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

Six Crime Stories
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 40,250. Language: English. Published: March 4, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Short Stories, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Hard-Boiled
Six crime short stories (about 25,000 words) including two "mob" stories originally published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine plus additional stories involving the mob, murder and mystery.
Twenty Sci Fi Stories
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 130,370. Language: English. Published: March 3, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera
These twenty Science Fiction stories totaling approximately 130,000 words deal with aliens, time travel, rogue technology and more. The first three stories follow Harry Dondero, the first officer of the tramp star freighter, Orion. . Five of the stories were novelettes originally published in Analog Magazine. Three stories were written by Hayford Peirce and David Grace (as David Alexander)
The Wilaru Chronicles
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 118,500. Language: English. Published: January 11, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Satire, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Parody
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.
The Wrong Side Of A Gun
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 123,620. Language: English. Published: March 1, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Hard-Boiled
Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Quinn always gets his man – with one exception. The one fugitive Virgil hasn’t yet been able to capture is his unstable ex-wife who’s run off with Quinn’s ten-year-old daughter. For nine long years, while Quinn is tracking down a host of criminals and fugitives he continues his relentless search for his vanished child. He won't rest until he finds her.
Death Doesn't Care
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 135,160. Language: English. Published: March 12, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
Detective Chris Hunter from "Death Never Sleeps" is back with a new case. In an abandoned storage locker Detective Chris Hunter discovers the Murder Books for a notorious crime, the Early Bird Cafe Massacre, Chris leafs through the Murder Books mostly out of curiosity until he finds a reference to his old partner, Big Jim Donegan and then the killings take on a whole new urgency.
Death Never Lies
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 131,190. Language: English. Published: October 6, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
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.
Death Never Sleeps
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 130,660. Language: English. Published: March 28, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
Veteran Homicide Detective James "Big Jim" Donegan and his partner, Detective Chris Hunter, have been called to scene of their latest case, a strangled call girl who has been put halfway through a wood chipper that was left unattended in one of the city's parks.
The Concrete Kiss
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 120,080. Language: English. Published: June 25, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
(4.60)
Homicide Detective Ned Danes discovers that an ambitious Deputy D.A. has concealed evidence 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 Cold Case Squad where Danes becomes obsessed with finding the real killer whom the Deputy D.A.’s scheme has allowed to run free.
Shooting Crows At Dawn
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 128,120. Language: English. Published: May 11, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Hard-Boiled
(4.75)
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.
Daniel
Price: $3.95 USD. Words: 60,750. Language: English. Published: December 13, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » War & military adventure, Fiction » Adventure » War & military adventure
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. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural
Secretary of State Randall Tanner was shocked to discover that the President was a traitor. After three agonizing days he decided that the only possible course of action was that President had to die. Tanner initiated a plot to have President assassinated in a way that would make his death look like an accident. Because Hoskins' mistress, Sarah, knew too much she had to die as well.
Fever Dreams
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 138,090. Language: English. Published: October 6, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
A frayed-at-the-edges lawyer asks Rafael LaFontaine to help his client with a simple matter - a hard to get rid of ex-boyfriend who also happens to be a Baltimore cop, but Rafael soon finds out that nothing is what it had seemed and it isn't long before Rafe finds himself deeply entangled in a confusing web of lies and murder.
Easy Target
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 140,210. Language: English. Published: September 17, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » 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: 127,310. Language: English. Published: September 17, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
At the end of WW II revolutionary technology seized from Nazi slave-labor labs was consigned to the Forbidden List to be kept secret forever. Now, competing forces are plotting to be the first to possess the revolutionary discovery.
The Accidental Magician
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 110,750. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Science fiction » General
Grantin, the nephew of a powerful but harsh magician, seems bound for failure. In a last ditch effort to salvage his family’s honor, his uncle gives Grantin an important task which Grantin makes a mess of. Only vast good luck or the appearance of some hidden magical talents are likely to save him. Luckily, Grantin is, unknowingly, on his way to becoming The Accidental Magician.
True Faith
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 96,930. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
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 blowing up a federal building. Then the terrorists escaped their guards and took them all hostage. Mark Shrader had prayed that someday he would have the chance for vengeance on his wife’s killers. Now his chance had come.
A Death In Beverly Hills
Price: Free! Words: 137,870. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
(4.67)
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: 105,550. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
When Peter Howard stumbled across a kidnapped child in the middle of nowhere he only intended to follow them and then call the police, but the man confronted him and 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.
Doll's Eyes
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 123,380. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural
(4.00)
Young J.T. Trainer was about to be killed for the life insurance money that would pay off his father’s gambling debts. J.T.’s only friend, sixteen-year-old Hannah McGuire, discovered the plan and managed to get J.T. on a bus out of town before luring the killers in the other direction. Now, twenty years later, San Diego Homicide Detective J.T. Trainer is still searching for his vanished friend.
Etched In Bone
Price: $4.95 USD. Words: 133,360. Language: English. Published: August 31, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
(4.00)
Acquitted of 8 grisly murders by reason of insanity, Hanford Wells was committed to a psychiatric hospital from which he soon escaped. Now a girl’s skeleton is discovered and carved into her skull are a line of symbols strikingly similar to those Wells doodled before his escape. Dr. Price knows that this girl was not the madman’s first victim and that she will not be his last.