Interview with David Grace

What kinds of stories do you like to tell?
I want to write emotional stories with scenes that are exciting, suspenseful, and, yes, emotional. I like reading puzzle stories but I don't enjoy writing them. I'm not shooting for the reader's head. I'm aiming for his or her heart. There are lots of books that you read on a plane and two days later you can't remember much of anything about it. My books are not like that.

I like to write about ordinary people doing heroic things.
How do you pick a story?
Some writers start with a plot idea. I did that once with "The Traitor's Mistress." What if the President is a traitor and the Sec. of State decides that he must be killed? But I find that unsatisfying. I now like to start with a person and a human concept, for example, revenge or redemption or duty, loyalty, overcoming some flaw, etc. Sometimes I start with an emotional situation and build a story around that. What if you thought that your child was dead but she wasn't? What if she was a Jane Doe lying in some hospital bed, forgotten and unknown? Who would find her? How would she ever come home? Those were the questions I pursued in one of the plot lines in The Concrete Kiss.

So, I look for an emotional situation, a human problem, a threat, and a character I admire and I try to mix them together and come up with an exciting and interesting story.
What's the story behind your latest book?
"Death Never Sleeps" revolves around the bond between two homicide detectives -- James "Big Jim" Donegan, smart, charismatic, honorable, and his protege, Chris Hunter, technically brilliant but socially awkward and almost clueless about how people work. Big Jim is trying to teach Chris the sorts of social skills most people learn in high school against the background of two horrible murders. The heart of the book is how they, working together, try to solve the crimes. Of course, there's a lot more involved.
What's your history as a writer?
I've been writing fiction since high school. All the way through Stanford and Boalt Hall law school and practicing business law in Palo Alto, CA I've been a writer. My first novel was published in hard cover in 1978 by Coward, McCann & Geoghigan, part of the Berkeley-Putnam Publisher's group. I've had numerous short stories published in Analog Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. I now have 14 novels and seven collections of short stories on sale as ebooks and 13 novels on sale as trade paperbacks.

I'm currently (08-13) preparing to plot my fifteenth novel.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
The economics of print books sales revolves around the issue of limited shelf space. Each square foot of space costs the bookstore money. Each book has to earn its keep. 80% of all sales are derived from 20% of the inventory. All this means that bookstores have to concentrate on celebrity authors, best-selling authors, and "hot topic" books. There is some small space available to new authors but those have to be ones promoted by, pushed by, the major publishers. That makes the publishers the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers to the publishers are the agents. So, prior to Smashwords, to be a professional writer you had to get the right agent, who had to get the right editor, who had to convince the publisher, who had to get the bookstores to prominently shelve your book. I think that for every available slot on a bookstore shelf there are ten writers whose work is good enough to fill that slot.

All that means that my chance of success without Smashwords was extremely low.

Smashwords did away with the gatekeeper. There is infinite shelf space for ebooks. Smashwords gave me the power to offer my work to readers without having to convince an agent, an editor, a publisher or a bookstore buyer to sell my work.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love writing the last ten chapters. I know exactly what is going to happen. I can see it all in my head. I know the last line in the book, word for word, before I ever start so I know I'm racing to the point where I can write that line. The last chapters are where I tie everything up, where the hero defeats the villain, where the last twists and turns can play out.

I also love writing the second draft. All the tedious, difficult work of plotting and organizing and researching is done. When I get to the second draft I can just enjoy the story and concentrate on making it even better.
Who are your favorite authors?
I love certain books in my genre. I love "The Silence Of The Lambs" and I HATE Thomas Harris' other Hannibal books. I love "The Godfather" but I don't much like Mario Puzo's other novels. I love "Black Cherry Blues" and many other earlier books by James Lee Burke. I am a huge admirer of Martin Cruz Smith. His book "December 6" is incredible. Also, "Gorky Park" and "Polar Star." A huge talent. Daniel Silva writes great international thriller books. I always enjoy Michael Connelly's books. Robert Crais as well. Lawrence Kellerman.

