SPS-186: ThrillerFest 2019 Inside Stories Part 3 – with James Grady, John Sandford, Harlan Coben & James Rollins

In part three of our ThrillerFest interview series, James talks to some titans of the writing industry, including one who’s won a Pulitzer Prize and another who’s sold more than 20 million books, who reinforce the message that as much talent as you might have, hard work is what will make you a successful writer.

Show Notes

  • Absorbing life at European cafes with James Grady
  • Writing flawed, interesting characters
  • Using experiences from journalism in novels with John Sandford
  • Experiencing imposter syndrome, even after winning a Pulitzer Prize
  • Keeping a book conversational by not over-revising
  • Franchise building with Harlan Coben
  • James Rollins on the future for young writers
  • How writing a novel is like reading one

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

Transcript of Interviews

Announcer: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.

James Rollins: Writing is almost like reading a novel for the first time. It’s that discovery that excites me, and gets me to put me in that chair to want to write, is that I don’t know where the story’s going to go. Let’s go find out.

Announcer: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers.

Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller, Mark Dawson, and first-time author James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success.

This is the Self-Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Yes, hello and welcome to New York and the Self-Publishing Show on the road. This is the third and final episode of this year’s ThrillerFest Conference here in the city. I’m James Blatch.

Tom Ashford: And I’m Tom Ashford.

James Blatch: This is not Mark Dawson.

Tom Ashford: Not Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: Mark Dawson is still on holiday. He’s not actually been on holiday for three weeks, we should say.

Tom Ashford: Maybe he has.

James Blatch: Well, maybe he has. No, he’s been away for a week. About the time these are going out, I’m the one who’s on vacation, as they say here in the United States.

We have a fantastic episode for you today because whilst it’s always brilliant to talk to people who are fantastic at their craft and fantastic teachers for those of us who are learning it, it’s a privilege and a thrill to talk to people with massive success behind them. They often turn out to be very down to earth, and very nice people, and that was without question the case with our four interviewees today.

So we’re going to start with James Grady. Really lovely man. Now, this is the man who wrote, I was going to say Three Days of the Condor, but that was the film version with Robert Redford. He actually … what novel was-

Tom Ashford: Six Days of the Condor.

James Blatch: It’s a little weird though, isn’t it? Perhaps they thought they’d do a sequel.

Tom Ashford: The Other Three Days of the Condor.

James Blatch: Yeah. So fancy writing a film, fancy writing a book to turn it into a film with Robert Redford in it, which he did, I guess that was in the ’80s? I’m going to say ’80s, ’70s?

Tom Ashford: ’77, I think.

James Blatch: ’77. Late seventies. There you go.

James Grady was brilliant. And I’m going to tell you something he told us off camera, when we get back. But let’s hear from James Grady first.

James, you’re living the life, you have lived the life, as a thriller writer. And I think that’s what you talked about in your session this morning.

What were you saying?

James Grady: Well the thing is that I have been lucky enough to live the life that most people are here searching.

James Blatch: Yeah.

James Grady: What I was saying essentially is, that you have to be true to that life. You have to commit to it, and you have to work at it. Just wanting it is not enough. You got to move beyond that.

James Blatch: Right from your early days, did you have almost a businesslike mentality to your writing?

James Grady: I think obsession is more than … Businesslike implies I have a little more informal strategy going on.

For me, writing has always been like a cross between a heroin addiction and sex. I got to, and I want to. And just there’s no middle ground there. It’s a hunger that I try to stop.

I try to take a vacation, and I look over and I see a waiter drop a cup of coffee, and the next thing you know, I’m in the middle of a story about a cup of coffee hitting the ground.

James Blatch: And are you a guy who gets out your notepad and starts scribbling there and then?

James Grady: I’m a guy who should carry a notepad. I often have had to go to strangers and borrow a pad and the back of their racing form to write down that one brilliant sentence that I don’t want to have escape.

But I find that when I carry a notepad, I start to make notes, and I begin to focus on the paper and the pad, instead of what’s going on around me. And I want to absorb as much life as I can.

When I go to Europe, for example, and especially a city I haven’t seen, I’ll go to a sidewalk café and sit for two and a half hours. Waiters hate it. But I get to see the whole parade of life pass by.

James Blatch: It’s a perfect thing to do in a European city.

How did it start for you, James? When was your first published work?

James Grady: Condor was my first published fiction work. I’d published a little bit of poetry in my early twenties. But I knew that this thing burning in me, I had to write novels. And I thought the only way to do it, is to do it.

So I wrote Condor. I wrote it as professionally as I could. I really didn’t it was going to break like it did. I knew no one in New York publishing. I wrote it and sent it to New York from Montana.

I’m possibly convinced that because I came from Montana, a very rural state, that when a manuscript of complete sentences arrived in New York, they figured, “Well if it’s from some place like that, and he can write a complete sentence, the guy must be a genius.” And they read the book. That’s where I started, and I just never stopped since.

James Blatch: How old were you when you wrote it?

James Grady: I was 23 when I wrote the book.

James Blatch: I’m writing my first novel, I work with people who are very experienced, but I’m the one member of the team who’s starting out, hopefully publishing this year. And I found it really surprisingly difficult to write a novel. I’m loving it, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

About how it’s put together, and structure, and why people would want to turn the page. I’m learning. I’m loving learning it. I’m always fascinated by someone who sat down and wrote a novel, a successful novel, first time.

It’s always the first time, whatever novel you’re working on, because every novel is different. It’s a wonderful process. It’s almost like dating, or being in a love affair. More like a love affair. You start to date when you think about it, and you enter the affair when you actually sit down in a chair, and type your first word.

To me, every novel creates its own rules. There’s a lot of great books written on how to write novels. Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, even Somerset Maugham, way back. They all wrote wonderfully about how to write, and at best, those are only an introduction to what you yourself want to, and are going to, do. But it’s a nice way to start.

James Blatch: Your story, your first story, Condor, was this a thematic thing that you had to get out of you? Or did you sit there thinking, “I want to create something someone’s going to read.”

James Grady: What happened was, I had a fellowship, a college fellowship to work in Washington, on Capitol Hill for a senator. And every day, I would walk to work past this building, this townhouse, and it had a brass plaque on it. No one ever came in or out of the building.

And it went through my head, “What if it were a CIA front?” And the second thing that went through my head was, “What if I came back from getting lunch for all the officials and executives in my office, and they’d all been murdered?” Those two ‘what if?’ questions rode with me for about a year, year and a half, actually, before I actually got a chance to sit down and decide, this is the basis of my first novel.

