Talking Craft with M.D. Moore, author of ‘Waiting for the Cool Kind of Crazy’by marbob00 marbob00 on 08/02/15
A native of Tacoma, Washington, M.D. Moore worked as a therapist in Washington State’s most acute psychiatric hospital. Moore currently serves as a rehab director at a long term care facility serving veterans and their families. A member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, M.D. Moore lives in Gig Harbor, Washington with his wife and sons.Waiting for the Cool Kind of Crazy is his debut novel. Visit M.D. Moore online at:www.mdmooreauthor.com.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your book, Waiting for the Cool Kind of Crazy. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: My story is about a middle-aged son of a paranoid schizophrenic mother who has the problems of the world on his shoulders, but doesn’t have the skills to navigate them all successfully. He has a mentally ill mother who still is the cause of chaos in his life, a life threatening illness, a failing business, and a host of people who want to see him fail on all fronts. He also has two legal strikes (a third would result in a sentence of mandatory life in prison without parole) and anger issues. He is forced to see a therapist against his better advice who seems to have as many issues as he has. The only bright spot in his life is his reunion with his high school sweetheart, but even she is just recently divorced from his high school adversary who has the power to destroy what Harmon has worked to build. The story focuses on how he navigates and untangles the messes of his life to a logical conclusion.
I worked in my state’s largest psychiatric hospital for several years and one of the patients had a husband and two teenage boys which was very unusual. Most of the patients had never been married or if they had been, had been divorced. The family’s dedication to their wife and mother was very touching, but I always felt sorry for all of them realizing how hard it must be for each one for their own reasons. It inspired this story of a man and his schizophrenic mother and the life they have shared.
Q: What do you think makes a good family saga? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: I think the single most important element of a family saga is it has to feel real. Many of the occurrences in my book would be far fetched to readers who are not familiar with the mentally ill and what struggles they face, but I believe the reader could still see the plausibility of the events. Now, this may sound somewhat contradictory to condition one, but you must also make it exciting enough that it doesn’t sound so real, that it could just happen to anyone, especially the reader. I’ve judged several writing contests and one of the biggest flaws I’ve seen is that people make their stories sound so real, they could’ve easily happened to the reader. Ok, your protagonist is buried in bills – been there. Oh no, your protagonist had a fight with their wife or kids – done that. Shoot, your protagonist is fat and needs to lose weight – it would be a bigger stretch if that person was in shape. Make real world problems, just make them someone else’s real world problems. The last element in a family saga, or for any realistic fiction for that matter, is to make your characters relatable. Make your protagonist someone like your Uncle Paul or your grandfather with maybe a little scar here or there – make your person someone who could exist.
A: I tried the free-flowing method and I ended up making a mess all over myself. There were pieces of book all over the place and a story that got me more lost than my first version of Mapquest. Unfortunately, and I say unfortunate because I wish I had the skill to just “let the story happen,” I am a meticulous plotter. My chapter summaries are almost as long as the chapters themselves. I need to know where I’m going so I don’t waste too much energy trying to find my way with a sundial. Give me a programmed GPS and just let me write.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: My protagonist, Harmon, is actually a combination of a lot of people. He shares character traits of a couple of family members and friends and physically, he’s also a combination of several people. I actually had a little photo album, the type you’d get as a kid, that had several pictures in it that I would reference on occasion when describing Harmon. In the editing process, however, I ended up taking a lot of physical description out as I like to let the reader develop their own image of the characters based on their own experiences. As for behaviors, in the end, Harmon basically did what I would do. I’d like to write a character someday that is a far departure from me, but with this being my first novel, decided to stick with what I know.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: He was a little easier. Since Harmon had known Frank (the antagonist) since childhood, I just thought of kids that I didn’t like when I was young and used them for the childhood antagonist and as Frank aged, I just created a history that would put him on a path to continue being an asshole. I have known enough of those in my lifetime that I had some folks to draw from.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: I think exciting narrative comes from exciting characters. Having motorcycle gang members, chronically mentally ill patients, outlaw therapists and the like in the book made for easy, fun narratives. I had the hardest time keeping Harmon interesting because his character was the most real of the bunch and real life isn’t typically that exciting. The only tip I have is to really pay attention to narrative during your rewrites/edits. Write it all during the first draft, but try to weed out the garbage the second and subsequent rewrites. Better yet, have a trusted reader go through and tell you what doesn’t work or where your work really starts to slow down. Another reader is a super valuable tool.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: Again, make the setting as interesting as you can. The type of story you write will dictate how interesting that will be. A sci-fi set in space will definitely be more interesting than a family drama set in Washington. One of the most helpful things I did for myself was to really pay attention to my surroundings before and while I was writing the book. I worked at our states largest mental hospital and it still had some of the old, creepy buildings from when the grounds were an army fort in the 1800’s. This was easy to make interesting. Harmon’s business and home were a combination of this old antique store in Tacoma, WA and the residence of an acquaintance who lives over a bar whose home used to be used as a hotel (which I then turned into a brothel). Pay attention to your surroundings, even going for a drive and taking notes, and you’ll find plenty of places that will work (given your story is not set in space or underwater!)
