For those unfamiliar with your fiction, how would you describe your novels?
Dark City Blue and Out of Exile are the first two in a series of Melbourne based crime novels that feature human wrecking ball, Tom Bishop as the ‘kick in the doors, ask questions later’ hero who struggles not to become like the monsters he takes down. It’s an action packed thrill ride with the pace of 24 and the social conscience of The Wire.
Many major Australian publishers have a strong emphasis on publishing print books to sell within Australia (or in Australia and New Zealand if they are the Aus/NZ division of a major publisher). Your publisher, Momentum (part of Pan Macmillan Australia), instead focuses on digital and print-on-demand publishing globally, with the majority of sales coming from outside Australia. How are you finding this approach to publishing?
I love this approach to publishing. There is something very cool in the fact that anybody, anywhere in the world can buy my books and be reading them within 60 seconds of purchase. A story is still a story and a book is still a book and that will never change. Digital publishing doesn’t change the way we read, only what we are reading on. And the more people reading, makes the world a better place.
You have written: “When I have an idea for a novel, the very first thing I do is spend a day playing through my playlists and records (yep, I still have ‘em). What I am trying to do is find the musical personality of the novel. When I wrote Dark City Blue a tale about a career cop who tears apart the police force to expose corruption, I had compiled close to one hundred songs that I thought best musically represented that story.” Could you explain a bit about how songs help you develop a novel?
After hearing one single musical chord, you can be transported through time, taken across boarders and thrown into tales of woe about broken hearts and social conscience. Every single song in the world means something different to every single person who hears it. When you listen you bring your own experiences and world view to that particular song and you make it your own. Choosing a song to listen to isn’t an intellectual decision; it’s a subconscious one that reveals not only how you’re feeling but also what is important to you. Listening to my subconscious helps me find the story I want to tell.
You wrote in a recent interview: “I find it difficult to write anything without first knowing what I am writing. I envy writers who one day can sit down at the typer, write a sentence and see where the story takes them. That approach doesn’t work for me. Every single story strand, character arc, turn-around as well as the overall thematic question is predetermined way before I write page one. I generally know who my hero is, what predicament they are in, what they want, what stands in their way and what happens if they don’t get it. That may all sound like a lot and in a way it is, but it’s also nothing more than can be written on a single A4 page or on the back of a couple of cocktail napkins (depending on where you are).” This is fairly standard practice for feature film screenwriters (and I notice you are studying a Master of Screenwriting) but many novel writers find this extremely difficult to do. What advice do you have for novel writers who wish they were better at planning and outlining their novel manuscripts?
Not every novel writer needs to outline and plan their story, just as not every story needs a solid outline. But I write in the crime genre which means, to a certain degree my readers are interested in solving a puzzle. They want to discover who the murderer is and they want to work their way through the crime, which means as a writer, I need to build that puzzle and therefore, need a plan. Novelists who find it difficult to outline probably do so because outlining is difficult to do. That’s where all the heavy lifting in a story is and my advice is to push through it and start small.
Write a one sentence outline.
Write a one paragraph outline.
Write a one page outline.
Write a ten page outline.
Then write the book.
If you set small achievable goals, you can achieve the big goals.
You also wrote: “Characters exist to be put through hell… and hopefully make it out the other side better for it. OUT OF EXILE is a story about redemption and hope. Tom Bishop does bad things but is desperate to prove he is still a good man. Every single violent, distasteful and just downright mean thing that happens to Bishop, in a strange way is for his own good. It forces him to evolve…” How do ensure that your story is not just a barrage of different obstacles put in the way of a character achieving their goal but also a journey in which the character’s personality changes in a meaningful way?
Character is action and action defines character. What that means is that character is defined by the decisions they make. Not what happened to them before the story started, not if they walk with a limp and certainly not by what their favourite colours, movies, drinks or foods are. Every obstacle a character overcomes should reveal something new about the character or push the story forward.
That said, there are many different types of stories and a protagonist doesn’t always have to change. The heroes in most westerns don’t change nor do heroes in crime procedurals. My rule of thumb is, either the character changes or they change the world around them.
In another recent interview, you wrote: “As far back as I could remember I had a pen in my hand. It started off with a couple of abandoned novels when I was a teenager that were about everything and nothing. Then a bunch of short films, a few feature films and back again to novels. I can’t survive without writing. It’s an addiction. If I don’t produce at least 1000 words a day I’m a miserable bastard to be around.” How would you describe your journey to successfully completing a novel manuscript, and is there an important lesson or two you learned along the way that you would like to share?
My journey to successfully completing a manuscript was long and hard. I wrote many drafts to many pieces of works that never saw the light of day. My garage is a graveyard of boxes littered with dead stories. Writing is hard. It takes a long time to get good and when you’re not good you’re bad. Push through that bad writing. Finish every short story, every short film, every screenplay and manuscript. The more you write the better writer you will be. But the one overall piece of advice which outweighs every other, write like you and never apologise for doing so.
Who are some of your favourite novelists, and why do their novels stand out for you as a reader?
Some of my favourite novelists are Bret Easton Ellis, James Ellroy and Charles Bukowski. They stand out because they take chances. I’m not interested in stories that play it safe. I want to be challenged. I want to be exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking.
What is next for your fiction writing?
I have two screenplays which are market ready so we’re busy putting together a team for a shoot for hopefully next year. And there’s also a new Tom Bishop rampage in the works with a story that is bigger in scope and scale.
You can read more about Luke Preston and his fiction at www.lukeprestonwords.com.
The Australian Literature Review