Graham Brown Interview Questions for Steve Jackowski

1. Which book (or other media) would you say is your largest influence?

As dated as it might be, I’d have to say it’s The World According to Garp by John Irving. I was pretty young when I read it and really hadn’t started writing though I was a voracious reader. I was struck by the brilliant mix of humor and tragedy with an almost Voltaire-like life-goes-on philosophy.

2. What part of the book was the most difficult to write?

The initial story for The Misogynist involved the exposure of three individuals who had corrupted use of the Internet for their own personal gain. Exposing them is juxtaposed with the search for the murderer of three technologist’s wives. I originally wrote what is now the third Internet bad guy first. At some point I realized that I could create a more sophisticated misdirection if that particular story came near the end of the book instead. But, since I’d written 2/3 of the book at that point, it was a bit challenging to untie the dependencies, then recreate them for a more substantial ending.

3. What was the seed of the book, or the very first thing that came to you as you started the writing process?

Unfortunately, I’ve seen more than my fair share of mental illness in my life. Some of those suffering are obvious; others not so much. Many people who suffer from mental illness have learned to cope well. Their workmates, friends, family, and even spouses may not see the issues or may discount them as eccentricities. Then there’s a triggering event that ruins lives – not just those of the mentally ill, but even more so for people around them. My first chapter opens with a psychiatrist who has just finished the case of a lifetime. I wanted this book, like my previous one, The Shadow of God, to shine a light on the work that psychiatrists and psychologists do, and on the people among us who need help.

4. Did the book change a lot through different drafts? How so?

The only significant change was the one I mentioned before. I moved one of the Internet Bad Guys from the beginning to near the end. It required some rewrite – something I don’t usually do.

5. If you had to pick any aspect of the book to change, what would it be?

Oddly, I’m quite happy with the way The Misogynist turned out. I wanted to write a page-turner that touched on significant social issues and at the same time had a decent mystery. I like to think I succeeded.

6. How much of yourself do you find in the protagonist? Was any of it intentional?

I’ve been a big part of the protagonists in all of my previous books. I think it’s generally a bit easier to write that way. But, my writing is evolving. My first book, The Silicon Lathe, was all about my experiences in the Silicon Valley. It’s written in the first person. Although I moved to a third person narrative in my subsequent books, I was definitely in there. This time, with The Misogynist, I thought I’d try to stay out of it. Clearly some of my philosophies and biases show through most of the characters, but I made a concerted effort to make my characters someone other than me.

7. Did you discover anything new/unexpected while doing research?

One of the areas I researched extensively was Human Trafficking. I knew something about it, but I never realized how deep it went and how commonplace it is. On the psychological front, I’ve known some schizophrenics and people with Borderline Personality Disorder and have spent a lot of time understanding treatments and the theoretical causes. But recent clinical research has discovered some interesting things. Many of these are described in the book and I think readers will be surprised. I’ve had some excellent feedback from psychologists and psychiatrists for my descriptions of mental illnesses in The Misogynist.

8. If this is your first experience writing in this genre, what drew you to write the book specifically this way? (If not, what makes this genre one you like to write in?)

I’ve always liked reading mystery thrillers, but have tired of the violence. I still think it’s possible to capture a reader’s attention and to create a page-turner without explicit violence. I think the genre allows for education between the lines while the reader enjoys the story. In this case, I targeted the internet and mental illness.

9. Did you ever find yourself burning out on the book? How did you get through that?

No. My writing style is quite different from most. I don’t have to try to make a living off my writing, so I write for my pleasure and for the enjoyment of my readers. I don’t feel under the gun to produce, so I don’t burn out. I write when I feel like it.

10. What do you most hope readers will take away from this book?

First, I hope they’ll have a good time reading it. Then, between the lines, I hope they’ll come away with a better understanding of some mental illnesses, how the Internet can be corrupted, and how to be more aware of security issues with the Internet.

