Monday, September 28, 2015


Robert Bidinotto, Cheryl Bradshaw, Allan Leverone, and Jonas Saul are four of todays hottest thriller writers with all kinds of credentials to back their status.  Robert Bidinotto has over 100,000 books sold in his Hunter series with just 2 books in the series so far.  Recently he’s had the series translated for sale in Turkey as well.  Cheryl Bradshaw is the NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Sloane Monroe mystery series. Her novel Stranger in Town was a Shamus Award finalist for best PI novel of the year in 2013.  Allan Leverone is also a NY Times bestselling author and recently had one of his books rise inside of Amazon’s top 100 in Ebook sales.  Jonas Saul is an extremely prolific writer who straddles the line between thriller and horror.  At one point Jonas was ranked #1 in the Top 100 Horror Authors, ahead of that Stephen King guy.  All of these authors have plenty of experience inside the publishing world and each one was kind enough to spend some time with me to answer questions for my readers.  So here they are:

1- What is your writing routine?  And how long does it normally take to create a novel from start to finish?

Cheryl Bradshaw: I start each day off handing the business side of things: I manage my promotions, reply to emails, touch base with my assistant, and look at what I can do to keep improving my brand. Once this is all taken care of, I try to shut off all notifications so I can write in peace for at least three or four hours each day. Most of the time I'll pause to do research, but I still consider it part of the writing process. My novels take an average of three or four months to complete, and sometimes even less if I'm trying to hit a specific deadline. If I'm writing a 20,000 word novella, I can usually finish in about three weeks. 

Robert Bidinotto:  Gary, my “routine” actually occurs in stages. Unlike many authors, my stories grow from some theme or idea, rather than from a character or event. So before I start writing, I spend a long time, months, thinking about the implications of the theme. First, I develop two conflicting positions or viewpoints. Then, I conjure opposing main characters who advocate or embody those clashing positions. Then I figure out how to put those opposing characters into conflict: What clashing personal goals are they going to fight about? That’s the germ of my story. After that, I flesh out the plot by adding escalating confrontations and new characters, who represent variations on the main theme.

During those months of mulling and outlining, I do little actual writing. I stare into space a lot, jot down notes, write little essays to myself. I insert all of that stuff into my novel-writing software, a great program called “Write It Now,” and then begin to outline the events of chapters and scenes.

When I am finally satisfied that I have the whole story pretty much figured out, then I settle into a writing routine. I usually begin a session by going back over what I’ve written the previous day, editing and polishing it. That gets my head back into the story. Then I forge ahead into drafting the next scene. Since I’ve outlined the story in advance, I know basically what is going to be necessary in the scene. But as I write, the characters spring to life and their dialogue and activities constantly surprise and delight me.

I try to complete a scene or two every writing session, which usually amounts to 2,000 to 3,000 words. But when I’m on a roll, especially during the latter stages of the book, the clock and the calendar no longer exist for me, and I continue on a tear that can only be described as “binge writing.” I’ll knock out 4,000, 5,000, even 7,000 words at a sitting. Sometimes I won’t go to bed until the wee hours. I’ve worked as long as 18 hours straight. As I near the end of the book, I’ll crash out for a few hours’ nap, then get up and do it again. It’s utterly insane. I’ll miss meals, never get out of my bathrobe, and generally annoy my wife by being so preoccupied that it’s like living with Howard Hughes during his final reclusive days.

It’s not a “routine” I would recommend to a single other writer on the planet, Gary.

