Since my first novel came out, I have been compiling a list of questions that I have been asked at book signings. As a reader of my web site, please feel free to ask me a question and who knows, it may wind up here or just in my response to your email. Here are the most common ones.
Where do you get your ideas for the plots and the characters?
A – Most often a historical or a current event triggers the idea for a plot. What I try to do is put ordinary people into extraordinary situations and see how they perform.
Q – What is the most difficult thing about writing?
A – Being objective about what you have created. You may love it but you need to be honest enough about it to evaluate it against what is being published.
Q – What frustrated you the most about getting your first book published?
A – Maddening, frustrating, quirky, irritating, time-consuming are just some of the words I would use to describe the process of finding an agent and/or then a publisher. Trying to break in when one has never been published as a novelist is difficult beyond belief. Add in a dose of recession, declining sales of paper books, the advent of the eBook and you have a formula in which the odds are were stacked against me in 2009 when started trying to get my first book published. If nothing else, getting from manuscript to a published work is a matter of perseverance even if you go the self-publishing route.
Q – Who is your favorite your novelist?
A – From a writing style, my favorite novelist is W.E.B. Griffin. I love the way he tells a story through his characters.
Q – What do you read?
A – Most of the books on my night table are on specific events or times in history, biographies and historical novels, most of which have military themes. I go through phases where I will read several books on a specific period in history to try to get an understanding of the events and issues of that particular time.
Q – Do you model your writing style after any author?
A – No. I am trying to develop my own style that is very conversational and is also as technically and operationally accurate as I can be and still tell a good story. It is after all fiction, so I may deviate enough to support the story line and still stay plausible. What I try to do is tell the story through the eyes of the characters and try to find a balance between narrative and conversation.
Q – What is the best preparation for writing a novel?
A – Writing, writing and writing some more. It doesn’t matter what the topic or purpose is, but learning to organize ones thoughts and then expressing them is the key.
Q – Why do you write?
A – Because I enjoy it… But you also have to work at it. It is a craft and there is no formula for success. Writing is a change of pace, an escape and also in many ways, a rush because I can get involved with the characters. In many ways, writing allows me to let the Walter Mitty in me come out. Writing novels are pure fantasy in a world where I can let my mind wander. It is also a legacy to my grandkids.
Q – When do you write?
A – Writing is all about discipline. It is intense, hard work and one has to find the time. Because I started while I was working for consulting firms, I was traveling a lot. The firms who employed me dealt with very sensitive customer data so I was not able to work on airplanes. So, I started writing on airplanes and in hotel rooms on business trips and on weekends when I get up early in the a.m. and write for a few hours. It is not the ideal situation, but works for me.
Now that I am retired, I try to write or edit four to five hours every day in the morning. I get up around six and depending on the season, either write for a few hours and then work out or vice versa. The rest of the time I allocate to my writing career is spent on publicity, writing a blog, updating my web site, and other non-writing and marketing tasks.
Q – What process do you follow to create a book?
A – There are actually five steps I follow to create a draft that is ready to go to a publisher. It starts with what I call a “kernel” which is one or two paragraphs that are the gist of the story. This is expanded in Step two into a two to three page document that details the timeline and historical context that drives the plot, locations, major characters and events.
Step three is developing a chapter by chapter plot outline using bullets to identify the scenes that will be in each chapter. During the outlining phase, it is stop and start because I am always tweaking and changing the sequence and the outline.
The fourth step is writing the first draft. I let the characters tell the story and often I deviate from outline. Once I start writing the book, it is full speed ahead and very intense. As I tap on the keyboard, the world around me disappears because I am consumed with the scene and the characters. I find researching historical facts and operational details takes up about 30% of the time spent writing. If I am in this phase, I can work four to five hours, sometimes six but after that, my brain is tired and I need a break.
Once the first full draft of the manuscript is finished, I put it aside for several weeks before I start step 5 which editing, adding and deleting and moving sections. It is a continual, iterative process and, in a sense, one is never done until the manuscript is published. Along the way, I’ve developed several tricks and tools that help me in each step and create what consultants call a “consistent, repetitive process that can be documented and improved upon.”
Q – Why did you pick military historical fiction as a genre?
