Steven J Clark
Twitter: @stevenjclark1 FB: www.facebook.com/steven.j.clark.58.
Twitter: @suehart34 FB: https://www.facebook.com/sue.hart
Welcome to my interview with Steven J Clark and Sue Hart. Steven is the best selling author of Wages of Greed, and Sue, the most patient writer I have met to date, has three books from the series Past-Life Memories written and the fourth all but done, but has decided not to publish until all of her works are complete. My guests are here together to see if there are differences in points of view between one who is already treading the published path to the other who is biding her time while looking forward.
So, Steven and Sue, thank you for breaking from your work schedule to chat with us here today. Before we talk about where you are now, would you mind telling us about how life led you into writing in the first place – Steven?
My first published writing came in 7th grade when I wrote a story for our school annual. During Jr. High and high school I dabbled with a bit of poetry, but failed two semesters of English because I didn’t write two research papers, deeming them to be far too long for me to take my attention away from athletics and girls.
Speaking of girls, the most useful class I took was eighth and ninth grade typing. It was an era when boys just didn’t type, but there were lots of girls in those classes so it seemed like a good idea to me and got me some easy class credits. Turns out I’ve used that early typing skill all of my life.
My first interest in serious writing actually happened in 1975 when the story of Wages of Greed just popped into my head as I was driving around one day. I didn’t actually start writing it until 1978. I was an electrical contractor at the time, and on one rainy day when I couldn’t work, I took out my typewriter and put the first words of Wages of Greed to paper. My wife at the time came home that night and asked me what I was doing. I said “I’m writing a book.” Her response was, “What makes you think you can write a book? You’re a contractor, not a writer. Quit wasting your time.”
I was embarrassed and put the typewriter away, only sneaking it out occasionally when she wasn’t home. That marriage soon ended, but the reluctance was still there. It took years to get a reasonably complete manuscript done. Then I lost it in a move and had to start all over. More years went by then it happened again. This was in the era of typewriters when one copy was all you ever had. When the computer era arrived, no one was happier than me.
Then life happened and I put the book away until 2013 before dusting it off, fully-determined to finally finish it. Then in the middle of writing the final version of Wages of Greed, the story of All The Pretty Dresses broke so strongly in my mind that I had to put Wages of Greed aside while I wrote that. Pretty Dresses was published as my first novel in Feb. of 2014, and Sue was actually a part of that. We were both active on a website called Authonomy, and exchanged critical reviews of each other’s work. We became fast Internet friends, a wonderful friendship which continues today. After publishing Pretty Dresses, I turned my attention back to Wages of Greed and published it in April of last year. Today I’m working on the sequels to both books.
And you, Sue?
First, I would like to thank you for inviting me as your guest. To answer your question, writing a book never entered my mind until my husband suggested I try to write one. The reason for it was the fact I read one or two books a week. He figured by now I probably had an idea of how to do it. So, I gave it a try and discovered writing was fun. The addiction to create characters and the world they lived in was euphoric for me. Once I completed it, I cried. The feeling of accomplishment was amazing. I had managed to do something I never dreamt of doing. But I also knew the book was only to get my feet wet. I was learning and knew it.
Then, one night I was listening to a radio program and they had a guest on from Stanford University. A group of scientists created a machine that could stimulate the memory center of the brain and help the patient recall lost memories. That alone was amazing, but they also merged this technology with an MRI and dreams could be seen on a monitor, though the pixels at the time were snowy.
This was the birth of my idea for my series of books called, Past-Life Memories. I began writing it immediately. Once the first book was completed, I joined a site for budding authors who share their manuscripts for the purpose of seeing how it’s received and gaining help. It was here that I met Steven. He was the first person to read my draft… all-the-way-through. He is a brave, brave man. I was so green I dripped sap. Bless his heart; he was kind enough to encourage me saying the story had promise. Mind you, this was before I knew a thing about pace, tension, show don’t tell, dialogue narrative, repetitive words, and head hopping to name a few. When you step out among writers for the first time, it is nerve wracking waiting to hear what they think about your work. You can imagine the shock when I realized there were rules like these. Thankfully, the writers patiently shared their knowledge. That to me is the writing world. They understand, because it happened to them when they began, and they never write a perfect draft. The editing generally takes longer than the actual draft. Though at the time, I questioned if Steven didn’t just somehow produce perfection. I read everything he’s written and often impatiently wait for his next book. He was born to write novels.
Past experiences and sensitivity to what goes on around me are paramount to my writing. Is that true of you, Sue?
Definitely, Rik. From world events to friends and family with problems, each builds a repertoire you use for characters and stories. My books have pieces of me scattered throughout them. From the places I’ve lived to my travels, each event can be tapped into. The second book, Deadly Nightmares, has my experience with a repetitive dream in which I see myself falling from a great height. For years, this dream continued until one day I walked into a hotel, exactly the same as my nightmares, and recognized everything. Stunned, I began to examine and touch everything in an effort to convince myself this was real. I never had the dream again. So, never discount what you may experience in dreams. They could very well be your next book.
