Q: How long did it take you to write The Calling?
A: This is, by far, the number one question I get. What I generally tell people when they ask me this is that I wrote the first draft in 93 days, but that was in 1994.
When I first came up with the idea of the story, I spent 14 months refining the outline of the story and constructing character sketches. I then wrote a hand-written draft in my journal over the space of about a month which ran through the main action and events of the story. From there, I wrote the first draft, which took about three months (93 days). I examined what I had done in the first draft with the help of my wife and then spent six months writing a second draft. For the second draft I found four people to read it. From their comments and my own ideas, I prepared a plan to take the book to the third draft; this plan ended up being over 200 pages long! The third draft took me nine months to complete. By the sixth draft, the story had become so long it was time to do some serious cutting. So I cut about 150 pages at that point. Each successive draft after this, I continued to cut until I had trimmed nearly 80,000 words (about a novel's length in and of itself) by the time I had reached draft 12, which is the draft that was accepted for publication. The novel was drafted several more times during the editing process. All told, I did about 20 major re-writes of the book.
Or, another way of looking at it, since this is back when I used to time all of my writing sessions with a stopwatch, is the first draft took only 91 hours. But the successive re-writes leading up to publication required more than 2,000 hours. As someone once said, anyone can write a book, but it's only the professional writer that knows how to re-write a book.
Q: Is The Calling a religious book?
A: No. It's horror fiction. It's also a bit of a mystery as well. I had one reader tell me they thought the book was more mystery story than horror story, but I classify it as horror. At the same time, I do consider myself a Christian and the book reflects a reality where angels and demons, God and Satan are real.
Q: Is any part of The Calling based on real events?
However, the locations--Boyne City, Mackinac Island, various other locations and landmarks--are real. The house used in the story--the house the Sarasin family moves into--is real as well, but the real one is located in Scottville, Michigan, not Boyne City.
Q: Why did you set the book in Boyne City?
A: Because I was living there at the time and it's a very interesting, and beautiful, area of the state. Although I no longer live in the area, I was living there during the entire time of writing The Calling.
Q: Are you working on another book?
A: Always. I have written three additional novels since The Calling. The next novel I hope to publish is The Spiritar which I describe as a ghost story of love and revenge. I completed the first draft of this novel in 2005. I completded a sixth and final draft in mid-2010 and am currently submitting it for publication.
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: Sometimes I see things--trees, unique houses, people--that spark ideas. Some ideas come from dreams although more often I will use images from dreams and create stories to explain those images. Other ideas just seem to come to me, from life in general or the people around me. When I get an idea, I usually record it in my journal. If it's an idea that is complete and interesting enough to perhaps spawn an entire novel, I will make a special mark in my journal so I'm able to find it later. Often, I will explore these ideas further within the pages of my journal. I usually explore an idea quite extensively in my journal before deciding to turn it into a novel. Years usually pass between the initial germ of an idea and its flowering into the structure for a complete novel. At this point (the beginning of 2011), I dare say I probably have enough ideas that I won't be able to write them all as novels in my lifetime. But I'll do my best and see how many I can get out there.
Q: Is The Calling self-published?
A: No and yes.
The Calling was originally published by Crystal Dreams Publishing (CDP) with the first edition of the book released, appropriately, on 06/06/06. When my contract with CDP expired in September 2006, I decided (for a number of reasons) not to renew it and re-published the book as a second edition under my own imprint, Black Castle Entertainment. CDP was later sold and is now an imprint of Mult-Media Publications, Inc. based in Canada.
Q: What are you afraid of?
A: Cancer, hitting a deer with my car, having something happen to my family . . . and just about everything else! Well, maybe not quite that bad, but I am easily spooked by a number of things.
Q: Who's your favorite author?
