How did you become a writer?
I wrote! And wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. Then I switched gears and did some writing. When that didn't get me anywhere, I tried writing…and writing and writing and writing. Eventually, I woke up one day and discovered something amazing: I was a writer! Sorry if that sounds facetious. It's actually not. My writing advice is always the same: Keep writing bad stuff until you're writing good stuff. Or put another (extremely clichéd) way: Practice makes perfect. Or at least it makes publishable. That's how I got where I am today (wherever that is). I'd wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school, but I didn't take it seriously until I was in my twenties. That's when I started putting in the work. After spending four or five years writing bad stories no one wanted to publish (you know -- because they were bad), I finally developed the skills I needed to write good stories that people did want to publish. And then I was off and running.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I stumbled upon Kurt Vonnegut at an impressionable age, and that had a huge impact on me, as a writer and as a person. But if I had to pick one writing influence above all others, it would be Little Big Man -- both the novel by Thomas Berger and the film by Arthur Penn. Both are funny yet ultimately tragic shaggy dog stories told by a sad, lonely old man who might or might not be full of beans. The book is written in first person, and the voice of the narrator is captured perfectly by Dustin Hoffman in the movie. I actually saw the film first -- it popped up on TV all the time when I was a kid -- then read the book years later. Maybe that's part of the reason I didn't just read the book. I heard it. I hope that when I'm writing at my best I'm able to do what Berger did: put a voice in your head that tells you the story with the idiosyncratic cadences and quirks of a real person.
When and where do you write?
Weekdays, I write from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. like clockwork. Weekends, I write from about 10 a.m. (depending on when I roll out of bed and how groggy I am) until about 1 (depending on what my family's up to). I'm lucky in that I have an office in my house with a lock on the door, so that's where I always hole up when I'm working. I'm not one of those people who can sit in a crowded Starbucks and crank out 2,000 words. I need solitude and silence or I can't focus. My dream office would probably be a cave.
What are you working on now?
Too much! I just finished the sixth Nick and Tesla middle-grade mystery, I'm collaborating on scripts for a new series of educational graphic novels for kids and I'm waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind on the third book in the Tarot Mystery series that I do with my friend Lisa Falco. So I guess you could say I'm working on a nervous breakdown!
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Nope. I have the opposite problem: too many ideas. What would that be? Writer's flood? I won't have time to turn all my ideas into stories if I live to be 100. In fact, even if I do live to be 100, I'll just have 1,000 more ideas I want to work on before I die. Here's hoping I'm immortal.
What’s your advice to new writers?
There's the aforementioned "Write and write and write and write," of course. And I guess I'd add to that "Explore your options." In some ways, there has never been a better time to be a writer. There are more ways to reach readers than ever. You can follow the traditional path, with an agent and a publisher, or you can try one of the new trails being blazed by writers who've decided to go it alone. Before you decide which approach is for you, you'll need to know why you're writing in the first place. I mean, writing's a tough racket. There's a ton of struggle and indifference and rejection. Why are you doing this to yourself? For money? Validation? Groupies? (If it's the latter, I have some bad news for you....) Hopefully at least part of your answer will be "Because I love it, dammit." That's what's going to get you through the hard times.
Steve Hockensmith is the author of 14 novels and dozens of short stories in a variety of genres. His novel Dawn of the Dreadfuls, the official prequel to the smash "mashup" Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, was a New York Times bestseller. His other books include the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sequel Dreadfully Ever After, the Edgar Award-nominated mystery/Western hybrid Holmes on the Range and the science-based adventure for kids Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab (written with frequent Jimmy Kimmel Live! guest "Science Bob" Pflugfelder). He writes the Tarot Mystery series with the help of tarot expert Lisa Falco. The latest entry in the series is Fool Me Once.