Today’s guest is Tony Vanderwarker a former advertising exec who moved to a Virginia farm to write fiction. In case that’s not idyllic enough, Tony had the rare good fortune of being mentored through the process of drafting his debut novel, the thriller Sleeping Dogs, by none other than John Grisham. He’s here to tell us about the surprisingly grueling experience. Welcome, Tony!
Guantanamo Writing Camp: What I Learned from Doing Time with John Grisham
When my friend and neighbor John Grisham offered to take me under his wing and teach me the secrets of thriller writing, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. With seven unpublished novels wasting away on my hard drive, I felt as though I’d suddenly been offered the keys to the kingdom of writing success — maybe even bestsellerdom.
Little did I know, I was headed for the writing-camp equivalent of Guantanamo Bay.
If Guantanamo is the most grueling detention camp of our times, Grisham is its head honcho. As we started work together on my thriller, he made it crystal clear he’d be a taskmaster. “The best advice is based on brutal honesty,” he said.
And brutal he was. First thing he did was to have me write a synopsis and an outline. I thought, piece of cake, and came back to him with an outline I was proud of a few weeks later. But he rejected it right off the bat. “Throw it out, start over,” he told me. “Takes too much ink to get it going.”
Ouch. This, I said to myself, is going to be more painful than I thought.
It turns out John takes outlining extremely seriously. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since he majored in accounting and practiced law for ten years–two hard-core, disciplined fields. Later I learned that he’d written his first novel, A Time To Kill, without an outline, spending three years in the process. He used a formal outline to [Read more…]