Last year, I posted a Call to Writers, asking my fellow author bloggers to allow me to interview them for guest-spots on my blog. (If you are interested in participating, please contact me.) I asked everyone thirty-five questions — some were basic, and others were multi-part inquiries — and I asked them to answer only what they wanted to or what was applicable. My friend and fellow-blogger, Dave Higgins, had some very cool responses which I’m sure will interest you, as well. After you read his interview, please be sure to hop on over to his blog and follow him for a regular dose of his charm. And now, heeere’s Dave…
1. Please tell us your name (or pen name) and a little bit about yourself:
I publish under Dave Higgins. I mostly write speculative fiction, often with a dark edge. Despite forays into the mundane worlds of law and IT, I haven’t been able to escape the liminal zone of horror. When I’m not working on dark and mysterious things, I co-write comic sci-fi with Simon Cantan. I was raised by a librarian, so I started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. I currently live in Bristol with my wife, Nicola, my cats, Jasper and Una, a plush altar to the Dark Lord Cthulhu, and many shelves of books.
2. Please provide the link to your blog (and website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, etc.):
3. How many books have you written?
I’ve published four books, not including freebies. I also have two novels I am currently preparing: one of which I finished the first draft of mid-November and one of which I started redrafting a few days later. In addition to those I have various short stories, both published and not. And the usual dark corner filled with drafts that I think are too broken to fix without starting fresh.
4. Has any of your work been published yet? If so, please share the link(s) to purchase it:
I have two collections of short stories out, an anthology, and the first book in a sci-fi series I am co-writing with Simon Catan.
Links to the various retailers of each book are available here: davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/opus/
5. If you have been published, did you self-publish or use traditional publishing? Why? If you have not been published yet, what are your plans for the future?
All my books are author-published; which wasn’t originally my plan.
I started submitting short stories to competitions, magazines and collections to get some validation and credits, and because I didn’t have a novel I was happy to submit to agents yet.
In mid-2013 I had a short story accepted for Fauxpocalypse. A little while later, the owner of the small press behind the anthology decided they couldn’t continue; rather than just cancel the project, they offered to transfer their rights to the contributors if they would take over publishing.
I said I would need to look into it further before committing, but might be willing. None of the other contributors were interested and though having a lawyer do it was ideal; so I ended up setting up as a publisher.
Once I had successfully published an anthology with contributors spread across the world, it seemed silly not to publish my own work as well. So I put together, An Unquiet Calm, a collection of five short stories most of which had been published in obscure places so probably wouldn’t be of interest to other publishers anyway.
I haven’t ruled out traditional publishing, but I don’t need to be traditionally published to feel like a proper author, so I would do it because a specific work would do better than if I published it myself.
6. How old were you when you started writing? When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I can remember writing out two single-page stories when I was very young, but it is long enough ago I’m not sure how old I was; maybe four-ish.
I wrote the occasional short story from then until I was a teenager (mostly for school) but didn’t write much. When I went to University I submitted a few pieces to student magazines, but stopped to focus on my degree.
Several years ago, the firm I was working for closed down and – while looking for something else – I found one of my old stories in a dusty part of a hard drive and realised it wasn’t terrible. So I decided to use my unexpected free time to try writing a few short stories
The many years of writing business documents had merged with the shelves of fiction I had read to give me a grounding in creative writing, so my work was still rough but wasn’t actively off-putting. I shared a few of the stories and people didn’t hate them, so I tried a flash-fiction contest and actually won.
I’m not utterly sure when I went from writing for fun to wanting to make it my career. I do know that I have always been able to imagine not working in law if I won/inherited enough money to live on, but that I can’t imagine not writing something even if I didn’t need to.
7. What would you say motivates you to keep writing?
Probably life experience. I restarted writing after many years of working in satisfying but stressful jobs, so I expect the good moments (such as praise for my stories or days when all the words come out sounding great) to be mixed in with days when I do what needs doing, not what is fun and easy.
8. Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you currently reading (or what is the last book you read)?
As I am currently working on the second book of a series with him, I would have to say the author I like most after myself is Simon Cantan.
Rampant bias aside, the first five authors that spring to mind are: H.P. Lovecraft, Dan Abnett, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Misha Burnett.
