My friend Al has a new book we want to introduce you to, so we asked him back to undergo questioning – I mean, have an interview – here on the blog. Pull up a chair as Al and I discuss more on his various author “processes” that will help you a LOT, his new book, and other stuff.
DAN: First, what is the title of your new book?
AL: Yesterday’s Thief. I came up with that using my new title-selection system.
Titles are tough; most authors have trouble coming up with them. Me, I can think up a title pretty quickly, just not a good one. What’s your system?
I used to just spend a little time thinking about the title, then I’d have a Eureka moment, and that would be it. Bad idea! That’s how I came up with the title for my first fiction book, Contact Us. The book is about the first contact with two extraterrestrial civilizations.
In the middle of the night, I thought about how the phrase “Contact Us” is so common, appearing on most web sites. I liked the way it sounded, and I selected it without any further thought.
A better way: Come up with a list of many title ideas and asked the opinions of others, especially authors.
And then go with the one that gets the most votes? Smart.
That’s how I came up with “Yesterday’s Thief.” The book is about a Romanian Jewel thief who, to escape the police, jumps from 1980 to 2020 in a time machine. She materializes, naked, in the middle of a nationally televised baseball game.
My initial, middle-of-the-night idea was “The Lady Unvanishes,” since the book starts with a naked woman materializing in the middle of a televised baseball game.
The idea was a take-off on a Hitchcock movie “The Lady Vanishes,” that came out in 1938! See a problem there? Not many people in the over-eighty demographic. A few friends said, “Ah, Al, you might want to think of other title ideas.” So, I came up with a list. Here it is:
Time Interrupted, The Romanian Time Thief, Time Skip, A Skip in Time, Time, Interrupted, Timeline, Interrupted, Timeline Skip, The Romanian Time Skipper, Time Energy, Timeline Arc, Arc d’Timeline, Skip Time, Skipped Time, Time Skipper, Leap of Time, Time Leap, The Time Leaper, Leap in Time, Time Hop, Timeline Hop, Time it Forward, The Materialized Girl, Forwarding Time, The Time Skipping Romanian, Time, Skipped, Time Bypass, The Time Slipper, An Advance in Time, Propelled in Time, With Time in Mind, Time Skipped, Wasted Timeline, Time Span, A Span of Time, Time and Energy, The Time Thief, Thief of Time, The Timeline Thief, The Time Bounce, Time Bounce, Timeline Bounce, Jump Time…
Boy, you weren’t kidding when you said “many.”
But wait, there’s more!.
Time Hoppers, Time Skippers, Time to Mind, Disrupted Timeline, The Disrupted Timeline, Time Disruption, Time Interruption, Suspending Time, The Time Discontinuity, Discontinuity in Time, The Timeline Discontinuity, The Irregular Timeline, An Irregular Timeline.
Um, let me see… yes.
Okay, you made a list and checked it at least twice, I’m sure. Then what?
Then I posted that list on a forum thread at kboards.com, a great resource for authors, by the way. I called the thread “Help me Brainstorm a Title.” Forum members commented on those, and suggested some new ideas, one of which was “Yesterday’s Thief.”
I then put together a short list of about ten and had fellow authors vote on which they liked best. The overwhelming favorite was “Yesterday’s Thief.” I’m quite happy with that, and, from now on, I’ll use that method for coming up with titles.
It’s certainly a unique premise. How did the plot for the book come about?
As with most of my books, the whole story stemmed from a single question. For Contact Us, the question was “What if everyone on the planet sneezed at exactly the same time?”
Sure, because people wonder these things.
For Yesterday’s Thief, the question was “What if a woman materialized, in midair, in the middle of a televised event?”
Naked. Don’t forget that.
In the future, I’m going to try to come up with an idea for the end of the book first. That will probably make it less stressful to write. For Yesterday’s Thief, I’d written two-thirds of the book before I decided on an ending.
That sounds like you are a pantser – someone who writes by the seat of his/her pants.
