Taylor Adams is the author of Eyeshot, a debut thriller novel. T.J. Brearton is the author of Habit, Survivors, and the supernatural thriller High Water.* Both Adams and Brearton are published by Joffe Books, based in London.
The two authors dreamed up a cross-mojo interview where they would ask one another the kinds of questions that mainstream media sometimes misses.
T.J. Brearton interviews Taylor Adams
TJB: Okay. First question. “Where do your ideas come from?” Joking. What I really want to know is, “How long did it take you to write Eyeshot?”
TA: Too long! At least two solid years of writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting. Much of that was spent making beginner mistakes – not adhering to a schedule, getting bogged down in the first draft, et cetera – but I’m also a brutal perfectionist. The novel’s third act, in particular, I must’ve reworked a good fifty times before finally envisioning a climax I was happy with.
TJB: I’m curious as to what specifically caused you to feel bogged down in the first draft. Were you, in your perfectionist ways, trying to “get it right” too soon? Or was there something else going on?
TA: Pretty much. Getting a rough draft down on paper (even a godawful one) is such an essential first step – you can’t fix story issues if the story isn’t written yet – and I started fine-tuning much too early in the process. Like trying to wax a car that’s still on the assembly line.
TJB: As of right now, Eyeshot has broken into the top 1,000 sales ranking for Amazon Kindle and has been hanging there for some time. According to interpretations of Amazon’s sales algorithm, that puts you currently between 100 to 300 books selling per day. Did you expect this? What were your intentions for submitting Eyeshot to publishers; Just get it out there and be happy with that, or start on your way to making a living writing fiction?
TA: I’m still in shock. I’d always known that I wanted to be an author – and ideally make some money at it – but I never imagined selling this many copies on a debut. So I’m truly grateful for every reader on Amazon who’s chanced their time and money on this little thriller from an unknown author, and everyone who’s taken the time to share their thoughts on it. I hope that as I keep writing and experimenting with new stories and ideas, these readers will keep buying and enjoying. I’d love to make a full-time living at this.
TJB: You’ve worked in film. How do you think this affected writing prose? Positively? Negatively?
TA: Both, I’d say. Because filmmaking is so visual, it really hammered “show-don’t-tell” into my writing habits, and the bare-bones nature of screenwriting forced me to economize every last word. However, it’s possible to go too far in that direction and I think I went through a phase where I mistook vagueness for efficient prose.
TJB: Did you outline, or jump straight into a rough draft?
TA: I outline first, then write a rough draft. Outlining is a useful road map, but you don’t truly discover the story until you roll up your sleeves and write that godawful first draft.
TA: I really lucked out here. I’d queried maybe a half-dozen publishers and received one contract offer – but I turned it down because I felt their editing and art design was subpar (my fault, really, for not researching them enough first). Then I queried Not So Noble Books, heard back from Jasper, and the rest is history. Having a publisher in the UK has been a terrific way to reach a lot of readers I otherwise likely wouldn’t have.
TJB: Do you read ebooks?
TA: Of course! I’m reading the Kindle edition of Richard Matheson’s Hell House at the moment. I still appreciate reading off dead trees, though. I’m old-fashioned.
TJB: After the fuss dies down (if it does, and the way your book is going, it may not), what do you plan to do? What’s your long game? Are you currently writing another book?
TA: I’d like to produce a book every 12-18 months, and keep trying new genres and stories. Hopefully with the same degree of commercial success as Eyeshot! Until that happens, I have my day job at an NBC TV affiliate in Seattle. I love mixing suspense and dark comedy, so that will probably be a consistent theme throughout my writing career, but I’m currently really excited to be working on a psychological horror novel. Horror is fun, and in my opinion, really operates on a slower wavelength than a thriller. You have to establish normalcy before you can disrupt it in a scary way. It’s been a real learning experience.
Taylor Adams interviews T.J. Brearton
TA: What cliché or crutch irks you most in thriller/mystery literature nowadays, and how do you avoid it (or subvert it) in your own work?
TJB: That’s a good question. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it. I can say that recently I was reading a book by a very popular thriller writer and was struck by how prosaic the writing was. (Of course, right there I’ve shot myself in the foot using the fifty-cent word ‘prosaic’ which, by definition, is ‘having the style or diction of prose.’ So that author was probably doing the right thing.) But that’s not really a cliché or a crutch. I’ve always written from experience. There is a caution in this; someone said if you only write from within you are doomed to repeat yourself eventually. Still, I think maybe the cliché is to try and divorce oneself too much from the material because of some imaginary mandate. This popular author I’m speaking of admits to trying to do that, but then found that readers considered him to be just like his main character anyway. So I guess this is one long-winded way of saying, “I don’t know.” Are zombies a cliché ? If so then I guess I’m sick of those.