James Blatch: Do you walk past buildings quite a lot and think … I mean I sort of do the same thing.

I occasionally see a lorry goes past on the road, and it’s completely blank on the side, and part of your mind starts thinking, “Is that MI6? Is that how they operate?”

James Grady: That is exactly how I think a lot of great novels start, is that one slightly off piece of reality. Because as human beings we’re always looking for the answer, why? How did this happen? What’s going on? And in that search for knowledge, for truth, for an explanation, fiction can arise and give it to you.

James Blatch: So I suppose that’s what I was also getting at. That search for meaning, as you say, is a driver I think for a lot of people’s first book, anyway. It’s the story they’ve got to tell.

But yours was a combination of this intrigue, but also, you wanted to write.

James Grady: Absolutely wanted to write. One of the thousand pieces of great luck I had, is I knew that at 23, I really didn’t know very much.

James Blatch: You knew that?

James Grady: I knew that.

James Blatch: You’re the only 23-year-old who knew that. I knew everything when I was 23.

James Grady: Let’s just say, I knew I didn’t know everything, or at least I couldn’t convince people that I knew everything.

James Blatch: That’s impressive.

James Grady: I didn’t want to preach. I didn’t want to tell people what to do. I wanted to show them something. And I basically wanted to entertain them, because fiction, while it has enriched my life, enlightened, taught me about the major issues of life, fiction is first and foremost entertainment.

And I love that about it. I love that my job is to entertain you and maybe, maybe I’ll have a flash of something, that I discovered quite accidentally that you will be able to resonate with, if only for a heartbeat.

James Blatch: And that connection is very important as well, isn’t it? The sort of conspiracy side, and the what if? At some point is has to be something relatable to the reader.

James Grady: Absolutely. Even if you’re creating what I would call wild science fiction, the fact that your character is late for dinner in the space station gives your reader something to identify with. And that helps pull him into the rest of the story.

James Blatch: That’s a brilliant way of describing it. So that’s something else I’m learning, is when you write your character as being flawed and uncertain, it’s some of the best parts of the character.

James Grady: Oh, absolutely.

James Blatch: But you start naively, you think everything’s got to be a hero, there’s the hero. The subtleties of novel writing, the layered complexities of creating somebody who’s flawed and doesn’t necessarily know the answer, makes them a better hero.

James Grady: Absolutely.

James Blatch: It’s something you learn, right?

James Grady: I consumed, and loved, and was influenced by the James Bond novels. But I never found a flaw in James Bond except perhaps, he was too lucky. I enjoyed them, but they didn’t really speak to me on any more than a surface level. I wanted to write my novels about real people, who have done many unusual things, perhaps. But they’re still at their core what we’d call regular people.

I think that we all, in our own way, have our James Bond moments. We all, in our own way, have our heroic moments. We’re all villains. But we have a humanity that encompasses all that, and that’s what I kind of wanted to get at.

James Blatch: So what happened after Condor? You have a big hit.

James Grady: It was extraordinary. And one of the things I did, and I think I was smarter than I deserved to be, was after Condor hit, as it was really racing into the movie theaters, I took a job I didn’t need as an investigative reporter with the leading investigative reporter in America. Which was to me like going to grad school.

But it also meant that I wasn’t just this, by then 24, 25-year-old kid, who had a moment in the sun, with Robert Redford’s shining golden hair. It meant I had a thing that I had to focus on besides myself and my own work. It slowed my own work down a bit.

But I think that the four years I spent doing that allowed me to mature, both as a person and as a writer, and gave me a tremendous amount of material.

James Blatch: Did you find the journalism writing was very helpful for your novel writing?

James Grady: I found that what it did is it let me go into doors that I probably would not have gotten into any other way. And it also required me to maintain the economical style of writing. You can describe a barn with five words or five hundred words. And what journalism helps discipline us to do, is to pick somewhere closer to five. And to just get to the point and keep things moving.

James Blatch: And where are you now? How many books?

James Grady: You know, there’s this weird sort of superstition that I don’t like to count. I’ve got somewhere between 12 and 15 published novels. I’ve got about 30 published short stories. I’ve been editors of anthologies.

I worked in Hollywood for a while. All of it seems to me to be one whole piece. Working in screenplays or working on a television show taught me an economy of visual style. Working in journalism taught me to be reality based. My short stories made my novels much better.

And in some different sections of the reading community, people don’t even know, for example, that I’ve won awards for short stories. And in others, they know that I’ve … “Oh yeah, you were the guy who wrote that great short story. Wait. You also wrote Condor? And you also wrote this book?”

I’ve been really lucky. It’s odd, I’m not really a household name. My work is. And I kind of appreciate that more. It makes me feel that the effort was more important.

James Blatch: Yeah. It’s about the work.

James Grady: Yeah. I’ve been kind of reluctant and shy throughout my career. There are conferences I’ve gone to in France and Italy and England. But I never really been on what you would call the circuit.

Coming to ThrillerFest this time, in part to honor Stephen Hunter, is an anomaly for me. I enjoy it, but it’s like I have this whisper in the back of my head, “You should be home writing.”

James Blatch: You’ve happy with your work doing the talking for you.

James Grady: Absolutely.

James Blatch: Which is how it should be.

James Grady: I love going out and meeting people. I love public speaking. I love the little bit of attention. It really warms me. But I understand, it’s the transitory and almost a transactional nature. Whereas my work seems to me to be where I should be spending my effort and my attention and my joy.

James Blatch: Finally James, do you feel optimistic when you’ve got younger people here today who, writing their first books, who want the life that you’ve had.

Do you look at them and think, “Go for it.” Or do you think this is too tough?

James Grady: I’m hugely encouraging to writers who are just starting out. I often go and speak to small writing groups in and around where I live.

We are not stopping literature in the 21st century. If literature is anything, it is a living and evolving art. John Steinbeck was probably one of the most brilliant novelists of the 20th century. We still read him today, but we also read novelists who’ve come along since him.

I think that one of the great things about reading is, it gives you a sweep of time, and of personality, and of situations that are about your life.

So when I look out and I see a young writer who’s just, “Oh my God. I’ve published my first book.” I just want to bounce up and down with them in joy. And I also want to take them aside and say, “Okay, treasure this moment. Live it to its fullest. But sit down and go on for the next one.”

Because if art becomes stuck in one place, it’s like that great band that you knew that has one song, that after the first time, or the first 20 times you hear them play it, they’re dated. They’re not alive.