No, not at all. I’m a plevisor. That’s a new term I just made up, and I’m sure it’s going to go viral. It stands for “plot revisor.” It means that I plot out the book, but revise the plot as I go along. Nice, right?
Let me hold off on a final opinion until I see if it catches on. Does plevisoring work well for you? How far into the story are you willing to go back and attack your plot?
I got a good laugh looking at my original plot outline for YT. It involved terrorists and nuclear devices. Halfway through the writing, I decided that wasn’t really going to work so I did some major revising. I can’t tell you more without giving things away.
I’m using the same system for my work-in-progress, a book I’ll release later this year.
Have you already written your first sentence for the new one?
Of course. 😉 Here it is: “Reading in bed with my sleeping wife snuggled beside me, I had no clue that by afternoon I’d be the only man on Earth.”
Pretty grabby. I like it.
I’ve also finished the outline of the book, even describing what will happen in the last scene.
So, if you use an outline, definitely not a pantser then. I’m pretty much a plotter, with leeway to let myself take the story wherever I feel like it needs to go as I write, but I have an end in mind before I start in earnest. I also allow myself to use a different ending if I think up a better one along the way.
Has the actual story writing has been pretty easy?
No. For the first twenty scenes, I was flying along, writing a thousand words a day. Things were flowing out smoothly. Then I hit two problems. First, counting out my scenes and my average words per scene (900), I estimated that the book would come out to only forty-thousand words.
That’s a little short…
Also, some of the events in the last part of the book weren’t working out right.
So what did you do, plevisor?
I added another POV character, and reworked the last part of the book, making more things happen. It’s funny how sometimes it seems nothing will work, I’ll push on the problem a while, and then I’ll wake up with a new idea that will fix things. I’ve had to learn to have faith that I will come up with a solution.
Back to Yesterday’s Thief. I always ask authors how long it takes them to write the first draft of their manuscript. So? How long did YT take?
Four months. Here’s a plot of words written versus date.
I love that, but I track mine in Excel. The true writer types are cringing right now. Graaaaaphs!!!
I’m working on writing faster now.
I wouldn’t exactly call four months slow, but there are always time issues.
Sure. Note that there was a delay in getting YT published because I made the mistake of choosing a proofreader before asking her when she was available. Duh! I had to delay the release for over two months as she went over it.
Oops. But hopefully the final product is the better for it.
Learn from my mistake: Make “when can you get to it?” one of the questions you ask when choosing an editor or proofreader.
Got it. Tell us, Thrifty One, how do you decide how much to spend on marketing? Cos new authors have time but not money, and some don’t even have time.
Well, I’m lucky that I don’t need to make money from my books. Following a long frugal *cough* tightwad *cough* life, my wife and I squirreled away enough to live on. So, as long as I spend less than I get from all my books, I don’t sweat it.
But that’s the hard part for us all anyway, to not lose money and actually make money.
I’ve been running a lot of promotions at a loss. It’s hard to make up, for example, the cost of a fifty-dollar promo when you’re only getting thirty-five cents for each book that you sell.
I call this my whack-a-mole marketing strategy.
What? Whack a mole? Guacamole? Are we drinking already?
A major goal of marketing is to get your book’s Amazon rank down. When it’s low, your book is more visible to potential readers. It may appear in the top one hundred books in a particular category, for example. The rank is the mole, and the goal is to get it down. Get it low.
Without any promos the rank rises, so I have to whack it with some promos to get it down again.
Okay, I’m with ya now.
You can see this graphically on a site called MetricJunkie.com. Here’s a chart of the Amazon rank for Contact Us.
The readers are cringing again. Go easy with that stuff.
Every time you see the rank drop, it’s due to a promotion that I ran.
As I release new books, I get a bit more bang for my promo buck, since customers who buy one book may buy something from my backlist.
