James R. Callan and I “met” online years ago, and it didn’t take me long to realize he’s a wealth of knowledge when it comes to writing and publishing a book. That’s why I’m thrilled to talk with him today, not just to share his knowledge with you but also to learn more about how he attained it.
James, thanks for letting me interview you.
Hi, Karin, and thanks for inviting me to be on your blog. It is always a pleasure to interact with you and your readers.
To start, what do you write? How did you pick your genre?
I have written several stand-alone mysteries. I have also, at the request of a publisher, written two books on writing. But for several years now, I’ve concentrated on two series. One is the Father Frank Mysteries, a cozy, Christian mystery series. The other series is the Crystal Moore Suspense Series. The Crystal books fall between suspense and thriller. Personally, I think of them as suspense books. But often, reviewers describe them as thrillers. And I am a member of the International Thriller Writers. I picked these genres because those are the ones I prefer to read.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It’s difficult for me to set the length of time it takes me to write a book. The reason for this is, I don’t know when to say I’ve started. A germ of an idea pops into my head. That may be an incident, a character, or something else. I let that rattle around in my brain for some time, perhaps many weeks. Different aspects of this original thought begin to appear. After a while, connections between various bits of information begin to form. Characters walk in. At some point, I begin to hear snatches of conversation related to the book. And once those bit of dialog become significant, I know it’s time to start writing this book.
So, when does the process of writing the book start? That’s why it’s hard for me to say how long it takes to write the book. Off hand, I give it about a year. That includes several versions. So, to be a little more specific, I’d say the actual writing of the text takes me six months. Then there is another four months to polish it. Beta readers, another month. Add another month for polishing after Beta comments. About a year.
How do you prepare to write your books: pantser, plotter, or both?
I’m a mixture of pantser and plotter. I like to have an ending in mind when I begin to write. This allows me to plug along, knowing I have an ending. But the truth is, the book rarely ends that way. As I go through the writing process, some of the characters become so real that they may suggest turns I had not planned. And almost every book winds up with an ending different from what I thought it might be when I started writing. I suggest that you spend enough time with major characters that they can actually influence where the book goes. You may be in charge of the story, but the characters are living inside the story. If they feel strongly enough to suggest a turn to you, listen. They’re probably right.
How do you combat writer’s block?
My suggestion is to start writing – anything. Well, maybe not checks. But write a blog post, a letter to a friend (okay, an email). Anything. Write a description of the last party your family or friends had. Write. And after a while, without even thinking about it, you will start writing on the book again.
Which was harder, your first book or the following books? Why?
I think my first book was the hardest. I had no idea how to go about it. I stumbled along, and threw out more than I kept. I never thought it was good enough and I found myself unable to proceed because the last bit I’d written needed more polishing. Now, I know to write the story. Then I go back and polish it.
What surprised you most about the publishing process?
What surprised me the most about the entire process was the need to be engaged in marketing from day one.
What advice do you have for new authors?
I would suggest to all beginning writers to keep this in mind as they begin to write. Begin to collect an email list. Begin to establish a social media presence. And study other talented and successful writers. Why are they successful? What about their formation of sentences, paragraphs, plots makes you think, “She really got that right.” And I’ll add my comments below on the revision process as an important point for new writers.
Speaking of that, what does your revision process look like?
Revision is not anyone’s favorite thing. But it is so important. So, take the attitude: “This is great. I’ve finished the book. Now, I just need to make certain all the pieces fit together.”
I make a scene descriptor file – a list of every scene in every chapter. To each scene, I attach the date and time, the major characters in the scene, anything unusual (storm, accident, snow, new character, etc.) and what I hoped this scene did for the book. (It must do one of these two things: move the plot along, or enhance the reader’s understanding of a character.
This is best done as you move through writing the book. But, if you haven’t done it along the way, go back, start at chapter 1 and make this scene descriptor file as complete as possible. I have caught discrepancies in the date, day or time. I have found a scene where later in the book, a character should have been in that scene, but he wasn’t.
Making this scene chart takes time, but it helps avoid those embarrassing comments when people tell you character X was dead the day before he walked into the meeting. And that does happen when you’re writing the first draft.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us!
James R. Callan’s fourteenth book should be released in November. It is a Father Frank Mystery titled A Plot for Murder. It centers on finding who murdered an unpleasant speaker at a writers conference. If you’d like to read the first few chapters, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Tell me more.”