Sweat coated Athena’s upper lip. She licked it, shuddered at the sensation, and knew the night would be a memorable one. The blue Missoni dress clung to her body, the fabric matted on her curves like tissue paper. The dress had been air-mailed by Ottavio Missoni himself, specifically for Athena to wear tonight…..
Athena stepped onto the red carpet and waved to her fans. Her new fans. Her old fans. Fans who would give anything for her. She took one step onto the carpet. Smiled. And then a crack of thunder filled the air, and a bullet smashed through her skull….
Excerpted from THE GUILTY.
Jason Pinter’s second release, THE GUILTY, is a grabya thriller full of slick prose and twisting plot points that leave the reader guessing. Pinter’s debut thriller THE MARK, garnered critical praise, and has been optioned for a film. His blog, The Man in Black, is familiar to writer webjunkies looking for tips and tidbits on fiction writing and publishing from the former book editor. Pinter is one of 13 authors who’ve contributed to Killer Year, an anthology of crime stories written by new voices in thriller/noir fiction.
Despite, or perhaps because of this, Pinter remains refreshingly low-key about his successes. Missed part one of our interview with Jason? Click HERE.
We are pleased to present part two of our interview with Jason Pinter.
Q: You have aggressive deadlines (THE STOLEN, Pinter’s third novel, is to be released Aug. 2008). How do you manage your time? Have you ever had writer’s block strike?
JP: I haven’t been writing long enough to really have a writer’s block, and if I’m feeling lazy I remember that we have a mortgage to pay. But seriously, even though the deadlines are tight, they’ve been manageable. I wrote THE MARK in about nine months, and a large part of that was simply figuring out the right pacing for a thriller. Once I understood that, and actually sat my butt down to write every day, hitting the deadline wasn’t as hard as I expected. Plus there’s so much I want to do with these characters, just sitting down and seeing where that day’s writing will take them is too exciting to pass up. I think you have to write as a reader: if you’re not compelled enough by your material to sit down and write, the reader won’t be compelled enough to turn the pages.
Q: Do you review your pages after writing sessions, as if a reader, to be sure you’re hitting the mark?
JP: I only review my work after I’ve completed one full draft. I need to get lost in the flow, as a writer. If I stop to revise the day’s work, I tend to lose sight of the story. Once I’ve finished with the first draft, I go back to the beginning and start editing. That way if something needs to be changed, I know how the rest of the story plays out and I can change accordingly. And since I’m also reading as a reader, if a scene isn’t compelling me, I can revise it, shorten it, or even cut it altogether if it’s not working.
Q: What’s your writing process? Are you a plotter, or do you prefer to let things evolve?
JP: When I begin a book I tend to have the beginning scene and the end scene firmly in place, and a scene or two in the middle that serve as benchmarks, or turning points in the story. My contract does require me to turn in an outline, but my editor and publisher have been very understanding that things will most likely change rather drastically by the time the final manuscript is turned in. I think it’s important to allow the story and characters to develop naturally. My characters have certainly done things I didn’t expect, and have surprised me along the way. I know some authors who follow a very strict outline and do so quite successfully, but my stories need a little room to breathe. There’s no right or wrong way to write, as long as you actually do it.
Q: Your blog, The Man in Black, is highly respected in the writers’ blogosphere. How does blogging fit in to an author’s overall media strategy?
JP: Is it respected? It’s kind of funny because when you’re doing something, you seldom have any feeling for how it’s perceived by others. My blog serves as an extension of my personality–a little goofy, a little book, sports, and pop culture obsessed. It allows me to keep in constant contact with readers, but to also talk about things I can’t–or don’t want to–in my books. If you write fiction, having a blog probably doesn’t help your overall “media strategy,” since the books you’re writing and the blogs you’re writing are likely quite different. I do think, though, that readers like to “know” authors, and blogging can open up a dialogue, shed light on the writing process and give them a glimpse of the person beyond the pages.
Q: You’ve hit upon a debate we’re having over at WU about online promotion for authors—what works and doesn’t work. What do you think are the top media strategies that help to promote a novel?
JP: That’s a tough question, because unless you’re a bestselling author–a known quantity to be a little crass–it’s very hard to get real media attention for your novel. That is unless your novel has some sort of media hook (like THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA) or you’re a celebrity in your own right.
