10 February 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Guest Post by Jack Welles, Author of As A Roaring Lion

A. On the Writer’s Craft, Storytelling, and the Editorial Process:

Do you think every story has essentially been told before and that today’s writers must juxtapose old ideas and stories in new ways rather than worry about originality?

I think that in a conceptual sense every story has been told before, especially if broken down to the girl-meets boy – girl loses boy – girl gets boy level of categorising a story.

My genre is the thriller novel and that possibly applies more so there than, for instance, to science fiction where every day scientific discoveries are giving us a new look at the world.

But from a more practical point of view the life experience of every writer is different. This means that the prism through which they see and experience the world is different. As a result the way the story is presented, the plot is developed and even the language used gives a unique feel to each story.

In addition to that the writing conventions found in novels today are so different to those of yesteryear that even the same story updated would be understood differently by a reader.

That’s enough for me to believe that in a broader sense every story has not yet been told before

What’s your main goal when putting the finishing polish on a story? Maximizing entertainment value? Raising thought-provoking questions? Other?

While I do believe that there should elements of new information in a novel for the reader to learn from I do not believe that this should be of earth-shaking proportions. This means the “learning” element definitely plays second fiddle to the entertainment factor.

Here’s the thing: I want ordinary people to want to read my books. I want them to enjoy my books, to get some sort of feeling of visceral satisfaction when they get to the end. This means that in the first instance it has to be entertaining, it has to draw them in and then keep their attention.

If along the way they understand something better about how the world works, how people relate to each other or, on a more mundane level, why a helicopter flies the way it does, then this is good.

In my experience reading a book is a more satisfying journey if there’s an element of new understanding or information gained in amongst the entertainment.

B. On Your Stories:

How do you research your novels?

This is a sensitive issue for me. I believe in a serious amount of research. Novels must be factually spot on. After nailing down the first draft the next stage is research and planning.

Although research and planning are two very different functions they actually go well together. As the detailed planning develops so the research may tell me that a particular sequence couldn’t have happened the way that is preferable from a planning perspective eg, a pregnancy lasts nine months but something was supposed to happen to the female character within a period of three months which precludes the pregnancy or the perfect planning timeline might put the story into a winter scenario when summer is called for in the plot.

EVERYTHING must be researched and I mean everything, eg, if you mention jacket buttons then you need to know whether women’s jackets fasten differently to men’s jackets, because it could mean the character has a different arm free in order to do something, which could lead to deciding whether the character is left-handed or right-handed, which means that the writer has to know how right-handed people do things differently to how left-handed people do things, which means that some actions may be easier for the particular character or more difficult or even impossible etc. You can see that there are endless ramifications flowing out of a simple research item like jacket buttons.

The following is the kind of conversation I have often have with myself – Everything really does mean everything, eg, that word you used, do you know exactly what it means? Could you possibly be wrong? Can you give us the dictionary definition? Tell you what – check it, just in case. Check every word, twice! Bear in mind my last book was 140,000 words (344 pages) and you can see research takes me a while. Check everything – twice! Research everything – twice!

This is also why I don’t use writing software. I need to get my head around the whole story myself. Computers can’t help you. Writing software won’t tell you that a particular action by a character is in fact not in character as it was set up 200 pages earlier. That only comes from having the whole thing in your head so that you can mentally check everything that is said and done and everything that happens against everything else that is said and done and everything that happens right throughout the story from first page to last.

And, oh yes! Don’t rely on spellcheck. That won’t tell you that your typo put in “moth” instead of “month”. Spellcheck will tell you both are correct, but we know better, only one can be correct in any given situation. You must check every word yourself. Again and again.

Why are the titles of your novels important?

Titles are critically important. I am a top down worker. So my title must incorporate or symbolise the underpinning concept before I start writing. I don’t plan anything before I start. I know there are many different ways of approaching the writing of a novel, this just happens to be the way I go about things.

I have an idea and a title and that’s all. The title should conceptualise for me the idea of the book, eg, my first e-book (I’ve written a few “hard-copy” books prior to going indie) started with the idea of the conservation of wildlife tied up with conflict between scientific (from conservative to progressive) values on the one hand and the activist/political (from bunny-hugger to animal rights people) values on the other hand.

The title was from the bible which characterised the devil as a roaring lion (which I then used as my title) seeking whom he may devour. This title embodied an element of double entendre, directly referred to one of the easiest to recognise of wild animals, implied that a great deal of the narrative would be set in Africa and even that a lion may play a leading role in the story (it is also an example of symbolism at work).
With just that – idea and title – I start writing my first draft. The title has a critical role to play.

C. Life, Hypothetical, and Other Stuff:

You believe that information should be free. Does that include fiction, why, and to what extent?

I agree that information should be free. Fiction is not information. Essentially, for me, fiction is entertainment. The entertainer, or rather the writer, needs to be rewarded for his or her efforts so that he or she can have the wherewithal to keep on producing new and hopefully better books (entertainment).

What are books for?

My books are written to take people out of their lives as they live it on a day to day basis to a more exciting or romantic or suspenseful place. They are written to provide people with entertainment, to keep them occupied when they are perhaps a bit tired of dealing with the normal daily hassles of life. And to, just maybe, show then something new or different along the way. Something to make the journey through the story that little bit more satisfying.

Tom Clancy once wrote that unlike real life fiction has to make sense. So just for a short while, being immersed in a novel gives the reader a respite from the confusion of reality. And maybe they can learn something new along the way.

D. On Being a Writer:

While writing, do you take drugs, smoke marijuana or drink alcohol to beef up your creative imagination?

Definitely not. The closest I come to stoking myself up with something artificial is a few cups of tea while I work. Anything else is a distraction from the creative process.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

Having to earn a living while writing full-time is a major occupational hazard. Even one moderately successful book doesn’t mean you are financially secure.

In addition to that you are always only as good as your next book and that is always an enormous emotional burden to carry along with you on a daily basis.

I suspect that some aspects of this would be very different for wildly successful writers such as John Grisham, Ken Follett or Steven King. And certainly as regards the financial aspects of writing for a living.

A feisty defense against rape by a female American veterinarian with a mighty African cross-border conservation plan, leaves the powerful attacker bloody and publicly humiliated. He becomes a revengeful and vindictive enemy who blocks her at every turn and plots to bring her down …

A lover, local politicians and even her own father, all with their own agendas, cause her even more trouble – is there anyone she can trust?

The spillover of a decent man caught up in an indecent third-world civil war complicates matters further and a wounded lion turned man-eater doesn’t help.

Follow the consequences as the story swings from an Argentinean hotel to an English boardroom via the English countryside and the African bush.

As a Roaring Lion” is an action packed romantic thriller set at a time of momentous international changes with the collapse of Communism in the USSR and the ending of the Cold War, the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa that led to the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of Mozambique’s ruinous civil war with the advent of democracy as the hardline socialist government there threw in the towel.

The author Jack Welles has had a varied working life from seeing action as a professional soldier through flying helicopters commercially to his own practice as an attorney. He recently relocated to a small village on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, where he writes full-time. He is married with one son.

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