I mean the best art, whether it’s visual or music, which has been a huge influence on me, I’m a rock and roll baby. It’s alive and it’s growing. My favorite art is, for example, Richard Thompson. He released a brilliant new album and he was in Fairport Convention 50 years ago. A British poet that I don’t think gets enough credit. But you have to keep moving. You have to keep alive. You have to keep asking the big questions and delivering the good answers.

James Blatch: Searching for that meaning.

James Grady: Ah, every day man.

James Blatch: James, thank you so much for talking to us.

James Grady: You’re welcome. Thank you.

James Blatch: There you go, James Grady for you, and like we said, what a surprise. There’s no magic dust. It’s about knuckling down, learning how to do your writing, learning your craft, making sure that when you write a manuscript it’s the very best that it can be. These are the ingredients of a best-selling author, someone like James.

And he told us afterwards, I think he mentioned it in the session that he did, that he read Alistair MacLean’s The Golden Rendezvous 25 times to try and deconstruct it, and work out why it worked as a book.

In fact you were in that session, weren’t you?

Tom Ashford: Yeah, so you were saying that the first seven or eight times he read, it was because he loved it. And then after that, it’s because he hated that. And then he went back to loving it again. But I’ve never read a book, any book, 25 times, ever.

James Blatch: No. I may have read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 25 times, but I didn’t pay any attention to how it was written.

We’re loving being here in New York. It’s been a really inspiring time with ThrillerFest. Picking up the ideas, the craft tips, and some instruction’s been great. But meeting some of these giants of the publishing world, the brilliantly awarded novelist, our next person’s won a Pulitzer Prize, has been great.

It’s also a fantastic city. Here we are with lower Manhattan behind us. I think you might be able to see the Freedom Tower, or WTC One as it’s now called. You enjoyed your week here, Tom?

Tom Ashford: Yeah. It’s very knackering, but very enjoyable.

James Blatch: Good.

Tom Ashford: Good to come to New York. Haven’t been here before.

James Blatch: We get up early. We make sure. We have to, because some of these guys, I mean Harlan Coben in particular was really difficult to get. And we basically had to make sure we were there crack of dawn, set up and ready to go. Because that was often the time there was a few minutes.

In fact, I had to hang about outside the men’s toilets to get Harlan Coben. And when he said to me, “Well, I’m going to a session.” I said, “Your session is in eleven minutes. This will only take nine.” And he sort of went, “Okay.” So we got him. And then he really enjoyed the interview and came and spoke to us after. So that was great.

Our next interviewee, I was absolutely thrilled to meet and there’s a picture on social media going around of us together, which is John Sandford, the Pulitzer Prize winning John Sandford, who won his Pulitzer Prize for journalism. And John actually, well he’s here to talk about being an amazing novelist, but he also came to ThrillerFest to talk about the revision process, about polishing your manuscript. Making it the best that it can be. So that’s what we talked about, as well as hearing a bit about his background. So this is John Sandford.

The most exciting thing is, you’re a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, I believe.

John Sandford: Yes. I won that when I was … well about 35 years ago. And shortly after I won the Pulitzer, I decided that I didn’t want to be a journalist any more.

James Blatch: Oh really?

John Sandford: Yeah, right.

James Blatch: Did you want to quit at the top? Or was it just that you’d come to the end of your enjoyment of it?

John Sandford: You know the thing is, well part of it frankly is that after I won the Pulitzer, I realized that I couldn’t afford to send my kids to college. And I needed to do something that would make some more money, and I got very lucky, and made some more money. And could send my kids to college. I found that I really enjoyed the independent life, and I started writing books on my own.

James Blatch: So that’s odd that you couldn’t show your Pulitzer Prize to the college and they wouldn’t accept that as fees.

John Sandford: Not as a journalist.

James Blatch: No, no.

John Sandford: You’re making 50 or 60 thousand dollars a year, and it costs 12 thousand dollars a year in tuition. I have two kids.

James Blatch: So you moved over to writing novels at that stage?

John Sandford: Well you know, I always wanted to do it. And I went to a writer’s workshop when I was in college as a kid, and I always wanted to write fiction, but I also enjoyed journalism. Because I got to see a lot of exciting stuff, and a lot of interesting stuff when I was a journalist. So a lot of dead bodies. Covered a lot of cops.

I was in Miami during the cocaine epidemic and wrote a lot of cocaine related stories. I got to see things like Yellowstone. When Yellowstone burned down in the ’80s, I went out and covered the fires. I covered the crash of a jumbo jet.

I really enjoyed journalism, but after a while, I burned out on it a little bit. Yet I had all this stuff in the back of my head from my days as a journalist that worked into the thriller novels.

James Blatch: So actually not too dissimilar from me, because I was a BBC journalist for a few years. And I think in the end I found the short-term nature of it a little bit not satisfying. You’d finish it, you’d be on to your next story.

Whereas the long-form for me has been quite a revelation, just losing yourself in a very long-form format, like a novel.

John Sandford: The thing is, after I won the Pulitzer, one of the good things about that was that I got to do a lot more long-term stuff. For example, I wrote a non-fiction book on plastic surgery, and I spent most of the year off and on, I had to write other stories in between, but I still got to do some longer term stuff.

Over the course of a year, I wrote maybe 10 or 15 medical stories that involved actually watching operations and watching things like that going on. So it wasn’t the short-term nature of it, it was just really that it was time to move on. And I think that that time may come with thriller novels too, if I don’t die before then. But I mean there are other things to do in life.

James Blatch: You’re here at ThrillerFest as the Thriller Master, you’re going to receive the award I think on Saturday night?

John Sandford: Yeah.

James Blatch: Is that an important thing for you?

John Sandford: Well, I like it. Yeah. What am I saying? It’s nice to be recognized like that. And because I’m a fan, among other things. And that’s one of the reasons I chose thriller writing as the genre that I was going to look at, and was going to write in, because I am a fan.

People like Lee Child, Stephen Hunter, and these other people that you see here, I read those people all the time. And I understand you guys are from Britain, and I read quite a few British writers. I read John Connolly, I read Mick Herron, I read people like that. And I’m quite a serious reader of this kind of literature.

James Blatch: Lots of people absolutely love your writing here, amongst your peers. But is there a part of you … because most people who work in the artistic endeavors always feel a little bit like imposter syndrome, I think they call it.

Is there a part of you that thinks, “Am I worthy of this?”

John Sandford: One of the things that happens is that, you do think that. And not only that, a lot of the times you feel inadequate, and especially when you’re writing a long series of books like mine, it seems to me like I have to learn how to do it every time. I have to start all over again.