How about you, Steven?
I think it’s true of any fiction writer. Who we are is the sum total of all our experiences. Wages of Greed became a story because of my experience living in the northern New Mexico oil and gas fields and near the reservation. Pretty Dresses is a reflection of the high regard I have for strong women who work in non-traditional jobs. There is a lot of my personal feelings about how you should treat women in that book, not from the stand point of the antagonist, certainly, who is a truly evil person, but more I’d say in the personality of Dr. Coleman and his interactions with the main character.
What is your method when kicking off a story? I’ve not long put an article out on how I do it, see Building a Framework. Is yours a similar development?
The first time I gave writing a try, I sat down and wrote. Trust me when I say, you will have to rewrite it, unless you have a great memory. I learned what works best for me is to write a brief outline, then the draft while taking hefty notes. Once that’s done, I read it through hunting for holes in the story. If it’s solid, I begin editing. That entails working each and every sentence, filling in dialogue narrative. Then, I wait and let the story sit before starting the process again. That’s when I work on the details for the next book. On the second go round of edits, I watch for grammar mistakes. (My fault is repetitive words I frequently miss.) Once I have done all I can, I send it to a BETA reader. After I receive it, I make more edits and send it off to another BETA reader. This is what I do for them… now that I’ve learned those cumbersome rules. (I’m laughing because those rules are so vital.)
I tend to formulate the story in my mind then sit down and just start writing. I’ve been very much a ‘pantster’ in that regard. Although, I think the more writing you do, the more difficult it becomes. With the sequels, I’m finding that I have to slow down, write some stuff down and pre-plot a lot more than with the first two books. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve become a much more critical writer or because original ideas are a little further back in my brain. Who knows, I might someday become an outliner rather than a pantster.
Do you consider yourself multi-genre or are you completely immersed in a particular theme?
The first book began as a Romance. But with further research, I discover their suggested outline was too limited for my stories, so I switched to Fiction. My series has a historical story within a contemporary story. The modern day section has high technology, medical facts, and the psychiatry used for the patient. There’s regressive hypnosis which also touches on the history. There are the legalities involved and the mystery or suspense behind those memories. Many have asked why I began writing a book that merged two stories into one. To explain, I would compare it to time travel, except with what I’m writing, the history of another life is slowly revealed throughout the book, until the total story is given. There’s romance, espionage, mystery, and suspense. So, you can see why finding a genre was a bit difficult for me when they incorporate most of them.
When you write in a series, as both my books are, it doesn’t lend itself very well to multi-genre efforts. However, I think you need to include a good deal of cross-genre content in most books. In Pretty Dresses there are elements of romance, horror, police procedural, and feminist all woven into a Mystery/Thriller. Same thing with Wages of Greed. The main characters are rough and tough, he-man, males, who are offset by some very compelling and sympathetic females. In the middle of this very masculine story of conspiracy and evil doing is a tender plot of romance that shows the usually tough male characters in a softer light in which they become much more interesting and complex characters.
Interestingly, this is a question I’m kind of wrestling with right now. In the middle of all my thrillers, I’m giving thought to actually writing a romance novel of sorts. If I do it, I’ll probably publish under a pen name.
Most writers have been influenced by other, past or present, writers. Who has been most influential to you, Sue?
That’s a difficult question for me. Nora Roberts, Julie Garwood, and many other romance writers have contributed to character development and merging them with the suspense or danger involved. John Grisham gave me a male perspective, but then I met Steven. All the Pretty Dresses was the first book of his I read. The book has a horrifying antagonist that you would never want to meet, and a strong female who has the job of stopping him. Steven can spin a wicked suspense around a mystery and pull you at a fast pace through the book hooking you with every page and making you chew your fingernails while you read. When I finished Wages of Greed, book 1, I raced to him and screamed for the rest of it. Thankfully, he handed it over. So, as you can see, I’m very fortunate to know him and call him friend.
And you, Steven?
I’m going to name four, in the order of their influence on me. #1 Tony Hillerman. #2 James Clavell. #3 James Michener, #4 James Patterson. (Interesting that three of the four are named James.) The Hillerman influence is obvious. Wages of Greed is written in a sub-genre that he created. Clavell taught me how to write and connect stories over long periods of time. Michener taught me the importance of making sure that fact and fiction don’t uncomfortably collide, and because I tend to be long-winded in my stories, Patterson taught me the value of shorter chapters.
Do you have a writing regime or is it as and when? However you work, how do you keep focused?