11. Was this book easier or more difficult to write than others you’ve written?

This was without a doubt the easiest book to write. The hardest was The Shadow of God where I laid out very subtle clues from the beginning; many of them more a question of mood than events. But for The Misogynist, it was as easy to write as it is to read.

12. Is this a book that could be easily adapted to other media (movie, podcast, etc.)? How much do you think an adaptation might change it?

Internet Bad Guys, Crazy people, a few murders, a decent mystery with some good social commentary? Sure. I think it would make a great film. While certainly not a screenplay in itself, I suspect it would be easy to adapt.

13. Has writing this book changed your worldview at all?

My views on mental illness are constantly changing and the research I did for The Misogynist definitely expanded my view. And as I mentioned, the research into Human Trafficking certainly opened my eyes to the fact that you find it not just in seedy areas like the Tenderloin in San Francisco, but in construction firms, house cleaning businesses, really, pretty much anywhere you might think of as a normal business you frequent every day. I’m looking for it now. I wasn’t before.

14. How much do you think your life impacted how the book turned out?

Well, while I did try to avoid putting myself in there, clearly my background as a technologist shows through. Plus I’m a bit of a romantic, and I think that comes out as well.

15. Is there a certain place/time of day that most inspires you to write?

I love to write on rainy days. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of authors. For me though, I’m pretty active physically so if the weather is right, I’m surfing, kayaking, skiing, etc. When it’s not so good or, once I’ve exhausted myself, I write.

16. Do you have a writing routine? How well do you follow it?

Absolutely not. I’m retired and write when I feel like it. Sometimes I can go weeks without writing a word. Then I can write for several hours a day for a few days. My non-routine is unusual in that I generally don’t do rewrites. Because I often take time off between writing sessions, I have to reread the book to recapture the flow from before. That means I revise as I reread to catch up. Once I finish what most would call a first draft, aside from editing to catch typos, I’m done.

17. Do you think any books (or other media) have been bad influences on your writing?

Interesting question. I think the only discouraging thing for me was the jury trial I recounted in The 15th Juror. I had just started writing The Misgoynist and was on a roll. It was fun! Then I was called as a member of a jury for a trial about an immigrant who was accused of raping his 8-year-old daughter. It shook me up. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think about anything else. Ultimately, I wrote The 15th Juror just to try to get past psychological damage the 8-week trial did. I had to get it out of my system. Once that was done, I got back to The Misogynist and turned it out in a couple of months.

18. If you could pick any book to write differently (yours or another’s) which would it be?

I couldn’t imagine rewriting other people’s books. They created them and the books belong to them. These books stand or fall based on the authors’ efforts and it’s certainly not for me to try to change them. On the other hand, looking at my own novels, I’ve probably gone a bit far with extreme sports in some of them, particularly The Shadow of God. As I reread it, I realize that hang gliding probably distracts most readers from the essence of what is a pretty sophisticated story.

19. What writers do you look up to most, either for their writing or as human beings?

I mentioned John Irving. At that time, I also read a lot of Saul Bellow and Phillip Roth. Not long after, I became hooked on female writers and read Barbara Kingsolver, Joan Didion, Isabel Allende, Donna Tartt, Zadie Smith, Amy Tan, and quite a few others. Recently, I’ve been reading mostly French writers. Some of my favorites are Joel Dicker, Virginie Grimaldi, David Foenkinos, Adelaide de Clerment-Tonnerre, Leila Slimani, and more.

20. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Most people I meet who talk about writing a novel say they could never do it. It would take too long. It’s too hard to keep a story together. They don’t have the time. They don’t know what they’d write about.

For most of us, as we get older, we have lived countless experiences. To come up with a story, look back on those experiences and ask yourself, “What if.” What if something different had happened? There are countless possibilities for stories from these what-if scenarios.

As for actually writing, I can usually write 3-5 pages in an hour. If you can write an hour a day for 80 days, you’d have a 240-page novel. Skip a day and it will take a bit longer. Write a couple hours and it will happen faster.

And, as I think most writers would advise, just write!

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