And then you start to worry about, “Is this really going to be good enough? Am I selling a piece of cheese to my fans?” So the people that I depend on is that, this book doesn’t sound quite right, and I worry about it a lot.

It’s a weird and insecure way to make a living. Because you have a feeling like if you have a couple of really bad ones in a row, that people are going to stop buying your books, and you might start selling insurance or something.

James Blatch: For those of us just starting out, it is refreshing to hear John Sandford saying that. That he worries about the next book, and whether he’s doing it right.

John Sandford: Always.

James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Well you’ve been talking about the revision process I think today?

John Sandford: Yes.

James Blatch: Do you want to talk to us a little bit about your approach to revision and what sort of knowledge you imparted this morning?

John Sandford: Part of it is that I have a checklist that I work on when I am finished a book. What I was talking about this morning was the final polish that you put on a book.

For example, I have a list of words that I use way too much. And I have a list of things that I do way too much. For example, I’ll start hundreds of sentences with the word “and”. I’ll write a sentence, and I will want to continue the sentence, so I’ll just put a period, and then I’ll use the word “and”. I do it way too much.

So I have this checklist, and I’ll go through and I’ll take them out on my computer. I’ll do a search and replace kind of thing and I’ll start finding all the … And every place I can take it out, I take it out, because it will still be a hundred examples of that. And there are a lot of empty words like “very” and “just” and things like that. And I take those words out, and with a computer it’s quite easy.

But it still takes time, but I insist that I have to do that, because those words start to ring in the readers’ heads, and you don’t want them to do that. You don’t want them to say, “This guy writes a lot of the same thing over and over and over again.” You don’t want them to think that. So I’ve got that kind of a checklist.

When you’re writing fiction, you actually make up facts about people. You say how big a guy is, how tall he is, what color his eyes are, what his hair looks like. You’ve got to make sure you stay consistent.

People don’t talk very much about this as writers, but you make mistakes all the time. Hundreds of mistakes in a book. And you have to go through, and you have to take those out, and you have to make them right. And you don’t always catch them.

One of the things I talked about this morning is a have a lady who lives across the street from me, who calls me up after every book and tells me the mistakes that are in the book.

James Blatch: That’s nice.

John Sandford: And I don’t know if I appreciate it or not. But she usually finds at least one. And that’s just the reality of writing these things. Because you’re writing 100,000 words, you’ve got 100,000 words in your head, and it’s a problem.

James Blatch: I don’t think that I’ve ever read a book on, because I now read on Kindle almost excursively, without highlighting and sending back a typo somewhere. It is a part of the trade, isn’t it?

John Sandford: Yes.

James Blatch: You talk about the computer, there’s a couple of software things you can use that are like ProWriting tools, I don’t know if you’ve heard of that. It does some of this for you. It highlights where you’ve used a word repetitively and it suggests an adverb could be taken out of a sentence to tighten it.

Do you use any of that?

John Sandford: I don’t use that, but what I always use the spellchecker. But the thing I don’t do with the spellchecker, is I don’t have the automatic correct feature on, because it will always choose the wrong word. Every single time.

You’ll write one word, and there will be a mistake, and it will try to correct it, but it will pick the wrong word to correct it. And so then you wind up with a nonsense sentence. So what I do is I have it underline the spellings and other problem words, and then I manually check each one of them.

James Blatch: Now at some point John, you have to publish the book.

John Sandford: Yes.

James Blatch: And there’s an old expression about, in the end, you’re just moving the commas about. Do you get to that stage where you think, “This is done. I’m ready.” Even though you know there’s a mistake you probably haven’t seen.

John Sandford: Yes.

James Blatch: Or do you think, “I’m going to have to stop revising this now, and just publish it?”

John Sandford: One of the things I’ve learned is that if you revise too long, you make the book worse. Because you stop being conversational and you start getting very formal and tight. And you want it to be conversational and loose like you’re telling somebody a story.

You don’t want to have a situation where it becomes that very formal kind of lecturing kind of thing. So you want to keep it loose.

So at some point you say, “I’m done.” It’s almost an arbitrary point. And what I do is that during that final polish, I go through it. And when that’s finished, I’m done. And I send it to the editor, and then the editor looks at it.

On occasion, the editor will have a problem with it, and then I will have to go back and revise something else. But most of the time, when I’m done, I’m done.

James Blatch: Do you know how many books you’ve published?

John Sandford: Fifty novels.

James Blatch: This is ongoing for you? You’ve got no intention of changing track again, or?

John Sandford: I don’t know that. I don’t know the answer to that question.

James Blatch: Do you write every day?

John Sandford: I write every day. I’m publishing two books a year. And that’s about 200,000 published words a year. And so I work every day. I’ve got a computer now, even though I’m at this convention, and I’ll write tonight. So I’ve just got to keep working to get them out.

James Blatch: Do you plot your books in advance?

John Sandford: No. I do not. I have an idea, and I start developing the idea, and it’s like knitting. You just start, and then you decide where you want to go with it. There’s kind of a cinema verite quality to it when you do it that way.

Now I know of a writer, I don’t want to use his name, because I don’t know if he’d appreciate it, but he says that he makes an outline that is so complete, that when he actually starts writing the book, he’s essentially filling in the blanks. He outlines right down to the last details.

I can’t do that. And I don’t know all the time where the books are going, and I think it has kind of that, like I said, that cinema verite quality to it. Where you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, because I didn’t.

James Blatch: If you don’t know, then the reader’s not going to know.

And you enjoy your writing?

John Sandford: I do, although as you get older it’s a little harder to sit for four hours in a row and write, because there are so many other things in life you want to do. And I have got a lot interests, so it’s a little harder now to stay in the saddle. Especially, to be blunt about it, that I’ve become fairly affluent, and I don’t have really have to do it anymore.

James Blatch: And that plays on you.

This is a question we asked Lee Child last year, is that when you’re so well known, with such a big audience, does sitting down to write lose some of its enjoyment, because of that pressure that you know you’ve got to deliver and live up to who John Sandford is?

John Sandford: Well, in most of the things that I do, I sort of like performance. I enjoy the applause. And I like the idea of having a big audience. So I don’t really have that problem.

My problem is just the physical problem of sitting there for four hours, which I mostly write four hours a day, every day, when I could be doing something else.

James Blatch: And do you write, this is a technical question, do you write in Word? Or Scrivener?

John Sandford: Word. And it’s a really awkward program to write in, but it’s a standard. But the problem is, is that they tried to make Word do everything for everybody. And it’s got nine million options. And right now I can’t figure out how to size the page, because buried someplace in the software … So every time my page comes up the size of a postage stamp, and I have to make it bigger, and then I have to change the type size, and it’s a nightmare.

