Q. Why did you decide to do this interview?
A. Because I get a lot of email from readers, and many of them ask the same questions. Since I am very lazy, I thought it would be a lot easier to answer them in an interview, instead of answering the same questions over and over again in my replies to their emails. That’s why I would be very grateful if my readers would read this interview before asking me questions. To answer a question asked by many, Chiefs is now available from Netflix, I hear. I can’t guarantee it.
Q. First of all, a lot of readers have asked questions about your writing intentions for the future. What are they?
A. My publishers have asked me to write five books a year, including one cowritten novel, so there will be five new books every year for as long as I can stand it.
Q. A number of readers want to know, who kidnapped Holly in Dark Harbor?
A. I never explain my novels, but so many of you have asked, I’ll make an exception in this case. Holly was kidnapped by the people who kidnapped and murdered all the other victims, but Caleb kept her alive in order to help them. Don’t ask about the vacuum cleaner, and before you ask questions about the plots of any other novels, remember: I never explain! It’s all in the book, figure it out!
Q. Shane, from Omaha, and a great many other readers want to know where you get your ideas.
A. I have a fevered imagination and a rich fantasy life, which helps with the sex scenes. I’ve never really had any trouble coming up with ideas; they just grow, like weeds. The weeding is the hard part.
Q. Jim, from New York, asks: “Stone Barrington is, by most readers’ standards, filthy rich. I’m not sure a writer’s lifestyle should leak into his work.” Comment?
A. Stone didn’t start out rich. In New York Dead he was a homicide detective struggling to find the money to renovate a house he’d inherited. After he left the NYPD there is a clear track through the books of how Stone earned his money. Since being widowed, he’s a lot richer, but he’s very uncomfortable with it. Why do you think Stone’s lifestyle and mine are the same? They’re very different. It seems to me that most people are interested in reading about characters who are richer than they are. It’s not much fun reading about somebody who’s having trouble paying his bills, though Stone has frequently had this problem, until recently.
Q. Brenda, from Madisonville, wants to know: “Did you base Stone Barrington on someone real, or is he entirely out of your imagination?”
A. Stone is a fictional character. I know only one NYPD detective, and I didn’t meet him until after the first Stone novel, New York Dead, had been written. I don’t know any lawyers like Stone, either, and he really is not me, although there are a few similarities.
Q. What are the similarities between you and Stone?
A. We share a tailor and a love for Elaine’s osso buco, and there are a few others, but I’m not going to tell you what they are.
Q. Do you still live on the Treasure Coast of Florida?
A. No, I sold my house in Vero Beach in June of 2004, and a couple of months later I bought another in Key West, where I had previously lived for four years during the nineties. During the time between houses, the warehouse in Vero Beach where I had stored all my belongings was hit by two hurricanes, destroying nearly everything, so I spent the winter of ’04-’05 furnishing the new house. I enjoy spending the winters there, if another hurricane doesn’t blow the house away.
Q. Where do you get your characters’ names?
A. When I wrote Chiefs, I knew I would need a lot of names, so I wrote down the names of all the merchants on Main Street in my hometown, then mixed up the first and last names. I got many compliments on their authenticity. Now I use friends’ names or just make them up. Sometimes, charitable groups auction the right to have characters named after the highest bidder. Somebody paid $5,000 to have his name used in L.A. Dead! No, I won’t name a character after you, unless you follow the above procedure.
Q. Deborah, from Jacksonville, Florida, asks: “Do you find it easier or more difficult to maintain a recurring character’s identity than to start with a new character?”
A. I suppose it’s easier, since I don’t have to start from scratch each time. Early in my career, I resisted suggestions from my publishers that I write a continuing character, but now I find myself with five—Will Lee (though he is unnamed in White Cargo), Stone Barrington, Holly Barker, Rick Barron, and Ed Eagle. I still try to make each book as different as possible from all the others. Too many writers have worn me out as a reader by, essentially, writing the same book again and again. I try hard to avoid that, even in books with continuing characters, since I don’t want to wear out any readers.
Q. Will you write another novel featuring Rick Barron, of The Prince of Beverly Hills?
A. I wrote Prince as a stand-alone novel, one with all new characters, so I had no plans to make him a continuing character. (Of course, I didn’t intend Stone Barrington to be a continuing character, either.) However, I’ve had so many requests from readers for more of Rick Barron, that I wrote a sequel, Beverly Hills Dead, which came out in January 2008. It’s set in the late 1940s, and the very young Vance Calder is an important character, too.
Q. Rosalie, from Pasadena, wants to know if you’re coming there for a book signing anytime soon, and she also wants to know if you have a family and a dog.
A. A month or two before each book comes out I publish a tour schedule on the website, so you can click on Tour Dates now to see if I’ll be in Pasadena. As for family, I have been married to Jeanmarie Woods since 2013, and we share our life with my fourth Labrador retriever, named Fred. (I name all my dogs Fred.) If you want me to sign books in your town, please ask a local bookstore to call their Putnam representative, several months in advance, to make the request, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. She arranges my schedule.
Q. Maria, from Philadelphia, asks for the recipe for vodka gimlets.
A. Pour 6 ounces from a 750-ml bottle of vodka (you’ll think of something to do with it) and replace with Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice and a tiny bit of water. Shake and put in the freezer overnight. The water will create ice shards and all you have to do is pour some into a martini glass. You can also make an excellent martini by using 5 ounces of vermouth in a 750-ml bottle of gin. Enjoy!