At the time I wrote this answer, I had just finished Mikhail Bulgakov’s Black Snow and was about to start Liesel Schwarz’ A Clockwork Heart.
9. What is your preferred reading method? (i.e., Kindle, Nook, paperback, hardback, etc.) Why?
Either Kindle or paperback. I read voraciously, and in all circumstances, so I favour formats that are easy to transport and I can hold with one hand for extended periods.
I’m not sure which of the two I would pick if I had to: having multiple books on a Kindle is a great space-saver, but the battery life isn’t ideal if you read for hours a day.
10. Do you write in first or third person, past or present tense, and why?
Mostly third-person close, set in the past tense. It gives me some freedom to reveal things to the reader that the protagonist isn’t aware of without loosing the feeling of closeness to the protagonist that makes the reader feel immersed.
I have experimented with short stories from other points of view and in different tenses, but most of them have turned out technically clever rather than emotionally engaging.
11. Do you “always read” or do you take breaks between reading books?
I constantly read. It isn’t the only hobby I have, but I do read for a large chunk every day, during nearly ever commercial break, while wait for my wife to put her shoes on, and any other time longer than a minute when I am not actively doing something else.
The only time I have a gap between books is if I finish all the books I have with me while I am somewhere inconvenient; one of my least favourite moments was being trapped on a train for five hours when I only had enough books for three.
I do read widely though, so I do sometimes take breaks between genres or tones.
12. How many books would you say you read in a year? How many at any one time?
Based on the number of books Goodreads claims I have read since I joined, an average of 200 books a year.
Unless I have agreed to read a book by a particular date (for beta-reading or reviewing), I only read one fiction book at a time.
I also try to keep my writing research down to no more than one non-fiction book at a time.
However, I also read poetry and non-fiction not related to current projects, so I could be reading three or four books at once.
ABOUT YOUR CURRENT BOOK::
13. What is the title of your current work in progress or the most recent manuscript you’ve completed?
Beauty in a Take Away Cup. One of my beta-readers suggested a brilliant, but radical, change to the book. So I am in the (slightly manic) process of turning a mostly finished publishable novel into a potentially much better but different novel.
14. What is your novel’s genre? Would you say there is a sub-genre? What makes yours different than other books in the same genre?
Depending on where the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance lies, some species of one of them. It started as paranormal romance, but the focus on romance has moved up and down between drafts, so I am not sure where it will end up.
Urban fantasy covers a large range of stories, levels of plot- or character-driven narrative, and styles, so I’m not sure if I could point at one thing that made it different from all the other books.
It is focused more on character than special effects so, while magic is a big part of the plot, there aren’t any spell-slinging duels or world-threatening evils.
15. What inspired the current or most recent story you’ve completed?
The original seed grew from me noticing that most paranormal romance has a mysterious hero who is very rich and handsome and a heroine who is free enough of entanglements to join his lifestyle by the end of the book. So I wanted to try a story where the male lead’s physical appearance isn’t one of his strengths and the female lead isn’t in a position to suddenly start sleeping all day and partying all night.
16. What is your target audience’s age, gender, etc.?
I don’t go out of my way to be explicit, gross, or shocking; however, I also don’t rigorously self-censor. So my work is less suitable for younger readers.
I also enjoy mystery and alternative interpretations, so I am aiming more for readers who don’t want all the answers by the end of the book.
I know men who read and write romance and women who read and write most genres and tones, so I don’t aim my work at a specific gender.
17. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your story?
Sarah is used to the odd looks every time she orders her coffee with more syrup than espresso, so when a handsome stranger claims she has taken his order she assumes it is just a chat-up line. But last month his body was a corpse, and now caffeine and sugar are the only things keeping it together.
As their friendship grows, she begins to think she might have finally found someone who cares about her for herself. But how will she cope when she discovers he fought in the Crusades, and has been running ever since?
ABOUT HOW YOU WRITE::
18. How often do you write?
I decided to try writing every day this year. There have been a few days when people have come to visit or I have been ill where I haven’t managed it, but I have managed most days.
19. Approximately how many words do you write at each sitting?
It varies. My mean average so far this year is about 2,500 words a day, but some days I only wrote only a few hundred and others I managed thousands.
On most of the days with high word counts I did more than one session, so I estimate I don’t write more than 1,500-2,000 words without taking a break.
