Blog Archive

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

From the Reality of Journalism to Writing Fiction: Author Interview with Rich Zahradnik

Working in journalism where you have an outlet for creative expression, what made you decide to take the plunge and write a novel? How did you come up with the idea of your current book?
Journalism can be creative, but you still have to follow the facts. Fiction lets me tell the stories I dream up and go off in the directions those dreams take me.

Is this your first novel or have others been started and stopped along the way?
I completed one previous manuscript that got representation but did not sell. I also have three or four false starts on my computer.

How did you come up with the idea of your current book?
The idea was a what if? What if a big-time police reporter were forced to do the dull work of obituaries, always dealing with the dead but never pursuing the why of their deaths.

Could you give me a short synopsis on the story for my readers?
In March of 1975, as New York City hurtles toward bankruptcy and the Bronx burns, newsman Coleridge Taylor roams police precincts and ERs. He is looking for the story that will deliver him from obits, his place of exile at the Messenger-Telegram. Ever since he was demoted from the police beat for inventing sources, the 34-year-old has been a lost soul. A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he’s wearing a distinctive Army field jacket.

A little digging reveals that the jacket belonged to a hobo named Mark Voichek and that the teen was a spoiled society kid up to no good, the son of a city official. Taylor’s efforts to protect Voichek put him on the hit list of three goons who are willing to kill any number of street people to cover tracks that just might lead to City Hall. Taylor has only one ally in the newsroom, young and lovely reporter Laura Wheeler. Time is not on his side. If he doesn’t wrap this story up soon, he’ll be back on the obits page–as a headline, not a byline.

How long did it take you to write this book? How many rewrites did you do on it?
The book took eight years, but that was because I was working full-time in journalism and some of my jobs were pretty intense as far as hours. The book had ten or more revisions. I had one freelance editor help me, plus it was workshopped at the Crime Fiction Academy. The one I'm working on now I started in March and I will finish before the end of the year—so I'm a bit faster than the first book.

How many publishers did you pitch before you found Camel Press? From the time they received the manuscript, how long did it take you to get a contract?
My agent pitched about 10. From manuscript to contract was about three months.The process was a lot of waiting interrupted by rejection. You need to be ready for that.

How did you go about finding an agent?
I attended the Backspace conference three times, read up on queries and first pages and researched what agents were looking for via Writer's Digest and other sources. Writer's Digest's agent blog profiles new agents. I read about Dawn Dowdle, who came from a background of editing mysteries and building websites for mystery authors. That gave me a way to target my pitch, as mine was a mystery. Dawn offered to represent me.

How many agents did you pitch?
More than 35.

What feedback did you get from your pitches?
I had requests for partial and full manuscripts at Backspace but no one offered  to represent me.

Do you think you would have been able to get a contract with Camel Press if you didn't have an agent?
Nope. Unagented material won't get looked at by almost all publishers.

How do you write? Did you do an outline first?
I'm a pantser with light outlining. I use the index card view in Scrivener to note down one line ideas for each chapter, with each chapter a card, but only go a chapter or two ahead. Sometimes an idea will occur for later on—midpoint or climax—and that I'll note on a later chapter's card. Still, it's just one or two sentences. Then I just write. I enjoy the discoveries I make with plot, characters, setting when I don't have everything planned out. But I don't think that means there's a debate among writers. Whatever works for a writer is what works. As for characters, I let them grow and create themselves as they join the story.

What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best for you in generating sales?
I'm doing everything a debut author can without tons of money: a review blog tour, full-service author web site, giveaways on Goodreads and through International Thriller Writers. I'm in the ITW's debut author class this year, which will give me promo opportunities. Of course, I do all the social media stuff. My launch party was at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City in October. It's still to early for me to say what is pushing sales best.

What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
A good story idea isn't necessarily a high concept hook, and having the latter is way better, in mysteries at least.

Is this a stand alone book or are you planning a sequel or prequel for any of your characters?
It's a series. Camel has contracted for three more. DROP DEAD PUNK comes out next fall.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would
like to pass along?
From John Rehl, high school teacher and best writing teacher I ever had. If you want to write, write. A thousand words a day. It's the only way you get there.

If you would like to learn more about Rich and his writing, here's some links to get you started.
Amazon Book Link

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for having me on the blog, Chris. I really enjoyed the questions on the writing process. I'll be stopping by to see if your readers have additional questions.