely much cheaper.  I'm a curmudgeon and I love going rogue, having all the control myself.  So Mean Pete is really snickering in his dingy offices right now, getting the old virtual grease can out with which he's oiling his virtual presses with which to publish his next wild ride!
 By the way, Graphic Audio is currently negotiating with me and Penguin to put out almost all of my books in audio format.  I'm very excited about that.  For years, people have been asking me why they can't listen to my books in their rigs as they're wheeling down the Interstate.  Soon, they'll be able to.
 6.            Your books tend to be fast reads with little interruption storyline. What's the trick or technique to keeping a story moving and compelling?
Coffee and bourbon.  (he-he)  Really, I just see the story in my head like a movie playing on a screen.  Movies can't slow down for much backstory, or they have to include backstory in more artful ways than with flashbacks and long passages of dry expository dialogue.  So in my books as in good action movies, the story has to keep plunging, plunging forward.  Just when the reader thinks it's going to slow down...that's where you kick it into an even higher gear.  You, as you're writing, have to feel the tingle of creativity, which I guess is adrenaline.  Go ahead and be a ham.  Entertain the crowd!  Make the girls gasp and giggle, the men suddenly jump up and whoop and start shootin'!  Don't let up!  Another secret is to make the writing as spare and breezy and lucid as you can, and that's hard to do and there's really no way to teach it.  You just have to want to do it and keep trying till you get it so that your prose is as transparent as a newly cleaned window. 
 7.            You've written about the west for a long time. If you had the opportunity, what three individuals would you have liked to have met from the Old West era and what one – and different – questions would you ask each one?
 I can't think of any off hand.  I have a feeling most of those guys wouldn't be very good conversationalists.  But I WOULD love to sit down and have a beer with some of my own characters one day.  Lou Prophet, especially.  Now, that'd be fun!  Gideon Hawk, however, probably wouldn't say a whole lot and I'd be kind of worried that if he got to drinking too much he might suddenly go off on me.

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