How did you become a writer?
I’ve always written, but didn’t really discover my love of the novel until the last decade (Though somewhere in a landfill in Indiana, an awkward high schooler’s spiral notebook contains half of a hand-written novel about a vigilante who doled out vengeance while playing the Beatles’ “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” If anyone should happen upon that early attempt, I urge you to burn both the work and anything it touched). I focused on playwriting in college, then shifted to sketch comedy, sitcoms, and screenplays once I moved to LA. When a director didn’t care for the choices I’d made writing a script based on his one-line pitch, I decided I’d done enough research and world building that I’d novelize the project. The result, after several years, turned into my first polished manuscript featuring Los Angeles-based investigative journalist Caitlin Bergman and ex-LAPD officer Mike Roman. Several years of refining the craft, learning the industry, and discovering my tribe later, I finished my second manuscript, which became my first published novel, Come and Get Me: A Caitlin Bergman Novel, available from Crooked Lane Books in hardcover and eBook.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.)
Of course, I grew up with the crime classics: Doyle, Christie, Chandler, Hammett, MacDonald. My current list is constantly growing with my TBR pile, though my bookshelf holds a fair amount of Connelly, Coben, Crais, Cormac McCarthy, Laurie R King, Sue Grafton, Meg Gardiner, Michael Koryta, Elmore Leonard, T. Jefferson Parker, Robert Parker, Dennis Lehane, J.A. Jance, Stephen King, Walter Mosley, Gillian Flynn, Kathy Reichs…plus a whole bunch of true crime. Also every episode of Murder She Wrote, Magnum P.I. (the classic, please), and Moonlighting.
When and where do you write?
Not to ruin anyone’s illusions of publishing success, but as a debut author, I still work a full-time job. I’m also married and try to maintain a social life, so my writing schedule is catch-as-catch-can, meaning I write in whatever slot presents itself for as long as possible. While I’m able to write at home, I’m not ashamed to say I’m often found in a local café with the laptop and headphone crowd. It may be playing into the stereotype, but I find myself more accountable in a public place. You can’t do laundry, make dinner, or straighten your desk endlessly in a coffee shop.
What are you working on now?
I’m about to finish the first draft of the second Caitlin Bergman novel, a modern thriller set in coastal Oregon involving Caitlin’s relationship with her birth mother, a mass grave, and a cult– which means I’m about to start my favorite part of writing; the editing process. I’ll spend several months polishing before turning it in to my publisher for release in Spring 2020.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Sometimes I sit at the computer in an optimal setting only to see nothing come out. Like any other self-defeating behavior, writer's block can feel treacherous and unstoppable, especially since many writers work non-dream-related full-time jobs and are trying to shoehorn their creative process into less than optimal windows. Letting writer's block slow you down is like driving all the way to the gym - then eating fries in the parking lot. The first step to break the cycle is to give yourself permission to fail. Can't advance your plot? Write something in a character's voice. Can't even look at your project? Write a poem, a review of a movie you saw (even better, a book you read!), journal about your day, something you saw, some tiny moment you shared with the cosmos that no one else witnessed. After all, french fries in the gym parking lot may feel like a reward, but aren't they better right after a good workout? Or during? Maybe get fries, then start writing. I'm no doctor.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I can’t attribute this bit of wisdom to one genius, because I feel like I’ve heard it from multiple authors with long, established careers: Write the books you want to read.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Ignore market trends or agent wish lists. Instead, write characters you want to hang out with dealing with issues you want to discuss set in times and places you want to share with the world. When you’re done, find critique partners who aren’t your proud parents to give honest opinions of your work. Ignore criticism you don’t agree with, unless multiple people flag the same issue – then definitely address the note. Learn to self-edit, particularly grammar and punctuation. You may be the next literary genius, but no one will take you seriously if you don’t know the difference between your and you’re. Agents and editors get thousands of submissions. They don’t have time to pan for gold.
When you think you’re ready for publishing, find other authors, through conferences, online forums, local critique groups etc., and gauge your knowledge of the industry. You’ve worked hard to finish your project. Don’t let the emotional need to see your work out in the world rob it of its best chance at success. Whether pursing traditional publishing or self, give your art the respect it deserves by learning everything you can about the industry before hitting send. Finally, expect rejection – from friends, family, agents, editors, publishers, readers, reviewers, and every single person connected to the internet – and understand it’s not personal. Not everyone everywhere will like your book, but good stories, well-told, will find an audience.
Originally from central Indiana, thriller and mystery author August Norman has called Los Angeles home for two decades, writing for and/or appearing in movies, television, stage productions, web series, and even, commercial advertising. A lover and champion of crime fiction, August is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, the Sisters in Crime (National/LA), and regularly attends the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. August’s debut thriller, Come and Get Me: A Caitlin Bergman Novel, is available from Crooked Lane Books.