Interview With The Author: Paul Vidich
John Dwaine McKenna
It’s our good fortune to be speaking today with author Paul Vidich, who’s written some of the most compelling, realistic and entertaining spy yarns since George Smiley himself came in from the cold. Thanks so much for sharing your time and ideas with our audience Mr. Vidich . . . here’s our first question:
What’s the most important element for writing success?
Talent is important, but determination, drive, and ambition are more important. I always think of Malcolm Gladwell’s first rule of success (in anything). You have to do something for ten thousand hours before you master the challenge. If you wrote for three hours a day, by Gladwell’s rule, a writer would have to apply herself for nine years before success emerged. In my case, I didn’t get my first book published until I was 65, but had been writing on and off since my mid-twenties. Ambition, perseverance, discipline, and hard work. Without those qualities, talent is squandered. Craft and technique, critical to becoming a successful writer, emerge in the course of applying yourself.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
Before I begin to write a novel, I do six months of research. I create dossiers for each character, establishing her interests, fears, ambitions, and all the little details that make the character believable – how she dresses, what she eats, what religion she practices. In the course of my research, a story emerges. I outline each chapter of the novel and understand how subplots work with the plot. The novel’s outline is usually 30-40 pages. Before I start writing, I know what the ending is. Having said that, the outline becomes a guide, not a prescription, and my characters exercise free will throughout the story, often surprising me with what they say, or do. The ending of the novel is a North Star as I write the book.
Does your style make heavy use of adjectives and adverbs?
I use adjectives and adverbs sparingly, but there are times when they provide needed accents. As a general rule, however, I avoid the use of qualifiers. I like clean prose where the reader isn’t aware of the writer’s presence. In my opinion, good writing should be concise and it should avoid unnecessary or flowery descriptions. I follow Strunk and White (in The Elements of Style) who warn against a breezy style that piles on wordy descriptions thinking more is better.
Graham Greene said, “Adjectives are to be avoided unless they are strictly necessary; adverbs too, which is even more important. When I open a book and find that so and so has ‘answered sharply,’ or ‘spoken tenderly,’ I shut it again: it’s the dialogue itself which should express the sharpness or tenderness without any need to use adverbs to underline them.” I am with Greene on this.
Do you use long, detailed and in-depth descriptions of your characters and their environs?
Setting is important in my novels, but it’s not an illustrator’s eye for detail, although it can include that, but it is all the things about a place that draw characters to it and establishes atmosphere. Fears, ambitions, and the protagonist’s motives. Similarly, I believe it is best to reveal character through dialogue. Good dialogue instantly makes a character recognizable. Writers sometimes use Somerset Maugham’s technique of sumptuously describing a person’s aquiline nose, grey eyes, knitted brow, and so on, and by the time you’ve finished with the paragraph the reader still doesn’t have the faintest idea what the person is like. But if the character opens her mouth and says something, you reveal her in two or three lines.
Do you use humor in your work?
Humor is critical in my work. My stories involve conflict and tension and suspense, but to be successful, the reader needs relief, and humor provides it. The humor always comes from my characters, in the form of a joke, or a sly observation. Shakespeare was the master of humor in his tragedies, using the gravedigger in Hamlet, and the Fool in King Lear to poke fun. Humor lightens a story and as a consequence, deepens it.
Are you more comfortable writing in the first, or third person POV?
First person novels can be very compelling because the story unfolds through one character’s eyes – a particularly strong voice can carry the reader along. I write in the third person because it affords a larger pallet. Writing in the first person is like living in one room of a house, while writing in the third person allows you to occupy the entire house. The writer’s goal with first person narration is to be intimate with the character’s voice. My goal with third person narration is to step back and observe a world through the eyes of several characters. Both are effective.
What’s your next project?
My next book is set in Berlin in 1989 as the Berlin Wall falls. It is titled The Matchmaker.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
My website is paulvidich.com.
Paul Vidich was a senior executive in the entertainment industry for over twenty years. He turned to writing full time after leaving his business career. His fourth novel, The Mercenary, was published in 2021. His third novel, The Coldest Warrior, was shortlisted for the Staunch Book Prize. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, LitHub, CrimeReads, Fugue, The Nation, and elsewhere.
Wow! Many, many thanks on behalf of all of us out here in the electronic haze, for such a heartfelt and personal look into the inner workings of a successful writer at the top of his game. It’s been an honor sir, and a pleasure as well. Please keep us in the loop as your next project comes to fruition . . . I am personally looking forward to it.
John Dwaine McKenna
Mysterious Book Report