Allan Leverone: For the first time in my writing career, I actually have something resembling a regular writing routine. Up until the last couple of months, I would simply try to carve out writing time wherever I could, which often meant writing during my breaks at work.
Now, however, I have a job where I work mostly nights, so I usually try to devote two to three hours of writing every morning before getting ready for work. I share a cup of coffee with my wife, and then head for my computer to write. And, of course, guzzle more coffee.
My goal every week is to write six out of the seven days, and to create fifteen hundred words of new material when I’m working on the first draft of a novel. Sometimes life intervenes and I’m not able to meet those goals, but I can usually come pretty close, and when that’s the case I can typically finish the first draft of a new novel in two months, give or take.
Then comes self-editing and rewriting, which can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month. Then comes professional editing, which can add anywhere from a week to another month, depending on how much work the book needs.
Add it all up and it works out to approximately four months for a novel, start to finish. That estimate is very approximate, however. I’ve written books in considerably less time, and I’ve also had others that took quite a bit longer. A lot depends on how well or how poorly everything flows once I get into the nuts and bolts of the project.

Jonas Saul: I always begin a novel on a Monday. I’m religious about it. I write 4,000 words on that Monday, and each day of the week thereafter until Friday when I have 20,000 words written. I take weekends off and repeat that process on the following Monday until the book is done three to four weeks later. If something comes up during any given week that prevents my word count to hit 20,000 on Friday, then I write Saturday as if it’s a weekday. I never start the next Monday without having reached the previous week’s word count.

I outline and research extensively prior to writing a single word in a new manuscript. I know the entire plot, the beginning, the middle, and the end before I start writing the first draft.

Based on this writing routine, my novel’s first draft takes 3-4 weeks to write.

The entire process, from idea, to notes, to research and outlining, to writing and sending the manuscript to the editor, beta readers, and finally setting up the preorder on Amazon, takes months, sometimes six months. I’m always two to three books ahead, though. Covers, titles and storyline are usually outlined far in advance.

In the past I’ve done it faster (5,000 words per day) and I’ve done it slower (2,000 words per day), but I’ve found the 4,000 word per day count works the best for me.

2- What is your ideal writing place?

Cheryl Bradshaw: If I could write anywhere full time, I would either write at a hotel that offers room service or somewhere with inspiring scenery, such as a beach house or a cabin in the mountains . Writing at home is difficult because I'm easily distracted by the mundane daily rituals like laundry, dishes, making dinner, etc. I've noticed when I'm away from home my productivity doubles, so if I'm really behind, I'll take off for a week or so. It's a great excuse for a vacation! 

Robert Bidinotto: I don’t know if it’s “ideal,” but I work in a cluttered second-floor office on a desktop computer. My desk and a work table right beside it are arranged in an “L,” for easy access to whatever I need. They are piled with notes and file folders. I can’t work with distractions, so I don’t listen to music. I keep my Keurig coffeemaker downstairs, so that I have to get up occasionally and stretch my legs.
Allan Leverone: A little over a year ago, my wife and I did some much needed renovations on our house. One of the projects involved transforming our old family room into an office for yours truly. It’s a terrific space, quiet and private, and I owe my wife a lot for handing me my own little fortress of solitude when our home is not exactly a gigantic mansion.
But that office is now my ideal writing space. It’s equipped with a big L-shaped desk, my printer/fax machine and shredder right where I need them, my treasure trove of signed books in a special glass-fronted bookcase behind me, and lots of shelf space for books, CDs and everything else it takes to make me feel at home.
It’s an awesome space. But I’ve been writing fiction seriously since late-2006, and until July of last year I had no space dedicated to writing at all. I toted my laptop to wherever I could find a quiet place to work. Sometimes it was a bedroom, other times the kitchen, occasionally the front seat of my truck. I love my office, but it’s not necessary to have a dedicated space if one’s not available. As I mentioned before, for years I lugged my laptop to work and wrote whenever I could carve out the time on my breaks.

Jonas Saul: The only place I write is in my segregated office. I never write new words unless I’m behind my desk at my home office. I’ll reread a novel, perform edits and outline outside my office, but new words are always written at my desk. 