In science fiction, Jack Vance is brilliant. The Anome Series. The Demon Princes series. The Planet of Adventure series. The Blue World. The list goes on and on. Terrific! Jack was a good friend and named a planet after me in one of his books. I read everything that David Drake writes. I loved the "Hyperion" series by Dan Simmons. I was blown away by Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age."

I know I'm leaving out dozens of contemporary authors.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I hike. I'm a photographer. I cook. I used to write computer programs. I used to design electronic devices. Normal social events.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
This is difficult. The search and sort tools available are terrible. I've often lobbied for the ability to start a search for Police Procedurals and then limit the results to books between $3 and $8 that have a rating of 4 or better sorted first by highest rated and second by price and third by author. No bookseller thinks search and sort tools are important and none offer any decent search and sort capabilities. They are all focused on "social" discovery. I think crowd sourcing is next to worthless and I don't sit around exchanging book recommendations with people on Facebook.

If I'm looking for science fiction, I usually start by pulling a David Drake book up on Amazon and then either following the "books like this" links or finding five star reviews then going to that reviewer's page and looking for other books that reviewer has given five stars and then checking them out and then checking out more "books like this" links for those books.

Of course I have to read the blub to get an idea of the story. If it's about earth after a nuclear war, I skip it. If it's about beautiful princess on the run from her evil uncle on Planet X, I skip it. If it's about a drunk or drug addict star pilot trying to escape a bunch of interstellar loan sharks, I skip it.

If the plot doesn't turn me off, I read the first page of chapter one. If the author is a professional I'm likely to buy it. If the writing indicates that the author is not a professional, I move on.
What is your writing process?
First I have to figure out the emotional center of the book -- revenge, redemption, resisting temptation, whatever. At the same time I have to decide who my hero is -- what he does, his personality, his self image.

Almost at the same time I need to figure out what the story is. What happens to the hero? What does he have to do. What challenges will he need to overcome.

Next, I write a several page narrative description of the story as if I was telling the story to a friend.

After that, in turn, I create: character summaries and backgrounds for all the major characters; a timeline for each of the major characters; condensed outline of the major events in the book; detailed outline of one to three sentences for each chapter in the book with a target of sixty chapters.

