Interview with Donald Bain
I never chose a genre to write in. As the author/ghostwriter/collaborator on more than 120 books, the genres were determined by the publishers of many of those books. I have, however, for the past 25 years been writing almost exclusively in the murder mystery/thriller genres, starting with the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series set in Washington, D.C. (currently writing the 30th in that series), and the "Murder, She Wrote" series (finishing up the 46th novel). I suppose I'm the quintessential journeyman writer--and proud of it.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Too many writers talk about the book they're going to write and never actually write it. I know writers who strive for "perfection" in the first draft and don't seem to ever get around to finishing it. Write it! That first draft may be lacking, but at least you have a blueprint for refining and polishing it. I believe in that saying, "All good writing is re-writing."
What's your favourite quote about writing/for writers?
The above saying is one of my favorites. I also believe in "If I had more time I would have written less." Get rid of the excess verbiage and give the reader credit for understanding what you've written without having to belabor it with unnecessary words. I also understand what Kurt Vonnegut meant when he said, "I hate writing but I love being a writer."
Being a writer means that I can continue what I do well into my dotage, as opposed to having spent a working life digging ditches or collecting tolls on the Jersey Turnpike. Being a writer allows me to share with others (readers) my imagination, as well as expressing my own thoughts, which come out through the mouths of my characters. The problem is that you never stop writing, at least in your mind, never can walk away from a story until you've typed THE END. It's with you day and night, plotting the next scene, coming up with distinctive features for your characters, and wondering whether what you're writing will please both your editors and the reading public. But I love it!
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
I have a website, www.donaldbain.com. The problem is I fall behind on keeping it up-to-date. I've been interviewed on myriad sites, however, and have been the subject of numerous newspaper and TV interviews. For me, the best and most satisfying way for a potential reader to discover my works is when another reader reads one and is pleased enough to recommend it.
Did you learn anything from writing that was unexpected?
What I learned was that writing is hard work. If you aren't tired after a day of writing the chances are good that what you've written isn't very good and will have to be rewritten the next day. I've also learned that the publishing industry is in turmoil and sometimes doesn't make any sense. But I suppose that's true of most industries. Finally, I've learned that a good agent is a writer's best friend and advocate. I'm blessed with a top-notch agent, Bob Diforio, who's always there to make some sense out of the publishing world.
How do you research your books?
I've built up an extensive research library, which with the Internet provides plenty of sources for whatever research I need while working on a given project. But when it comes to setting a book in a locale away from where I work there's no substitute for actually visiting that place, soaking in the atmosphere, and touching what makes that place unique. With few exceptions, when setting a "Murder, She Wrote" novel in a place other than Jessica Fletcher's beloved Cabot Cove, Renee and I have visited that place, walked its streets with a tape recorder, and wove what we'd learned into the story.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing verses traditional publishing?
Self-publishing is here to stay, for better or for worse. On the one hand many worthwhile books that had been rejected by mainstream publishers have been self-published to great success, which is good for the author and for the reading public. The problem is that self-published authors don't usually have a good editor working with them, nor do they have the corporate backing of a publisher and its marketing muscle.
Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
My cousin Jack Pearl, who wrote more than 100 books including the definitive biography of General Patton, got me started as a writer. He started me writing articles for the men's adventure magazines, and arranged for me to rewrite a book for S&S, THE RACING FLAG, the history of stock car racing. The editor on that book, knowing I was working for American Airlines at the time, called and asked if I'd be interested in collaborating with two Eastern Airlines stewardesses on a lighthearted tell-all about the stewardess life. I got together with them and the result was COFFEE, TEA OR ME? which went on sell more than 5-million copies worldwide, became a made-for-TV movie, and spawned numerous sequels. That book gave me the financial comfort to devote full-time to writing, which I've been doing ever since.
Does your family support you in your writing career? How?
My wife, Renee, certainly supports my writing life. After all, she's a writer, too, and has collaborated with me on the last 20 or so "Murder, She Wrote" novels. If she didn't support what I do we'd be in deep trouble. My two daughters are also supportive, although one of them wonders why her father spends his days "putting little black marks on paper." Actually, Kurt Vonnegut once said the same thing about what he did for a living.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I spent many years working as a jazz musician (vibes and drums) and found my ultimate professional happiness and fulfillment when playing with a variety of jazz groups. Today, I always have recorded jazz playing in the background while I write. I enjoy reading, of course, doing crossword puzzles, and eating out in good restaurants.