Thursday, 30 July 2009

INTERVIEW: Sean Black

Whilst most writers spend hours or days doing research online, Sean takes a different tack, he throws himself in at the deep end in order to get the full experience by doing rather than just reading. With his debut novel, Lock Down, he spent time on a bodyguard course and with the second following novel, Lock Up (due 2010) he went to Pelican Bay, one of America's most notorious prisons (we hasten to add that he wasn't serving time for a crime.) Due to his dedication along with insider information to keep an eye out for this title we thought that we'd best have a chat with him to find out about influences, hobbies as well as his guilty pleasures...


Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Sean Black: I'm in complete agreement with that statement, and I'd guess my wife is as well. If I don't write for a week I get restless, irritable and I'm generally not much fun to be around. If I have a good day at my desk, and I feel like I've been productive, and the work is good, I feel at peace with the world.


FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

SB: I was around sixteen, seventeen. I was going through a very challenging period in my life, essentially learning to walk again after having undergone surgery to amputate my left left through the knee. There's only so much morphine they'll give you, so I had to find another way to occupy my time, and I started writing. That was it. I kicked the morphine, but writing became a habit.


FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

SB: I don't know how true that is or not but the second short story I ever wrote was published in an anthology alongside AL Kennedy and Irvine Welsh. Irvine's contribution was the first chapter of Trainspotting. I remember reading it and thinking, this is amazing but who the hell is going to buy it? Which shows you how much I know about what sells.


FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

SB: I've always found my fairly broad Glasgow accent means I can persuade most people of something if I really set my mind to it.


FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

SB: A fast-paced, entertaining, page-turner of a thriller featuring Ryan Lock - a tough-guy hero for a new age.


FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

SB: Norman Mailer is the writer I couldn't live without. Among my fellow crime writers, Gregg Hurwitz is the writer whose work I anticipate most eagerly.


FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

SB: I have a broad idea of the main turning points and dramatic movements but that's it. Most of the characters, while fictional, come from my research which is intense, and very hands-on.


FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

SB: I'm terrible at relaxing. I play golf very badly and that's the closest I get to relaxing.

Recently I read Andrew Klavan's Shotgun Alley, Comrade Criminal by Stephen Handelman, The Shining by Stephen King, First Blood by David Morrell.


FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

SB: I have an unsettling obsession with a TV show called Millionaire Matchmaker which airs on Diva TV. There goes my hard guy, thriller writer rep.


FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

SB: I have a three-year-old male Golden Retriever called Diesel. He gets an acknowledgement in the book along with the other dogs we walk with every morning. There's a Golden Labrador called Angel in the book who's been rescued from a research lab.


FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

SB: Tough one. I love writing Lock's buddy Ty because he's so un-PC.


FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

SB: I'm the wrong person to ask, but let me take a stab. I think I share his outward cynicism and inner concern for other people. He's a better shot than me though, as I proved when I doing my fire-arms training.


FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

SB: I'm not really a hobby person. I had lots of hobbies before I was married, like heavy drinking and chasing women, but those past-times have long gone by the wayside.


FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

SB: I read a lot of non-fiction and I'm a news junkie. I have way more ideas than time to write them.


FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

SB: I have days where nothing much comes or where what I do write doesn't work but I've never suffered writer's block. Do you ever hear of plumber's block? Or lawyer's block? It's a job. Sit your arse down and get on with it.


FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

SB: I get up and start writing around five thirty. The house is quiet and I can get a few hours in before every else gets up. If I haven't written anything by eleven, the day is shot.


FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

SB: I can't write with music on because lyrics distract me.


FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

SB: When I started writing the book, I made a decision to focus exclusively on the work rather than how to get an agent or trying to second-guess the market. I'm only now learning about the business.


FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

SB: I have no idea. You got me on that one. I admit drawing a total blank.


FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

SB: It's set in Pelican Bay Supermax Prison in California, a place I visited back in January. Lock is placed inside to ensure that an inmate who's about to testify against America's most violent prison gang stays alive long enough to take the stand. It's a book about the worrying rise of the white supremacist movement in America since Obama was elected.


FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

SB: Amazon - because I'm a saddo who's checking his rankings.

Paddy Power - because I wanted to see what time the Celtic game is on tomorrow night.

The Guardian - the paper I read every day, along with the Daily Mail.

The Huddleboard - a Celtic Football Club fan forum.

Google - I was vanity-googling the book.


FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

SB: I studied screenwriting at Columbia University in New York. I knew nothing about screenwriting, so I learned a hell of a lot. The only real way to learn to write though is to do it every day (and develop your sense of what is working and what isn't). There are no short-cuts or magic formulas, just a constant process of failure and getting better.


FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

SB: I assumed any agent who turned me down was an idiot - given what happened, with four publishers bidding on the manuscript, the few who did turn it down clearly weren't good judges of what the big publishing houses are looking for. I don't mind criticism if it's constructive. I have a tough editor who lets me away with nothing and I love her for that. Smart, insightful criticism aimed at making the work better is always welcome.


FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

SB: I am so fortunate to being doing this for a living, first writing for TV and now with my first book. The best parts are setting my own hours, not having a boss in any traditional sense and the short commute. The worst aspects have been the financial pressure that comes with being self-employed.

1 comment:

Col Bury said...

Enjoyed that: very insightful.
Particularly like the line: 'Sit your arse down and get on with it.'
Regards,
Col