I hate the program, but it’s a standard, so that’s what I use.

James Blatch: The stuff that you don’t need. I can’t say how refreshing it is to hear John Sandford talking about the kind of issues that confront all of us when we sit down and write. There is a danger of thinking that there’s something mystical and magical about a brilliant writer.

John Sandford: Well there isn’t. It’s pretty much of a job.

And the other thing is, is that I’m fairly interested in music, and I know quite a few musicians. People think that musicians are somehow magical, and their stuff just happens, but the fact of the matter is, is that anybody who does what I do, or who makes records, they work very hard at it.

It’s the same thing with journalism. You actually do the work. You don’t think of somebody like Slash or Edge or one of the guitar players sitting around and practice, but they do. And they work at it very hard, and it’s not just some wonderful thing that you automatically know how to do since birth. You have to work at it. And I work at it very hard. And there’s nobody there to help me, and I work at it.

James Blatch: Well that’s fantastic, and we appreciate the work. John, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you.

John Sandford: Well it’s really been nice talking to you too. Thank you very much.

John Sandford, what a lovely, lovely guy. Really fun to meet him and talk to him. And said he really enjoyed being spoken to by us as well and coming on to the Self-Publishing Show, so that was great. And somebody who had some, not just to be here as a big author who’s sold millions of books, but to talk about process, talked about revision.

Is revision something Tom that you look forward to? Or do you fear it?

Tom Ashford: I dread it.

James Blatch: You dread it.

Tom Ashford: Utterly. Yeah. I prefer to go through the first draft with a real meticulous detail. So having to go back through is a bit tiring and draining. But obviously it’s something that everyone has to do, and it always ends up with a better manuscript at the end of the day.

James Blatch: Make it as good as it can be.

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

James Blatch: I’m learning about the revision process a load. And whilst I’m dreading the overall, having to change some of the character timelines and the ramifications of that, and keeping that all in my head, I’m actually enjoying the process of it. I quite like going back over my writing. Although I do rewrite every scene I ever open. Do you do that? Virtually?

Tom Ashford: First scene or just every virtual scene?

James Blatch: Every scene I ever go to, I rewrite. Or to some degree or another. I can’t just leave it.

Tom Ashford: Well it depends how the rest of the story goes.

James Blatch: Oh, okay.

Tom Ashford: Some scenes stay similar towards the end, and some need to be completely rewritten.

James Blatch: We have another big author with millions of sales behind him, one of the giants of this industry. His name is Harlan Coben. He was quite a hard guy to reel in. He was the big fish. He was the one I hung around outside the toilets in fact, eventually grabbed him, he enjoyed being on the show as well, in the end. Which is great. And I know lots of you will be looking forward to hearing from Harlan. So here’s Harlan Coben.

Harlan, you’ve had a fantastic career, you’re in the midst of a fantastic career, very, very well regarded writer. You’re here at ThrillerFest today.

You’re going to be talking I think about franchise building.

Harlan Coben: I’m doing a few different things, I’m doing a panel, and an interview, and then later I’m going through center fiction with John Sandford for a conversation on writing. So, we’ll be covering everything I hope today.

James Blatch: We spoke to John yesterday, which was brilliant to talk to him. So if we talk about franchise building a little bit at the moment, how important …

Is this something that you look at commercially, or you look at it because it’s fan service, it’s what readers want and enjoy.

Harlan Coben: I really haven’t thought about it that way. I’ve always written what I wanted to write. If it ends up being a franchise, fine. If it doesn’t … I always find that the marketing works best for me when I write what I feel like writing, and what I think is going to work.

If I start doing too many surveys in my world on what might work, what’s going to work in this country, or not work in that country, I tend to get lost.

James Blatch: So as you’ve become more successful, is it still easy to write what you want to write? Or does it start to play on your mind, there’s lots of people waiting for this? Am I going to disappoint them? Am I going to go off in a different direction?

Harlan Coben: It’s a good question. I don’t know. Some days yes, some days no. It’s not even like trying to be pure about it, or to show I’m some pure creative, or whatever else. I’ve just always found, that if I’m not loving what I’m writing, then you as the reader aren’t going to love it either.

Myron Bolitar is my series character, and I’ve written I think 11 of those, and I’ve written three Mickey Bolitars and the rest, which is 15, 20 books, whatever, stand-alones. If I go into it thinking, “I really think the market wants a Myron now,” it never works. It has to be what I feel like writing at that moment.

James Blatch: And is that your advice? You’ve got a lot of people here, some people starting out.

Would say to them, right from the beginning, “Don’t worry about the marketing.”

Harlan Coben: You guys are doing marketing here, so I understand that. But trends for example are always a mistake.

I remember when I first started out, Sue Grafton was doing really well, and Sara Paretsky, and everybody’s telling me how to write a female private eye. Or another time it someone who said you had to write medical thrillers. Well by the time you’d write it, it’s a year, and the book comes out a year later, that trend is over, and who wants to follow a trend? It’s always the book that surprises you.

I think when Dan Brown wrote Da Vinci Code, no one was doing that sort of thing. Now a million people are doing it. I remember my friend Alexander McCall Smith. No one was saying, “What we really want is middle-aged women from Botswana solving crimes.” He just did what he loved and wanted to do.

My advice is if you don’t love it, the world’s not going to love it.

James Blatch: Tell us a little bit about your process.

Do you spend a lot of time plotting out before you start writing?

Harlan Coben: I usually know the beginning, and I know the end. And a very little in the middle. I compare it to driving from where we are in New York to California. I may go Route 80, which is the direct route. I may go via the Suez Canal, or stop in Tokyo, but I always pretty much end up in L.A.

James Blatch: And you do a first draft, and then what’s your process after that?

Harlan Coben: I don’t really write like this. I kind of write like this. Where each day, I go back, and I reread what I did that day before, to get a running start. And then every 75 pages or so, I go back to the beginning and reread it from the beginning. So by the time the book is done, first draft is done, I may have rewritten the first chapter 10 or 15 times already.

James Blatch: So by the time you finish your first draft, it’s-

Harlan Coben: It’s pretty clean. It’s pretty clean.

James Blatch: From a developmental point of view, it’s ready to go.

Harlan Coben: Yeah.

James Blatch: And then you go through your edit process.

Harlan Coben: Yeah.

James Blatch: In terms of your advice to those of us starting out … so Tom behind that camera’s got nine novels behind him. I’m publishing my first this year.

Harlan Coben: Good luck! Congratulations, man.

