August Norman

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. 

Gwen Florio

How did you become a writer?

Probably like most writers, by being a reader, almost to the exclusion of any other activity. I scribbled stories throughout my childhood and into adulthood, but didn’t get serious until my late 30s, when I signed up for Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Writers’ Workshop. It only took me another twenty years to get a book published.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

James Rahn, who heads the aforementioned Rittenhouse Writers’ Workshop, was a huge influence, with his constant advice to push well beyond my comfort zone. I have a number of craft books that I re-read from time to time to remind myself of the basics: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing, Blake Snyder’s screenplay book, Save the Cat, etc. As for books, probably every one I’ve ever read. Put something by Toni Morrison or Cormac McCarthy or Alice Munro or Marilynne Robinson into my hands, and I dissolve into a puddle of admiration and hopeless envy.

When and where do you write?

The short answer is anywhere and anytime. At least a few times a week, I try to get to a coffeeshop across from my office at around 7 a.m., which gives me a couple of hours of focused writing. That’s the best. But the day job frequently interferes with that, so then I squeeze in a little while before I go to bed—or, even in the middle of the night if insomnia won’t let go. One of the benefits of years as a journalist is that I don’t need quiet or privacy to write. Writing time is so precious that even a free half-hour can be fruitful, if I’m smart enough to grab the opportunity.

What are you working on now?

A standalone about refugees, following up on (but not related to) my 2018 standalone, Silent Hearts, and verging back into crime novel territory.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Reporters don’t get to have writer’s block. It’s great training for a novelist. I’ve had spells—long, excruciating spells—where nothing I’m writing seems to make sense, where the novel just sits on the screen like a lump, refusing to cooperate. I’ve learned that if I just keep writing, my brain will get sick of writing crap, and I can go back and delete that junk. But at least I’m not paralyzed.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

You can’t edit a blank page.

There are so many excuses not to write. One of my favorites: I think I’ll just lie here and stare at the ceiling. But a terrible day writing is way better than no writing at all, because you can go back and whip that terrible page into shape. That’s a great day.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Put in the work. It takes a long time (sometimes discouragingly long) to get better, but every day you put in is a day closer to that time. Don’t wait for perfection—the perfect time, the perfect place, the perfect sentence. You can always go back and rewrite. (See above, re the blank page.) Read. A lot. Find a writing community—workshops, conferences, online critique groups. You don’t get anywhere in this business without a lot of help along the way, so be sure to pay it forward. Karma is a real thing. Oh, and have fun. This is a really hard business, but in the immortal words of Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, “The hard is what makes it great.”

As an award-winning journalist, Gwen Florio covered stories ranging from the mass shooting at Columbine High School, to the glitz of the Miss America pageant and the more practical Miss Navajo contest, whose participants slaughter a sheep. She’s reported from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, as well as Lost Springs, Wyoming, population three. She turned to fiction in 2013 with the publication of her first novel, Montana, which won the national Pinckley Prize for Debut Crime Fiction and a High Plains Book Award. Her sixth novel, Silent Hearts, set in Afghanistan, was published in 2018 by Atria.

Gale Massey

How did you become a writer?      

Having been raised in a hyper-religious family I was introduced to Bible stories early on. The misogyny clearly evident in many of those stories enraged me but I learned the power of words and storytelling. I began writing to find a voice that could speak my personal truth to power, and to make sense of the world.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Connie May Fowler’s Before Woman Had Wings, and of course, Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.

When and where do you write?

I write in the mornings, sometimes I’ll have another afternoon session. I have a studio out back where it’s quiet. Quiet is a must for me. The only music I will listen to while writing is Spanish guitar.

What are you working on now?

A magical realism short story and a second novel. Sometimes I’ll revisit a short creative nonfiction piece I’ve been working on for about a year.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

All the time. For me, it’s part of the territory.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Keep your head down and keep moving forward.” Michael Koryta

What’s your advice to new writers?

Kill your expectations and expect a rough ride. Understand that no one cares more about your work than you do. Hire a lawyer that has only your best interest in mind. Say thank you, a lot. Be kind to others.

Gale Massey’s first novel, The Girl From Blind River, received a 2018 Florida Book Award and debuted in the time-honored Book of the Month Club. Her award-winning stories and essays have appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Sabal, Seven Hills Press, and other places. She has received fellowships at The Sewanee Writers Conference and Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Massey, a Florida native, lives in St. Petersburg.