I thought it might be fun and interesting to talk to writers about what they write and how they get their write on. Dan McNeil, the author of The Judas Apocolypse and Can't Buy Me Love, stopped by to answer a few questions.
What genre of fiction do you write?
I don’t really have one. My first book, The Judas Apocalypse doesn’t exactly fit into one specific genre. It’s been described as a treasure hunt novel, historical fiction (WW2) and an
adventure book all rolled up as one. My second, Can’t Buy Me Love is a light-hearted romp about a bank heist during the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. That book doesn’t quite fit one genre either. Ironically, the only thing these books have in common is that they aren’t from the same genre. I just write the kind of story that would interest me as a reader.
I know you were a journalist. Do you still keep a toe in the non-fiction world?
I used to work in television news, first as a camera operator, then later as an editor. I wrote the intro headlines and the teasers leading into commercials. That’s as close to non-fiction as I ever got.
Do you consider yourself an indie author or a publisher's author?
Both of my books are traditionally published. My publishers are supportive but they are limited in what they can provide their authors so I spend a great deal of time on promotion myself the way many of my self-published author friends do because it is a necessary part of the business.
Are you still composing music?
Writing music is like writing novels. It is a part of you that you can’t escape and a great way to express yourself. They both go hand in hand in my opinion. I do compose when I get the chance. In fact, for the release of Canada Post’s Titanic stamp commemorative, I wrote two separate pieces for their accompanying videos. I’d love to do more though.
At one point, you were playing with a band. Are you still playing with them?
Absolutely. I love having the chance to play with Bazooka Joe because I consider them to be among the best players in Ottawa. I’m the keyboard player, so I am, by definition, the uncoolest player in the band, and I’m okay with that. We do mostly classic rock covers but we’re not averse to playing just about anything. In the past we’ve done everything from 50’s and 60’s to classic rock to pop to country to whatever, often on the spur of the moment with some truly interesting (and sometimes horrifying) results.
How do you write?
I find setting aside the time and sticking to it to be the most difficult part of writing. Just getting started is so tough! When I do manage to get my butt in gear, I’ll usually write early in the morning. I like the stillness and the quiet of early mornings. Some of my best work is done while everyone else is still asleep.
Are you a structured, outline kind of guy or a just start and see where it takes you guy?
I’ll usually have a basic outline, but I’m definitely a “see where it takes you” kind of writer. There were moments when I was writing The Judas Apocalypse where it felt like the writing just took off on its own. I had a run of a couple of days where I blasted through about six chapters. It really did feel like it was writing itself. I just followed it to see where it would lead.
What do you do when you get stuck?
Lots of bourbon (kidding.)
I realized early on that it can’t be forced. I have to let it happen. I had a pretty major case of writer’s block when I was writing Can’t Buy Me Love. My copy editor suggested (and she was right) that I needed to add a love scene. I’d never written anything remotely like that before and I hit a wall. No, actually it was more like a head on collision. It was unbelievably difficult to write. It took - don’t laugh - about six months to pull off (no pun intended.) I discovered that I had to leave it alone for a while (although I would suggest that six months is a little long) and once I figured out the angle of where the scene was coming from, it became easier.
I know you generously participate in Writer's Wednesday on Twitter. What does it mean to you? Why do it?
I just think it’s good thing to promote other authors. We’re all in this together, trying to get our books out, right? There is an amazing amount of great writers out there and I figure it’s a great way to discover them, their work and what they’ve got to offer.
What's next for you?
I’m not sure. I have a couple of ideas I’m banging around - a suspense thriller, a murder mystery western, possibly a prequel to The Judas Apocalypse, possibly a sequel to Can’t Buy Me Love, or even a series of short stories. I just need to pick one and start writing! One thing I do know for sure – the book isn’t going to fit into any of the other genres I’ve written before.