I’m not sure burying myself into the story until I get the outline done and the draft finished is called a regime. It resembles an obsession. I rush through chores just to get back to my writing. I generally finish the first draft within three to four months doing additional research if needed. The research I did before writing a single word, besides the basic idea, is seven hundred pages long for these books. Once the first draft is finished, I immerse from that world, like waking up in the morning. I tend to put off those first edits for a few weeks and catch up with reality. Believe me, there’s work I’ve neglected. What the time away from the book does for me is build anticipation. By the time I’m back, eagerness rules. I want to edit so I can finish it and move on to my next book.
I try to write at least a little every day. Fortunately, I have a job that allows me that luxury. I’ll be retiring sometime this year, so my writing time will likely see a substantial increase.
Staying focused is sometimes difficult. I’ve had some health issues this year that have affected my ability to concentrate, and that has really slowed me down. Then there’s the issue of being on the computer. It is, after all, a computer, with Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter, Google News, your website, your blog, and all the rest. It’s not difficult to be on the computer all day and realize that you’ve written nothing. I’m trying hard to get all those ‘time-sucks’ down to a minimum.
Would you describe your work as being realistic? If yes, did it grow from experience or imagination?
Realistic? Some of it is, but the machine that can restore memories hasn’t pulled up memories of a past life yet. Also, the part about reincarnation is definitely realistic. I took examples of actual cases and created my own version. The romance is believable in each one to a degree, as is the historical sections. As to the books growing from experience or imagination, I’d say both.
Yes. Readers have to identify with what you’re writing. Otherwise, there is no believability, and it’s believability that creates tension and suspense. The minute readers don’t believe your story is the moment you lose them for that book, and probably all the others you will ever write.
My stories all have a basis in experience, fertilized by a rich helping of imagination. I have never experienced being a female county sheriff. I have never experienced being a trial attorney. But I have imagined what that would be like, and I back that imagination up with study and fact checking to make sure I’m portraying real characters in real situations.
What is it you hope a reader will come away with after reading one of your works?
Besides being entertained while they read it? I’d like to see them become aware of a few things. I speak of reincarnation and the documentation behind it. They don’t have to be sold into believing it, but perhaps come to an understanding why so many do. But more than that is the psychology involved in remembering things about a past life. The book covers psychological questions offering insight into problems the reader may also have encountered in their life. My characters are unusual in some ways, but normal in their everyday lives. They will be able to relate to them, which is important. There’s an old adage that says when you lie, stay as close to the truth as you can. I use this when I create a story. The make believe must stay close to the truth to be believable.
Fiction is first and foremost a form of entertainment. I want my readers to be entertained and anxious to read the next work. I think the highest compliment a reader can pay a writer is to plunk out their hard-earned money not for the first book, but for the second book. That tells you they believe the first read was worth the money and they’re willing to do it again. I hope my readers come away with a strong sense of satisfaction and an eagerness to read more.
How important do you think social media is and which of the many platforms is your favorite? Why?
There are some social media sites that are obviously needed. Without them, I wouldn’t know who you are. Facebook can spread the work of a new book quickly. You can talk about it, put out the pitch for it, and show your book covers. I’ve tried to do this for the past couple of years to get my name known. I’ve developed a relationship with a group of authors, to the tune of hundreds and they know me. That to me is a huge thrill. Twitter on the other hand I’m not too sure about, because it’s flooded with authors selling their wares. I question whether or not anyone actually pays attention. Goodreads is perfect for authors to use. The latest news of books is shown, you meet the authors and see their repertoire of books with the link to buy them. Then, the readers can write a review. I must add that after being such an enthusiastic reader over my lifetime, becoming friends with the authors has been the biggest part of this experience. I’ve learned a great deal about how they promoted their books.
I’m kind of sour on social media, maybe because I’m not very good at using it. I’ve put a lot of money into advertising on Facebook and Twitter, and can’t point directly to a single substantive sale I’ve made because of either. Maybe they are hidden, because sales show up on Amazon or Smashwords or one of the others, but there’s no way to measure whether or not those sales were generated directly because of social media exposure. I’d much rather spend my advertising dollars directly on Amazon/KDP or Goodreads, because I can measure whether it’s working or not. I have a FB Authors page but work much more on my personal page as a medium of book sales. I tweet and work at finding followers, but I don’t advertise there anymore, because the tweets go by so fast that there is little chance for actual exposure. I have a website for information purposes but don’t try to make direct sales there. Guess I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to effective use of social media.
What kind of work have you done outside of writing, Steven? Has it influenced your writing?
I spent 30+ years in sales and marketing. I’ve been in Sr. management of several corporations and CEO of a couple. I’ve been the editor and publisher of a national trade newspaper for the manufactured housing industry and written extensively for local and regional general circulation newspapers. The past fifteen years I’ve been in upper management of a regional telephone company. Additionally, I’m very active in local politics and civic endeavours. And last but not least, I am the Director of a large community choir in our area. Has that influenced my writing? Without doubt. As I said before, We are the sum of all our experiences.