Correct. There’s nothing wrong with giving somebody a free sample (even Ammy lets you read a chapter or two of a non-free book) but free samples have been done from time immemorial. There was a Cajun place in the food court at the mall that had a person standing there at lunch with a bunch of bourbon chicken samples. Wineries give tastings. Drug dealers give you your first hit for free so you’ll get hooked. Allegedly. Free samples – done the way you are talking about: strategically, and monitored, and not just giving away your work – works. I think most authors miss about 90% of that process.
What “person” do you like to write in? First Person, Third Person, etc. – and why?
First person. I’ll never go back to third person.
Third is difficult for me; first is easy by comparison.
I’ve just made up a saying, which I’m sure will also go viral. Here it is. Ready? “Once you go first, you’ll never be reversed.”
In YT, the main character is a private detective. To prepare for that, I read tons of the film-noir type detective books and short stories. Especially those of Dashiell Hammett. Most of those were written in first person. I was hooked.
Anyway, I like the idea of someone telling a story about himself. As I write, I imagine sitting around after dinner with friends, several empty bottles of wine on the table:
Did I tell you about the time Julia Roberts gave me a black eye? No? I was coming off a two-day bender, minding my own business, when the barstool next to me squeaked. I pulled my head off the bar and opened one eye. My good eye. Julia Roberts. In the flesh, wearing a floppy hat and sunglasses …
Now, don’t you feel more of a connection with the character than you would had it started, “Bob sat at the bar when …”?
I agree. It’s more comfortable, I think.
One problem is that sometimes you need to describe events that the main character can’t see. Also, good suspense results when the read knows something the main character doesn’t. You can’t do that with only one POV character.
In YT, I solved these problems by including third-person scenes from another character’s point of view. That worked well. I’ve read some other books that do that. For example, Christine by Stephen King and Overhead by Jack Bickham.
What do you do for cover art? Do you do it yourself, hire an artist or purchase premade?
I used to make the covers myself. It was fun. I loved the result and it was free. My problem is that I always love the stuff I create.
Me, too – except I’m really bad at book covers. I mean really bad. And I’m a pretty good artist otherwise, and somewhat crafty at household projects. But it doesn’t transfer to my book covers.
Once I built a new post for my mailbox, and I had to spend a lot of time just admiring the result. Sadly, that’s a true story. My neighbor caught me gazing lovingly at the new mailbox post, and called the men in the white coats.
Well, it was a mailbox…
Anyway, I paid $500 to have Damonza.com do my YT cover. I also had them redo the Contact Us cover.
That’s a lot for a thrifty guy like you – or any new author, really. How’d it work out?
Despite raising the price of Contact Us, I’ve seen a doubling in sales with the new cover.
So it was well worth it.
What about stardom? Have you ever been recognized by a fan in public?
There’s nothing like the feeling of someone walking up to you, out of the blue, and telling you they’ve read everything you’ve written and that you’re their favorite author.
That’s never happened to me, of course, but I can imagine that there’s nothing like that feeling.
So, the answer is “no.” But once, when I was playing trombone, someone asked for my autograph. I happened to be subbing for someone else. It was like the scene in Galaxy Quest where the unknown crewman wants to sign autographs. Check it out: https://youtu.be/FEdyNyQCjwE
Ha, that’s awesome. What about social media, then. Any favorites?
None of the above. I have five-thousand Twitter followers, for example, but when I post something, I’m lucky to get three interactions. I’ve read books and blogs and followed all the advice. I get that it’s all about engagement, but I’m still missing something.
Maybe; depending on the type of person you are attracting, audiences are very quiet. They come to see/hear/read you, not necessarily talk, so to speak. You see that on blogs. A social media account with a following of any size will often have less than 1% of the readers comment or reply. And that’s an average, so half the time interaction is even less. Authors tend to attract readers, and readers tend to be non-talking, non-replying types. But you also have your newsletter.
If my newsletter counts as social media, I’m pretty happy with that. I have some wonderful followers who seem to like me.
And you’ve shared some of that interaction, so I’d say you have a high engagement rate there.
What is the single most important quality in a novel; what must an author do to win you over?
