This is part two of a five part interview. To read the interview from the beginning, click: Thomas F. Monteleone.
Michael Aloisi: What is your writing process like from start to finish? And has it changed since you first started writing to now?
Thomas F. Monteleone: Yeah, I think it changed a lot. When I first started writing and selling stories I was in school for my Masters degree . . . .so time was really a problem. I was working a part time job, I was in school and had a girl I was going to marry, so the only time I really had to write was from about ten at night until two in the morning. I wrote four novels like that, on a typewriter, forcing myself to sit there and pound out pages. In my declining years, I don’t think I would have the energy to do that. But when you are in your twenties and have decided that nothing is going to stop you, you have these amazing fuel cells that you can go on. Instead of using that fuel to consume mass quantities of beer and act crazy, I put it on the page. That’s how I wrote for years in the beginning.
After a while I found my best time to write is when I first get up. First thing in the morning you don’t have all the bull sh*t in the day backing up in the filter of your mind. You are fresh, so that is what I try to do now. I get up and try to get some coffee in me and try to write until noon or one. Then in the afternoon I do the rest of the things I have to do.
MA: How often do you write?
TFM: I try to write everyday, some times I take off weekends for good behavior. We travel a lot and in the summer time there is a lot crap to do around the house, but I still try to write at least five days a week. Every morning I get up and try to pound something out.
MA: From first draft to final draft, how many drafts do you do on average and what percentage of the story do you think you change during the course?
TFM: That’s a good question. I think early on with the first four of five books I wrote I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had mastered the short story, but writing a novel has a lot expansion and it’s more enriching. I think I had to learn that as I went along. With my early novels I probably did five or six drafts, and they would probably change a lot because I would cut out things, rearrange scenes, as well as gross re-writes. And this was back when cut and paste literally meant that, with a typewriter, you would actually have to cut out and paste parts of the story onto other pages. I would end up doing this arcane surgery with all the sheets of paper. I actually had a lady who would retype the pages for me, because if I had to retype all of them, each draft would have taken three our four times longer.
These days, especially with the ease of revision in the digital age, I can probably get away with a draft and a half. I mean basically I know how I want to structure a story and a novel. So I don’t have to revise nearly as much as I use too.
One of my oldest friends, Dean Koontz, he literally still does this, he will go over every chapter he writes six, seven, eight times until he can’t find anything else to change. But Dean is an obsessive craze about is writing and I am not. I don’t have Dean’s energy
MA: Do you plot out your stories or let them naturally play out?
TFM: You know, I’m not sure that I consciously plot out an entire story. When I get an idea for a novel I know if it’s going to be a big thriller or something else. I will usually figure out in my head what the gimmick is and then I will know basically what I want the resolution to be. And then the fun of it is figuring out how to get there. I have to let the story complicate itself. That is the basic process I have come to trust. As long as I know where I want to end up I can pretty much throw any idea and character in there and trust that with my years of doing this that weird complications will ensue. That’s pretty much what I do. Its not seamless or perfect; I mean I have painted myself into corners where the story becomes a bust after sixty pages and I had to start the whole thing over from a different perspective, but most of the time it will get me where I need to go.
In the seventies and eighties you could sell a book by just putting together a few chapters and an outline, especially if it had a horror theme. This was when paperback originals were really hot, because King was a big engine pulling the book sales train. I sold a few books that way, writing an opening chapter and an outline. But what happened was that the book would end up being totally different than the outline I wrote because of the natural process of complicating a story. One incidence or problem in the plot causes the story do go down a path you couldn’t possibly have anticipated. It’s an interesting process, its one of the things I enjoy most about writing. There are a lot of times that I write a story and I think, where the hell did that come from?
MA: You have published numerous short stories in addition to your novels. Is there one you prefer to write over the other?
TFM: I think for a long time I actually liked the short story better, because it’s where I cut my teeth in writing. I’ve published a ton of short stories in magazines and anthologies. I probably wrote forty-five short stories before I wrote my first novel. So I had this confidence and swagger in my ability to write a short story. Though it wasn’t my favorite reading, I always preferred a novel because of the way it would consume you, the way a good book does. Then gradually, I’d say after I wrote six or seven novels it became something I preferred doing.
To continue reading this article, click: Thomas F. Monteleone Interview
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