A – First, military/espionage novels are popular. If you can build a following, then each successive book will be easier to sell. Second, one of the earliest things I learned was to write about something you know. After twenty-six years as a citizen sailor, I have a fair amount of knowledge of naval operations so it was an easy place to start. I was also advised by a moderator of a workshop to write about topics I know little or nothing about. So, in each book, there is a little of that as well.
Q – Have you written any other genre?
A – Yes. In the fall of 2019, I will have an Age of Sail novel published. The Age of Sail began in 1571 at the Battle of Lepanto when Spanish and Venetian sailing ships defeated galleys rowed by the Ottoman Turks. It ended in 1862 when the steam powered ironclads, U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia fought each other in Chesapeake Bay during the American Civil War. The first book takes place in the early days of the Revolutionary War. Hopefully, it will lead to a three more books in a short series that follows the careers of a Continental Navy and a Royal Navy officers. Writing it was a labor of love and a learning experience because it forced me to research the American Revolution and the history of the Continental Navy.
Q – Have you ever written a non-fiction book?
A – Yes. I am in the process of seeing if I can find a publisher. It is a lot different than writing novels because you have to stick to the facts. FYI, I have written a lot of magazine articles. Some of the readers who disagreed with the content may have thought they were fiction!
Q – Which is harder, fiction or non-fiction?
A – The short answer is fiction. I’ve not written a non-fiction book but have written hundreds of magazine articles. If you are creating an article, it is a matter of organizing the facts and supporting in such a manner that they tell an interesting story that fits in the magazine’s theme. They’re easier, shorter – about two thousand or twenty-five hundred words – to write. Research, organizing and then analyzing the facts are needed to create a historical work. The creativity is in the historical analysis.
In no way do I want to demean what it takes to create a quality historical work. Research is hard, time consuming work.
However, in a novel, you’re creating an “alternative” universe that has to believable. You start with a clean sheet of paper, do a bunch of research, sometimes on minutiae, and then have to create the story and characters as you go along! And, if it is historical fiction, you have to make it plausible.
Q – Why do you have disabled characters in your books?
A – In one of the workshops, the facilitator gave me what I thought was an important piece of advice. It was “make your characters different and memorable.” I “looked” around at other books and decided that was an avenue that I would explore. I also have created characters that are gay/lesbian, transsexual or who have different sexual tastes. I’d never written about any of them so that filled another criteria.
Q – Have you ever participated in writer’s workshops?
A – Yes. And if you do, bring a thick skin. Go to learn but they are not for everyone.
Q – Why a series?
A – Two reasons. First, I wanted to tell the story of a helicopter pilot’s career and it lent itself to a series of books. I’m a great fan of C.S. Forester’s series on a Royal Navy officer by the name of Horatio Hornblower. He wrote a series of books on the man/s career during the late 1700s and early 1800s. In the Josh Haman series I could cover a series of events/plots over a couple of decades.
Second, I thought that the books would be more marketable. If the readers liked the first ones, then they might by another. Early on in the process, I had several publishers ask me if I was a “one book wonder!” The answer is clearly no!
Q – Would or did you consider self-publishing?
A – Initially I didn’t. At the time, there was a bit of a stigma associated with self-publishing and I was arrogant (naïve) enough to believe that my work was good enough to warrant a contract from a publisher who would invest in me. That was in 2010/2011. Fast forward nine plus years and the stigma attached to self-publishing has evaporated for the most part. I would now consider it because the margins are better!!!
Q – When did you first try to write a novel?
A – It took awhile for me to figure it all out. My first attempt was in the early 1980s. After reading a couple of Tom Clancy’s books, I figured I could do that so I sat down one day and started writing a novel. Then I tried a second one. The manuscripts were bad, really bad. Looking back now, I didn’t realize how terrible they were.
In the mid-1990s, I read a few books, joined a writer’s group, went to several seminars and tried again. It was better, but still not good enough to even satisfy me.
Early in 2006, I wrote the manuscript that has the working title Flight of the Pawnee. I liked it a lot and tried to get it published. Agents took it, read it liked it but none found publisher. By now, it was 2008 and we’re in the midst of the recession and the book industry is being turned on its ear by e-books, print-on demand, self-publishing and few agents, much less large publishers were willing to invest in an unproven author who didn’t have a “brand.”
