MUG SHOT: PAUL H.B. SHIN
Paul H.B. Shin's debut novel Half Life follows a career as an award-winning journalist for more than 20 years, most recently for ABC News. He was previously a reporter and editor for the New York Daily News. He was born in South Korea and lived in London during his childhood. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
What made you decide to be an author?
My family lived in England for about seven years when I was a child due to my father's job. And I think moving back and forth between the U.K. and Korea at a very impressionable age made me very inquisitive about what makes people tick and why certain cultures are the way they are. That’s probably at the root of what made me want to become a writer. In terms of a more direct influence, the Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn played a pivotal role in me wanting to become a writer — specifically his novella called "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." It's about a prisoner in a gulag. The ending just blew me away. It gave me new appreciation for what words could do to move the reader.
Do you outline or fly by the seat of your pants?
I use an outline. It took me more than 10 years to research and write the story — in part because I was writing the novel while also working a full-time job. As a way to keep myself on track during that time, I created a relatively detailed outline that hit the major plot points of the story. And occasionally, as I fleshed out the narrative and the characters, I would go back and tweak the outline accordingly.
What non-crime books do you enjoy reading?
I find that I'm reading more and more nonfiction lately. A book that I enjoyed recently was a book about freediving called Deep by James Nestor. I'm currently enjoying a book called Forgotten by Linda Hervieux about the untold story of African-American soldiers in World War II. When I'm looking for inspiration for beautiful language, I'll read poetry. I'm a fan of the works of W. S. Merwin and the transcendentalists like Longfellow. And my guilty pleasure is science fiction. Andy Weir’s The Martian was an incredibly fun read.
How do you handle rejection or bad reviews?
Because the history of literature is full of anecdotes of now-famous authors who endured years of rejection, I had steeled myself for the very likely possibility that I would get rejection letter after rejection letter. So when it actually happened, it wasn't that big of a disappointment.
Also, having worked as a journalist for more than two decades, I’ve learned not to take it personally when someone edits my copy or asks me to rewrite it. That's just part of the process. Writers who aren't used to the editing process sometimes get upset when someone edits their words. But having a knowledgeable reader give you input is invaluable.
As for bad reviews, I think you have to accept that not everyone is going to like your work, even if you have confidence that it’s good. You have to do your best to connect deeply with the most important reader of all for any writer -- which is yourself. If you can do that, then I think chances are you will also connect deeply with other readers.
What advice would you give to beginning writers?
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike you to write. Set aside a time every day when you can write uninterrupted, even if it's only 30 minutes. You won’t be very happy with the results at first, but that’s a good thing, because that just means you have good taste, as Ira Glass, the creator of the radio program This American Life, once said about the creative process.
The more you write, the more you will narrow the gap between your good taste and the quality of your own writing. Also, one of the most important lessons I learned while writing Half Life is how important it is to keep up the momentum, especially the first draft. For me, I started making real progress when I focused on getting words down on the page without re-editing those words over and over again. There’s a saying that perfect is the enemy of good. I’ve found this to be very true when it comes to that first draft.
5 Reasons to Join NaNoWriMo
In just a few short hours, the global madness known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins. This year marks the 18th for the literary phenomenon, and organizers expect nearly 500,000 people to accept the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.
To give you an idea of the success rate, last year 431,626 participants on six continents signed up, and more than 40,000 crossed the 50K finish line. At a minimum, NaNoWriMo 2015 prompted the creation of more than 2 billion words in 30 days. (Just so you know, some of the participants routinely go way, way beyond 50K.)
So if you're on the fence about participating, consider the following reasons why I've embraced this insanity seven times since 2003:
1. You commit to your writing. NaNoWriMo started when a small group of folks in San Francisco decided to make the move from "people who wanted to write a novel one day" to "people who had written a novel." Life has an annoying, consistent way of interfering with creative endeavors. For one month, you tell the world that you're putting your writing first. The kids can eat take-out. The laundry can pile up. But for these 30 days, your free time is accounted for. This deadline also reassures your nearest and dearest that you will be back among them December 1. You, and they, can do this for four weeks.
2. You turn off your inner editor. Many aspiring writers struggle because they can't help but judge the quality of their fledgling manuscripts as the words leak onto the page or screen. Guess what? With only 30 days to crank out 50K, you don't have the luxury of waiting for perfect prose to manifest in your gray matter. The single mandate is quantity, not quality. In fact, when you validate your word count, you have the option of converting your text to gibberish (for those paranoid folk who fear someone will steal their brilliant brainchildren). So go with it. Grimace if you must. Feel free to vomit occasionally. Just keep writing.
3. You will amaze yourself. We all have self-imposed limitations, whether or not we recognize them. Once upon a time, I was convinced my maximum hourly output was 500 words. (In case you haven't done the math, NaNoWriMo requires an average pace of 1,667 words per day.) Last year I pounded out 1,800 words in a single hour, taking breaks, as part of a group writing session. Check out the NaNoWriMo forums and messaging boards, and you'll see many stories of superhuman noveling feats: from people who have written nearly 10,000 words in a single day to overachievers who wrote their first 50,000 words in 72 hours, in ballpoint pen, on toilet paper... (Okay. Scratch the TP.)
4. You won't be alone. The national MWA organization sends out weekly pep talks from bestselling authors to help you keep keepin' on. Nearly 1,000 volunteers around the country (including yours truly) cheerlead their regions, by email, in chatrooms, during in-person writing events. We may all be different in terms of background, age, ethnicity, experience, genre, but we are all earning our stripes as writers. Whether the words we scribble or type ever see the light of day (and let's be honest, most of them should never see the light of day, unless it's in a very gentle, supportive critique group), we. Are. Writing.
