Interview With The Author David E. Grogan
John Dwaine McKenna
We’re pleased—and honored—to present the following interview with David E. Grogan, whose newest Steve Stilwell thriller, The Hidden Key, is reviewed above in MBR No. 401. Mr. Grogan is a retired Officer and Gentleman, a 26 year veteran of the US Navy and an attorney. He’s also a world traveler, a sponsor of military service men and women, as well as a kick-ass spinner of exciting adventure stories. He’s got a lot of thoughts to share with all of us, writers and readers alike. Here then, are the insights and comments of author David E. Grogan . . .
Why do you write?
I write when I’m passionate about topics and I’m able to channel that passion through what I hope will be an interesting and entertaining story. For example, I began writing fiction after taking a law school class in human rights taught by one of the world’s most respected authorities, Professor Thomas Buergenthal. I was so captivated by his class that I felt compelled to tell a story with a human rights theme that might resonate with a lot of people. The result was my first Steve Stilwell thriller, The Siegel Dispositions. I wrote the sequel, Sapphire Pavilion, because I wanted to honor Vietnam veterans after listening to podcasts about veterans during my weekly commute between Virginia Beach and the Pentagon. I continued with the third Steve Stilwell thriller, The Hidden Key, because I’ve always been fascinated by ancient artifacts and their lasting impact on our modern day society. Finally, I feel strongly that we need to honor our veterans and preserve their stories, so I write a non-fiction blog called Voices To Veterans where I help veterans tell their stories.
How did your first book get published? How long did it take?
I made every mistake an aspiring author could make, so it took about 13 years for my first book to be published. A significant part of that delay occurred because I was on active duty in the Navy and some of my assignments made writing impossible. After numerous revisions and critiques, I was finally able to get an agent in 2012. He subsequently sold the manuscript to Camel Press in 2013, and The Siegel Dispositions was published in 2014. My secret was I never gave up and I kept refining the manuscript until my agent and Camel Press saw promise in it.
Do you belong to a writers group? If so: How has it helped you?
I do not belong to a writers group, but I do have a group of readers that I trust to give me honest feedback. I give them the first draft of my manuscript and then I work to address their many and varied comments. They have helped me plug holes in the plot, address inconsistencies, and most important, get rid of unnecessary material. I do not send a manuscript to my publisher without first addressing the comments from my reader group.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
I do outline, but not all at once. For example, with my latest book, The Hidden Key, I knew how it would begin and how it would end, but I had no idea how to get between those two points. The map I eventually drew quite literally developed on the road. During trips between Champaign, Illinois, and Chicago, Virginia Beach and Cleveland, I turned off the car radio and brainstormed plot options for the next five to six chapters. Sometimes I pulled off the road at rest areas and dictated the ideas into my phone, but most times I typed chapter summaries into an Excel spreadsheet as soon as I arrived at my destination. I needed the spreadsheet because the story takes place in the US, UK, Italy and India, making it hard to keep track of the chronology of events given all of the different time zones. The end product was a matrix showing the timing, location, and short summary for every chapter in the book.
What makes a character compelling?
Readers have to be able to relate to a character for the character to be compelling. For that reason, I try to make my characters look and sound like real people dealing with problems the same way my readers would deal with them. I don’t want my characters to be superhuman because that’s not believable. Similarly, I don’t want to build flaws into a character just for the sake of making the character different. When a reader looks at a character and says, “I know someone like that” and then relates to the character as if they were his or her acquaintance, then I have succeeded in creating a compelling character.
What type of scene is most difficult for you to write?
I am a visual writer—I have to “see” the scene to be able to write it. That means for me to write about a scene in India, I have to go to India in order to write an authentic description. I’ve followed that model for all three of my books, but in particular for Sapphire Pavilion and The Hidden Key, where I visited the many scene locations in order to help me put the sights and sounds into words. For example, for The Hidden Key, I needed one of the opening scenes to take place in a South Indian restaurant in London. I researched South Indian restaurants on the Internet and found two that looked like what I had in mind. I then went to London and ate at both restaurants. The result was the Madras Star in Chapter 2, which is based on the two restaurants I visited. I later traveled to Chennai, India, to write the scenes that take place in southern India. I find that both during and after a visit, the story tends to write itself, flowing from the details I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. Were it not for those site visits, I would still be sitting with pen in hand struggling to write my second book.
What’s your next project?
In the short term, I will continue publishing veterans’ stories each month on my Voices To Veterans webpage. I love interviewing veterans as their stories inspire me and leave me in awe. I also feel like I’m learning American history through the people who actually lived it. In the longer term, I’m starting to toy with the plot for the fourth Steve Stilwell thriller. I just need a couple of long trips to work out the vehicle that will drive the story.
Do you have any other comments, suggestions, tips, anecdotes, quotes or inspirational material you’d like to share?
Writers can’t just be writers—they have to be small businesspeople, too. In today’s marketplace, it’s not enough to write a good manuscript and send it off to be published. Whether you use a traditional publisher or are self-published, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and market your work. That means having a presence on social media and a website with content that will have people coming back for more. It means meeting your readers and potential readers at book signings and speaking events, and doing interviews with the media. It means working late into the evening after your day job, sending out event postcards, answering emails and working with your publisher and your publicist. Above all, it means being passionate about what you are doing.
Wow! On behalf of all our MBR audiences, in both print and online editions, please accept our personal ‘Thank You’ for what is one of the most comprehensive and thoughtful interviews we’ve ever done. It’s been a pleasure, and hey, kindly keep in touch and let us know about the next Steve Stilwell yarn.