Q. A lot of readers want to know how they can get a signed copy of a book if you’re not coming to their town.
A. All they have to do is look at the tour schedule, and if they can’t make it to a signing, just call one of the bookstores on the list, order a copy, and when I arrive there, I’ll personalize and sign it. At the end of every signing, I always sign the store’s remaining stock, too, so they will have signed copies until those are sold. The Vero Beach Book Center, in Vero Beach, Florida, at (561) 569-2050, usually has signed copies of several novels in stock. I’m sorry, but I can’t have readers sending me books for signing; I move around a lot, and it gets too crazy.
Q. Clint, from Gainesville, Georgia, wants to ask: “What inspired you to become an author?”
A. My mother taught me to read the year before I went to school, and she did a good job. I became a voracious reader as a child, reading Mark Twain and Dickens and a lot of horse and dog stories from the Junior Literary Guild, then I moved up to my mother’s Literary Guild selections. That has to be the basis of my career. One learns to write by reading, and by the time I was nine or ten, I wanted to write.
Q. Rene, from Berlin, Germany, wants to know: “How much time does it take you to prepare, write, and revise a novel?”
A. When I finish a novel, I ship the manuscript off to my editor, and while she is reading it, I begin a new one. I write half a dozen chapters and a brief synopsis—just enough to get my publishers hooked—then, as soon as I get the first check, I throw away the synopsis and let the book lead where it will. (My publishers have never complained about this.) I tend to think a book ahead. My publishers have asked me to write four books a year and cowrite a fifth, which means I have only a few months to write each book.
Q. Are your books heavily edited?
A. No, I’ve always been lightly edited; it’s never taken me more than a few hours to address my editor’s notes. On several occasions my editors have told me they have no notes at all. I like hearing this. Some parts of the publishing process overlap from book to book. While I’m writing a new novel, I’ll be working with my publishers on the jacket design and copy for the last book, and I’m always thinking ahead a book, so that when I finish one, I can start another immediately. I write on a computer, using WordPerfect (for Windows, though I much prefer DOS, but it’s hard to update the graphics and printer drivers). I begin the day by reading what I wrote the day before and making small corrections, then I write a new chapter, which is usually five to seven pages. This takes an hour (but I’m thinking all the time!). I seem to have a gift for keeping the story in my head. I don’t usually reread the book when I’ve finished; I just send it to my editor. Recently, though, I was afraid that I may have made some errors in the plotting, so I reread one of my books before sending it to my editor. The only significant change was to add two paragraphs.
Q. A lot of readers want to know why there are so many errors in a published book.
A. There are two kinds of errors—those of spelling, punctuation, etc., and those that the writer makes in plotting or in fact. The publisher employs, in addition to the book’s editor, a copy editor, whose job it is to deal with the minute details of the book, correct mistakes of both kinds, and make sure the plot and timeline track well. By the time the book goes into production, it should have been read by several people, but, unfortunately, errors still slip through. I know that errors annoy readers, but there does not seem to be any economic way to avoid all of them.
Q. Why do you ask, in the introduction to the email function on your website, that readers not write to you with corrections?
A. Because, by the time the readers read the book and write to me, the process is already out of my hands, and I will already know about it. If you find some large, important error and send it to my publishers, perhaps a correction can be made for the next printing, but that doesn’t often happen. The book is going to remain pretty much as it’s first published, errors and all. Also, readers who like to report errors to me always seem to think they’re the first to notice, when, in fact, I may have already heard from hundreds of others on the same subject. (I must have had a hundred emails from helicopter pilots commenting on my description of Stone’s helicopter flying in Two-Dollar Bill. My point was, Stone knows nothing about flying helicopters.) I sometimes make errors such as changing a character’s name from book to book, something which no one needs to point out to me, since that has been done many times already. God help me if I make a mistake about a firearm. I’ll get a ton of email from gun folks about it, and most of them volunteer to be my firearms consultant. Too many readers seem to belong to the AHA! Police. In short, save time for yourself and me, and PLEASE DO NOT write to me about errors and corrections. If you do, I’ll simply refer you back to this interview, and I’ll probably yell at you.
Q. At the end of one book, Arrington has given birth to a girl, but at the beginning of the next, it’s a boy. Why?
A. See the above answer.
Q. I keep seeing the airplane registration number N123TF used in your books. Why?
A. It’s my airplane’s registration number, and I use it to avoid accidentally using somebody else’s. In Orchid Blues I inadvertently used it on two different airplanes, and I’ve had a lot of readers email about it. I apologize.
Q. Terry, of Orlando, Florida, wants to know: “How much time do you spend in Florida, Santa Fe, and Maine? And which do you prefer?”
A. Here’s a clear-cut answer, Terry: It varies. I’m a Florida resident, but generally speaking, I go where the weather is best. That means Florida during the cold months, Maine in summer, and Santa Fe in the spring and fall, when I’m not traveling. And I love them all.
Q. Sherry, in Oklahoma City, asks: “I’ve read just about all your books except for Run Before the Wind, and it’s hard to find. Sometimes it appears on Internet auctions, but it’s always $30 or more. Why is that? Is it out of print?”
A. All my novels are in print, which means that if a bookstore does not have one in stock, they can order it and have it in your hands within a few days. It may not be a hardcover copy, but the paperback will be available. When all the hardback books have been sold, they’re gone and usua