Author Interview: James Scott Bell
We’re privileged to kick off our first author interview here with well-known novelist James Scott Bell. He is a man of many talents—novelist, screenwriter, actor, attorney, teacher and … basketball star. Well, that last talent may be a bit overstated, but Jim is truly gifted. He continues to encourage many aspiring authors—including this writer—over the years through his teaching, mentoring, lecturing and books on writing. All this while maintaining a vigorous writing schedule in both the CBA and ABA publishing markets with over nineteen novels to his credit. (You can find more about Jim at his web site http://www.jamesscottbell.com/). It is a great honor to have James Scott Bell visit us here today.
Q: Time to advertise, Jim. What’s happening in James Scott Bell’s publishing world in terms of your WIP or works just released?
I've been working on a couple of new projects (I don't like to talk about my books until they're finished, so call it a quirk or just plain cussedness) and something else, something I haven't done in a long time: short stories. I'm having a blast doing them, and may look to put out a collection.
Q: I read your recently released The Art of War for Writers book published by Writer’s Digest Books. This book is a survival manual for writers caught in the trenches of the publishing world, a book I’d recommend for all writers. What prompted you to write this?
Q: The writing path has taken you down an interesting road. When did you realize you wanted to become a writer? How did you get from there to here?
In college, I took a workshop with Raymond Carver, and couldn't do what he did. I didn't know at the time that you didn't have to pass through that particular literary tunnel to be a writer. I was convinced I didn’t have "it", so I gave up that dream.
But about ten years later I realized I needed to write. And I determined I'd learn how or go down in flames trying. I found out a wonderful thing: the craft can be learned. That's why I teach. Because I want to give new writers the things I was looking for.
Q: You seem to trudge between the publishing world and the movie world. Tells us a little about both these worlds—James Scott Bell the novel writer, the screen writer, the actor.
I've had the opportunity to do another script recently, and am thinking of doing one on pure spec. I love the form.
Q: Do you have an ‘average’ writing day? What does this look like?
I am, however, always on the lookout for ideas, and will be jotting things down throughout the day as they occur to me.
Q: You are a part of group of authors writing for the well-visited KillZone blog. How did that blog come about and how did you get involved?
Q: Let’s get into the nitty gritty of creating a page-turning novel. How do you come up with ideas for a novel?
Q: Is your WIP novel completely outlined before you start, or do you start the writing journey and see where your characters lead?
I always have outlined my Act 1 fairly extensively, then had "signpost scenes" that I placed for the rest. In my screenwriting days I used the index card method, and it's a good one.
I find I'm doing much more extensive outlines now. I think it helps with the complexity and unity of the novel. Most writers don’t like outlines because it feels more like work than pure creativity. But I thinkI prefer that up front work to the alternative: getting to the end and finding out my story isn't working, or there's no way to end it well without massive rewriting.
Q: Rewriting. Most authors struggle through multiple drafts before finishing their project. How do you handle editing? For example, do you stop and edit as you work your way through the first draft, or do you wait until the draft is completed before tearing it apart? How many drafts do you write before you’re finally satisfied?
I may stop at about the 20,000 word mark and step back, make sure all my structural elements are in place and strong. My LOCK elements: Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knock-out ending in view. If they are, I press on to the end. If not, I'll do some fixing, then get back to the draft.
I usually do two drafts on my own, getting help on the second from my wife, who is always my first reader. Then I'll submit it and work with the house editor. There will be a third draft, then a line edit which will usually need some fine tuning.
Q: Characterization. All your novels are set in the City of
, LA noir. Private investigators, lawyers, errant husbands and a host of other individuals. Are your characters drawn from people you meet in that fascinating city or do they just come to you in dreams? Angels
Q: In one of the last chapters of The Art of War for Writers, your heading reads: “To survive over any length of time, you must turn any criticism into a strength.” How have you strengthened yourself through criticism?
Q: Which authors have most influenced you in your writing career? Who are some of the individuals who helped you along this writing path?
Lawrence Block helped me early on, through his fiction column in Writer's Digest. Jack Cavanaugh, a friend, gave me good counsel at the start of my career, as did agent Steve Laube. And I have a bunch of writer friends who have been supportive over the years.
Q: What books to be read are perched on your reading shelf right now?
Q: What one piece of advice would you give aspiring authors?
That, and make sure you have a weekly quota of words. That's the first, and still best advice I ever got about writing.