A recent Lyrical Press interview with David McCaleb:
Q: How did you get started as an author? What inspired you?
A: I had a first chapter written for a while, but never developed it. Red was being interviewed/interrogated by detective Carter, after Red had killed a couple muggers in self-defense. I had re-written, edited, and polished it as far as I could take it at the time. But it was just a nice, action-packed chapter. The plot had no definite direction, and I only had the faintest realization of my need to craft it into a book.
Around that time at a high school reunion, I was getting caught up with several longtime friends. One in particular, a pastor, was talking about a book he had written. I mentioned I had a first chapter down and someone asked, “What’s the first sentence?” What a loaded question. The full significance of how it related to my craft was well beyond my appreciation at that point, yet I answered and explained as best I could the first chapter’s sequence.
Those in the conversation enjoyed the tale and the pastor encouraged me to finish the work. That was encouragement enough to get me started. Finishing is a whole different story…
Q: Where do you get your ideas for your books? How do you come up with them?
A: Remember when you were a kid and daydreaming came as naturally as being bored? In some ways, I don’t think I ever matured much past fifteen. The world was simple. While in reality, I was simply ignorant of its complexity. Yet, a youthful perspective is great for story-building. I still imagine myself the hero, extracting merciless revenge upon terrorists, dipping below frigid Chinese waters as a search team passes overhead, saving a hostage with a skillfully-placed bullet through a captor’s forehead.
Other times, inspiration flows from every-day objects such as a picture of sail upon a dark horizon. Suddenly, I’m an awkward teenage geek that finds himself hurled back in time to discover he’s a slave, chained to a Norseman’s oar off the North American coastline, biceps and back straining to outrun a threatening storm. This is the motor from which is drawn a spark, the ignition. Then can begin the process of feeding the monster the right fuel, fleshing-out such beginnings into a novel.
Q: How do you provide depth to your stories?
A: Life. Creation. People. Inspiration is everywhere, indiscriminately available to all. Grasping it is the challenge for me. If I slow enough to fully process all I encounter – sights, smells, and more importantly, people – all these become more real. Effectively, I move from being an observer, sitting behind the safety filters subconsciously drawn between myself and the world, to being a participant, appreciating the world more deeply.
It is like a far-sighted reader grabbing a book and putting on glasses. Before, they’re aware of the document’s weight, even feel the pages beneath their fingertips, and make out black and white on the sheet. But once they push the glasses to the bridge of their nose, letters come into focus, sentences move, and they’re immersed in the meaning of the work. It is a whole new level of experience.
That is what I try to do with life, then work it into my writing. For example, on my morning jogs, I try to smell the freshly cut grass, feel the chill of the December air creep through the seams in my leather gloves, listen to the mockingbird perched upon the apex of a rooftop and calling to… who? Even while driving recently, I studied a most interesting tree, ribbed charcoal-gray trunk twisted like rope, then frayed out into branches like a bird’s claw, reaching sinisterly toward sky. That image is going to make it into one of my books, and is an example of the well from which I draw.
Q: Why do you write thrillers? Why the black-ops, action-adventure genre?
A: Writing thrillers is even better than reading them. What red-blooded male doesn’t enjoy escaping into a hold-your-breath fast-paced novel about facing insurmountable odds, saving lives, rescuing hostages, sacrificing themselves, all for the greater good?
Many times, I don’t completely know where the story is headed. I know the overall plot, but characters are people, and people are unpredictable, irrational. It all happens as I write it down, and I love seeing it from their point of view. Why this genre? I just find that pretending to be a hero is a lot more fun than not.
That said, I’ve had the plot for an absolutely amazing Young Adult thriller on paper that I am absolutely dying to write. Far from black-ops or espionage, but it’s still a thriller.
Q: Outside of writing, who is David McCaleb? What does he enjoy?
A: I enjoy working with my hands, building or fixing just about anything. Working on vehicles is lovely, as long as I don’t have to depend upon them for my daily transportation. Installing light fixtures, replacing the heating element when our dryer breaks, figuring why my son’s antique 1989 jet ski no longer runs and getting it back in condition. As long as a visible difference exists when the project is complete, that’s to my liking.
Family is important to me. Though all of us want to make a positive difference in this world, family is undoubtedly the means by which lessons are passed to the next generation, outliving ourselves, making a lasting difference.
Q: Is there any specific person your protagonist, Red, is supposed to be? Did you have anyone in mind when creating him?
A: There’s a lot of my alter ego in Red. Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time connecting with him. At times I feel I can connect with my secondary characters beautifully, but for some reason Red holds mystery. I develop him more each book, but in the process I’m learning something about myself. I don’t know me yet. I thought I did, but now I’m not so sure. And I’m OK with that.
First and foremost, Red is a family man. I wanted it that way because my readers need to relate to him. Sure, it’s easy to pretend you’re a military operator, running around killing the bad guys. However, if I give that operator a family, with real issues blended into the plot just like they are in life, suddenly the reader becomes enrolled in the character as well. And people are the most interesting part of any good book.
But make no mistake, Red is an operator. And a good one. We all want to excel at something. And we want that something to have significance, to make a contribution larger than ourselves. Red is a metaphor for what we want in life.
And he’s flawed, just like each of us. No, he isn’t an alcoholic whose wife ran out on him or any other cliché. But should a violent past dictate who he is today? He’s a man with a drive and determination for excellence, trained to handle a weapon for effect. So although Red isn’t modeled after anyone in particular, he personifies our desires for significance.