TA: Do you research before writing – or do you construct the story first and then research a way to make everything “possible?”
TJB: I think as I move along, I’m naturally tending away from just jumping in. It’s for my own sake. I want to get to the story I’m telling myself quicker, so knowing ahead of time what’s going to be happening helps. And there’s less work on the back end this way, I think – I hope. Less trying to rearrange things or reinvent things to make the story work, if you’ve got it worked out ahead of time. Less concern for character consistency and arc of change if you already know who they are and where they’re coming from and where they’re going.
…But, your question was actually about “research,” so maybe I just went off on a huge tangent? When I think of research I think of facts to ground the story in reality. I might do a lot of research before a story, depending on what it is. And I might research along the way. If what you’re asking (sorry, it’s early and I’m on only one coffee), is whether or not I make shit up and then try to find the research to legitimize it, then no, not really. But I think it can happen accidentally, with things you just didn’t know you didn’t know. Like if I write that a coyote becomes rabid and attacks a family while picnicking, do I then later go back and make sure coyotes can be rabid? (They can’t.) I think this happens, for sure. And then you just change the coyote to a Pit Bull and hope it doesn’t totally fuck up the rest of the story.
TA: Do you write in mornings? Evenings? How much per day?
TJB: It varies, but mainly I write in the mornings. My writing schedule relates to my family’s schedule, so I usually only get about three or four solid days a week. The rest of the time I’m always thinking about a new story or a revision. (I have a waterproof notepad in the shower; highly recommend.) When I am “in session” I usually don’t look up until I’ve cleared 2,000 words. On a good morning I might write 4 or 5,000. Of course it’s not all about volume, but that’s how my first draft gets down in a three month period.
TJB: I think Hemingway said you should write drunk and edit sober or write sober and edit drunk. I can’t drink alcohol, so I get zooted on coffee enough that I can blow up things with my mind.
TA: Favorite thing a reader has told you?
TJB: That’s tough. Probably my favorite comments and reviews came from my second book, Survivors. A reader said it made them rethink things about the world. I think that’s the highest compliment I could ever be paid. It’s great to entertain and to have people love something because it employs the correct formula. But to hear the work caused someone to think about things in a different way, or that the book mirrored what was going on in the world, that’s especially gratifying.
TA: What attracted you to Joffe Books?
TJB: Why, Jasper Joffe, of course! Jasper had me at “sounds fascinating” when I pitched my first book. Even though it was over email, I could hear his British accent. I’m joking, of course, but I definitely felt right away that he was cool, and very smart, and was just what I needed and wanted. Plus the fact that he said “yes” was very attractive, haha. (Sounds like we’re dating.)
TA: My favorite thrillers are always a little harder-edged. How do you find the right amount of violence, sex, and profanity? In your writing, I mean. Not real life.
TJB: I get the feeling from our correspondence in this cross-mojo interview that we are different sorts of writers, and that’s wonderful. I say that because what I get from your answers and some of your questions is that you are very thoughtful about writing. You outline, you analyze the principles of a genre, such as horror, you consider the weight you should give to these elements you mention, and so on. This is great, because I really think it shows that people who want to write can work in the way that suits their personality; you don’t necessarily have to condition yourself in a totally new way – because I am quite different than you, I think. I don’t outline. I’ve never thought about the levels of profanity or violence from an outside perspective; if it happens in the story, that is, if I see it before my mind’s eye, then it happens.
That said, I have become somewhat trainable; if enough readers seem dissatisfied with too much cursing in a book, on the next one I might think, “Should I tone this down? Was I just having a bad morning when I dropped in all those F-bombs?”
Probably with writing, as with everything, there is balance. I think readers are savvy. If the violence or sex is really gratuitous and calculated, they’re apt to see through that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t think about it. Between what I perceive to be your more organized approach, and my more organic one, entropy has us both approaching center anyway, as I am getting a bit more organized and planful, and you’re maybe letting some things go as you experiment and “play jazz” in new genres.
Or, I could be just making this up as a story in my head.
It’s been great fun doing this. Thanks, Taylor.
* Eyeshot was the number one book in the International Mystery & Crime category on Amazon Kindle. Habit was the number one free book in the world for Amazon Kindle; Highwater has been number one in the Psychic Suspense category in both the UK and US, and the number one Police Procedural in Canada.
UPDATE October 15, 2017: Taylor has gone on to write Our Last Night and No Exit, the latter a mega-smash hit that has dominated the top 100 list on Amazon and was recently optioned by 20th Century Fox to be developed as a feature film. T.J. Brearton has written Daybreak, Dark Kills, Dark Web, Gone, Dead Gone, Buried Secrets, and Gone Missing. Gone and Dead Gone have been best-sellers on Amazon’s Top 100 list. (That’s a lot of dead-dark-gone, but no movie deals yet for Brearton…)