5. You win (even if you don't "win"). Hey, it happens. The dog gets sick. Your laptop self-combusts. Extra-terrestrials kidnap you for 72 hours, and it takes a full week to find your groove. For various reasons, the vast majority of NaNoWriMo participants don't cross the finish line. But don't beat yourself up if December 1 rolls around and you're still sitting at 35K. Or 15K. Those hard-fought words wouldn't exist if you hadn't had the guts to take on this challenge, and you never know where those partial drafts may lead. You committed to your writing, and you wrote, by gum. No one can take that achievement away from you.
If you decide to take the plunge, check out our Facebook page and join us for a write-in. Also, drop in and say "hi" in the Northwest New Jersey Regional Forum. (Residency in the Garden State is by no means required.)
—Mistina Picciano is a content marketer by day, eclectic novelist during every other moment. Favorite genres include mystery, suspense, romance, and horror, and most of her work includes elements of at least three of the four. This year marks her second as a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison.
THE 3 BEST THINGS I’VE LEARNED FROM OTHER MYSTERY WRITERS
It took me two-and-a-half painstaking years to write my first murder mystery, and since publishing it in 2002, I've tried to discover as much as possible about making the process easier and improving at the craft as well. I’ve learned some good stuff through trial and error (lots of error!), but I’ve also gained a ton from listening to other mystery and thriller writers.
I go to their talks at bookstores, libraries, and conferences, watch Q and As with them on YouTube, read their newsletters and blogs, and while standing next to them at events like Bouchercon, try to suck thoughts from their brains like an alien would.
Just kidding, of course, about the last one.
In many cases, I come away impressed and inspired but without any specific skill I can apply. A pantser, for instance, is never, ever going to convince me to write a book without an outline.
But there have also been a fair number of occasions when I've heard a tip that I immediately put to use. Here are three of my favorite strategies I’ve culled from listening to other writers talk about their process. Perhaps you’ll find them useful in your writing, too.
1. When finishing for the day, stop in middle of a scene you're really enjoying writing. I heard this trick from the amazing Linda Fairstein at a Sleuthfest years ago, and she admitted it was actually advice that had been passed down from Ernest Hemingway (though not to her directly!). A Google search led me to the Esquire magazine article where it first appeared: "The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it."
2. Light a scented candle when you sit down at your desk. I heard Lisa Gardener give this advice while she was on a Thrillerfest panel one year, and maybe because I'm a candle fan (and a little New Age-y in my instincts at times), I began doing the same immediately. This trick makes your writing space smell good, but it's more than that. Using a certain scent seem to signal to your brain that it needs to get its ass in gear. Unfortunately I have not yet found the scent that instructs my brain how to write the stunning prose Lisa Gardener produces.
3. Start by editing what you wrote the day before. This I heard from the awesome C.J. Box during an interview he did at this year’s Thrillerfest. He was simply describing his workday, not offering it as a strategy for the audience to consider, but back home I couldn’t get the concept out of my mind.
I'd never tried an approach like that because I was afraid it would suck all of the day’s mental energy away before I even started to write fresh material. And yet I began to wonder if it would make editing easier because I’d be doing it when the material felt familiar (though I’d still have a little distance on it).
Well, I gave it a try and I love it. Not only does this strategy make editing easier, but it actually energizes me for work on the day’s new stuff. Since introducing it, I’ve changed my output from four to five pages a day. If you hate editing, you may find this works for you, too.
Thanks, C.J., for helping me think “out of the Box.”
Kate White, the former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, is the NYTimes bestselling author of six Bailey Weggins mysteries and five stand-alone psychological thrillers, including the upcoming The Secrets You Keep (March 2017).
C3: An Intimate Conference
One of my favorite reasons to travel to the D.C. area is the Creatures, Crime, & Creativity (C3) Conference. Organized by Intrigue Publishing, the conference welcomes writers and readers of horror, mystery, suspense, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal and—recently added—romance. C3 was held September 30–October 2, 2016 at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center in Columbia, Maryland.
What I looked forward to the most were the master classes taught by the conference keynote authors: Reed Farrel Coleman, "Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing," and Alexandra Sokoloff, "Screenwriting Tricks for Authors."
Coleman (pictured, lower right) discussed why talent is not enough and summed up it up with this advice. "There is only one way to know if you've got the requisite talent, and that's to keep trying, keep writing. There is no such thing as wasted writing.”
Sokoloff (pictured, upper left) presented the Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure, a technique most screenwriters use and showed how it can be applied to novel writing. "There is a rhythm to dramatic storytelling, and your reader knows this rhythm and unconsciously expects it."
Since I'm currently working on a mystery novel, the panel discussion that caught my attention was "Villains: Circumstances or Born That Way?" with Sokoloff, Kathryn O'Sullivan, and Glenn Parris. The idea of my villain came to me before I even thought about my protagonist, and I've always been interested in what motivates people to do criminal activity. It's not surprising that the three authors on the panel had three different ideas of what a villain might be: 1) everyday people who are in bad situations or who will do anything to keep a secret; 2) villain as a metaphor—the protagonist and antagonist are the same but at different ends of the spectrum; and 3) the villain doesn't have to be a person (e.g., greed and ambition).
For me, after the master classes, the speeches, and the panels, the best part of a small and intimate conference is eating our meals together and meeting up at the bar for a glass of wine, listening to each other’s problems with plot, voice, or the next big idea.
I always leave a conference like this and realize I've found my tribe, people that understand my struggles as a writer. For me, this is where I find a network of writer-friends, and the true meaning of “rising tides lift all boats.”
Paula Lanier is currently working on a mystery novel and resides in Brooklyn, N.Y.