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Blogs, Interviews and Reviews

Interview: Q&A with BookReviewsandGiveAways.Org

(as originally appeared Sept 8, 2015 on BOOKREVIEWSANDGIVEAWAYS.ORG)

BR&GA: How did you come up with the title for your novel, THE RIPPER GENE?

MR: I find titles to be one of the most difficult undertakings involved in writing a book. It’s incredibly “tricky”, since you’re trying to capture so much with an extremely limited number of words: the hook for the reader, the faithful representation of the plot, the focus of the writer, the premise of the story, the setting, the mood, the genre, and the list could go on. I don’t believe you should decide on a final title for your novel until you’ve finished it…although I think you should always work on a manuscript with a tentative title in mind.

The Ripper Gene went through several draft titles. I can’t go into detail about the selection process because it would create spoilers here. It was, however, extremely difficult to decide whether to give this novel a title that highlighted 1) its forensic aspects, 2) its scientific premise, 3) its moral conundrum 4) its philosophical side, 5) its technological angle, 6) its religious underpinnings, or 7) its plot.

I ultimately selected The Ripper Gene to highlight the interesting scientific premise that genetics can predispose individuals to psychopathic behavior, and to hopefully signal that the story would be about a serial killer (and presumably someone trying to stop them). In the end, you have to hope that your title (coupled with the cover art) will be compelling enough that potential readers will look further and discover all the other important aspects of your story, since the title can only explain so much,

BR&GA: How did you move from just a few sentences to a full blown book?

MR: I don’t think about how many pages I will need to write when I sit down and begin writing those first few sentences…if I did, I’m not sure I’d ever start. I was actually going to say here that I don’t have a secret, but perhaps that’s my secret in and of itself: I just make sure not to worry about whether the words I write at any one sitting are going to make it into a novel or not.

I pull this off using the program Scrivener, which organizes everything I write into folders comprised of individual “scenes”. I only set out to write a single scene at each sitting, so once I’m done I just drop the scene into one of two types of folders. If I’m sure it’s a scene in an upcoming novel, I drop it there. If I’m not, I drop it into a folder full of various scenes that 1) may become part of a novel; 2) may become part of a short story; or 3) of course, may become nothing at all. Doing it this way seems to take the pressure off, and enables me to not have to worry about starting on “Page One” of the next 400 page novel.

BR&GA: How many hours a week would you say you read?

MR: Whatever the number is, it’s less than it should be. I spend about 10 hours a week reading scientific-related materials- research articles, laboratory reports, textbooks, scientific abstracts. I spend another 10 hours a week in a commute, so I’m able to either 1) listen to audio books or 2) listen to Great Courses, which are university courses covering a massive range of topics from philosophy to writing, from history to astronomy to forensic and so on). I have to admit that I listen to university course lectures via the Great Courses more often than I listen to audio books lately.

I have about a dozen books open and in progress on my Kindle at any one time, and about a dozen more hardcovers/paperbacks scattered throughout my house and office that I’m reading, all concurrently. I actually approach reading much the same as writing- I read many things in parallel until one just takes off and demands that I finish it before the others. Most recently, I was reading numerous books as is my usual approach…until I got to a point in Dark Places (by Gillian Flynn) which demanded that I finish it, so I did.
All told I probably read for about 20-30 hours a week, depending on whether I’m listening to an audiobook that week or “taking a course”.

BR&GA: When it comes to editing and/or proofreading, what would you recommend?

MR: The most important recommendation would be to maximize the number of full-length revisions you complete before you submit. It took around 10 full-length revisions to The Ripper Gene before we had a version ready for publishers. After revision #6 I convinced my agent that the manuscript was ready to go out, and in that round of submissions we didn’t have a single bite. Two years and four additional revisions later…including a particularly brutal one that brought the number of pages down from 450 to 300 pages… we wound up having three different major publishers express interest…and The Ripper Gene had a home a few weeks after that.

For thrillers, the kiss of death is a lull in the pace. You have to cut everything that doesn’t move the story forward…or that doesn’t move the story forward at fast enough of a pace!

BR&GA: Reviews are important, but what about public libraries?

MR: They’re similarly important. I recently ran a book giveaway and was impressed by how many people were going to get their copy of The Ripper Gene through a library if they didn’t win. The libraries have to purchase their copies, so if you’re book is in high demand, it generates sales and the revenue necessary to sustain future books. More importantly, having your book in libraries helps simply by amplifying word-of-mouth… which is that often-cited, poorly understood phenomenon that seems vital to almost all the successes in this industry today.

BR&GA: Are there alternate endings you considered?

MR: Not really. I knew the ending I wanted for a long time so it was a matter of working backwards from a given ending and identifying different paths to get there…but never whether my novel would lead me to a different ending. That was relatively locked down at the start. I like to build backwards so to speak.

BR&GA: Are you working on something new and can you share any details?

MR: I am and I can! After I finished The Ripper Gene, I began a different series set where I now live, in northern New Jersey outside Manhattan, which is more of a futuristic biomedical thriller featuring NYPD detectives rather than FBI profilers. I also began a more literary mystery set in the 1980’s focusing on the mysterious death of a minister trying to pass a referendum in a county in northern Mississippi.

However I’ve also now been prompted to write a new Lucas Madden novel, and luckily I had a breakthrough in the plotting of that story a few months ago, during this year’s ThrillerFest. I’m still outlining that novel, but am very excited to write it. It revolves around one of the FBI’s current initiatives. I could say more, but then I would be letting too much cat out of the bag!
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