You’ve written in a lot of genres — thrillers, horror, children’s. Not many authors can do that. Tell me about the mental shift that lets you jump from one to another.
Hmm. Dealing with kids can be a horror story, so I’m not sure there’s a shift. Some kids make me think about murder…
A doctor studies medicine but might also play golf and cook steaks. A chef cooks steaks and plays golf, but also wants to learn to fly airplanes as a hobby. For each task, they change gears mentally, but some aspects are the same. Dedication to the task. Learning what’s required.
Like lots of people, my tastes vary. Strawberry cheesecake ice cream is my favorite, but luckily Baskin Robbins makes a few other flavors for when I want something else. I’m the same way with my writing. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to write well different genres, and I appear to do it with relative ease, but I see the similarities in stories. Readers want some interesting people they can hang out with, and a compelling plot. That can happen anywhere. The original Star Wars is science fiction (space) and fantasy (magic), but also romance (Han Solo and Princess Leia), adventure – among other things — but it’s also a been described as a cowboy story set in space. That told me a good plot with engaging characters can happen anywhere. If an author understands the basic elements of each genre, and what that genre’s readers want in a story, they can write in different genres. Most authors don’t jump around because there’s more money in staying in one place and because they prefer a certain kind of story themselves, but also because readers gravitate to the same genre over and over. I think readers are eclectic, too, and I want to explore different things. So I do.
You just look at the genre and say, what appeals to me there? And you write that. You study the expectations of readers of the genre and apply yourself, and you can make it happen.
When I look at a kid’s story like The Zombunny, I think, what would a kid want to read — as opposed to what do adults want them to read? In horror, I looked at what scares me. With thrillers, same thing: what gets me on edge? That’s why Double Blind and The Gamma Sequence are so popular. They are smart stories that have amazing characters and fast plots, with twists that keep readers on their toes.
In one of your blog posts about writing, you wrote “Your reader is your willing accomplice. Give them what they came for.” Explain, please.
I didn’t invent that. Steve Almond said, “All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies. Such is the basic goodwill contract made the moment we pick up a work of fiction.” I kinda paraphrased him.
I love the quote because it blows my mind.
What I mean by it is, very few people want to see a murder scene in real life, or be a detective, but when they pick up a murder mystery like Double Blind, they do – at least for some of it. They’re willing to set aside some of the strict laws of the real world to cheer for a smart bad guy they’d never want to exist in real life. In a fantasy, they want to believe in magic. Whatever the rules are for the world you set up, the reader plays along if you do a good job.
From there, know what the reader wants and give it to them. That’s as easy as it sounds – and also as hard. Jim Patterson said put something interesting on every page. I agree. Make every page count. Every paragraph. If it doesn’t count, why is it there? Bring the best stuff, and try to make every single sentence count. Readers can tell the difference, and they appreciate it.
Your website is full of advice for writers — you’re very generous in sharing what you’ve learned. You could make money charging for classes or seminars with this information — why don’t you?
It never hurts to be generous!
Why don’t I charge? Well, do I want to write or do I want to teach writers? Would I rather spend time putting stories down on paper or talking to groups about what makes for great dialogue? Life is choices.
Luckily, right now I can do both.
I love getting in front of groups and talking about writing topics. I’ve done it for the Florida Writer’s Association, for the Tampa Writer’s Alliance, and for many other groups around the Tampa Bay area. I’ve considered doing video sessions for an internet webinar format. I think the seminar information itself would be easy to do, but then for it to be successful, you have to market it – and marketing can be its own full time job. That would be where it could eat into doing what I actually enjoy, which is writing, but with the right people, sure, I’d do it. Why not?
Also, you keep saying you’re going to stop writing so much on your blog, but you always keep going (thank goodness!). What gives?
I did slow down! A lot! I blogged for years, growing my base, and got to where I was posting content 7 days a week for a year or two, having writing contests, helping people get published, editing, running an online critique group – all kind of things. I covered a lot of writing topics and could cover more. Pretty much, whatever I learned, I shared.
I still blog, I just blog less, and the writing how-to topics are still there if anyone wants to use the search button at www.DanAlatorre.com. These days I post about once a month, but usually more often, and I reply to every question people post. Blogging has been a lot of fun, and it helps me connect with people – writers, readers – so why not keep doing it?
So, you’re married, have a lovely daughter/co-author, and live in Florida. What prompted you to write? What did you do for a living before becoming an author?
I always wrote, but not like a wistful, “I wish I could be an author one day” way. I was busy doing other things that interested me or required my attention, as we all do, but I still wrote. I traveled, went to President’s Circle with two different Fortune 500 companies as a manager and sales manager, bought a boat and went to the Keys in it, but I always wrote. It just took a few hiatuses in there.
I wrote stories for myself or friends, and when we discovered we had a baby girl on the way, I’d occasionally post about that on Facebook in story form, talking about baby prep stuff at first, because I was about to be a new dad; and then later I posted about fun stuff I did with the baby. This would always be in a “story format” – a post with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some were a hundred words; some were a few thousand. I’d come home and have a hundred comments on a story I’d posted that morning, so I decided to write a book. Savvy Stories has become a beloved book for parents around the world, and when I finished writing that series, I wanted to try writing other things. So I did.
I love that I can put words on paper that can make people laugh, or cry, or be scared, or think about a treasured moment they experienced and have it unfold again right in front of them. That’s an amazing power, and very addictive. It’s a ton of fun, too, which is why I do it.
Where do your stories come from? What, for instance, inspired you to write The Gamma Sequence? How about Double Blind?
In Double Blind, I wanted to write a murder mystery with characters so engaging that readers (and me) wouldn’t want it to end.
The Gamma Sequence came from wondering “what if” about genetic research, and if it got into the wrong hands.
In both of those instances, I was intrigued with the idea of taking the best elements of storytelling and applying them to those genres. I had been asked by a group of New York Times and USA Today bestselling murder mystery authors to join them in an anthology. To me that was like being asked to play in the all-star game. So I said yes — and then I had to write a book. I kicked around ideas for Double Blind for few days with two author friends, and I watched some of the best murder mystery movies each day while I worked out, to get a feel for the genre. I watched cop TV shows to see what I liked about some, and what I disliked about others. In the end, what gripped me every time was interesting characters who I wanted to spend time with. I analyzed them. Why do I like this character? What’s engaging about them? When did I start to feel for that character? What did the author or director do to make that person sympathetic to me?
Then I said, the plot is X, and these interesting characters are going to be in that plot.
I laid out 30 plot points, I think, for Double Blind, and locked myself away like Professor Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. When I emerged from my workshop six weeks later, I didn’t have a flying car, but I had a great murder mystery. People love the plot, the twists, the characters – they want sequels and spinoffs! So I sketched out a five book series and now I’m writing it. Lots of readers say Double Blind is the best murder mystery they’ve ever read.
Then, a few months later, some of the same people asked me to join a medical thriller box set they were assembling. Another group of NYT and USAT bestselling authors. I originally said no, but an author friend said I should do it, and I ended up agreeing. I thought up an outline over two days, and about 35 days after that, The Gamma Sequence had been created. It’s been called the best medical thriller ever by a lot of readers! It’s been favorably compared to Michael Crichton and Robin Cook. I’ll take that comparison any day of the week!
Ultimately, I write things that I’d want to read. It’s as simple as that, but I’m an impatient reader, so my plots move fast. I’m a smart reader, so my stories are intricate and laced with twists that keep readers on their toes. And I’m a person who appreciates relationships, so my characters are people readers want to hang out with.
I do my very best to deliver a great story every time. So far, so good.