A: That's a tough one. I like and read a great number of popular authors. I don't think it would be fair to say I have a single favorite one. Ones I like to read include: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz, Frank Herbert, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Dan Simmons, Ken Follett, Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson, Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, Clive Cussler, Joyce Carol Oates and many others. I've read and enjoyed a number of the classics as well--stuff by Tolstoy, Hugo, Dickens, and Shakespeare. Lately--since going back to school and earning my MFA and working on my PhD--I've been reading a bit more widely and including more literary fiction in my diet. See my Reading page for a list of every book I've read since early 2007.
Q: Any advice on how to get published?
A: You could fill a bookshelf--and probably more--with books that attempt to answer this question.
The best advice I can give? Write, write, write! And read--a lot. Polish your prose. Understand the writer's tools. Read "how to" books on writing. Because in the end, what's going to get you noticed and published is good writing. Period. Unless of course, your uncle is a Senior Editor at Random House.
Once you have something that is the best you can create and all your friends have read it and say it's better than the last book they read from a bookstore, you can send it to publishers or agents. The key word at this point, is persistence. You will get rejected. Most of the time you will never be told why. But send it out again. And again. Collect rejection letters and display them like trophies. Discouragement will come. You'll want to quit. You'll tell yourself you're wasting your time, that you have no talent. But that's the time to send it out again. I was at this point many times with The Calling. Keep sending it out--never take no for an answer. I sent The Calling out for nine years, collecting rejection after rejection, until finally finding a publisher in 2005.
PS--Be aware there are lots of people out there ready to prey on the dreams of would-be writers. Don't send your book to just anyone. Research them! Make sure they're reputable. If all you want to do is publish a book--there are lots of people out there that will do it--many for free. There are lots of print-on-demand (POD) publishers--stay away from these--they're no more than what I call vanity presses. There are people that will ask you for money--never, never give anyone money to publish your work--it's always a scam. There are also so-called literary agents out there that prey on unsuspecting writers also--again as soon as anyone asks you for money--walk away! They're not legit.
Q: Why horror? What took you in this direction?
A: I've always been a voracious reader. It was early on when I remember my sister handing me a copy of Stephen King's Salem's Lot. I read it immediately and shortly after I picked up a copy of Peter Straub's Ghost Story at a yard sale. From there, I was pretty much hooked.
Q: Have you ever considered writing a non-fiction story based on a real horror story?
A: Fiction has always been my interest, although I have read most of John Douglas's and Roy Hazelwood's works dealing with their interviews with serial killers, the investigation of real murder cases and the concept of profiling. Outside of that, I have read very little non-fiction. I enjoy the creativity of fiction a lot more I guess. I do have an idea that I've been kicking around for a number of years regarding a piece of historical fiction, but that's as probably as close as I'll get. And that idea isn't even horror, although there is a ghost in it.
Q: Tell me about your writing process. How much do you write a day?
A: My process has a changed a lot over the many years I have been doing this. At first, it was very structured and I started out slowly, a half-hour a day three days a week. I used a stopwatch and kept timesheets of my work. I even devised a system of account codes to record if I spent my writing time on outlining, writing new stuff or revising old stuff. Over the course of about 18 months I gradually increased this to the point of writing an hour a day, seven days a week. I hit my peak in 1996, when I logged 444 hours of writing time on the year. Now, I pretty much write every day but I don't keep track of time or even words. In early 2005 when I started The Spiratar, I kept track of words--giving myself a schedule of writing 450 words a day. Writing The Dreamslaver in 2006, I tried to write at least 1,000 words a day (one day I wrote over 8,000). At this point, I just write, pretty much every day. I also keep a journal, which I started in 1992.
Q: Is anyone else in your family talented towards writing?
A: Yes, my Dad has written and published a couple of magazine articles. My wife and parents are all huge readers. My grandfather, on my father's side probably comes the closest--he wrote and published two chemistry textbooks. Someday, I'd like to find copies of those--I haven't yet. My grandfather was also an army buddy and personal friend of George Putnam back in the 30s and 40s. George Putnam was part of the Putnam publishing empire and Amelia Earhart's husband. Some interesting family history there.