10 Questions with Jim DeFelice
1. Mr. DeFelice, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Tell us a bit more about the ROGUE WARRIOR series and its last installment, BLOOD LIES.
Blood Lies is the latest installment in the Rogue Warrior series, which Richard Marcinko has been writing, first with John Weisman and then with myself, since the late 1990s. This one takes place partly in Mexico, and it’s your typical Rogue Warrior romp, with plenty of action and a ton of wisecracks sprinkled amid shrewd commentary on the international scene.
It starts off with an attempted kidnapping in Juarez and goes from there. Mexican drug cartels and terrorists get involved in an unholy alliance. There are beautiful women to be romanced and retirees to be rescued. The federales don’t want to hear about it until it’s too late.
2. What kind of research did you do for BLOOD LIES? How much of what your write in this novel is real and how much is fiction?
I do a lot of research for all my books, and that’s especially true with Rogue Warrior. Dick likes to say that the books walk the line between “fiction and prediction”; he’s always written about actual threats to U.S. security and generally draws material and inspiration from things that either happened to him when he was with the SEALs as founding commander of SEAL Team 6 and Red Cell, or to people who worked for him. (He owns an international security and consulting firm.) I will say, however, that I refused to allow myself to be kidnapped for the book.
3. You have worked with many other authors, like Stephen Coonts and Larry Bond. How does the collaboration process work?
The process varies. Generally, though, I’ll work out a plot and discuss it with the cowriter. Then I’ll write a first draft. We go from there.
4. A word of advice for new writers?
The oldest advice is the best: write and read, a lot.
Beyond that, I think one of the most difficult things to do as a writer starting out is to learn how to deal with criticism. You not only have to learn to listen to people, but also to sort out what’s useful and what’s not. And you have to figure out a way to take criticism without it feeling personal, or paralyzing you.
It’s really easy to get discouraged, whether you’re a new writer or one who’s been at it for years. That’s why I tell other writers never to show part of a book to someone until the book has been finished. Showing a partial or a work in progress is an invitation to get stuck.
Obviously, not everyone agrees with that; some people rely on critique groups for feedback as they work and benefit greatly from them. But for me, a writer has to be able to detach himself from the book and more importantly the process of writing it before he can look at it objectively; that only happens when he’s finished at least a first draft.
The funny thing about criticism is that you can learn something even from a jack ass who has no clue. More than once a pathetic piss of an excuse for an editor helped me make a book much better. Not that they really had a clue why. (Fortunately, I work with a better class of editors these days.)
The last piece of advice I’d mention is the importance of perseverance, both when you’re writing and when you’re looking for a publisher. While writing every book, I’ve come up against an insolvable problem, one that cold cocks me dead and convinces me that not only will the book never work, but that I am the world’s worst, dumbest, stupidest piss ant of a writer. The problem is insurmountable . . . until somehow a solution presents itself, usually at 2 a.m. or while I’m out cutting the grass.
5. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing?
Things are changing so quickly and on so many different fronts that it’s really hard to summarize briefly, let alone see the future. Commercially, the “big book” has given way to the “very, very big book,” and it’s become difficult for midlist authors to get contracts, let alone attention. It’s always been hard to make a living writing books, and I think it’s getting harder. On the other hand, there are many more outlets and possibilities.
6. What have you learned during the writing process of crafting a novel?
Every book is different, and writing is a much different act than reading it. A reader doesn’t care if you broke your arm or had some sort of personal problem you had to deal with; they just want a good story.
I learn something new every book I write. When that stops happening, I’ll stop writing.
7. How do you interact with your fans? What is something significant you have learned from them?
All the usual ways – email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Occasionally I give talks and interact there. If we’re in a bar we’re probably talking about baseball, which is usually more interesting than writing.
I’ve learned a lot from readers. In the nonfiction historical books – the account of the Army Rangers at Dieppe and the biography of Omar Bradley, especially – readers contacted me with additional information that I may be able to add to future editions. With the novels, I’ve occasionally leaned on readers to find sources for technical information that can be hard to get.
Like most people, it’s what I don’t know that I don’t know that gets me into trouble. I especially value readers who take the time to point that out – politely, of course. Sometimes I joke that the mistakes that get into my books are planted there purposely so I can make new friends.
8. What are your writing habits?
As a general rule, I get up around five and get to work; I take time out for breakfast and lunch, and work until about 4:30 when I break again for a workout and dinner. After dinner I’ll work for a few hours, depending on what absolutely needs to get done. From breakfast to dinner is primary writing time, when I’m working specifically on a book (or whatever); before and after are usually more for the business aspects of the job. I work six days a week; Saturday is usually an easier day. How much I get done on any given day depends largely on the amount and quality of the interruptions, as well as approaching deadlines. If time is truly of the essence, I’ve been known to turn the phone off and put a bounce on the email.
The schedule can vary depending on need. When I was working on American Gun, I was getting up around three and working until I was toast, around 9:30 or 10; I went to bed and did it again, every day, for a few weeks until it was done. I don’t like to do that, but if it has to be done . . .
9. What are your favorite pastimes?
Coaching soccer and cutting wood. Hiking. Discovering great little restaurants no one else knows about with my wife.
I like to travel, but lately most of that has been for work.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
The next book is a nonfiction memoir called Code Name: Johnny Walker. It’s about an Iraqi who became an interpreter for U.S. forces, including the Navy SEALs. It’s a harrowing and heartwarming story with a unique point of view. I wrote with Johnny; we’ve spent the last year working on it. It will be published in February by Harper.