Sue, I know you are a rancher as well as a writer. Sounds exciting, does the day job influence what you might write after you’ve hung your guns up for the day?
Ha, ha. Funny man. But the truth is, it does. I used it for Deadly Nightmares because my hero lives on a big ranch in west Texas. I also wrote a Historical Romantic Comedy taking place in west Texas. For now, it’s shelved, but I plan to get back to it and the Regency Romance I lovingly wrote. Both need tweaking while I wait to publish.
What do you consider is your main character strength with regard to writing?
Intelligence is the number one quality of my leading characters. I don’t like wimpy, can’t do anything but complain and cower females – even if they are beautiful. Being shy is okay if you don’t overdo it. Men can find it charming. But they also want strength of character, determination, and yet soft enough to respect them and the decision they make. Men want trust, and if that’s lacking, they will walk. My men are brilliant, brave, mouth watering males who like the wit and strength of my females. As to the antagonist… believe me, when he stands up against my heroes, war has been declared and they won’t hesitate to fight. I’m not saying the heroic men don’t have a sensitive side, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be realistic. What they have is an abundance of courage and logic. Sometimes, they just need another viewpoint. What it boils down to is respect. Males have a gene that is largely warrior based. They all want to protect what’s theirs and their females fall into that category. I also know she needs to cooperate or it will make his task harder, and sometimes, impossible. The men I give life to are always faced with problems needing their strength and intelligence to get around an obstacle, generally caused by the antagonist. The woman is usually the target, and it can be out of her control. Like anyone with a problem, you try to figure out how to fix it. But lovers share worries, and because she trusts him, she submits to his help while protecting him with ever fibre of her being, even if it’s just by the strength of her love. That may sound corny, but when you are reading the emotions that incur while they struggle together, you see a bonding – and that is why it’s believable.
Believable characters. When my readers walk away from one of my books, I want them to feel like they know Cass Rosier or Danny Whitehorse personally.
Steven, you have already enjoyed much success with Wages of Greed. You’ve made yourself a public figure through publishing and by now know the difficulties involved in marketing. From your experience you will know that lots of writers are good enough, but only a few of them make it to the very top. Has what you’ve learned made any difference to your expectations for the future?
Absolutely. I think every writer is convinced he or she is writing the consummate, world-changing work that will bring them glory, fame and riches the instant it hits the marketplace. If anything, the reality has made me lower my expectations on the one hand, and increased my determination to succeed on the other. I’ve won book awards and reached best-seller status for a short time on Amazon, so I know my writing is, as you say, “good enough” to become commercially viable. Now I have the challenge of making that a sustainable and repeatable condition with my future books. Unless one is unbelievable lucky, writing is not a ‘one-and-done’ proposition. It takes slogging it out for the long haul creating not just a single work, but a body of works that cumulatively propel one to increasing levels of success.
Sue, you are yet to tread this road. As I said earlier, I think you are very patient; is this patience part of your strategy? What I mean by that is, are you readying yourself by learning marketing strategies and building a social platform as you go along so that you hit the ground running when you do publish?
I began my social networking a few years ago with Facebook and Twitter, and then with Goodreads not to mention book clubs for writers. The thing I never bothered with is having my own website. Why? Because it takes more time than I have. I plan to start one just before I launch the four books of Past-Life Memories. The one thing I promised myself when I began writing seriously was to be patient. My living is this ranch. It has priority. To take that thought further is to understand the competition in selling novels is insanely tough. You have to promote it and that’s where I knew I would stand face to face with my enemy… time. But if I launched all of the books with only a little time spacing them apart it could be a time saver. There wouldn’t be the pressure to get them written for publishing either. I liked that idea, and if the reader enjoys the story, they may just reach for another one.
Are there any final words of advice you would give to those looking to develop a writing career?
Yes. Love what you’re doing because it takes hunks of time and sacrifices. Be patient; study the business and all the information available about how to write professionally. Make an outline of what each chapter should include, and what challenges the characters should face. If nothing else, this sets it in your mind. But mostly, have fun with it.
Read, write, learn, write, listen, write, and never give up. I look back at what I wrote ten years ago and can’t believe how bad it stinks. Writing is a learned skill, a learned habit, and an evolving process. If you need to improve your skill, take a creative writing class or use a tutor. If you don’t know what passive phrases are or the difference between telling and showing, find out. But don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. A good story well told will always make its way in the literary world. Oh, and also remember, there’s a reason they call it a ‘starving artist.’
Thank you Steven J Clark and Sue Hart, your answers have been both enlightening and enjoyable. Next Time, we’ll take a look at a scene each from from Steven and Sue’s work.