remember when I was writing my first book,
Practical Demonkeeping, saying to a friend, "I want to do for horror with this book what Douglas Adams did for science fiction with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." How arrogant is that? I was a waiter, for Christ's sake. Anyway, I dont' think I pulled that off, but I've been at least trying to put me on the map, so to speak.
As for real influences on my writing, I'd have to go to Steinbeck. Although, again, I don't think anyone would ever mistake my stuff for his, there is a kindness and benevolence that he has toward humanity that I aspire to in my own work. Whenever I'm totally lost on a book I grab my dog-eared copy of Cannery Row and start reading. Then I think, "This is how it's supposed to be done."
As a kid, Mad magazine, Jules Verne, Ian Fleming, and Ray Bradbury probably had more to do with me wanting to be a writer than any other influences.
FF: What comes first for you--character or plot? Do you believe plot is derived from strong characterization, or vice versa?
CM: Yes. Next Question. (Just kidding.)
Actually, I start with "story" which isn't the same as plot. Then I work characters. I think that strong characters can carry and, in fact, make a strong story, but it doesn't work quite as well in reverse. Plot is merely the mechanics, the logistics of telling the story. Plot is like finding the unknowns in an equation--very mathematical, logical, linear. It's much easier to plot, and certainly to write dialog, if you have strong characters with distinct personalities. I spend less time worrying about my character's past than I do about how they speak and how they think. I had a great teacher who used to say that the most important thing you had to know about a character is "What does he want and what is he willing to do to get it?" That axiom has served me better than any single piece of advice on the craft.
FF: Tell us something you know about writing NOW that you wish you'd known when you were writing your first novel.
Hmmmm. I actually got a number of things right on [the first novel]. I learned discipline, and that it was a must for a novelist, but I had suspected that before I started.
As far as the craft, most of what I've learned since Demonkeeping seems tacit, like autopilot working in the background. I remember having a tremendously hard time dealing with time and transition in that book, but since then, those things come automatically (or nearly so). I'm not sure I really know anything now that I didn't know then about writing, only now I know it practically rather than academically.
FF: Does the Internet affect your writing? Any thoughts on what the Web and the advent of e-publishing, on-demand publishing and the like will do to the industry?
CM: I'm not very good at looking at the industry as a whole. I see different aspects of it, but my perspective comes mostly as a reader or a writer, not as a businessperson. I think the web has obviously changed things for the book-buying public. In some ways, I think the big Internet booksellers have put another nail in the independent bookstore's coffins, but on the other hand, that might just be the natural selection of the book business.
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