What Would You Like to Know?

By John Gilstrap

Last week, when I published the January issue of Dispatches, my Jonathan Grave newsletter, I asked for guidance from my readership on how frequently the newsletter should come out. We all get pummeled by unwanted email, and I never want to tip over the line into the spam category.  The overwhelming consensus among the 30 or so respondents was for quarterly updates. (Click here if you’d like to subscribe.  I’d love to have you.)

A solid handful of people who wrote back to me also said that they would like to have links to videos or other media that show what a writer’s life is like. It’s easy to shrug off a request like that with the observation that the writing life is not significantly different than any other life that involves long hours of quiet contemplation at a desk, but I understand where they are coming from.  I recognize that I am blessed to be able to spend my days living the dream I’ve dreamed since childhood, and that alone puts writers in exotic real estate, especially in the perception of readers.  It explains why the pictures on my website of my office is one of the most frequently visited pages. I get it.  I respect it. In fact, one of my favorite pictures of another author is that of Stephen King working in a cluttered space with his feet propped up on the desk. It’s nice to get that peek behind the curtain.

I had the opportunity to bring this up over the weekend during a conclave of sorts with other authors, hoping to find some idea of what the subject of such videos might be, and I was introduced to the concept of Facebook Live, which, as I understand it, is pretty much what it sounds like: live audio-video streaming over Facebook, during which there can be direct and immediate interaction with viewers. With decent promotion of the event ahead of time, I could see that as a good way to stay closer to fans.

The big question, of course, is what I would talk about. Some suggested that I could do talks about guns and explosives, and while that clearly is a topic that interests me, I questioned whether or not it would do anything to promote or sell books. Perhaps I could read a chapter or a section from one of my books, kind of a fireside chat. The consensus was that the main goal was simply to be real to readers.  I’m going to give it a shot.

So, now I ask you: If you’re going to spend a half hour or so in direct contact with an author–it doesn’t have to be me specifically–what would you like the focus to be?  What information would you like to know?

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About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. He will co-produce the film adaptation of his book, Six Minutes to Freedom, which should begin filming in 2017. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in Fairfax, VA.

17 thoughts on “What Would You Like to Know?

  1. Good morning, John. I love the idea. I once spent an hour alone with the late Harold King, a thriller writer, at a writers conference at a local college. He invited participants to the student lounge after his talk, and I was the only one who showed up. (He was not very well known then.) It was a wonderful hour of hearing him tell how he researched his thrillers, which take place all around the world. He never traveled far from Louisville, KY. He said his books only took place in places where National Geographic had been. (This was pre internet days,) He told how he did phone interviews of people and spent days in libraries. I have read all of your books and would love to hear about your processes for research and ideas.

    • Thanks for the input, Dave. There’s an intriguing consistency among these comments, and I will certainly respond accordingly. I’m happy to give a peek into the research world.

  2. Why, thanks for asking.

    What I feel is missing in the multitude of sites, blogs and newsletters and what originally attracted me to TKZ is an in-depth discussion of the genre. There’s no shortage of authors out there tackling craft but very few, if any, narrow the subject matter down to say, thrillers, murder mysteries, whodunits et al. By all means, do discuss trans-genre foundational matters but please never lose sight of the demand your offer should cater to. The nuts and bolts of crime fiction, the process by which you have and one should piece out a whodunit, forensics, ballistics, that sort of genre-specific topics, now that’s the sort of conversation I’d love to have you people engage in more often.

    For the record, John I think you’re one of the authors who does a mighty splendid job at this around here and look forward to reading more from you in that department.

    Thanks!

    • NR, I appreciate the kind words. One of the most frustrating things about the blogosphere is that it’s primarily a one-way communication medium. I find it both enlightening and comforting to hear specific requests for information. Truth be told, I don’t believe much in what I call the woo-woo of writing–the business of characters coming to life to tell me what to do, and rituals to summon the muses to inspire me. My view is that you show up every morning and embark on a Great Pretend.

      The hard parts–the parts that make the difference between an okay read and a great read–all reside in the details of the story. I will endeavor to provide as much of that in the future as I can.

  3. I just got back from a Caribbean cruise where I was part of a small group of photographers. I’m not a photographer, but my son was the organizer of the group, and I figured I could do other kinds of research. When my author status came to light (OK, so I asked the tour guide what kind of cars the cops in Roatan drove, which wasn’t a ‘normal’ question) members of the group wanted to know if I was going to use people from the tour in my book, which led to discussions of characters, setting, writing routines–nothing out of the ordinary, but they did seem genuinely interested in what writers do.

    • As I write this, I’m in Key West on vacation. Yesterday, I stood in line to view Hemingway’s writing studio. I can’t articulate why that space is inspiring, but there’s no denying that it is. Process matters.

  4. I love to read about how you got started writing. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Did you write in high school? Did/Do you worry about income? What other jobs have you done? Where do you get your ideas? How do you start a new venture? Do you have lot of unfinished initial research books lying around?

  5. Hmmm…I like the idea of “behind the scenes.” Sneaking a peek at the author behind the books we love is always a treat. I’ll be interested in reading how it all plays out. Will you share an update in a future post?

    • Hi, Sue. I will, indeed, post updates. This publicity stuff is the Brave New World for many of us Luddite authors. The more we can talk about it, the better. 🙂

  6. I think some great ideas to discuss with authors are flashbacks to their novels. For example:

    What inspired you to write Scene One in Book Three, etc?
    How did you come up with the idea of planting evidence in Trump Tower in Book One?
    Where were you when you described the setting in chapter two of Book Four?

    Sometimes I imagine authors on an exotic island sitting at a table under a Tiki hut bar. Or at a run down cafe in Burma drinking Guava Juice.

    • Hi, Diane. Your response makes me laugh, only because I write this poolside at the vacation house we have rented for the week in Key West, FL. If you’ve never been here, put it on your wish list. I love this place!

      That said, your request is a difficult one to fulfill, and I need to give it more thought. The trick is to find the sweet spot that will give readers who have reasd the book interesting input without spoiling the story for readers who haven’t yet read the story. If you knew me well, you’d know that I believe that there’s always a solution to every problem one genuinely wants to solve. I’ll try to figure this one out.

  7. I always want to know what other jobs, if any, writers had to take before being able to write full-time without worrying about the only thing their bank account was collecting was dust or late fees. Reading that Stephen King was a launderer before breaking big with Carrie somehow endeared him to me even more. I loved learning that David Guterson was a high school English teacher before Snow Falling On Cedars caught a large audience’s attention. But most importantly, I want to know how long it takes writers at these jobs before their writing generates enough income to concentrate on their writing careers.

    • Thanks for this, Serena. My answer to this is as circuitous as one could imagine, but I agree that it could make interesting fodder for a video piece. This whole exercise has been very, very helpful.

  8. I would love a video on which gin makes the best martini in your opinion, and why Jonathan likes Lagavulin so much, as opposed to one of my favourites…Kirkland Blended Scotch from Costco, $18.99 per 1.5 liter.

    Oh and what size shirt does Boxers wear, I’d like to get him something next Christmas besides ammo and a big-ass snarky voice.

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