My Writing Life: Ernie Lindsey
“I’ve always tried to give readers the same experience I get when a story makes my palms sweat in the middle of the night.”
Ernie Lindsey’s mystery and suspense novels include Sara’s Game, The Two Crosses, and Going Shogun. His latest book, Sledge, about a private investigator in a small Virginia town with a dark past that threatens her future, was published last month.
When did you first discover a love of writing? Is there a particular book that made you want to become a writer?
My first real experience with writing something that I felt was worthy enough to share happened in my second year Old Dominion University. I’d dabbled in creating a few small pieces of fiction here and there, but a single, random sentence from a friend (in a coffee shop at 4AM, nonetheless) sparked an idea for a story. I had fifteen pages of a heist caper written the next day and it got such a fantastic response from friends, my life in front of a keyboard began.
What’s your favourite book? What was your favourite book as a child?
Tomcat in Love by Tim O’Brien. The things O’Brien does with language in that book should make any aspiring writer salivate at his skill. Favorite book as a child? James and the Giant Peach. I can only wish I had Roald Dahl’s imagination.
Where do you get your story ideas?
They come from random places. A particular quote from a friend, a newspaper article, inspiration from a movie plot. Sometimes, however, I’ll start a story with no particular goal in mind. I’ll put a character into a situation and just start throwing harrowing experiences at them and see how they react. Often, I write something like I’m reading it – I think it helps with the surprise factor if I’m as shocked by what happens as a reader would be.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
There are two, actually. The first came from my creative writing professor twenty years ago. I remember mentioning that I had issues with filling a story with fluff just to make a word count goal. She said something to the effect of, “Make every sentence matter.” I think that, more than anything, tightened up my skill and helped streamline the creative process.
The second comes from the great Elmore Leonard, and it ties in with the previous one. His quote, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip,” serves as a reminder not to bore your reader with unnecessary details. Readers don’t care that “John woke up and brushed his teeth.” They want to know what happened when he left for work that morning and found a bomb on his doorstep.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
Unfortunately, I’ve experienced it. I had my novel Going Shogun sitting at roughly 30% complete for *years* and I couldn’t bring myself to work on anything else until it was finished. Finally, I decided that I had to get the story out of the way to free up the other ideas I had floating around, regardless of whether or not it was any good. It turned out to be one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, and I’ve completed two novels and numerous short stories since. Once I tore down that wall, the words flowed again.
If there was one writer (alive or deceased) that you would love to meet, who would it be?
Dean Koontz. His novel, The Voice of the Night, caught my attention as a teen and introduced me to the world of suspense fiction. His storytelling style was such a drastic difference from the literary fiction I’d been exposed to in grade school and I poured through everything of his that I could get my hands on. He’s been a huge influence from the first day I started writing.
What’s your favourite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
Mystery & Suspense. As I mentioned earlier, I write like I read, and I love that heart-pounding excitement that comes from a well written thriller. One of my main goals as a writer has always been to create a physical response from the written word; I’ve always tried to give readers the same experience I get when a story makes my palms sweat in the middle of the night.
Are there any self-publishing tricks of the trade you’d like to share? What rules of craft or promotion do you live by?
Read. Learn. Sit down and write, no excuses. Don’t be afraid to follow trends and adapt when they no longer work. Continue to build your list of titles, because you never know when that one singular book is going to catch on. When it does, you’ll have a growing fanbase eager to read what’s already out there in your library.