James Blatch: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Is that something you’d say, “Just find your own way of doing it”?

Harlan Coben: In terms of writing, yeah. And in terms of marketing, as weird as this is going to be is, I think you have to try to ignore it. The sound and theory, and write the next book. Because whatever you’re going to try to do, if it’s interfering with what you’re writing, it’s just not going to work. So try to not to get too crazy.

The world’s not going to change because you’ve written a book. It may change because you’ve written two, or three, or four books. It’s more important to me that you really focus on that as much as you can.

That’s not to say you ignore it, or you don’t pay attention. But you know, I started out, we didn’t have Amazon rankings to look at. We didn’t have all this online stuff. Because I’m an old man. But actually it was good because you couldn’t get too crazy about that. Watching it like its a stock, it’s not a good thing.

James Blatch: And finally Harlan, I know you’ve got to get to your session in a couple of minutes.

Why do you come to a conference like this?

Harlan Coben: Well I’m being honored, that’s why I’m here this year.

It depends. I love hanging with other writers, frankly. I love to meet the new people who are coming up. I love to see old friends. This is a wonderful community. The mystery community’s always been a community that sends the elevator back down.

My motto on it is that no one has to fail so that I can succeed. This boat all comes up together, all goes down together. If you think I compete with, I don’t know, Laura Lippman, or Lee Child, or Michael Connelly, or whoever. If you read one of their books and love it, you’re more apt to read mine and love it. So all of us rise in sync together, and that’s always been my attitude. And so I’m here hoping to find the next person and wish everybody luck.

James Blatch: And are you feeling optimistic for younger writers? Is this a good time?

Harlan Coben: I think it’s always a tough time. It’s always a tough time. If you knew the odds … One of the great things is I didn’t know the odds when I started. If I knew the odds, I would have lost my mind. So I didn’t. I thought I was doing great. No one told me I wasn’t, so even during the lean years, I just plowed ahead.

James Blatch: Never tell me the odds, kid.

Harlan Coben: Yeah.

James Blatch: I won’t go there. Superb. Harlan, thank you so much.

Harlan Coben: Thank you.

James Blatch: I really enjoyed it.

Harlan Coben: Thank you.

James Blatch: That was Harlan Coben, who was a big guy, wasn’t he?

Tom Ashford: Yeah.

James Blatch: Big imposing guy, very down to earth, very gentle. And he was the guy I think a lot of the other thriller writers wanted to meet and talk to.

Ernie Dempsey, who’s one of our SPF community guys doing really well, fantastically well, was here. And he was so pleased to meet Harlan and have a chat with him, so he’s admired by his peers. What more can one ask?

Tom Ashford: I don’t know. Money.

James Blatch: So mercenary, Tom.

We have one more interview for you, and it’s the biggest name, I think the biggest name we’ve spoken to this year. That’s Jim Rollins, James Rollins. And this is a man, and I mentioned it earlier, he says in his books and the interview, only sold 20 or 30 million, something like that. Very, very nice guy. Very interesting to hear him talk about his process as well. So let’s wrap up these three episodes from New York City, with James Rollins.

Having seen your name so many times in print, it’s very difficult for me to say Jim Rollins, but James Rollins-

James Rollins: You can call me Jim. It’s fine.

James Blatch: I’m going to call you Jim. Welcome to ThrillerFest. This is not your first rodeo here.

James Rollins: No, no, I was one of the first board members, once upon a time.

James Blatch: Yeah and Thriller Master.

James Rollins: And co-president once, and now we’re long in the tooth of it here I think.

James Blatch: What is it about ThrillerFest that is worth your investment of time?

James Rollins: Well number one, back before ThrillerFest started, we thriller writers were invited to the Mystery Writers Convention, but we were always sort of deemed lesser than. We were always put at the kids table at the MWA.

So to me, it’s nice to finally have our own conference where thriller writers can share what we’ve learned from the industry with people that are coming up through the ranks. Because back when I started there really was no organization that would talk to thriller writers about, what is publishing looking for from a thriller? They knew what to do for mysteries or for science fiction, but not for thrillers. So I like the fact that there’s a strong educational portion of ThrillerFest.

But it’s also a good industry festival, not just if you’re an established writer. It’s good to meet your colleagues, and talk about what’s going on, how’s the industry changing, both from a publishing standpoint and just from a genre standpoint.

And it’s also a moment where we can acknowledge the best in our field. I was the award chairman for several years for ThrillerFest and so it’s nice to be able to have an ability to acknowledge the best of the best in our industry.

James Blatch: I want to talk to you about your writing, at the moment. But I’ll talk a little bit about the industry and so on. How do feel at the moment? Big changes in publishing as the independent market comes in, there’s probably a bit of merging.

Do you feel optimistic for young writers today?

James Rollins: Totally. To me, there was always scared of self-publishing, or independent publishing, thinking it was going to potentially steal from the general traditional publishing world. But if anything, I think it’s enlivened it.

It’s allowed young writers to practice their craft, and once upon a time publishers used to groom authors. They would take you, they would accept the fact that maybe you’re not going to sell very much initially, but they’re going to hire you, and train you, and work with you to build a career. A lot of publishers don’t do that anymore. It’s one-shot, you either make it from the start, or they kick you to the curb.

So I think in the self-publishing world, and independent publishing world, that’s a chance where we can see young talent being groomed. Either to continue to start up in that field, or being eventually recruited by traditional publishing, or actually stolen by traditional publishing, and making their own brand that way. So I think it’s great.

James Blatch: Let’s talk about your writing a little bit. So famously you were a vet.

James Rollins: Yes. Still am. I always resent former veterinarian. I get that occasionally, former veterinarian. No, I can still neuter a cat in under 30 seconds, and I will keep it if need be.

Now all I do with my veterinarian degree is just volunteer work. I work to catch feral cats, wild cats. I spend one Sunday a month for eight hours spaying and neutering them. That’s why I can still neuter a cat in under 30 seconds because that’s required, if I’m going to neuter these wild, feral little monsters out there.

James Blatch: I imagine trying to neuter a wild cat is a particular talent.

James Rollins: Well we do knock them out. But even that process is a little challenging because they are little spitfires. You’re trying to anesthetize them when they’re trying to eat you.

James Blatch: Well that’s a really nice thing to do, because unneutered cats cause another 10,000 cats.

James Rollins: Exactly, little cat factories out there, little kitten factories.

James Blatch: So that’s fascinating. I hadn’t realized that you were still hands-on.

