Jonathan McGoran—writing as D. H. Dublin—is author of the forensic crime thrillers Body Trace, Blood Poison, and the soon-to-be-released Freezer Burn, all from Penguin Books. Writing under his own name, McGoran is currently finishing up Pig Latin, a sprawling and raucously humorous crime thriller.
In the sequel to Body Trace, the investigation into a death by natural causes reveals it is something quite different. As rookie crime scene technician Madison Cross entangles herself in the web of the victim’s perverse family, she realizes the killer is honing in on her.
BookEnds: What’s your next book? When and where should we look for it?
Jonathan: The next book in the CSU series is Freezer Burn, due out June 2008. I’m pretty excited about that, because it’s a little bigger, and a little rowdier than the first two. In my mind, Blood Poison was more psychological than what I usually write, and I enjoyed that a lot. But Freezer Burn will have a lot more action. It’s a little crazier, a little more outrageous. The project I’m currently working on is unrelated to the CSU series. It’s a big, raucous thriller called Pig Latin, about a hacker who finds himself in the middle of a plot to essentially control the Internet. It’s different from the CSU series in a lot of ways: lots of different points of view, different plot lines, a lot of cuts, a lot of action. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
BookEnds: What was your road to published author like?
Jonathan: I started writing seriously over ten years ago, and when I finished my first novel, which I am currently revising, I queried close to fifty agents. I actually got a fair number of nibbles, maybe a dozen or more, and half of them even asked for the full manuscript. Ultimately, two of them did offer me representation, but after doing a little more research, I turned them both down, something I never thought I’d do. I knew at the time it was the right decision, but try telling that to the side of my brain that was screaming at me not to be such a fool.
I’d had enough near misses by then that I was confident I wasn’t totally misguided in thinking I could get published (although, to be honest, I’m easily encouraged). I probably would have continued sending it out if I hadn’t completed my second novel right around then.
My first tactic with the second novel was to send it out to all the agents who had expressed some interest in my first, but they all said they were no longer taking new clients. That’s when I realized that one of the most important characteristics of any potential agent is that they be willing to read your work and consider representing you. I set about reading the personnel news in Publisher’s Marketplace, Publishers Weekly, Vista, etc., and looking for agents who had recently joined an agency, recently formed an agency, or recently been promoted—any kind of change in status that might put them in a position where they might actually be looking for writers. When I saw that Kim Lionetti had recently joined Bookends, and that she handled crime fiction, I did some quick research and dashed off a query (maybe not in that order). After a few back-and-forths and some rewrites, Kim agreed to represent me.
Now that I had an agent, I prepared for my first bidding war. I am still prepared.
Berkley declined to publish the manuscript we were shopping around, but they asked if I’d be interested in writing a forensic series.
Now, I had already considered writing forensic crime fiction, but I was afraid that with all that research, I wouldn’t have time to write. What I found was, I had plenty of time to research and to write, as long as I didn’t waste any time sleeping. My original plan involved a nap after the completion of the third CSU book, but as I said, I’m now revising my first novel. Once that’s done, seriously, nap time.
BookEnds: Now that you’re published, do you find your writing has changed? How?
Jonathan: I do think my writing has changed, but I think it’s an indirect relationship between that and being published. Writing fiction under a deadline has certainly made me a more disciplined writer, and it has forced me to write more efficiently. I have also become much more reliant on outlines. I’ve always been a big proponent of outlines, but writing under a deadline, I think they’re even more important. You just don’t have the luxury of wandering too far afield.
Being published has also allowed me to cut back on some other work to make more time for writing, and that has been great. Also, I now have three more books under my belt, and just through writing you become a better writer, so I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a writer.
BookEnds: How much promotion do you do? How do you balance it with writing?
Jonathan: I absolutely do not do enough promotion, but then again I don’t write enough, I don’t read enough, and I certainly don’t get enough sleep. Or exercise.
Balancing the promotions with the writing has been tricky, especially while I was promoting Body Trace and under deadline for Blood Poison and Freezer Burn. I did a lot of local print media and I think that paid off big-time; I’ve done close to twenty readings and signings for Blood Poison; and I have also done a fair amount of networking on MySpace. One of the nice things about MySpace is that late at night, when my brain is too addled from lack of sleep to write anything coherent, I can log on to MySpace and still accomplish something that will help my books (of course, there is always the risk of making absolutely no sense when you’re catching up on your correspondence at three a.m.—sorry, MySpace friends!). Blocking out chunks of time in advance helps, so I can concentrate on the promotions for a while—a couple of weeks setting up interviews and reviews before the release, or setting up signings right after, etc.—and then spend a couple weeks concentrating on getting some writing done.
BookEnds: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jonathan: I know it’s almost a cliché, but especially now that I’ve been writing for a while and can look back at my development as a writer, I think without a doubt, the most important thing for a writer is to actually write. Obviously, if you don’t write, you’re not technically a writer, so in a sense that’s kind of a deal breaker right there. If you really don’t enjoy it, then you don’t really want to be a writer anyway, so that’s fine—there’s plenty of other things to be. But if you enjoy writing and you want to be a writer, and you’re not writing, it’s probably because of fear—fear of failure, or incompletion, or inadequacy, or whatever. That’s the thing you have to get over. I always knew I wanted to be a writer (except for a brief detour early on when I wanted to be a rock star) and I did write when I was young, but when I got older and it was time to take it seriously, there was a while when I just . . . didn’t. The reason was fear (and some laziness, but mostly fear). I was afraid that my writing would be horrible, that I would never finish it (better to have no manuscript at all than a half-finished one taunting me from a box in the closet, right?), or that I just wouldn’t enjoy it. When I finally started, I was relieved to find out that I loved it. Then I finished a first draft, and I realized, hey, I can finish it. Then I realized it was pretty good (Okay, so I was probably wrong on that last one, but it got a lot better later).
Of course, in the midst of all that happiness and relief, I had to take time to kick myself for not having started earlier.
But even once you’ve gotten started, even when you’ve got a completed manuscript or a published book, it’s important to keep writing. I definitely think it’s true that the more you write, the better you write—and I’m not just talking word count, I’m talking thought and effort, and yes, words on paper. Each time I have completed a novel, I have been able to look back and see improvement in my writing. There are plenty of other important things as well—reading, talking with other writers, occasionally sleep—but writing is the key.