It all begins with a cool idea and interesting characters, but there’s much more than that to a novel (in fact, those are the easy parts). I typically start by just thinking of everything I want to happen in the book (character moments, action sequences, etc). Then I begin to fit those pieces together. I have a dry-erase board and a cork board. I brainstorm on the dry-erase and then begin lining up notecards on the cork board. These cards contain just enough info to let me know the linear progression of the book and how the pieces fit together. Then I craft an outline.
I’m an obsessive outliner. For The Prophet, I wrote a 170-page outline that went through two major drafts with feedback from my editors. This outline contains pretty much everything that’s going to happen in the book, even thoughts, research, and snippets of dialogue.
For me, that’s the hard part. Once that’s done and the “writing” begins, things flow, and I’m able to focus on the intricacies. After the outline was done, I wrote the 125,000 words of the book in about a month and a half.
Do you have a favorite place to write or “must haves” while writing?
I typically write in my office while sitting in a big recliner. As far as requirements…laptop, heavy metal music, and caffeine.
Do you have much say in the title or covers of you books?
It depends. I come from a technical background, and so I’ve actually designed my own US covers. I also have input on the UK editions, but for other countries, they pretty much do whatever they want in regard to both. I usually have a title chosen before the book is written, but this can change depending on the publisher’s thoughts. In the end, they have the final say, but I can’t see any of my publishers going against me completely if I felt a title or cover would hurt the book. They’ve all been great to work with.
Is there anything that has surprised you about writing, publishing or touring with your books?
I’ve been very surprised at how wonderful, accessible, and supportive the writing community has been, especially an organization that is close to my heart, International Thriller Writers. I consider some of the people I’ve met at Thrillerfest (ITW’s yearly conference) to be among my best friends. If you are a writer (or want to be one) and haven’t attended any conference or joined any organization like this, it’s time to start checking into it.
Do you have a favorite author/book or one that you always recommend?
I enjoy any book that’s action-packed, regardless of genre, and I’ve been known to read three or four books in a week. I love David Morrell, James Rollins, Lee Child, F. Paul Wilson, Dean Koontz, Jeffery Deaver, James Patterson, Douglas Preston, Clive Cussler, and many, many more.
Was there anything (or anyone) while growing up which helped you decide you wanted to be a writer?
The original idea for The Shepherd started out years ago as a short 40-page story written for a college English class. I was watching a movie called Frailty (great movie, by the way), and it got me interested in the idea of turning the tables on who we saw as the villain and the “good guy”. The short story asked the question, “Do the ends justify the means?” and dealt with the abuse of power. The serial killer in the short story (the character that later evolved into Ackerman) was actually not a character at all, since the story centered upon the finding of the killer’s dead body. I originally intended to use the short story as a starting point for the novel, but the book took me in such different directions that there is basically nothing recognizable left from the short story. The class was a senior level English course, and I handed in the story on one of the last days before graduation. On the following day, the teacher asked me to stay after class and urged me not to stop writing. Her words meant a lot and really stuck with me.
Do you have a job outside of being an author?
Writing is my “day job”, and so I try to treat it as such.
What would you tell a beginning writer?
The first step in succeeding as a writer is having a deep love of stories and then learning how to write. You can do that in many ways including reading (and doing it a lot), taking classes, attending conferences, etc. For me, the most significant and worthwhile experience was attending Thrillerfest in New York. While there, I took classes from some of the biggest selling and most accomplished writers in the world. I learned so much and have applied those techniques to my writing. I also made a lot of great friends and business connections while there. So I guess I could sum it up as: have an incredibly strong desire to write and a deep love of stories, learn to write well (and keep learning and improving), and get out there and make connections.
What were your favorite books growing up?
The Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine and anything by Stephen King. Honestly, the only books that I read all the way through in school were from one of those two authors. I faked my way through the rest.
Do you have any books on your nightstand right now?
I’m currently reading The Naked Edge by David Morrell (who is one of my all-time favorite writers).
If you could meet one person who has died, who would that be?
Possibly Nikola Tesla or Albert Einstein; two of the greatest minds in history. On a personal level, I would like to meet my grandfather who died long before I was born.
If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would it be?
James Patterson. It would pay the best 🙂
Seriously, though, I would probably choose David Morrell, because I feel that I could learn a lot from him.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” – Jack Kerouac
In one sentence, why should we read your book?
I try to write books that I would want to read, and I like stories that are fast-paced with a lot of action.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
If I find a bug in my house, I try not to kill unless absolutely necessary. I try to capture it and release it. Several years ago, we had a mouse get into our basement. I would only allow my wife to purchase catch-and-release live-capture traps to go after it. And we caught him and released him into the wild. Kind of funny from the guy who writes about brutal serial killers.
What do you come up with first when creating your character – the back story, the plot, the characteristics?
It really depends. Sometimes I come up with an event from the past that would really shape a character. Sometimes it’s the character with certain attributes. Sometimes the character evolves from plot necessity. I can’t say which comes first, but for me, the most important thing is to make them a real person who I care about. Otherwise, my readers never will.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a huge movie buff. My wife and I religiously have date night every week and take in a movie. And if I’m not writing or watching a cool story, I’m probably reading one.
What does a day in your life look like?
Since I’m not much of a morning person, I start out with answering e-mails, conducting promotional activities, research, learning, etc…essentially the business side of things. Then, once I’ve got some caffeine in my system, I start to write/outline. I usually quit around 6:00, depending on when the kids have activities or we have plans for the evening. Then I usually have a little time to work some more once the kids and my wife have gone to bed.
How does your family feel about having a writer in the family? Do they read your books?
Most of them read the books, and they are all extremely proud. We have cards that they can give out to their friends or people they meet that contain more info on me and the books, and I hear lots of stories about the cards being given to random strangers in lines at grocery stores and waiters in restaurants. It always makes me smile when I get a message or someone at a signing that says, “This lady gave me a card…”
Is there anything else that you would like my readers to know?
My goal is to make every book that I write the best book I’ve ever written and continue to grow as an author and storyteller. Hopefully, this will show through in my work, and I’ll have the opportunity to live my dream for many years to come. But that all depends on the support of the wonderful reading community, and so a big thank you to all the readers out there.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
1st Choice – Immortality, 2nd Choice – Telekinesis, 3rd Choice – Invisibility
Do you have any hidden talents?
I can play several different instruments including guitar, piano, drums, mandolin, bass, etc.
Night owl or early bird?
Summer. Mainly because the best movies come out then.
If someone wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?
The Walking Contradiction
To play: Basketball. To watch: Baseball.
Talk or text?
Text. It’s funny, but it feels terribly inconvenient to actually call someone these days.
Cat or dog?
Dog, but I love all animals.
Favorite tv show?
All time – 24. Currently – The Walking Dead
Favorite holiday destination?
Do you have a literary crush?
Hmm, probably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or David Morrell.
If you could live in a literary world – what world would that be and why?
Probably the Star Wars universe…because I always wanted a lightsaber.
Most embarrassing moment?
Shooting a one and one free throw, making the first one, and turning and running all the way back down to the other side of the court before realizing that I had another shot.
If you could travel forward or backward in time, where would you go and why?
Definitely into the future. I would go at least a few hundred years. It would be fascinating to see how technology and humanity has changed (if we’re still around that is).
International bestselling author Ethan Cross is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month, which means we are offering sensational deals on his work. You can read more about the program here.