James Rollins: Oh yeah, I’ll never give it up completely. Matter of fact, when I finally stepped away from full-time practicing, animals started creeping into my writing. I wasn’t even aware of it.

I got an email from somebody saying, “How come right here in your series of books, all your main characters have animal sidekicks? You have an orphan jaguar cub. You’ve got a wolf rescue dog. You’ve got this military working dog. How come? Why did I do that?”

Well that’s about when I stopped practicing veterinary medicine. The side of my brain that loves animals seeped into this side that twists these stories. So I’ll never give it up completely.

James Blatch: In those early days, when you decided that you wanted to be a novel writer, you just sat down and wrote?

James Rollins: It was that simple.

James Blatch: I know. It always looks a little bit simple from the outside, I realize, but some people do sit down and write an almost fully formed novel to start off with.

What was it like for you?

James Rollins: For me it was just a hobby. I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian from third grade, that was my career track. But I also read a lot, growing up. I liked spinning stories.

I had three brothers and three sisters. My goal in life was to terrorize my younger brothers and sisters with stories. If tears were involved, all the better. So there’s that part of my personality that loved to tell stories. And when you read a lot, that’s like throwing gasoline on that side of my brain.

But I never thought you could make a career out of it. You do this, this, and this, you can become a veterinarian. You do this, this, and this, you can fail horribly as a writer. So I went this path.

But I never quite let go of the idea of writing. When I first started it was just like, eh. I’m going to dabble with this. Maybe I’ll get a short story published, wouldn’t that be cool? Or maybe one day I’ll walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelf.

It seemed a pipe dream, but it was fun. I joined a critique group that reviews each other’s work. I still belong to that same critique group now, 20 years later. That group still sees my work before anybody else on the planet sees it, even my editor. They see it first.

James Blatch: Wow.

James Rollins: And so I wrote a bunch of short stories initially. Nothing got published. Any publisher that might be interested in a short story, I was sending them my work. Nothing got published.

So based on that success, I decided to write my first novel. And surprisingly, that novel sold. And another one sold, and another one, and eventually I was … there’s more demand on my time to write then it was for veterinary medicine. So eventually I sort of weaned from one side to the other.

James Blatch: Do you know how many books you’ve sold to date?

James Rollins: I think last time it was like 20 million, I think it was. Worldwide, not just the U.S., but worldwide. I’m in 40 different languages, something like that. It’s weird.

James Blatch: Well it’s fantastic.

James Rollins: I’ve written 34 books, so average it out, not that impressive, but-

James Blatch: It’s very impressive.

James Rollins: … pure volume of writing-

James Blatch: Jim it’s very-

James Rollins: I’m just churning them out.

James Blatch: It’s inspirational. I’d love to talk to you a little bit about your process today. So developed from those early short stories. When you sit down and write your current book you’re working on right now, I’m sure you’re working on something-

James Rollins: Yes.

James Blatch: Do you plot in detail before you start, or are you like a Lee Child person who sits down and just writes?

James Rollins: I wish I was Lee Child.

James Blatch: Everyone wishes they were Lee Child.

James Rollins: Just for the British accent. That’s all I care about. He sounds so intelligent when he speaks.

I don’t. Being that I have very plot driven novels, I need to have some sketchy outline, so I know the beginning, I know the end. I will often times know my last sentence before I write my first sentence. And I will know three or four tent poles that are going to hold up the story.

Because I sort of know how I have to get from point A to the end. But I don’t know how A gets to B, gets to C, gets to D. To me, that’s the joy of writing is the discovery. I’ve tried outlining in great detail stories, and then I get bored with them, because when I know every twist and turn of the story, I don’t want to write it. Because it’s not interesting to me.

To me, writing is almost like reading a novel for the first time. It’s that discovery that excites me, and gets me to put me in that chair to want to write, is that I don’t know where the story’s going to go. Let’s go find out.

James Blatch: And we were talking about your novels, just a few moments ago.

James Rollins: I thought that my ears were burning.

James Blatch: Did the fact that just when you think maybe things are wrapping up, there’s a sudden, unexpected change.

Are they the moments that come to you when you sit there writing that surprise you?

James Rollins: Both.

James Blatch: Okay.

James Rollins: Some are plotted, and some are just out of the blue. Wouldn’t this be cool if this happened?

James Rollins: That can get you in trouble. I’ve had moments in my books where I’ve painted my character into a corner, because it was a cool situation, but I don’t know how to get him out of that corner. Then I will get a little bit of writer’s block, because it’s a cool corner.

If I don’t know how to get him out of that jam, none of my readers are going to know how to get him out of that jam. So it’s a good jam. But then I’ve got to figure out, okay, well how are they going to get out of it? And then I’ll have a sit for a while, and try to think, would I have seen something earlier, so that it pays off now, that gets him out of that situation? Or do I have to find some other creative way? So I enjoy that, it’s like puzzle-solving for me, when I’m working on a novel.

James Blatch: And there is a puzzle element to your books, I think.

James Rollins: Sure.

James Blatch: A mystery element to it. I find it very difficult, the conceal-reveal when you’re writing.

How much do you hold back? Is this something you have developed over the years? Or do you go back and make tweaks and hide stuff a bit more? Or reveal it a bit more? Or does it come naturally to you?

James Rollins: You’ve got to trust that it’s a little bit natural. I think there’s some instinct about that. Often times the instinct is wrong. I can’t say that I’m right on target. Sometimes I think, “Ah, maybe I should have planted a few more seeds before I pay off this moment.”

But I also think that you need to think about that. Because nothing to me is worse than that Hand of God moment in a novel where out of the blue, the team is rescued, the calvary comes out of the hill that no one even knew the calvary existed, saved the characters. That never works. So I’m always very conscious of that.

Two things I try to avoid in my writing is just that, that Hand of God moment that gets your characters out of jeopardy. And number two is coincidence. A lot of writers rely on coincidence, you know this happened to happen to drag the characters into the story. This happened to happen so that they can get out of this situation. Is I try to avoid coincidence, and I try to avoid the Hand of God in storytelling.

James Blatch: Finally, your advice to those of us starting out on the novel-writing path. You must get asked quite a lot for what your top tips are.

Do you have a set bit of advice?

James Rollins: I do have one that I always recommend. I’ve had no formal training in writing. If you read it in my books you’ll go, “Oh, he said no formal training in writing.” So I don’t think there has to be a set … I mean there are ways, there’s tools to the craft that you should learn. And you can learn it online, you can learn it coming to things like ThrillerFest, or self-educating yourself. So there are tools you should learn.