20. Do you do your own editing or send it to someone else?
I have a reciprocal editing arrangement with another author, so we do each other’s work.
21. What is your method of writing? (i.e., Do you write the entire manuscript, then go back and make changes? Do you plan chapters as you go along or write the story then go back and add chapters? Do you re-read as you go along or after you are done with the first draft?)
The first novel draft I finished was written based on a paragraph of ideas, but was also an unwieldy mess I have put away indefinitely. Since then I have been moving more and more towards detailed outlines of the whole thing before I start the first draft.
The biggest obstacle I had to writing a significant amount every day was editing as I went along, so I try to write an entire first draft without going back to make any changes.
Once I have a complete first draft, I put it aside for a while (a few days for a short story, at least a month for a novel) before I read it. This gives me a little distance.
I read the entire thing without making any changes so I have an idea how it flows and what needs more/less build-up or conclusion. Then I start editing the text.
22. Do you have a muse? If so, please elaborate. If not, what inspires you?
I have always been curious and have a good memory, so my unconscious is full of odd moments from life and what-if’s based on alternatives to stories I have seen.
When several of these fit together, I end up with an initial idea for a story. This is usually nowhere near a plot, so will wriggle and niggle in the back of my mind until I find a character challenge that fits.
23. How long does it take you to write a full manuscript?
The transition from initial idea to outline varies depending on how much searches I do and how many potential confusions and issues I encounter turning a single thought into an arc.
Once I have an outline, I write 2,000 words each day that I work on it; however, I usually have more than one project going at a time, so I usually don’t work on a draft every day from start to finish.
24. Do you give yourself a word limit for each day or a time limit to finish your novel? If so, please elaborate.
I have experimented with having daily word counts and having daily time minimums, and am still not sure which is more productive overall: first drafts need words on the page, so a word count helps, but can end up loose and rambling if pure word count is the only target; editing produces very few words per hour so works well with time minimums, but can take as long as you let it so can produce diminishing returns if you only measure on time spent.
As I write primarily for eBook rather than print, and don’t have to conform to publishers’ rules or deadlines, I don’t start a draft with a target word count or length, so my targets for a solo novel are approximate.
My collaborations with Simon are slightly more regimented from the start as we need to keep our schedules aligned, so I tend to push the joint work hard to get it ready early and then expand my solo projects into the extra time I create.
Overall, I think not releasing a product until it is ready is better than releasing purely to say you met the deadline, so I avoid committing too early.
25. How do you come up with your character names and geographic location / business names?
For modern stories set in Great Britain I just pick them, and then go back during editing to change them if I realise they don’t quite work (my last short story had protagonists named Ben and Rebecca. This seemed fine when I created the outline, but when I wrote the story I used a more casual tone so they were called Ben and Becky throughout; which was a touch comical for a suspense piece).
If I am writing fantasy or science-fiction I pick a language or country and base names on that by changing letters. Once I have a few names/places, I invent the others to match those, so I don’t end up with something too regimented or obviously a foreign language. Because I did classics at school, the most common seeds are Latin or Greek.
I did experiment with using a book of baby names to give all the characters names with appropriate meanings, but decided it was too much effort to create detailed personalities for all the minor characters just so I could give them a first name and a surname that fitted, and make sure the spread of names felt neither too broad or too narrow.
26. How long (or how detailed) are the notes you take before you start writing?
Before I started writing again, I worked on a few projects where the huge stacks of documentation produced at the start weren’t referenced again, so I prefer to do only as much documenting as I need to support the story. So my initial notes are not particularly detailed. A few names/places and a paragraph on what might happen.
If I am setting the story in the modern day, I tend to bookmark a few web pages relevant to a key thing I don’t know much about and move straight to the outline.
If the setting is more fantastical, I try to map out a very brief history and some interesting facts about the world so I have casual references to drop in to dialogue without having to pause to make them up while writing.
Once I start writing the outline I fill in background notes and characters as required to explain
My outlines are about what characters do more than why they do them, so each draft adds to the history and character backgrounds.
27. Do you have any “must haves” to help you write? (i.e., a full cup of coffee, a view of the ocean, etc.)
There isn’t anything essential apart from a minimum level of consciousness.
