Today I had the pleasure of interviewing James W. Ziskin, the mystery author of the Ellie Stone novels. He has been nominated for the and Lefty award and has won the coveted Anthony award for the Best Original Paperback in 2015. Read the interview below!
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: I began writing at the age of twelve. After several bad novels and forty years of starting and stopping, I finally succeeded in writing a book good enough to sell to a publisher. Now four books later, I’ve learned the most important lesson: Never give up.
Q: What inspires your writing? Do you have a muse?
A: A deadline. The best inspiration there is. That and a deep-rooted love of stories and language. Never be boring. And you’ve got to care about words.
Q: Tell me about your latest book, Heart of Stone. What was the original idea behind it?
A: Heart of Stone is the fourth book in the Ellie Stone series. It’s set in August 1961 on a beautiful Adirondack lake. I felt it was time to give Ellie some support and love in the form of her aunt Lena and elderly cousin, Max. I also wanted to explore music, art, culture, Cold War politics, and the fiery passions of old grudges. The story revolves around the diving deaths of two men in the waning days of an idyllic August vacation. One of the victims is a teenager from a nearby music camp, while the other is an unknown man. A stranger to the lake. Ellie wonders how they happened to be diving from a dangerous cliff together. Surely they didn’t know each other. Add to that a reunion with some old friends, a torrid summer romance, and a healthy dose of nude bathing and you’ve got Heart of Stone.
Q: What is your writing process like? How much ‘grunt work’ goes in to the finished product?
A: Writing a novel is a marathon. Of course I’m not the first to say that. Some days it’s a slog, while others it’s a breeze. But you’ve got to put in the time. I typically take a couple of months to outline my books. There’s a lot of time staring off into space, thinking about the plot, the setting, mood, and characters. Then there’s the research and the solution to the murder. Once I’ve done all that, I clear the decks as best I can for three or four months to write the first draft. A thousand words per day should get it done in three or three and a half months. Then comes the revision. I revise many, many times before submitting the finished manuscript to my publisher. And then I revise some more as they edit it. No, writing isn’t as glamorous as people think. It’s a lot of time alone staring at a screen, searching for the right word, followed by months, even years, of waiting to see if anyone liked it.
Q: If Ellie Stone met Nancy Drew, what do you think would happen? Would they work together or get in each others way?
A: Ellie Stone would love Nancy Drew. Surely she read all the books growing up. But Nancy Drew might be scandalized by Ellie. Nancy Drew was a “nice girl,” while Ellie most decidedly is not. She’s a nice person, just not a nice girl.
Q: What is something you want the world to know?
A: That we can do better as a civilization. Much better.
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