They’ve got to get me into the flow state. You know,
that magical state in which the real world disappears, and you’re carried away with the story.
That happens less and less for me. Partly, my writer self starts noticing what the author is doing, and, bonk, I’m taken out of the story. I see the man behind the curtain. Bummer.
Yep. I refer to that as a reader becoming immersed in the story. And to me the biggest crime in authorworld is allowing/causing your reader to become un-immersed. That’s why I even stay away from words that might be correct but will cause readers to stop and wonder for a half second. Can’t have that. Use a different word. I love it when my critique partners flag a word and say it unimmersed them. It’s a pain to go fix, but there’s always a substitute word, so why let anybody get snagged? Keep ‘em immersed.
What authors get you immersed the best?
Michael Connelly does it consistently. I’m analyzing how he does it. Mr. Connelly, please don’t die before I figure it out.
Do you have a favorite book of his?
You’re asking someone who has trouble remembering what he read last week, but I enjoyed The Lincoln Lawyer. Some of the scenes in that book involve meetings between members of the main character’s legal team. Just meetings, but he makes them interesting. I have similar meeting scenes in Contact Us, and I patterned mine after his. Here’s an excerpt from Contact Us, and it has the same kind of back and forth as the Connelly scene I patterned it after:
“We’re not assuming this is extraterrestrial, right?” Guccio looked from the president to the image of McGraw on the monitor.
“Certainly not.” Hallstrom crossed his arms. “That’s one possibility, but—”
“And we might even—” said Young.
The president held up his hands, palms out. “Hold on, guys. Let’s get a little further into it before we start interrupting each other. Charli, have you found Jake Corby?”
“No, that looks like it’s going to take some time and effort. Can you tell me why he’s so important?”
Hallstrom raised his eyebrows. “Haven’t you worked with Jake before?”
Charli frowned. “On part of one case. I agree he’s smart, but why is he so important?”
“He’s more than smart. He was the world’s top hostage negotiator, but that’s not why I want him. I want him because he’s an insightful problem-solver.”
“Well, I’m working on it.” Nothing but dead ends so far. “How much effort do we put into locating him?”
“Top priority. I want this guy on the team. It would be like Jake to want to disappear, and he had, or has, the smarts and resources to do it well.” A grin flashed onto Hallstrom’s face. “You’ve probably heard some of the stories about him.”
Have you got any special offers you can offer my blog readers?
I do indeed. My new book, Yesterday’s Thief, will be only ninety-nine cents for a while after it’s released. There are a lot of fun technologies in that book, which takes place in 2020. I’ve written a companion ebook for it that talks about those technologies, and the current science that they are based on.
You can’t say that and not elaborate.
Okay, for example an earthquake occurs in San Francisco, and the main character is warned by the ShakeAlert system. It turns out that that system is currently under development, and has already been delivering ten-second warnings to residents of the Bay Area (see ShakeAlert.org).
That’s the kind of thing I discuss in the book.
Cool. How can my readers get that book?
If they purchase Yesterday’s Thief during the first week of its release, and they drop me a note at FoggyBeach@gmail.com (that’s right, it’s on the honor system), I will send them a link to download the Kindle-format ebook. It’s called Yesterday’s Thief, Tech Notes.
Any parting tips for new authors writing a book?
Four words—no five: Never give up, never surrender!
Okay, Churchill. Thanks for dropping by and sharing so many generous insights.
Folks, Al’s book is a great read. His fun, upbeat personality is on display in some of his characters, and the story moves along at a great pace. Grab your copy while it’s on sale and be sure to post a review!
Here are Al’s links:
Al’s Newsletter http://pages.suddenlink.net/almacystuff/signupantiterrorist.htm
Al’s Amazon Author page http://www.amazon.com/Al-Macy/e/B00HS3BO2U
Al’s Facebook page Facebook.com/AlMacyAuthor
Al’s Twitter ID @AlMacyAuthor
Al’s author web site AlMacyAuthor.com
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.