Writing FAQ

I am completing several fiction and nonfiction books this year. These are some questions that I am asked frequently about my writing, so I thought I’d answer them all here.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was a child, I thought about being an author, attorney, or photographer. In elementary school, I used to tell my classmates elaborate stories as we sat on the steps or leaned against the brick building shooting marbles. One day when I was in first grade the kindergarten teacher was ill and there was not an available substitute. My teacher asked if one of us would like to tell stories to the kindergarten classes. Grateful to get out of class I volunteered. After making up different stories as I went along based on the children’s responses — I was hooked on storytelling.

What did you read as a child?

I read books voraciously including the book series that begins with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

When did you start writing?

According to my older sister, I was writing complete short stories by age four. I wrote songs and poems and more short stories in elementary school. In junior high school, I wrote two plays, Old Glory and Adelante! These were presented to the entire student body. I wrote the Ballad of Charley Tate and had a music score written for it when I was in high school. Then, I finished my first Science Fiction novel, Vargas off Limits, when I was a senior. Unfortunately, I lost this Science Fiction novel after I was drafted and sent to Vietnam.

Who are your favorite authors?

I like Michael Connelly, Clive Cussler, Dan Brown, David Baldacci, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry, Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Patterson, Agatha Christie, Lee Child, Dr. Seuss, Louis L’Amour, Dean Koontz, Aldous Huxley, Zane Grey, Michael Crichton, Tom Wolfe, Ken Follett, George Orwell, Harper Lee, Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, Eric Ambler, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Steinbeck, Hemingway, Cheever, Updike and many, many others. I noticed how few women writers I have read and I intend on reading more women authors. Let me know whom you recommend.

What are some classic books that you loved to read?

• The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
• The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
• To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
• Of Mice and Men Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
• The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
• The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
• The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
• East of Eden East of Eden by John Steinbeck
• Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
• One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
• On the Road by Jack Kerouac
• Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
• Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
• Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
• The World According to Garp by John Irving
• Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
• The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
• Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

What is a typical writing day like for you?

There really is no typical day. I have a rather flexible, writing routine. There are breaks for lunch,  checking my email and a few hours of photography.

Where and when do you write?

Some of my writing is on a laptop computer. Most of my writing is with my desktop computer using Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation. Occasionally,  when away from the house I write with my Livescribe 8 GB Echo Smartpen. I enjoy writing in cafés, bookstores, libraries, ferries, parks, beaches, airports, parks, hotels, boats, and more.

Do you ever play music while you write?

The kind of music I play when depends on the mood of the story I am working on. Sometimes I like fifty’s and sixty’s music for nostalgia. Other times I may prefer classical or jazz.

What is your ideal writing day like?

The ideal writing day would begin where I wake up early and walk along the beach taking wildlife and nature photographs. Then I would sit outside in a comfortable chair with my Echo Smartpen or laptop and write while listening to the waves washing along the sand and rocks and watch the occasional fog roll in.

What’s your favorite thing about being a writer?

Getting to do something creative every single day is such a gift! I love knowing that I have a place to play with these characters, story lines, and settings.

What life experiences most influence your writing?

My greatest influence is the intense environment that I grew up in and my world at large. I grew up in a single-parent home in East Los Angeles, California with racial tensions between whites, blacks, and Hispanics. Nearly every geographical section of the city had gang territory which they fiercely defended. The White Fence gang recruited me while I was in Junior high school and then my fourteen-month tour of duty in Vietnam provided a wide range of experiences.

Where do you get your inspiration for your writing?

It comes from everywhere and everything including newspapers or magazines that I read on my 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Sometimes I partially base the stories on factual events. For instance, when I was editor of my high school newspaper, one of my fellow students who worked on the paper died in a tragic car accident. She was a beautiful and vivacious being whose life ended before she had an opportunity to fulfill her dreams. This memory stimulated several situations and characters.

Where do you get your characters?

From people, I observe in markets, stores, parks, beaches, nature, etc. Some are a conglomeration from my past that has a smattering of qualities and personality traits drawn from people I know, with a lot of blending.

How much autobiographical content goes into your characters and situations?

Sometimes there is a lot. Other times there is none.

Do you have a favorite character in your own novels?