And you should practice your writing. You should expect to write a million words before you should expect to be published. You have to practice. Practice makes perfect. So that’s the one thing is to write every day, that’s the old rule of thumb.

I have my own caveat, you should be reading every night. There’s a lot of authors I hear, “Gosh, I don’t read anymore. I only read research.” That’s wrong. You shouldn’t do that. I’m still am a very avid reader.

Every single day I learn things from fiction books that I read. Because when I was learning how to do my craft, I’d be writing dialogue that day, I’d go, “This just feels stilted.” Or I’m trying to describe how a character looks, “Gosh, this feels forced.” But then I read that night, I see how an author’s handled that problem. Because when I’ve been struggling with it, it forms a knot in my head during the day. And I read and go, “Oh, this is how he did that,” it begins to untie that knot.

James Rollins: So I think, if you want to become a better writer, if you want a hope of publication, write every day, read every night.

James Blatch: You write every day?

James Rollins: I write every day.

James Blatch: Do you have a particular routine for your writing?

James Rollins: I do. I’m a little structured. Mostly because it goes back to the days when I was writing and practicing full time, is I could only find cracks in time in which to write. And so I made a commitment to myself, and I think it’s important all writers do this, whether it’s a word count, mine was a page count, is I had to write three pages a day. And I kept qualifying that. No, three double-spaced pages a day. Not every day. I’ll do it five out of seven days of the week. And so once I got to that moment where this works. I can fit three double-spaced pages in my working career, it was comfortable.

So every writer has to come to that moment of acclimation of how the writing’s going to fit in their life. And I thought, “If I ever get rid of my day job, I’ll be much more productive.” And I am. I write five double-spaced pages a day.

I thought I would be writing more, but I find that when I hit that fifth page, it takes about an hour to write every page, so it’s about a five hour new writing day, I hit a wall. And I just have to recognize, I’d love to be more productive and do seven or eight pages a day. But I just can’t. So it’s pretty methodical, five double-spaced pages a day, five out of seven days of the week.

James Blatch: Does that mean that your first drafts are very nearly complete?

James Rollins: They are. I do rolling edit, where I’ll write forward and go back and edit, and write forward and go back and edit. And then I’m also simultaneously submitting sections of the book to my critique group, and they will give me feedback, and I’ll incorporate that feedback as I’m writing.

So when I’m done my novel, it’s pretty much in the shape I want it to be. I’ll do a final polish obviously, every little I crossed … I dotted and T crossed. But it’s pretty clean. And then it goes to my editor, and that’s a whole nother hellacious world.

James Blatch: Fantastic. Jim, thank you so much indeed for spending some time with us.

James Rollins: Thank you.

James Blatch: I really enjoyed that.

James Rollins: I appreciate it.

James Blatch: And inspired.

James Rollins: Fantastic.

James Blatch: The greatest thing about that interview was that James said I could call him Jim.

Tom Ashford: That must have been very nice for you.

James Blatch: It’s amazing for me. He also gave us his personal email address. Which I could tell you, without giving it away, it was 150 years old. He’s had it a long time.

I didn’t meet him last year. This was not the guy I expected Jim Rollins to be. He looks quite serious in his pictures. He’s a brilliant writer. And I thought maybe, quite sort of studious, and maybe quite an imposing figure, from his photographs. And he’s a bit shorter. Very unassuming.

We were standing around waiting for him, trying to intercept him before he sat down to his autograph sessions to try and ask him if he’d do an interview for the show, and whilst we were standing around talking, he arrived, sat down, and started doing his autographs. Which by the way, are a unique doodle. So if you get an autograph from Jim Rollins, he does a unique doodle for each person, which says everything you need to know about him.

And the other thing that says all you need to know about him is that he can neuter a cat in under 30 seconds. He still goes out, to this day, and neuters cats for charity.

Tom Ashford: Not just any cat.

James Blatch: No.

Tom Ashford: People’s cats.

James Blatch: It’s not like a hobby, neutering cats. But if you know anything about cats in the wild, you know that neutering’s a really important part of it, because one cat can lead to, it’s a ridiculous figure, in a ten year period, like 10,000 other cats. So yeah, keeping them down.

But what a lovely guy. And again, just to reiterate what we always learn from these guys who’ve sold millions of books, is it’s hard work. And it’s learning, and it’s making sure every time you sit down and you write, you do the very best that you can do. We talk about marketing a lot on the Self-Publishing Show, of course. But that bit is absolutely crucial, is it not?

Tom Ashford: Yes. Otherwise you don’t sell any books.

James Blatch: Otherwise you don’t. And the people who do all have good books.

James Blatch: Tom, this is it.

Tom Ashford: That’s it. New York’s over.

James Blatch: New York is finished.

Tom Ashford: Not the actual city.

James Blatch: It’ll probably carry on. We had a power cut through Midtown in Manhattan last night. We walked back up from Lower Manhattan. There were police everywhere. We wondered if it was going to be looting time. But it wasn’t that at all. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Everyone was in a quite a mood, a good mood, weren’t they?

Tom Ashford: Everyone seemed happy enough.

James Blatch: Everyone seemed happy.

Tom Ashford: Except for the theatergoers.

James Blatch: Yes. Your theater stuff got canceled. And Ernie Dempsey and I were there the moment the lights came back on and everyone cheered. It was really cool last night in Manhattan.

And that’s it. So we say goodbye, at least for this year. We were a little bit kind of … because it’s a very traditional conference, ThrillerFest. We were a little bit in two minds about whether to come, a little bit in two minds about whether to come next year.

But we’re now thinking, we’ve had such a fantastic set of interviews. I’ve really enjoyed talking to these guys. I really hope you’ve enjoyed it on the show. I think maybe we’ll come back next year.

Tom Ashford: Sure. I will.

James Blatch: I know you’ve enjoyed hearing Tom’s very full and frank answers. Thank you for being so full and frank.

Tom Ashford: I just want everyone to know exactly what I’m thinking.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Tom Ashford: Yes. I’d come back.

James Blatch: There’s no space for ambiguity there.

Tom Ashford: No.

James Blatch: Brilliant. Thank you so much indeed for joining us from New York. We’ve really enjoyed being here for you. A lot of jogging going on, it’s Sunday morning. We tried to get here early. We are here early. But New York wakes up early, apparently, on a Sunday. And lots of things happening. So it’s probably time for us to go and find a bagel and a coffee. And we’re going to see you with a regular podcast episode next week.

So until then, have a great week writing. And a great week selling your books. Until next week, buh-bye.

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Support the show at, and join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful Indie author. Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world and join the revolution with the Self Publishing Show.

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