A lot of times publishers try to position writers as “The Next Big Thing” with their debuts, and that kind of hype, I think, is more hurtful to a career than helpful. The expectations can’t possibly be met, and if the first book doesn’t perform, either critically or commercially, it can be near impossible to recover. Allowing a writer to grow and build an audience seems a much safer and smarter long-term goal, but there is a “home run” mentality. I think the best media strategy is just to write the best book you possibly can. Don’t give your story a “hook” just because you think it will sell, do it only if it’s an organic part of your story or characters and makes sense within the confines of your book. Other than that, meet writers. Talk to them about what has and hasn’t worked in their careers. Go to conferences and meet reviewers and booksellers. Pitch your work to the people who are most influential (the people who put books on the shelves and hand-sell them).
Q: As a former editor, you’ve been on both sides of the desk. Do you have any insights for aspiring authors you can share from your time as an editor?
JP: The three ‘R’s’. Read, Rite, and Revise. And use spellcheck. Revising is probably the most important part of the process. One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is how many drafts I write of my books. For THE MARK, I believe I went through nine drafts before my agent even began submitting to publishers. As an aspiring author, you’re competing for precious few spots against many, many other manuscripts. If your book hasn’t been written and polished to the best of your ability, you’ve already shot yourself in the foot. Keep revising your book until you wouldn’t change a single word. I know the despair and frustration of rejection, and the most productive thing an author can do if their work doesn’t sell is to focus that emotion inward. Use it to make yourself a better writer. I find it incredibly therapeutic to write with a small chip on my shoulder. Another thing: speak your dialogue out loud. That helps me sound out words and bits that don’t sound natural. If it doesn’t sound like something a human being would actually say, revise it until it does.
Q: Why do you think genre fiction receives so little respect in literary circles, despite the fact that the majority of fiction sold is genre?
JP: That’s one of those questions that will probably be asked and answered and debated until Cormac McCarthy and Toni Morrison collaborate on a paranormal romance novel. The truth is, I don’t care much about so-called “literary circles.” If someone tells me they’re in a “literary circle,” they’re probably the last person in the world I’d want to have a beer with. I’d much rather spend my time with readers and writers, people who simply enjoy the written word, regardless of whether it’s a book about shape-shifting vampires, soulless assassins, or wrinkly white men with prostate trouble. It basically comes down to “Books people want to read” versus “Books people think you should read.” Stephen King probably had more influence on me than any other writers, and I hear more people say they were inspired to write by ON WRITING than any other book. He’s the prime example of literary versus commercial. There are poorly written and/or plotted commercial novels. There are beautiful and moving literary novels, and there are also banal, trite and pretentious literary works.
I find it especially interesting because there doesn’t seem to be this debate in other forms of popular culture. If you look at the movies that won “Best Picture” this decade, you’ll find an action movie (“Gladiator”), a musical (“Chicago”), a fantasy epic (“Lord of the Rings”) and a crime drama (“The Departed”). In my opinion, the best genre works can easily compete with the best literary works. If “genre” can produce a book like Dennis Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER, and John Banville can write a mystery novel, why can’t we, um, you know, all just get along?
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received during your writing career? The worst?
JP: Both the best and the worst advice came from the same person. When I was just getting serious about writing, I attended a writers’ conference over the summer. I didn’t know many writers or authors and hoped this would be helpful and allow me insight into their “world.” Because I was a late entry to the conference, I ended up being placed in a short story class. The short story I submitted was a comic one about a family on the road trip from hell, with a grandmother who smelled like feet. This story had no literary aspirations; I just wanted to make people laugh. The author who taught the class was very serious. An older man, he was very knowledgeable and respected, but it was clear he didn’t much enjoy my story. Comic larks clearly didn’t have much place in his short story canon. At the conference’s closing banquet, I went up to that writer with a copy of his latest book and asked him to sign it for me. I was hoping he’d write something inspirational, something that would give a young writer hope. His inscription was this:
To Jason: Keep on truckin’.
When I read that line, so dismissive and condescending, I was so angry I wanted to explode. I remembered that inscription and keep it in the back of my mind every time I sit down to write. So even though the advice itself was terrible, it’s inspired my writing more than anything anyone’s ever said to me.
Q: So was this the hammer that created the small chip you mentioned earlier?
JP: Definitely. I certainly don’t hold a grudge–I’ll admit my story was hardly a comic masterpiece–but it did give me a little fuel that still burns a bit.
Q: What are you reading right now?
JP: My wife and I just started our own book club, and our first pick was WHAT IS THE WHAT by Dave Eggers. After that I really should finally get around the last Harry Potter novel…
Jason Pinter’s second novel, THE GUILTY, will be published on February 26th. His first Henry Parker novel, THE MARK was published in July 2007 to stellar reviews, and was nominated for “Best First Mystery” by Romantic Times magazine. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers, and is a co-founder of Killer Year. He lives in New York City with his wife Susan and their dog Wilson, and is currently at work on his next Henry Parker novel.