Some characters remain in my mind and heart after the writing is over. I love, honor or respect each of them in a different way.

Do you ever have writer’s block?

I am pleased to say that I have never experienced writer’s block. Perhaps because I am working on several works at the same time I am blessed to always have something to work on.

What value do you place on research?

I value and want to honor accurately the settings, characters, historical period, and locations. I want my writing to earn the trust of my readers. I was one of the people who spotted the jet aircraft vapor trail flying high above the 1800′s western setting television movie. I do not want to have this happen in my writing due to poor research.

How do you do the research for your books and articles?

I do thorough readings of books and literature of the field and the locations where my novels are set, interview numerous people including police officers, FBI agents, scientists, and forensic people if the book is about murder. And usually with my camera to record the settings.

Do you always know the whole story, including the ending, when you begin?

I generally do. My books and stories are both character and plot driven. I sometimes use a structured outline and lengthy character biographies or personal discovery of my characters.

What writer related work have you done?

In California, I helped create a community theater. I have organized and directed two national writer’s conferences in Oregon and Washington. I was the publisher and editor of a monthly literary, art, and photography magazine in Arizona.

Do you have any favorite television shows?

I enjoy watching Murder She Wrote, Matlock, Columbo, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Frasier, Animal Planet, Military Channel, Biography, and SyFy Channel.

How old are you?

I am old enough to have earned every wrinkle in my face, scar on my body, all of the silver in my hair, and nose marks from my eyeglasses frames.

What led you to become a writer?

When I was a small child, I clicked away on an old Underwood typewriter. By the time I was able to hold a pencil and print, I was writing short stories.

Do you work on one project at a time or several?

I enjoy working on several manuscripts at the same time. Currently, I have around 55 manuscripts in some degree of completion.

Are you interested in having your readers purchase your books to read on the Amazon Kindle?

I love my Kindle Fire HD and I have many fiction and nonfiction books currently on it. Every morning I read several newspapers including The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, each week and at least one magazine. Currently, I am writing books formatted for publication for the Amazon Kindle.

What is in the future with your writing?

I am about 70% completed in several novels and 80-90% completed in numerous short stories. I would like to complete as many of these as I can before the end of 2015.

Can I contact you if I have a question about your writing and even if I do not have a question for this page?

Yes, I welcome your communication by sending an email to me.

What do you use to stimulate your writing?

I keep magazine pages or internet copies of items that capture my interest on my desk. I like carrying a notebook for quick story thought. I call myself on my cell phone to leave writing notes and leave some on my Amazon Fire HD. I picture the story as a movie or a play. I bring my Amazon Kindle HD with me to read the newspapers for story ideas and for research with the many books on writing that I purchased.

Where do you find your characters?

I find the characters for my fiction everywhere. One reason I usually carry my camera.

How long does it usually take you to write a novel?

My sense is that from concept, to outline, to finished product, it is about 18-24 months. This includes research, and two to four drafts, plus final editing and proofreading of the galley. However, I’ll let you know for certain when I complete my first novel!

Can you send me a signed photograph of you?

I don’t have any autographed photos of me. Authors that I know do not do that. I think that this is more of an actor’s response.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you give aspiring authors?

Keep writing and do not give up. Read as much as you can and write as much as you can. Try to write a little bit every day. If you can, try to write at the same time every day. A good day for most writers is five double-spaced pages of new material. A great day is ten pages.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. You can’t fix something if you never get around to writing it in the first place. If all else fails and you can’t get anything on the computer on a given day, you should try to read some of the pages you’ve already written. At least you’ll be able to keep the story in your head. You’ll get better at writing and edit yourself as you go along.

Try to write the story in a voice that you enjoy hearing and you’re comfortable writing. It will sound more authentic if you do. Your story will be better and sound more authentic if you remain true to your instincts and tell your story the way that you’d like to tell it.

Exciting things are happening in the literary world that gives authors more avenues to getting their work out to the public. Someone will believe in it and champion it on your behalf. Find an agent. Receive feedback from readers while your book is still in manuscript, and be prepared to rewrite and edit your work. Join a writing group if you feel really in tune with the other members. Attend writers’ conferences.

Stephen Bruno, CHt.

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