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Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is honored to have as our guest John DeDakis author of Fast Track and his most recent novel, Bluff. 

John is an editor and writer for the Emmy and Peabody-Award winning "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer." 

A native of La Crosse, Wisconsin,  John began his journalism career in 1969 at a campus radio station at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was tear gassed while covering an anti-Vietnam War riot in 1970. He earned a B.A. in Journalism from that university in 1977 following a stint in the U.S. Army where he worked from 1972-74 as a Special Events Reporter at The American Forces Network - Europe, based in Frankfurt, Germany. DeDakis is a former White House Correspondent. During his career, he has interviewed such luminaries as Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Alfred Hitchcock.

Norm: 

How did you get started in writing? 

John:

I became attracted to writing at a very early age -- probably five or six.  My dad was a lawyer, my mom was a third grade teacher, and books were all over the house. I was fascinated by the printed words and the smell of the musty pages.  When I was about six or seven, I sat down at my mom's Royal typewriter and banged out a  rudimentary nonfiction book about my hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin.  I wrote a second book at age 9 entitled "People in my Life."  It was about, um, people in my life.  Both books were pretty awful.  But it was a start.  

I never set out to be a writer.  At first, I planned to become a lawyer, go into practice with my dad, and then go into politics, but the Vietnam War and Watergate soured me on a political career, so I eased into broadcast journalism, instead.  For probably 20+ years, my writing was just-the-facts, ma'am journalism, but within a year of becoming a writer at CNN in Atlanta in 1988, I was promoted to copy editor.  It paid more, but it was tedious.  So I took my atrophying creative side and started delving into writing.

My first project was researching a biography I planned to write about a friend who was murdered, but the work became too time-consuming and expensive -- plus the information I was uncovering caused too much consternation in the man's family, so I turned to writing fiction.  That was 1994.  I read books on writing fiction, went to some writing conferences, and began writing my first novel, Fast Track. 

Norm:   

What keeps you going?

John:

For me, writing is its own reward.  I find that if I don't have a writing project going, I feel off-center.  Another thing that keeps me going is the positive feedback I get from readers, many of whom I've never met, yet they take the time to send me an email to tell me how much they enjoy my work.  It's rewarding -- and humbling -- to be told that something I wrote resonated and connected with someone.  

Norm:

Have you transferred your skills as Senior Copy Editor on CNN's “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” to the writing of your novels? 

John:

Yes.  Absolutely.

Norm:  

How?

John:

Broadcast writing is meant to be conversational, so when I write fiction, I usually do the dialogue first.  It's only in subsequent drafts that I add descriptions and actions.  Also, at its core, journalism is curiosity with a heavy dose of skepticism.  Consequently, I bring those qualities to my writing and embody them in my heroine Lark Chadwick.  Finally, broadcast journalism is always struggling to keep the viewer's attention.  The challenge is to keep the viewer (or in my case, the reader) from getting bored, so there's a heavy emphasis on brisk pacing and lean writing that keeps the story racing head-long toward its conclusion. 

Norm:

What has been the best part about being published?

John:

The wonderful people I've met.  I write to connect with people, so it's always a thrill to be able to introduce people to my books and to hear when someone likes what I've written.

Norm:

How did you go about creating the characters of Lark Chadwick and Lionel Stone in your novels?

John:

To me, the creative process is a mystery -- the mystery of uncovering things hidden deeply in the subconscious.  Lark (and I have no idea how I came up with her name) is my alter ego.  She's probably what I'd be like if I'd been born female.  I began writing as a woman only because when I first started toying with fiction, someone suggested that I write in a way that stretches me in a new direction. Lionel is a composite of a couple editors I've worked with, plus he, too, is probably what I'd be like if I were an older, more experienced journalist.  Bottom line:  I think all my characters -- even the bad guys -- lurk inside me somewhere.

Norm:

Did you find the writing of your second novel, Bluff easier than the first one, Fast Track?