On the advice of a friend and a published author, I started approaching small publishers and low and behold, Fireship Press took me on. I signed my first book contract on Valentine’s Day, 2012.
There’s a neat footnote to all this. My first two attempts at a novel have been re-written based on what I learned. One now has the working title of The Simushir Island Incident. My next attempt from the mid-1990s was also redone and was published as Moscow Airlift.
Q – Do your books have “hidden” messages?
A – Yes and no. If one thinks along the lines of literary fiction like Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist or Robert Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, then the answer is no. There’s no hidden social message.
On the other hand, the answer is yes. For example, in Cherubs 2 I dive into the lack of equal opportunity in the Navy. It is also a book about learning to lead. Render Harmless was written with the message of to the world that we cannot allow the world to forget or allow something like the Holocaust to happen again. As we get farther and farther from World War II, the horrors of Holocaust seem to fade from memory and that is unacceptable.
Q – What’s in every book?
A – I got asked this in the context that authors who write series always have some element in each of their books. Well, the short answer is that there are five besides lots of action scenes. One is flying. I try to get at least one or more exciting flying scenes in each book. Some are fixed wing and some are rotary wing.
The second is history. One of my favorite sayings is that “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The stories in each novels are built around historical events and facts that have often gone unnoticed, yet have had a significant event on history. Pick up a copy of Moscow Airlift and read the section in the back of the book called “Historical Backdrop for Moscow Airlift” and you’ll understand the six events of 1991 that drove the plot and current U.S. foreign policy.
Number three is that at least one of the characters is a Jew. It enables me to cover interesting aspects of Jewish history that most don’t know about and include some element of anti-Semitism. It also helps me understand my heritage.
The fourth is food. I’m not a foodie or a gourmet by any stretch of the imagination, but food is all about culture and who wouldn’t want to have a delicious meal?
Number five and last are firearms. There are always interesting and sometimes firearms with historical significance. The firearms are used as they were intended within the constraints of the limitations of each weapon. In some cases, there are swords and knives used by the characters which forces me to research how and why they are used.
Q – How do you tell the story?
A – When I was asked the question at a speaking event, I was hoping that the person was referring to my writing style. So, in that context, I try to let the characters tell the story and alternate between narrative and conversation. There are some scenes are best narrated and others lend themselves best as conversation so there’s no hard and fast rule. I tend to lean more to the characters acting and talking than narrative.
Q – How much time do you spend researching versus writing?
A – More than one thinks. I spend a lot of times researching historical details that enrich the story. The risk is that one can go down rat holes that while are interesting, are a total waste of time.
In terms of a ratio to writing, I have no idea. My gut tells me that writing – the creative process of writing a manuscript – is about 70 percent and 30% is research.
The best example I can give is that for Render Harmless I wanted to include a scene that took place in a hotel in East Berlin that no longer existed. I’d been there as a teenager when my parents took my brother and I into East Berlin long before the wall came down. I remembered the restaurant at the top of the hotel that allowed us to look into West Berlin. It took me about four hours one Sunday a.m. to find pictures of the dining room. In the final version, the research resulted in about fifty words of scene setting!
Q – What one thing would you tell an aspiring novelist?
A – Be persistent and don’t give up. The process is stacked against you and self-publishing levels the playing field. Writing is a discipline and only you, as the writer, can impose it. If you want to write, you will find the time because it is important to you.
Q – Do you recommend having your manuscript reviewed and edited by a professional editor before it goes to a publisher or agent?
A – NO!!! Most acquisition committees can smell the work of a professional editor a mile away. The publisher is going to want to take you through an editing process and wants to know that you can do the necessary writing. I’ve been told it is a big, big negative.
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MARC LIEBMAN, AUTHOR & SPEAKER
Marc is an experienced pilot and writer whose career as a Naval Officer and Naval Aviator, business executive, consultant and entrepreneur helped him fulfill his dream of becoming a novelist. In the novels, Marc creates stories with rich, interesting characters and puts them in the proper historical and operational context. His books are memorable, exciting and fun to read.
HISTORICAL & MILITARY FICTION
Big Mother 40
PRESS Marc is available for interviews, conferences on a limited basis and book signings.
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