My first nonfiction book, Ruby Ridge, was rejected by every publisher in New York for a year, and then, when I reworked the proposal, was finally accepted. I wrote two novels that sat in my garage because I didn't think they were good enough (I sent one of the novels to one agent, who wanted me to revise before she'd consider it; I didn't.) I also wrote and sent out short stories for seven years that were rejected by every magazine in the country. But my first published novel, Over Tumbled Graves, was taken by HarperCollins right away.
--> Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn't make work?
My first two books remain in my garage. Since then, I have bits and starts of many books that don't work, but I usually come back to them. Beautiful Ruins was a novel I worked at for fifteen years trying to get right. I started it in 1997, but set it down five times to write other novels.
--> Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
It's thrilling. My favorite part is getting the book in the mail, holding it, then walking over and putting it on my bookshelf. I also like the first few readings, when I get to share it with the world.
--> Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind just when you need one?
I'm constantly coming up with ideas, jotting them down, stuffing drawers (both literal and mental) with material, notes, ideas, bits of dialogue ... they tend to be small things, character ideas, etc ... rarely, okay never, have I gotten the big idea for a novel (I shall write a story about a man losing his house in this recession!) all at once, but rather as an extension of a character and situation I find funny, or scary or fascinating. And then the small ideas just attach to it, like barnacles.
--> Do you know how a book/series is going to end when you begin it?
Nope. I figure if I'm not surprised, how can the reader be. Besides, I don't yet know the characters, so it would be phony to assume to know how they might act, and thus how the story will play out. I often have an idea of a movement I hope the book will make but that changes a lot.
--> Do you have to enter a different mind-set to write different stories or different characters?
Hmm. I think it works the other way, the writing changes my mind-set. I don't consider myself a method actor or anything, but my mood is really reflected by what I've written that day. I will write myself into the gloomiest moods, or into nostalgic reverie, or into anxiety.
--> Is there any kind of book you would like to write but haven't?
You're asking the wrong guy. I write something different every time out, usually. I've got a series of comic stories about a basketball team going, a zombie series of stories, a book of short stories coming out, and a big sweeping (dare I say romantic) novel out. If there's one thing I pride myself on, it's writing what the book I next want to read.
--> If you could change anything about your writing career, what would it be?
I'd be a little taller.
--> What’s the most interesting question you’ve ever been asked about your writings, and what was your answer?
--> If you could have written any single work – novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography – that you most admire and adore, what would it be?
Either Hamlet or Caddyshack. Or maybe both.