John:

Yes.  I think so.  It took ten years before I found my current agent, Barbara Casey, who got me the book deal at ArcheBooks.  Barbara is the 39th agent I queried.  Fast Track went through 14 major revisions before it was published.  It went from being a 155,000-word mishmash to a tight and lean 75,000-word mystery-suspense novel.  And I feel it kept getting better with each revision.  Bluff, on the other hand, only had to go through 7 major revisions and took about half the time to write.  My current work-in-progress, Troubled Water, is flowing (so to speak) much easier than my first two books -- and I like it the best.  A good sign, I guess. 

Norm:

Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan?

John:

I really need a roadmap, otherwise I feel like I'm spinning my wheels.  The roadmap doesn't lock me into a specific destination, but it at least gives me a target.  During the rewrite process, I'm still free to lurch and swerve in new directions -- and frequently do.

Norm:

In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?

John:

In nonfiction, I'm not a big fan of taking liberties with the facts.  Frankly, it's unethical.  But fiction is something else, entirely.  I definitely take liberties with setting.  My settings are based on real places, but then I change the name of the locale so that I have more freedom to make the place conform to plot needs.  How much liberty-taking is "too much"?  That's probably for the reader to decide.  

Norm:

What do you see as the influences on your writing?

John:

I first became attracted to good fiction when I was taking an American History class as an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  We were learning about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and had to read John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."  History came alive for me -- and so did the idea of writing fiction.  I make no pretense about being a "literary" writer, so my influences are primarily people like Sue Grafton and John Grisham.  Their writing is lean, clear, and straightforward.  I also like Greg Iles and Pat Conroy.   

Norm:

Did you learn anything from writing your books and what was it?

John:

I learned several things. Here are a few tidbits I picked up along the way:

  • Try to hook the reader right from the start by having something happen to the main character

  • Don't get bogged down with description.  Instead, sprinkle it throughout, often as dialogue tags

  • End a chapter by making the reader want to turn the page to find out what happens next

  • When writing a mystery, think of ways you can make the reader believe that every character might be the villain

  • Don't make your hero (or heroine) perfectly good or your villain perfectly evil.  We all possess shades of both

  • Have at least one (and preferably two or three) subplots that will give your story more texture and will help to propel your main story forward 


Norm:

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

John:

Fast Track is derived from the suicide of my sister 30 years ago and a fatal car-train collision I witnessed as a kid.  Bluff is based, in part, on a hike I took along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. Troubled Water comes from a brush a friend of mine had with the law.  Book four -- still untitled (and unwritten, for that matter) will be based on a trip I took to the bucolic village of St. Davids, Wales. (Now all I have to do is come up with a plot.)  In book five (also untitled), Lark will be a reporter in Washington who has some, shall we say, significant dealings with the President of the United States. (They always say "write what you know," so it helps that I was a White House Correspondent for the last three years of Ronald Reagan's presidency.)  I think book six will be set in Florence, Italy -- but we'll see.  Ask me in a month after I get back.

Norm:

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

John:

I'm spoiled because I only seem to hear from the people who like my books.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't like my writing, but they mostly -- and mercifully -- leave me alone.  The nicest compliment I've gotten has come from people who tell me that long after they've finished reading one of my books, they find themselves thinking about the characters.  Nice.

Norm:

Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?

John:

My WEBSITE

My AuthorsDen.com writing website

You can find (and friend) me on Facebook.....

And my books are available on Amazon.com

That should keep you plenty busy.

Norm:

Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

John:

Since I became a published author in 2005, I've come across many people who've hired me to give them critical feedback about their manuscripts.  If you're interested in my services in this area, there's more information about this on my website, as well as a way to send me an email.

I've also begun to lead day-long workshops around the country for aspiring and/or struggling writers.  I provide you with a step-by-step plan on how to write and market a novel, how to stay organized during the process, and how to revise and edit your work.  Again, my website has all you need to know on how to bring me to your community.

Norm:  

Thanks once again and good luck with all of your endeavors.

John:  And thank you, Norm, for this opportunity.

Click Here To Read Norm's Review of Bluff

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