This week, The Writers' Lens is honored to bring its readers a master--a legend--of the thriller and mystery genre: John Lutz.
"If I've scared somebody enough to disturb their sleep--that's good."--John Lutz
The Writers' Lens: When you are starting to work on a new novel, what do you find brings the story into focus for you? A Character? A setting? Something else?
John Lutz: Almost always the characters, and something of their relationship with each other. The interplay between the characters is as important as the characters themselves.
WL: How did you learn to write suspenseful thrillers?
JL: By writing and writing and writing. I think the more you write, the more you learn, and the better you write. Also I enjoy reading suspense novels; especially if they are set in New York City, such as Lawrence Sanders’ “Deadly Sin” series, published in the seventies. New York is a great place to set a novel.
WL: What key things make your thrillers work?
JL: I would like to think they work because of the characters. They have to be real enough for the reader to identify with them and on a certain level feel what they are feeling and share in their experience.
"As a writer you're getting inside the skin of your character in your book in the same way an actor gets inside the skin of a character he plays on stage."-- John Lutz
WL: What was the hardest part of writing thrillers and suspense?
JL: It’s more difficult and time consuming to write a long, multiple viewpoint novel than to write a linear detective novel or conventional whodunit. There are more plates to keep spinning.
WL: You are currently writing about serial killers. When you write their scenes, do you ever scare yourself?
JL: Nope. I’m too wrapped up in technique, and wondering if what I’m doing is working, to feel what I hope the reader will feel. It’s gratifying to receive e-mails from women thanking me for having scared them. Makes me think I’m on the right track.
WL: How do you sharpen your suspenseful scenes and when do you know, as the writer, that you have it the way you want it?
JL: When I believe I’ve revised enough, I set aside what I’ve written and come back to it later with a fresh perspective. If it still feels to me that I’ve nailed a scene or story, I’m satisfied.
WL: What themes in your fiction writing seem to drive you the most?
JL: I like my fiction to convey the notion that there are patterns and real cause and effect in life (which is for the most part pretty random) and that once we discern what’s happening, we have the ability to cope with it, or at least learn to accept it.
WL: Do you work on multiple novels at once? If so, how many?
JL: I take it one book at a time, though if I’m between phases, such as a finished first draft, or a second, I might work on another project. I’m probably giving the impression that I revise a lot. I do.
WL: How easy was it to take the leap of faith to become a serious writer and chase this career? What did you find that you had to do to take the step?
JL: When I received a surprisingly large advance for a novel, it became apparent to me that this was my most marketable skill. I knew I could combine what I very much enjoyed doing (writing) with obtaining what I very much needed (money). A liberating moment.
WL: In years past, new writers would battle their way in the pulp magazines to build their readerships and their careers. Do you think that is still the case in the explosion of electronic readers, blogs, e-zines, and other like media? Who do you see as the current gatekeeper of the good writers and those who are still developing?
JL: A comprehensive answer would take several pages, and then it might be far wrong. Maybe the most interesting thing about book-biz these days is that no one knows for sure where it is headed. Where we’ve been, and where we are, might be much different from where we’re going. There seems to be no gatekeeper, and the gate is wide open.
WL: When you plot your novels, from whose point of view do you plot from? The protagonist’s? The antagonist’s? The narrator’s? Some one else?
JL: In a thriller I write from several alternating points of view. I also like to write more linear PI novels from the protagonist’s POV, and in third person.
WL: Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that when science catches up with the science fiction writer, the science fiction writer needs to make a leap forward. With fictional shows like CSI and reality TV shows like Killer Instinct, do you feel that you have had to take a leap forward as a thriller writer to stay atop of the changes in the science of criminal investigation? How do you stay ahead of the game?
JL: Definitely we have to leap, or at least crawl, forward to keep up. DNA alone has forced many changes. Cell phones mean everyone can be in touch with everyone else. The Internet provides information it took fictional detectives not so long ago weeks (or chapters) to obtain. The more sophisticated cell phones become, the more we crime writers have to adapt, because almost everyone now has a cell phone, which is also a camera, which is also a GPS system, which is also a research library, which is also a newspaper morgue, which is also a recorder, which is also…
WL: What novels, books, articles, magazines or other media most useful when you are researching serial killers and criminal investigation?
JL: See above. Google is probably my main source of research material.
WL: You are a master and a legend in the genres of suspense and mystery. What was your biggest fear when you decided to first be published as a novelist? Do you still have those fears with each new book or are there other fears that come up?
JL: Like most of the writers I knew when I was starting out, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t sell enough copies to prompt the sale of another book. Fewer fears now. I’m more confident that if I take the time and trouble to revise, I can make whatever it is I’m writing work, Unlike many writers, I really do enjoy revising, so that’s not much of a problem. It’s meticulous work, but it’s what lends the fiction life. To paraphrase Mark Twain: “The difference between the adequate word and the precise word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
WL: What is your writing schedule like?
JL: I usually work in the morning, then after lunch revise what I’ve written. In both morning and afternoon, before starting to work I check e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, to make sure nothing requires immediate attention.
WL: If you could have coffee (or drink of your choice) with four other authors from any time period, who would you choose and why?
JL: Shakespeare, to see if I could get an honest answer out of him.; H.H. Munro (Saki) to see if I could figure out how he did what no one else has been able to do; Joseph Conrad, to see if he talks as rhythmically as he writes; Edgar Allan Poe, to see if I could cheer him up.
WL: How could my readers learn more about you?
JL: They could visit my Facebook author page, Twitter, or my website, http://www.johnlutzonline.com
Here are some additional videos on YouTube about John Lutz and his stories:
Meet John Lutz: http://youtu.be/aOsTgiwxUMM
John Lutz: The World of Frank Quinn: http://youtu.be/ZrH6MlWQaek
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