Thriller Writer
the website of author Eric J. Gates
About Eric
An interview
Contact Eric
An interview

An Exclusive interview with Eric about his writing


Interviewer (I): Have you always wanted to be a thriller writer?

Eric: Pretty much. I discovered my enjoyment for writing when I was about 15 years old. We had an old Underwood sit-up-and-beg typewriter in the house and I took it over. I consumed reams of paper, knocking out science-fiction stories, usually about 10 pages or so. I’ve been an avid reader all my life and, at that time, I was devouring Sci-fi books, particularly Asimov and Heinlein. So when I started to write my own stuff, it just happened to be mainly Sci-fi. I was also working my way through all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and did write a few short stories featuring spies.

I: How did your writing evolve from there?

Eric: Well, a number of things happened. I had been studying Spanish at school since I was 11 years old. My School had two Spanish teachers, Messrs. Mitchell and Margets, and they co-authored a couple of westerns in Spanish, as teaching aids. These books were very successful in their day and I still have autographed copies at home. Because of my Dad’s job, I had to change schools a lot and in one of them I had to start to learn French as well. The French teacher was a young Mancunian (that means he was from Manchester) called John Tolley. I suggested to him that we co-author a French-language reader for schools. I wrote the story, a spy story very much in the line of the early Bond films, and did some of the translation work and he was to tackle the French to ensure the book could be used for 4th year students. Unfortunately, the project didn’t finish. He left the school to teach elsewhere and the new French teacher who took over wasn’t interested in continuing. So the book died. The book, but not the idea. I grabbed the Underwood and, 50.000 words later, had a novel. I polished it, as much as my inexperience allowed, and sent it away for re-typing and then a professional review. I still remember the response from the reviewer: “Not bad for a first attempt. Keep it up.”

I: Was that book ever published?

Eric: No. I’ve still got it in a box at home, but it serves as a reminder that, if you put your mind to it, you can come up with an idea and turn it into an acceptable novel with a little effort.

I: What happened then?

Eric: I carried on writing short stories, which became longer and structurally more complex. In all I produced about 200. Some were humorous, other serious, but few people read them, mainly family members, including the dog. Then adult life intervened. I had much less free time and writing took a backseat for a number of years. I married and my job based me in Spain. Shortly after arriving there I was asked by an I.T. newspaper to write an article about Information Technology Security, my specialty. As a management consultant, the publishing of articles was a means to acquire new clients so the offer was immediately backed by the firm I worked for.

I: So these were serious technical articles for the specialized press?

Eric: Mostly, but curiously, the article that I consider my greatest success because it was reprinted in several countries in distinct magazines, was written almost as a thriller. The subject was the importance of Contingency Planning and I had the idea of starting and finishing the article with a racy narrative which described a fire consuming an I.T. centre and the exasperation of the management at the loss of their data. Then the hero pops up; he was the Data Centre Manager who had hired a consultancy firm to develop a Contingency Plan. Then the article went serious as the structure and methodology were described. It ended with a return to the fire scenario, where the Data Centre Manager was being congratulated for his foresight and planning and being told of the great things in his future in the company. He was then asked if they could see the plan. He turns, realization flooding his features, as he indicates that it is in his desk drawer in the gutted building. I still remember how I enjoyed writing that, playing with the reader’s emotions to get a serious message across. We did quite a bit of business in Contingency Planning as a result of that article.

I: How many articles were published?

Eric: I don’t really know. I used to write 5 or 6 each year at least and this went on for over 20 years. I didn’t keep track of them. I kept a copy of the publication for a year maybe, then ditched it or gave it to a client. I also “ghosted” a couple of articles for Multinational CEO’s which were published in their own in-house magazines. In those cases, only the CEO and I knew who the real author was, but I was picking-up Brownie Points for my company with these Multinationals.

I: How did you return to novel writing?

Eric: In a sense I never left. I read book after book about writing technique. I acquired a strong taste for thrillers and, as I travelled internationally, I had plenty of time to read at airports, on planes and in hotel rooms. Coming up with ideas for stories has never been a problem for me, I have a very creative mind, and over the years I’ve jotted these ideas down in a ton of notebooks. The more promising ones were worked up into novel outlines and I even started writing several. Of these, most died out after 50 or 100 pages. Either the story wasn’t strong enough or I didn’t have the time to develop my outline correctly. Later I realized that I needed a methodology to avoid these "stillborn" novels.

I: So what changed?

Eric: My whole life. I left the consultancy business and all its time-grabbing constraints, and started to enjoy a “normal” life. I now had the time to devote to developing the stuff I wanted to write. I used my consultancy skills to develop a “methodology” to help me create the basis for the novels. I also found that this methodology was a cure against writer’s block. I always had something to write, every day I sat before the keyboard. I knew who my characters were, where the tale or tales were going, how it would all end, and all this down to a level of detail that made the whole process automatic. I could thoroughly enjoy the actual writing process without doubting if the story was going to disappear up its own innards on the next page. The first time I started a first draft with this methodology, it took me 3 months to write a 100,000 word novel. It was great.

I: I’m sure other potential writers would love to have the use of this methodology…

Eric: I agree. That’s why I decided to document the whole and publish all this on my web page. This is going to take some time to do, but I think it’ll help anyone who has become frustrated with the typical problems that plague authors. It’s not THE definitive methodology, though; I’m still refining it as I apply it to more novels. This is how it should be. I hope that other writers also develop their own improvements and, if they send them to me via my web, I’ll make sure that their contributions are divulged and attributed correctly. This is a win-win for all.

I: Will you also be giving advice to would-be authors directly?

Eric: Within the constraints of available time, I have no problem with that. If anyone wants to ask about anything related to the writing process, if I can answer it, and please remember I’m not the Fountain of All Knowledge on the subject, then I’m willing to help.

Over the years I received good advice from two well-known authors, British author John Gardner and Noah Gordon. I spotted a factual error in one of the earlier novels of the former, wrote to him and received a personal reply. We then exchanged letters for a while and he gave me many useful tips. I then met him in person at a book-signing. I met Mr. Gordon also at a signing, in Madrid, and had the opportunity to speak with him for a while before the signing itself got under way. That hour proved really useful in that it gave me a strong insight about how to plan complex novels.

I’ve also had much-less fruitful contacts with other well-known authors, who I will not cite here. I often feel that it’s in all our interest, as writers, to encourage others to push ahead and publish their own stuff. The obstacles are tremendous at first, so daunting that many give up. I can’t think of something so sad for a writer; investing months or years in developing and putting a story on paper, only to have the “publishing industry” destroy their enthusiasm in a crappy two-lined rejection slip. I’ve got a few of these, so I know what I’m talking about.

Writers have to be aware of the business side of the process also. To us, it’s secondary while we are writing away, but as the novel gets closer to the final draft, it gains in importance if you want others to read your stuff. Fortunately today there are many new ways to get your novels read and I hope to explain some of these, as well as outline the pitfalls of others, on the web also.

I: Well, thanks for taking time to share this with us. I wish you success with your books.

Eric: Thank you. I hope that my own experience serves to inspire others to do even better. 

2014 UPDATE: Since this original interview, Eric has collected distinct aspects of his 'methodology', and added a section about what options there are after the novels is finished and published these in book form: 'How NOT to be an ASPIRING Writer' is it's title. It is written in a witty, chatty style and packed with techniques, tips and tricks to help the aspiring or new writer. More details by clicking on the book's title in this paragraph.


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