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: My theme is the oft-used, love conquers all. Since this was a story about a man and his chaotic relationship with his mentally ill mother and since I wanted there to be redemption in the end, I always knew that this would be a book that would get wrapped up by the end between a father and mother who come to realize that they do love each other even if they didn’t necessarily get each other.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: This is a tough one. I guess if I had to try and name this, I’d say that craft is what makes an author’s writing readable, art is what makes it memorable. I believe that anyone can learn the craft of writing. There are all kinds of resources – classes, books, workshops, critique groups – to learn the craft of writing. One can learn to write very well by learning the craft of writing. I’d go so far as to say that a lot of what we find on the shelves of our local bookstores are books that display good writing craft. It’s the books that we keep on our shelves and are stingy about passing around that have nailed the art of writing. I don’t believe that you can teach the art of writing – you either have it or you don’t. Luckily for most of us, I think we all get a little lucky and show a little art mixed in with our craft.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: First, I think it’s important to study the craft of writing. There are many writers who believe that just because they can craft a good sentence or write a good paper for a class, they have what it takes to write a novel. I know because I was one of them. It wasn’t until I read some of the crap that I initially wrote that I realized that I didn’t know the first thing about writing a novel. Sure, I could write a good sentence, I just couldn’t write enough of the them in the right order to complete a book. Take classes, read books, join critique groups, etc, and then practice, practice, practice to learn how to do it right.
Second, listen to the advice of others. Find someone you trust and have them proofread your work. The writer gets too close to their own work and they always know what they were talking about. “My dog is really protective.” Did you picture a german shepherd? a pitbull? a Doberman? A Chihuahua? You know you were thinking about your yappy Pomeranian but your reader did not. If it matters, a good editor will help you clarify or tell you when something is missing or has awkward structure.
The third trait needed is perseverance. This is a long and grueling and highly competitive business and for the most part, only the those who persevere reach their goals. If you’re not finding the success you believe is coming to you, you must do some soul searching and find out why. If you’ve done everything you can, it’s time you just put your head down and keep sending out queries.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: I’d say that that author either loved doing homework or was in the wrong profession. I hate homework, but I love to write. I also do woodworking and beekeeping, both of which took considerable work to get good at, but it was an enjoyable learning experience for both. Homework is what I did for school and it sucked. Work at home is what I do for me and I love it.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: There are a couple of excellent books on writing that provide a good roadmap towards writing fiction. The first and best is Dean Koontz’s book How to Write Best Selling Fiction. It doesn’t so much teach the mechanics of writing as much as it teaches about what goes into a great story. It’s a little pricey if you can even find it. It’s been out of print for a long time, but if you can track one down, it’s well worth having in your library. The second is Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s very similar to Koontz’s book, but just not quite as direct. As for resources on the craft of writing, my best lessons came at writing conferences and from critiques. I also read a ton of books (almost literally) about writing. I thought I knew what I was doing until I tried to do it. When I failed miserably, I began to read books on how to write books and everything started to come together.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: I really believe that this is an endeavor worth pursuing. It takes way more work than you think it’s going to take, but ultimately, if you work hard, listen to others who’ve done it before you, and learn, learn, learn all you can about writing and the writing industry, you can find success. You may need a little luck along the way, but I do believe, more so than any other part of the entertainment industry, that hard work and perseverance are rewarded.