What quirks, tricks, hacks, and devices do authors use to keep themselves motivated, inspired, and productive?
What I learned, through the following interview, is that it’s different for everyone. I’m always awed by writers who start churning out new material at 6am every day, but discipline comes in many forms.
After looking at my own process, I interviewed renowned thriller author, Cat Connor and award-winning author Leah Erickson about the every day, nitty gritty details of their craft: where they write, when, how much, how often. And the answers we all gave are both surprising and expected.
What I didn’t cover here was the WHY. That’ll be next month’s post!
Check out the interview, originally posted on the new blog for 9mm Press:
For this month’s Author Profile, meet the creator of the highly acclaimed Jonathan Brooks spy series, A.C. Frieden. I had an opportunity to interview Frieden about his fascinating past, his globe-trotting adventures, his military and legal experience, and the inspirations for his main character and what has become a tremendously successful series. Read about A.C. Frieden below, or jump here to skip to Amazon to buy his latest book, The Pyongyang Option.
You were born in Senegal to Swiss/Brazilian parents and have lived all over the world. How did your upbringing overseas influence you and your writing?
My familiarity with different
countries and cultures has made it easier to bring in an international flavor
to characters, settings and historical realities that are essential to my
globetrotting espionage/political thrillers. That multicultural background has
also shaped who I am today. I believe that the line between good and evil is
often blurred and that positive or negative traits cannot be assigned to any
nationality, race, culture or other categories, so I make sure my characters
don’t fit stereotypes. I also use my background in the military and my piloting
experience to enhance the action in my thrillers.
do your international travels and experiences fuel your writing?
Having lived and worked in various
countries, I tend to bring these experiences into my thrillers. My career as a
lawyer working in Europe, India and the U.S. also gives me the ability to embed
reality into the travails of my protagonist, New Orleans attorney Jonathan
Brooks. There are so many interesting venues, including many off the beaten
path that can capture the interest of readers. And I’ve explored many of these
places over the years.
did your world travels help form the character of Jonathan Brooks?
Jonathan was born and raised in New
Orleans, so his international experiences come mostly from legal cases he has
worked on and that form the plots in his novels.
Jonathan Brooks modeled after you? How are you similar or different?
I would probably be more conservative
and cautious than Jonathan when faced with the challenges he encounters in the
stories. However, the fundamentals are similar: value for human life, respect
for the law, seeing the good in people. More importantly, Jonathan is a normal
person, not a spy, nor a hired gun. He makes mistakes, as I have in my life and
career, but learns from them. He handles the threats, injuries, and near-death
experiences in ways many of us can relate to. I’ve tried to make him real, with
the baggage that life’s mistakes make you carry, while also unleashing his high
tolerance for risk when needed. A tolerance that exceeds mine in most
situations, I think.
give a sneak preview of something in your forthcoming book, The Pyongyang Option?
Pyongyang Option begins as a mystery and turns into a
thriller. While it takes place in 2005, there is a dramatic turning point in
the story that throws readers into the thick of today’s confrontation with
North Korea. I also was able to tie in my research in Chernobyl into the story,
so readers will experience what it’s like to walk around an abandoned,
contaminated town near the nuclear reactor.
What does Jonathan need the most, and what is he searching for throughout all the books in your Jonathan Brooks series?
Ultimately, justice. Jonathan’s rather
comfortable life growing up changed drastically in Tranquility Denied. Then again in The Serpent’s Game. These life-changing events forced him to change
as a person, to reevaluate the essence of life, his dreams, his ability to
handle adversity, and shape his destiny as a fighter for doing the right thing.
And in The Pyongyang Option, he’s
tested to his limits, and this too pivots him into a different direction for
the upcoming book 4 in the series, Letter
is sort of a personal question, but is there something you’ve been searching
for in your life that Jonathan is helping you find?
A sense of belonging. Jonathan is the
only (remaining) child of a small family. And the challenges he’s faced in his
stories had turned his world upside down, making him realize so much of his
life had been comfortable but artificial in many ways. That sense of belonging
left him, and now he realizes that the rest of his life might simply be a
never-ending search for that unattainable goal.
the most interesting aspect of fiction writing?
