I was lucky. I was already a screenwriter and had a film agent at William Morris. So when I finished the manuscript of THE SILVER BEAR (after five years of writing, putting it off, writing, putting it off), I gave it to my film agent and said, "I wrote this. I don't know if it's any good or there's a market for it." My film agent sent it to Mel Berger, a WME literary agent in NYC. He read it and said he loved it and wanted to try to sell it. I thought maybe he was humoring me because my film agent put him up to it. The book sold the next week. To be fair, I had a lot of rejection slips when I was coming up in screenwriting, so this overnight success story is really ten years in the making.
--> Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn't make work?
Yes, the first novel I tried to write out of college was titled THE ANNUNCIATION and was about a boy, today, who an angel appears to and tells him where and when the Second Coming will take place. A bunch of people try to kill him after that. I didn't know what I was doing then and wasn't much of a writer. It had its moments but it has long since been trashed.
--> Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
It is extremely exciting and nerve wracking. It is much different than a movie, where everything builds up toward a release date and you are made or broken in that first weekend. A book's release can be a long process, and a book can catch on months after it first hits shelves. The best part is finally getting reader reviews and press reviews and seeing if that book that has been in your head for so long actually entertains.
--> Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind when you need one?
I wish I did! No, I usually have just a kernel of an idea for the next book I want to write and then I start writing and see where it goes. I usually figure it out about a 1/3 of the way through… at least I figure out the ending… and then I work to that. A lot of times I figure out what the last line of the book will be and then I just set that as my target and everything drives toward that last line.
--> Do you have entire story arcs mapped out when you begin a trilogy or a series of related books?
Not at all. I barely know where that particular book is going to go when I first start typing. Do you have any ideas for where the sequel to THE RIGHT HAND should go?
--> Do you have to get into a different creative space to write novels than you do screenplays?
You don't have to be in a different mindset to write novels versus screenplays… the same muscles that help you put audiences on the edge of their seats apply when you want readers flipping pages. It is all about pace, and writing movies certainly influences the style of my prose.
--> Do you have to enter a different mind-set to write different stories for different names/characters?
Yes… you definitely have to switch hats when you change points of view. I like to write driving, page-turning stories… so I usually get some loud rock music blaring and then go to work.
--> Is there any kind of book you would like to write but haven't?
No, I've been lucky enough to write some crime and some espionage thrillers. That's what I enjoy, and that's what I'll continue to do.
--> If you could change anything about your writing career, what would it be?
I pinch myself that I get to do this for a living. I would, of course, like to reach more readers, but I haven't quite figured out how to do that yet. I just write the best books I can and hope people will pass them along, recommend them, and tell all their friends.
--> What’s the most interesting question you’ve ever been asked about your writings, and what was your answer?
I was asked, "How does your wife sleep at night next to you knowing her husband writes these stories about hit men and death and destruction." My answer was, "I've been asking myself that question for 18 years."
--> 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?
I am blown away by Hemingway's THE SUN ALSO RISES. Perfect novel. I get writer envy all the time though. I just read Neal Stephenson's REAMDE and thought, "how the hell does he write that many words and tie all that plot together with characters I actually care about?"
--> Anything you’ve always wanted to be asked about your writing but no one ever has?
I've always wanted to be asked… "Derek, you are a national best seller, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, with entire rows of bookstore shelves dedicated to your books… how does it feel to have so many readers?" Strangely, I haven't been asked that yet.