Finally, I start writing Chapter One
How do you approach cover design?
I usually have an image in mind. I try to find a good designer who will take my cover outline and turn it into an actual cover. I do the titles and all text myself in Photoshop.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I own a Nook Color, an iPad and a Kindle Paper White. The Kindle PW is BY FAR the best and I read books on it every single day.
Published 2014-09-18.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Death Never Lies
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 130,770. Language: English. Published: October 6, 2014. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural
An HHS director vanishes just before adopting a new list of prohibited chemicals. Homeland Security Agent Greg Kane suspects that the HHS employee may have been killed to keep the new list from going into effect,but he has no idea who's behind the crime, which chemical they are so desperate to import, and what they plan to do with it once they've gotten their hands on it.
The Concrete Kiss
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 118,470. Language: English. Published: June 25, 2012. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural
“Well-written, engaging and sure to keep you up.” --- Kirkus Reviews. - Homicide Detective Ned Danes discovers that an ambitious Deputy D.A. has concealed evidence of an accused murderer's innocence in order to secure a headline-grabbing conviction. Danes torpedoes the corrupt Deputy D.A.'s case, and for his honesty, Danes is exiled to the tiny basement office of the Cold Case Squad. And then...
Shooting Crows At Dawn
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 128,130. Language: English. Published: May 11, 2011. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural
Election day is near and Sheriff Jubal Dark's failure to solve a two-year-old murder is likely to cost him his job. Now, three escaped killers racing for the border murder a local family. Dark no longer has any time to worry about the election. He's willing to trade his star, and even his life, if that's what it will take to bring these murderers to Texas Justice.
Price: $3.95 USD. Words: 60,750. Language: English. Published: December 13, 2010. Category: Fiction » Literature » War
When Major Daniel Leighton's F-4 was shot down over North Vietnam he tried to reach the ocean and some hope of rescue but he was captured and taken the Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous Hanoi Hilton. Though pressured to cooperate with his captors Daniel eventually found a way to redeem his honor.
The Traitor's Mistress
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 127,640. Language: English. Published: June 2, 2010. Category: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
The Secretary of State received a Secret file and reluctantly decided that the President and his mistress had to die. And they did. Five years later the Mistress's husband found her diary. The plotters soon got rid of him but by then Steve Grant had the diary. Now Grant is desperately searching for the Mistress's last, hidden file which is the only thing that might keep him alive.
Fever Dreams
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 138,100. Language: English. Published: October 6, 2009. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
From early childhood Raphael LaFontaine was afflicted with strange visions and fever dreams. These talents have served Rafe well, first as a Baltimore police officer, then as private detective. A frayed-at-the-edges lawyer asks Rafe to help his client with a simple matter but he finds that nothing is what it had seemed and Rafe soon becomes entangled in a confusing web of lies and death.
Elephant's Graveyard & Other Sci Fi Stories
Series: 20 Sci Fi Stories, Vol. 5. Price: $1.50 USD. Words: 55,720. Language: English. Published: September 28, 2009. Category: Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera
This volume consists of three science-fiction novelettes by David Alexander and Hayford Peirce that were originally published in Analog Magazine as follows: "Finder's Fee" April 1997 - 17,420 words "Elephant's Graveyard" March 1999 - 17,680 words "Best Of Breed" December 1994 - 12,750 words Total: 47,850 words
Sci Fi Stories - Volume 4
Series: 20 Sci Fi Stories, Vol. 4. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 24,560. Language: English. Published: September 28, 2009. Category: Fiction » Science fiction » High tech
"Spotter" - could there be time-traveling policeman? Will the cry "Let The Robot Do It" be the next wave of democracy? "In The Cracks Of Time" deals with a time traveler with a very special mission. In "Shirastra" two miners are trapped deep beneath the surface of a distant planet. In "Stuck" the benefits of modern electronic time manipulation are revealed to be no so beneficial after all.
Sci Fi Stories - Volume 3
Series: 20 Sci Fi Stories, Vol. 3. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 17,500. Language: English. Published: September 28, 2009. Category: Fiction » Science fiction » High tech
"The Burglary In The Basement Of God" asks: Where does all the old time go when we are done with it? "Exile" deals with time travel and punishment. "Enough Is Too Much" is just for fun. "Chain Gang" explores a future where you don't lock up a criminal's body but rather his mind. "At the Sound Of The Beep" is another fun, very short story. Length approximately 13,000 words
Sci Fi Stories - Volume 2
Series: 20 Sci Fi Stories, Vol. 2. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 25,970. Language: English. Published: September 28, 2009. Category: Fiction » Science fiction » High tech
"Bug Rules" takes place aboard a ship crewed by sociopathic insects transporting a cargo of humans. "Chronotron" explores a future where you can buy insurance which will protect you from any physical injury. In "Dream War" two adjacent countries that broadcast dreams heads go to war. "The Heart Is The Hunter" explores a world in which sentient computers can rent human hosts.
Sci Fi Stories - Volume 1 - Tramp