While my series is mostly espionage,
the protagonist is a lawyer and this trait anchors the story to events and
circumstances that are not typical of spy thrillers. In other words, his work
as a lawyer brings in a legal thriller element to the stories. And other
characters bring a political feel to the stories as well. So, this broader
stroke at the spy thriller genre is what interests me. Making a lawyer and
political figures act in very unusual ways to handle extraordinary challenges
that are normally left to professional spies, assassins, and political/military
Who were the writing teachers or mentors that inspired your writing path?
New York Times and USA Today bestselling
author Patricia Rosemoor was my teacher in two genre fiction writing class and
later pulled me into her writers group. She became my mentor and helped fuel my
passion for mysteries and thrillers and improved the quality of my writing. Also,
my long-time editor, Julia Borcherts, who has tremendous expertise in crime
fiction, has been a strong supporter of my writing and helps to make the
Jonathan Brooks series an engaging experience for readers.
you the kind of writer who wakes up at 5am and writes for three hours every
No. Unlike when I wear my lawyer hat,
as a writer I’m a procrastinator. But I’m generally organized for the first
half of writing each book, but then I have to herd the remaining storyline and
chapters as if they were cats.
do you use outlining to map out the complex plots in your novels?
Outlining is important, for sure. I keep a centralized general outline, and then I add more detailed paragraphs (tied to that outline) at the top of each blank chapter to guide me. I also map characters, settings and spot elements on large eraser boards in conference rooms and then take pictures of them for later reference.
has your writing style changed since your first novel was published?
Generally tighter writing. Perhaps
what has changed most is the depth of the character descriptions. My strengths
have always been in settings and plot, so I have focused on improving the depth
of characters and their interactions and thoughts, particularly in The Serpent’s Game. And this improvement
continues in The Pyongyang Option.
do you most love to read?
I read mostly nonfiction. My home library consists of political,
espionage and military books for the most part. However, I also read crime
fiction, and occasionally political/espionage thrillers, but mostly with
has your experience been with agents?
I did not use an agent to be published
by Down & Out Books, which, by the way, has an awesome team and has been
tremendously supportive in my literary endeavors. I would still advise aspiring authors to try
to get an agent but explore alternate paths to publication as well.
you share any tips or guidance for novice writers just getting started, or for
experienced writers working hard to build a successful platform?
Whether right or wrong, I approach each book with this question first: what sensation do I want to give the reader when they finish reading the book? This is why I write the last chapter first. Though it will change by the time I write the rest of the book, the dominant theme of that final feeling becomes a beacon for the rest of the chapters. This was particularly true for The Pyongyang Option, where the ending is a dramatic life-changing turn for Jonathan. From a more general standpoint, I would advise new writers to be thorough in their research. To understand the settings. More knowledgeable readers demand more precise writing by authors. I always do my best to make sure no reader will ever find substantive errors in my settings or plots – and my fellow lawyers are often the ones who try hardest to poke holes in everything I write (but I love them all!).
Thank you, A.C. Frieden, for sharing your reflections, guidance, and inspiration with us today! And learn more about the author through the links below.
AND NEXT MONTH… I’ll be featuring noted thriller author, A.C. Frieden, creator of the acclaimed Jonathan Brooks spy series, in an author profile and interview. Tune in to learn about his forthcoming book, ThePyongyangOption, the 3rd Jonathan Brooks novel, and the fascinating life that has inspired his work.
If you don’t know her already, I’d like to introduce you to successful, New Zealand-based mystery/thriller author, CAT CONNOR, and the star of her highly acclaimed Byte series – Ellie Conway.
Did you invent Ellie Conway, or did she find you and ask you to tell her story?I saw a video in my head. I could not see the main character but I could hear her. I had no idea what her name was, but I knew she was FBI and she was living in Virginia. She never really introduced herself, she just showed me scenes and expected me to keep up. I only knew her screen name until another character called her by name. Which was a little bit weird, but fun for me. The other thing is that I didn’t know what she looked like for a long time. Everything she shows me is from her point of view so I couldn’t see her unless she looked in a mirror. She doesn’t so much ask me to tell her stories as show me video of scenes that don’t let up until I write them down. She is fun, though. Her sense of humor is great so I enjoy having her in my head.