I started writing before computers were common and still write poetry in longhand, so can work with pen and paper; however, I am left-handed, so writing large amounts is much easier on a computer.
I love real coffee, but I use it to mark changes in what I am doing rather than specifically for writing: some days I make myself a coffee before I start writing to switch from doing something else to writing; other days I use it to switch to relaxation after I have done as much writing as I planned.
28. Do you only write during a certain time of day or in a certain location? If so, do you make yourself stop after a certain time?
I almost always write prose at my desk, because that is where my computer is. I have tried working in cafes and libraries on a laptop, but find smaller keyboards really slow my typing down.
I treat writing as a flexible important task, so if I don’t have anything that I have to complete on a particular day, I do a session of writing after I have checked my email. If I don’t get my writing done in a single session, I tend to do one other important task and then a second session of writing.
My cats eat at 7:30 pm and then like to have a wander or chase each other for an hour, so however busy I am I try to be sitting on the sofa by 8:30 pm ready for when they decide it is sitting-on-people time.
29. Does your real life ever neglected because of your writing? If so, how do you feel about that?
In the wider meaning, yes.
Writing a first draft is early enough in the writing process that I have no hesitation putting it aside for other things.
As I get towards publication though, issues with cover design, final edits, and retailer requirements can push my usual division of time between writing and other things out of balance. So I have to cut back on cleaning and my hobbies.
I always feel slightly annoyed at the time that I am rushing around; however, I find unfinished problems more annoying than not playing a computer game for a few hours on a Saturday, so getting everything I can done is more relaxing overall than rigorously protecting my hobby time.
30. What is the quirkiest thing you do or have ever done when writing?
Sometimes when I am writing a scene with lots of physical activity I leap up from my desk because it has boosted my adrenalin (so my writing works on me).
I also occasionally stop writing to act something out because I am suddenly not sure about a distance or timing: of course, my attempts to jump from a standing start like a boy half my age or whatever it is are probably no more accurate than a reasonable estimate, but it gives me the confidence to write the scene and leave the checking for when I edit.
ABOUT YOUR WORK::
31. If you have written more than one novel, which is your favorite and why?
The only novel I have published is Greenstar, my comic sci-fi collaboration with Simon Cantan, so that would get the vote for novel I have greatest confidence in.
Of my solo work, probably Beauty in a Take Away Cup because all my beta readers liked it, so I am making it better rather than making it publishable.
32. If you could be one of your own characters for a day, who would it be and why?
Tricky question. I try to write all my characters with a proper flaw, so it would be exchanging one set of annoyances for another.
Potentially one of the vampires from Midnight Memories (a novel that I have packed away). I have no actual desire to wax in unnatural life, growing strong upon the blood of others, but if it was only for a day I could experience the powers of vampirism without the ethical dilemmas and hunters constantly thrusting crosses at me.
33. If one of your books became a movie, who would you choose for the “perfect cast” of main characters?
I don’t think of my characters in terms of movie stars, so I’m not sure.
I am a huge Christopher Lee fan, so I would be strongly tempted to invent a reason why he should play one of the characters, just so I could work with him.
34. What is the oddest thing you have ever researched for one of your books?
I love learning new things, so most of the oddities I have researched were done for fun and only turned up in a story later.
I am gathering ideas for a collection of short stories based on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, so stories about the market at Limoges is probably the oddest thing I have done specifically for a book.
35. What is the most difficult thing you have ever researched for one your books and why?
The International Space Station. Fauxpocalypse is set in the aftermath of a giant comet, predicted to wipe out life on Earth, missing at the last moment. After my sad, philosophical piece was accepted, I was struck by the thought that maybe if everyone was going to die anyway, some of the crew of the ISS would stay up there to study the event until the very end.
I had a great idea for an overall plot. However, the more I looked into the ISS the more I discovered it was designed to survive exactly the sort of problems a near-miss might cause. So I spent days going through technical documents from NASA working out what might cause a serious but not immediately disastrous issue.
Once I had a scientifically plausible scenario for a disaster, I went back through the story trying to cut out every obscure technical name and process that I could trying to turn it from a theoretical case study back into fiction; which meant attempting to discover what the average reader might know or accept as right without supporting description.
Thank you, Dave, for allowing me to interview you. I hope everyone else has enjoyed learning about you and your work as much as I have.