Series: 20 Sci Fi Stories, Vol. 1. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 33,760. Language: English. Published: September 28, 2009. Category: Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera
These three stories take place aboard the Star freighter, Orion feature ship's Officer, Harry Dondero. "Tramp" was published in Analog Magazine's March, 1998 issue by "David Alexander" as author - approx. 9,000 words. "Emerald Eyes" has not been previously published - approx. 6,900 words. "The Human Dress" was published in Analog in March 2003 by "David Alexander" as author. Length 9,700
Crime Stories Volume 2
Series: 6 Crime-Mystery Stories, Vol. 2. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 22,430. Language: English. Published: September 28, 2009. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Short Stories
Total Length approx. 12,750 words #1. "Off Season" takes place in a placid Caribbean island where nothing much ever happens until a stranger comes to town. #2. is "Road Shrines" -- the impromptu collections of flowers and candles marking the places were innocents were killed by animals who walk like men. #3 In "Right As Rain" a detective tries to deal with a murder he just can't let go of.
Crime Stories Volume 1 - The Mob
Series: 6 Crime-Mystery Stories, Vol. 1. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 14,530. Language: English. Published: September 28, 2009. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Short Stories
All three stories take place in mid-sixties NYC. The principal character is Eddie Montefusco, a gun dealer to the Abruzzi Crime Family. "Piece Work" was originally published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in November 2004. Length 5,370 words. "Willie Bats" was originally published in AHMM in March 2005. Length 4,300 words. "A Shot In Time" has not been previously published.
Easy Target
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 140,260. Language: English. Published: September 17, 2009. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
NYPD Lieutenant Greg Webster retired to teach at a small Kansas college but before even a year had passed his wife was killed in an apparent hit-and-run accident. Greg suspected nothing sinister but one of his students thought Carolyn's accident might be the latest in a series of murders. Apparently, the serial killer wanted a tougher opponent than the campus cops. Big mistake.
The Forbidden List
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 127,290. Language: English. Published: September 17, 2009. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
More than sixty years ago revolutionary technology was consigned to the Forbidden List to be kept secret forever. Then Deputy Assistant Undersecretary of Defense, Daniel Rivers, stumbled across it and plotted to make a fortune from its release. Rivers' scheme was discovered and he was silenced with a commitment to a Psychiatric Clinic. Then they discovered that a copy of the file was missing.
The Accidental Magician
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 111,190. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Category: Fiction » Fantasy » General
The world, Fane, lies on the outer reaches of explored space, long forgotten by mankind. The planet's peculiar electromagnetic fields inevitably destroy electronic devices, but in compensation they enhance psychic abilities. In a last ditch effort to salvage something of his family's honor, his uncle gives Grantin a vital task which promptly turns him into the Accidental Magician.
True Faith
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 96,940. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Category: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
When eight immigrants arrived at the Baltimore Federal Courthouse to be sworn in as citizens, they didn't give a thought to the trial next door of five terrorists charged with the bombing of a federal building until the terrorists escaped and took them all hostage. The wife and child of one of the prisoners had been killed in that bombing. Now his chance for vengeance has come.
A Death In Beverly Hills
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 137,550. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
NEW EDITION -- Revised Sept. 2014 When the wife and four-year-old stepdaughter of fading movie star Tom Travis disappeared, a massive, fruitless, search was launched. Soon after the body of Travis's wife was discovered in a shallow grave only a few miles from where he had been riding his dune buggy on the day she vanished Travis finds himself on trial for capital murder. But did he do it?
Stolen Angel
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 105,540. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
When Peter Howard stumbled across a kidnaped little girl in the middle of nowhere he intended to merely follow her home and then call the police, but then the man who was holding Lisa captive pulled a gun. The next thing Peter knew Lisa was in his car, her captor was lying on the ground, bleeding, and Peter was driving off madly into the night. Somehow, Peter promised, he would get her home.
Doll's Eyes
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 123,920. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural
Twenty years ago, thirteen year old JT Trainer was about to be killed by loan sharks for the life insurance money which would pay off his father’s gambling debts. JT’s only friend, sixteen year old Hannah McGuire, discovered the plan and managed to get JT on a bus out of town before luring the killers in the opposite direction. Now a murder cop, JT is still looking for Hannah.
Etched In Bone
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 133,360. Language: English. Published: August 31, 2009. Category: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural
Etched In Bone After being acquitted of eight grisly murders by reason of insanity, Hanford Wells was committed to the Hickory Hollow Forensic Psychiatric Center, from which he soon escaped. When dental records proved that the battered body discovered in the woods was that of his missing patient, forensic psychiatrist, Llewellyn Price, breathed a sigh of relief. But too soon.