Did you consciously set out to build a series around Ellie, or was the first book a standalone and then you later decided that Ellie had more to tell?The first book was a standalone based on a ‘worst case scenario’ after some real life chat room death threats. My rights to my book Killerbyte were tied up in the bankruptcy of my first publisher, and a very wise author (Jeffrey Deaver) told me to write another book while I was waiting/fighting to get my rights back. So I did. Turned out Ellie had a lot more to tell me. So I wrote another one … and by the time I signed with Rebel I had three of the Byte novels under my belt. So the answer is no, I never set out to write a series. Ellie just has a lot to say, and every time I think we’re done, something new pops up. She doesn’t like to tell me everything at once. For example, all the way through this series Ellie has mentioned New Zealand. We know she likes the place and she vacations in NZ, and that she’s worked there (both undercover with the CIA and also with the FBI), but it’s not until the 9th book that everyone will find out a bit more about her ties to the country.
Is Ellie you, and what do you personally have in common with her?Ellie isn’t me. I wish I was her. She’s someone I’d really love to hang out and drink tequila with. We share a birthday (Dec 12), we both dislike honey, although Ellie really hates it and I can tolerate it, if I’m sick. We are both a wee bit smart mouthed. Physically we are the about the same height and body shape – that makes it easier when I’m writing some scenes. For example, I know that (when both are standing) if someone is six foot tall, Ellie can look them in the eye quite easily but if someone is six foot six she needs to lift her chin to do that. But no, she’s not me.
What would you tell a mystery writer who writes standalone books if they want to write a series? Do you do a lot of planning to keep track of what you write about Ellie from one book to another?If you were planning to take a standalone novel and turn it into a series – get a notebook and make damn sure you keep really good notes regarding your characters. ALL of your characters. (Even the dead ones.)
I don’t plan. I rely heavily on Ellie to show/tell me the story, she never shows me the end until I’m about to figure it out for myself.
Every book I write has at least two large notebooks attached to it (I’ve kept them all, they live in a HUGE lidded plastic storage bin). The notebooks are for everything I think is important while the story is unfolding. (Formulas for explosives, locations of CCTV, names of people who were killed, partial scenes, chapter summaries (which I write AFTER the chapter is finished), chapter titles (which are always songs), occasionally photos of locations.
Because I’ve written the series and I’ve also written about twenty short stories about Ellie and her team, I have a lot of information in my head. I do trust myself to insert the right name/character detail/reference a lot of the time without checking I was right until I’m almost finished the manuscript.
I don’t usually need to check things regarding Ellie or her team, although I did have an issue with Lee’s eye color in DATABYTE, because I couldn’t remember if his eyes were brown or blue, or if we’d ever mentioned them. They’re brown. His brother has blue eyes 🙂
I have no overreaching plan for the series. I don’t have a development plan for characters either – they evolve as things happen. Maybe because they live in my head and are not confined to a definite set of black and white characteristics they are more fluid and more capable of evolving as the stories progress. Each story emerges through my fingers as Ellie starts showing me video.
What’s coming up for you as a writer in 2017?The 9th Byte book is coming up in 2017. I finished the writing of METABYTE last night and it will be with my publishers and editor by the end of November. METABYTE was previewed at the end of PSYCHOBYTE, and is quite the twisty tale.
Metabyte Preview: SSA Ellie Iverson nee Conway’s world is turned inside out by a late night call from her husband saying his teenage niece, Harley, is missing. Harley’s parents are out of the country and suddenly incommunicado, thus raising Ellie’s internal alert level from yellow to orange. Adding to the rising alert status is the discovery of freshly dead formerly deceased federal agents. Crime scenes and dead agents emerge at an alarming rate. Working under a directive from the Director of the FBI and with the Wayward Son Protocol, Ellie and Delta A try to stem the flow of death. Cryptic messages from missing Ret-NCIS Special Agent Noel Gerrard alludes to the seepage of sensitive data, and then undeniable CIA involvement. Coded messages hidden in attempted hackings of Iverson Technologies provide clues regarding the missing parents of Harley Iverson and a potential link to the Wayward Son Protocol. In the midst of turmoil, the sudden death of a team member leaves Delta A reeling. The team struggles on to uncover layers of deceit culminating in more death.
Apart from METABYTE, I’m not sure. I expect Ellie will start pushing me to write another book soon enough. I thought 9 was the last, but she seems to think there’s another story to be told…
This is actually the past. In the present, you used a time machine to come back to this point in time and correct a mistake you did. Unfortunately, your memory of events from this point to the present was erased in the process.