3- What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received, or seen in a magazine or an interview?
Cheryl Bradshaw: In 2009 I started a blog, and I was fortunate enough to have some really fantastic authors guest post. At the time, I was trying to publish my first book traditionally and was not open to doing it any other way. That logic went out the window when I interviewed Deed to Dead indie published author D.B. Henson, who was among the top twenty-five authors on Amazon that year. She pushed me to give indie publishing a try, and I'm glad I did. It's shaped my career faster and opened more doors for me in the traditional publishing world than I ever could have done waiting for a contract I may have never received. Four years later, my work speaks for itself. I have now signed my first foreign book deal, and have more offers on the horizon. It's a good place to be.

Robert Bidinotto:  Lee Child once told me, in an interview, to “ignore all advice.” Well, Gary, I wouldn’t go that far. In fact, I’ve read a bazillion how-to books on writing and learned many tips. But after internalizing many of them, I’ve concluded that all the so-called “rules” of writing good fiction really add up to just one, which I’ll call The Golden Rule of Fiction Writing:

Your job as a storyteller is to draw the reader down into your fictional world, then make it so compelling that he remains rooted there, spellbound and turning pages, completely forgetting the real world around him and that he is merely reading a book.

By that rule, a “good” fictional device or technique is anything that helps you maintain the “spell” and illusion of your fictional world. And, as a corollary, the Mortal Sin of Fiction Writing is doing anything to break that spell and distract the reader back into the real world.

That sin could be sloppy writing: bad grammar, misspellings, typos, factual errors. It could also be distracting the reader from the story spell by showing off: by “clever” yet jarringly intrusive turns of phrase, or by putting your vast knowledge on display with distracting “information dumps,” all of which call attention to your presence as The Author. If the reader is distracted by errors or bad writing, or if he becomes aware of you the author, then he is jarred out of your story world and suddenly reminded that he is just reading a book. That is when you lose him—when he yawns and closes the book to get up for a cup of coffee, or starts wondering what’s on TV.

Your primary responsibility as an author of fiction is to keep your reader down in your Story World, glued to his chair, turning pages and losing all track of time and place. Every other rule or technique of literary craft is merely a means to that end.

Allan Leverone: If you want to be seen as professional, and especially if you’re an Indie writer who wants to be seen as professional, you have to continually strive to improve. If you’re not getting better, you’re falling behind, and it doesn’t matter how good you are or how good you think you are for that to be true.
I’m realistic about my work and I understand not everyone is going to like it. If you offer your work for public consumption, there will be people who are going to hate it. There will be readers/reviewers who will eviscerate you just for sport. If you can’t find a way to deal with that, you’re probably better off just keeping a journal, as opposed to offering your words for sale.
However, while you have to accept the fact that a certain percentage of people are going to dislike your work, you should never use that as an excuse to stop trying to improve. I know there will always be writers who sell more books than me, and there will always be writers who make more money than me and have more fans than me.
But one thing I can’t stomach is the thought that a writer might be working harder than me. There is little in this business you can truly control as a writer, and one of the only things you can control is your level of effort, your commitment to being professional and to offering every single reader the absolute best product you’re able to muster.
If I can get to the end of the day and honestly tell myself I’ve done that, then I’m satisfied, regardless of how many books I sold that day, or what sorts of reviews my work received that day.
It’s important for a writer to write, but it’s more important for a writer to write well.

Jonas Saul: Below is the entire quote from Philip Pullman that moved me when I read it. It’s the last line that got me the most. That’s how I write 4,000 words per day. I get up in the morning, head to my office with my coffee and do my job. I don’t care if I feel like it or not. That’s what I do for a living. I’m a writer, a storyteller. So I tell stories.

“Writer's block … a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber's block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day? 

The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don't want to do it, and you can't think of what to write next, and you're fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don't feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn't find a theme for his second movement. “Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!” he said. 

Writer's block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren't serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they're not inspired as when they are.”

Check out more about each of these talented authors at:
Cheryl Bradshaw:
Robert Bidinotto:
Allan Leverone:
Jonas Saul: