This part three of a five par interview. To read this interview from the beginning, click: Thomas F. Monteleone Interview
Michael Aloisi: You are the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel. When I teach writing classes that is one of the only books I tell my students to read. Out of all the books on writing I have read, I think it is the most straightforward and helpful book out there. How did you end up writing this book?
Thomas F. Monteleone: There was a strange way that I came about writing the Idiot’s Guide. I didn’t have a burning need or desire to write an Idiot’s Guide; it hadn’t even occurred to me. It was one of those things where they say, it’s good to be lucky and lucky to be good. My agent happened to be really good friends with one of the editors at Penguin, the parent company that does the Guides. The two would go to lunch once a week. And one day the editor tells my agent; you are not going to believe this, they were doing inventory on the topics of their guides and realized they didn’t have one on how to write a novel. They had three acquisition editors buying idiot’s guide ideas and each one just assumed that the other had bought the “CIG” to write a novel, being that it was a no brainer. The editor asked my agent if he had a client who could write one in three or four months, he thought of me, saying I could use the voice I do in my column, as long as I took out the fangs and claws. So he asked me, and I said, I didn’t know, I was in the last hundred pages of a novel I was writing and I was working on a screenplay project. Then he told me: trust me, you want to do this.
They gave me this thing, which is their bible of how to write the guides, I didn’t know they had a very strict formula that was a magic balance that made the books so successful. I was like, are you kidding me! I had never written with that sort of straightjacket before. I didn’t know if I could really do it, so I started blocking out how I wanted to write it. I ended up just writing chapters on topics and then I would give it to my wife, Elizabeth, and she would retro fit it into their model. She would read what I had written and fit it into the format that they wanted. Basically she did the whole outline for the book… and it really worked out.
They ended up really liking it and has sold very well. In fact they have over a hundred and thirty titles, How to Write A Novel is always in the top twenty and even breaks into the top ten now and then. The top ten stuff is really trendy, they hit high and fall off, but Novel is one of the most consistent sellers. It’s in its twelfth printing. It has been a great thing for me.
MA: There is actually an updated 2nd edition of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel coming out this month. What can readers expect from this updated edition?
TFM: It’s Completely revised and includes new interviews with best-selling authors; more detailed information on writing genre fiction from paranormal romance to cozy mysteries. It also has everything a writer needs to know about self-publishing and E-Books.
MA: You started off writing mostly Science Fiction and horror—what draws you to these genres?
TFM: Well, I started writing Science Fiction, probably my first five or six books. Then my good friend, Charlie Grant and I were sitting around at a convention and we were talking about how we weren’t really good science fiction writers because we didn’t know anything about science. And at the time the genre was getting filled with more science fact-based writers. Charlie said to me that horror was going to be the hot seller, so basically I changed gears in the eighties. In the nineties I started writing out-and-out thrillers in which I tried to apply some of the basic horror and science fiction shticks into the basic model. It really worked for me; I had a lot of great hardcover thrillers and optioned all of them for films. I still love my science fiction and horror, but I don’t write as much of it now.
MA: As a reader, do you mostly read the genres you write in our do you read a variety of works?
TFM: Well, I try to balance out my fiction and non-fiction and I try to read a biography now and then, probably not as much as I should. I really like to read history and accessible stuff about science. I also like to read weird stuff; my dad was a big UFO and paranormal buff, so that sort of rubbed off on me. There is also crime fiction and I try to read the years best horror collections. I try not to get in a rut, so I read different things when I can.
MA: You’ve had your books published for over thirty years. How have you seen the industry change in that time?
TFM: Wow, you are making me feel like an old fart. Other than the technology part, the business aspect has changed. Up until the nineties you could go up and knock on the door of a publishing company and say, hi I’m a writer and I would like to talk to one of your editors, and they would actually talk to you. Now that can’t happen. There are also fewer publishers out there. A lot of the small presses have been bought up by the big houses, instead of having dozens of small labor of love publishers, you have these few giants.
The mid-list writers are also getting squeezed out nowadays in favor of bigger name authors who are going to sell big time. The whole industry is bestseller driven, making a smaller pool of authors who make the money. Meaning there is less money to pay the mid-list guys. It’s much tougher now. Especially with the economy, a lot of editors are not out there looking for the next best book. Instead they look at each book as, is this the book that is going to get me fired. It makes it harder for them to take chances.
When I was breaking in there were a lot of magazines, they were still vital, horror, crime fiction, science fiction, they were a great tool to learn your craft. The small presses and webzines are sort of filling that void, though I’m not sure how that will all end up, it’s still up in the air. Back in the seventies and eighties, you earned your credits with magazines, now anyone with a computer and a hole in the wall to plug it in can claim they are a writer because they published stories on their own website. It’s hard to legitimize writers now. It’s a weird transitional period for writing.
To continue reading this interview, click: Thomas F. Monteleone Interview
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