Interview with David Grace

Published 2014-09-18.
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.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author or publisher.

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David Wilaru's unique take on politics and society honed by his years as a columnist for "The American Inquisitor" weekly newspaper -- "All the news otherwise unfit to print." Mr. Wilaru writes about subjects of topical interest including Gay Marriage, Hollywood Culture, the rapid growth of Amnesiology, Middle East Developments, UFO Babies and other matters of broad general interest.
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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.
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The Concrete Kiss
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Shooting Crows At Dawn
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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.
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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.
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