Do you plan out the entire book before you begin writing? Or do you just sit down and write?
I don’t do what I tell my students to do. I say they should plan a story at least in rough form. Especially the characters – they should know more about the characters’ background than they will ever use.
I don’t do that. I should. But it’s like I want to meet these characters – Pilar, Asha, Anatole and Alex and get to know them. Well, Alex was easy. He was based on a well-read, church janitor I knew when I was a priest. The pastor treated him like an underling, but this black man had more intelligence and knowledge than any priest. Late one night when I went over to the church to pray, he was cleaning the sanctuary. He called me up to share his fried chicken.
“We can’t eat it here, in the sanctuary.”
“Why not, Father? It’s my break time and this is my father’s house.”
His father’s house. Wow. That’s what Catholic teaching said.
I sat down with him and we had the first of many great discussions.
But the other characters I had to work on. My writing process is this – I write the chapter and see what the character does. I watched Pilar especially. Draft 1, then draft 2 and maybe even draft 3. A lot of rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Do you have a set time that you write each day? Or do you wait to be inspired?
There’s an old joke – I only write when I’m inspired and I’m inspired every morning at 8AM. If it were up to me – and I didn’t have to do marketing – I would write all day. But my wife is number one. She often needs me for something and I have to break away from writing to help her. The same applies to my adult children. Daily exercise, that’s important. And anyone of my advanced age, has to take at least one nap a day. Finally, I hate marketing, but I know I have to do it and I do.
What new doors has your writing opened up for you?
The biggest door that writing opened for me was myself. My upbringing and my training in the Catholic Church told me to present a wall to the world (and actually to myself). Writing has slowly opened the door to me. Now I see myself with my strengths and weaknesses.
Do you ever become bored with what you are writing?
Absolutely not. Every sentence is a piece of art, every paragraph, every chapter. I feel like I’m a painter. How could any brush stroke be boring?
What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
I have to admit that learning writing has hurt my ability to read – or maybe you could say it’s improved it. I can’t stand weak writing anymore, or weak storytelling. My wife and I are in a book club in a federal prison so that makes us read a lot of things we’d never read on our own, e.g. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. (I hated it, but don’t tell my daughter – she loved it)
If you could spend one hour with just one person, whom would you choose? Why?
Joseph Campbell. His work has influenced my writing and my life. His study of mythology teaches about the hero’s journey and even teaches us how to read the Bible, how to look at life and so many other things. He died in the 1980s so maybe I’ll see him in the next life. However, I know that he would say, the kingdom of God is now, heaven is now – “so thanks, Joseph. I have trouble understanding some of your books, but I really appreciate the knowledge you’ve given me.”
Do you have any advice for writers who are striving to be published?
This is a great age to be a writer. The publishing world has turned upside down. I went through years of rejection by editors and agents whose only criteria was “How much money can I make with this story?” No, now, the middlemen are gone. It’s you, the writer, and the reader. Do a good job writing and you will sell books. And when you publish #1, do some marketing, but be sure you write a great #2.
Thank you, Ed Griffin, for giving such amazing answers to all of my questions.