In this column, I’m asking subscribers to share their knowledge about writing, publishing, and marketing their books. I’m calling it “Ten Questions.” Thank you, Dave Wickenden, for letting readers know about your thrillers. You’ve written topical novels that spring from the same worries and concerns all of us share.–Marylee MacDonald
Dave Wickenden’s Author Tip: “After I finish my rough draft, I use Natural Reader. I use the free version because the alternative is really expensive. Natural Reader can pick up tons of poor word choices, spelling errors, missing or repetitive words, or poorly worded sentences.“
Dave Wickenden is a Canadian thriller writer. With both military service, as well as a career as firefighter, Dave has lived a fast-paced and adventurous life–much like the lives of his protagonists. His stories deal with modern day issues that jump from the headlines, and he’s not afraid to handle uncomfortable topics. Welcome, Dave, and thanks for sharing your insights about writing and connecting with readers. Here’s where you can buy Dave’s books:
MM A book begins as an idea in the writer’s imagination. Eventually, this grain of sand turns into a pearl. What was the grain of sand that fired your imagination?
DW My stories come from all around me. In my first novel, In Defense of Innocence, the issue with child abuse is rampant in today’s media. It seems to be growing rather than being controlled. This is a worldwide issue. You can’t be part of discussion before hearing some parent say that they would take matters into their own hands if anyone touched their child. This gave me the idea of a vigilante dealing with an issue the law was unable to handle.
In my second book, I had seen a documentary called “Mothers of ISIS” that dealt with mothers worldwide who had lost their children to the ISIS insurgency in Iraq and Syria. Listening to the pain and fear that these women expressed made me ask the question, “What would I do if my own child had been radicalized?” Thus, the story.
MM How did you approach turning this idea into a manuscript, and eventually a book? Did you take classes, read books, or just plunge in?
DW My background was business and fire reports, plus technical papers for municipal government. When I decided to give this up for fictional writing, I jumped in without any idea how different the two styles of writing would be. Thanks to some great online authors and critique partners, I got turned around, but it didn’t happen overnight. My first book went through five full rewrites before I was satisfied with it. And I’m still learning.
I have taken some workshops, but because I live in Northern Ontario, the opportunities are limited. I do take part in any workshops that come my way, most recently by Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox.
MM Authors today have many options when it comes to publication. Did you work with an agent, find a publisher through other means, or self-publish your book?
DW I was very fortunate to find a home with Crave Press, out of Pennsylvania. They are a small, fully integrated publisher. The beauty of a small press is the personal touch. I have been part of the entire process, and any questions I had were answered right away. I was given complete control of my cover artwork. Crave supplied a professional artist who developed my thoughts. It was the best collaboration I could have hoped for.
MM What is the biggest single lesson you learned during the writing process?
DW The biggest lesson is that you can never learn enough. No matter how many novels you publish or how many courses you have under your belt, you can always learn new techniques and ways to express yourself. As your audience changes, so does your writing. Never allow yourself to get into a rut. Keep striving to make the next story better.
MM What would you advise others who are still at the idea stage?
DW Get it onto paper. Don’t wait until you have the perfect outline, the ultimate ending. We call the “first draft” by a number for a reason. The first draft is not supposed to be your last. I recently finished my fourth novel and was feeling pretty good about myself and sent my fledgling masterpiece out to my beta readers. I had edited it viciously, or so I thought. As the comments from my beta readers have started coming back, I see that I have much more work ahead of me. But that’s a good thing. The reason we utilize beta readers is to help us better our stories.
Another author and friend of mine made me realize that my first draft was not up to my regular standard. Her tough love was the slap in the face I needed to show me that I could do better. As a reader, if she found fault, then how about those who are now (my fans) expecting a better story than the last?
That’s actually Lesson Two. Get beta readers who are honest and tough. Mom and Aunt Gertrude do not count, and I don’t care that Mom taught Grade Four for 32 years. Get a collection of book lovers and authors who will keep you honest. Hopefully, these beta readers are better writers than you are. It’s like golf. You learn better by playing with players who are a step above. They make you push harder.
MM Were there any writing tools you’d recommend? Did you use apps like Grammarly, Scrivener, or another outliner to help you structure your book?
DW I used Scrivener for the first draft. For the price, it’s one of the best programs out there. Great for keeping track of the outline and chapters.
After I’ve written a rough draft, I use Natural Reader. I use the free version because the alternative is really expensive. Natural Reader can pick up tons of poor word choices, spelling errors, missing or repetitive words, or poorly worded sentences.
As for correcting grammar problems, I waited for ProWriting Aid to come on sale and bought a lifetime membership for $128 U.S. versus $45/year. It is a great tool and picks up so much more than some of the other highly promoted grammar programs.
Once each chapter is edited, I drop it into Word for formatting and a final spell check. I have also started using Google Docs. For both programs I like using the “Track Changes” feature when working with my betas. Track Changes does take some getting used to, but this feature lets people embed their comments directly in your manuscript. It’s vital when you have a number of beta readers and want to compare their comments.
MM Was it hard to decide on a cover, or did you or your publisher hire a professional designer?
DW I have an art background and was able to play a huge part in designing my covers. My publisher sent my ideas to a professional artist, and the artist was able to bring my ideas to life. Again, this was the beauty of a small press.
MM Who is your ideal reader? Who would particularly enjoy your book/s?
DW My ideal reader is anyone who likes a modern thriller. I want to make readers think about how they would react if put in similar circumstances. I try to make my stories as faithful to real life as possible, but I try to avoid crossing a line that might make people really uncomfortable. My novel, In Defense of Innocence, is about child abuse. Although I bring a lot of real issues to the page, there are no scenes of children being abused. I do not think it is necessary to be so graphic as to hurt individuals who have had to deal with this issue. After all, the main purpose is to entertain.
One of the protagonists is a predator, and I was careful not to get too deep into the man’s sexual thoughts. I wanted to convey a sense of menace, but without being titillating. Some of my reader friends have confided that they were spooked.
MM How do you connect with readers? Do you like to do live events, such as book fairs or library talks, or have you found readers through social media, Goodreads, or Amazon?
DW For all the wanna-be writers and/or recently published (self-published, small press or big press through an agent), here’s a bit of advice. Get ready to promote your book.
I held a book launch during the worst blizzard of the season, but twenty-seven brave souls still came out. I’ve done book signings at the local bookstore and sold books at craft sales and farmers’ markets. I am currently booked for two Halloween events and two Christmas events.
You are the best ambassador for your book. You can talk it up and sell it. Trust me, this is way out of my comfort zone, but once you get talking about your book, it just flows. I have left my book for others to sell and have seen a few get picked up, but nowhere near as many as I can sell when I express how exciting my stories are. I wrote it, so I have an inside connection.
So will you!
MM What has been your greatest reward in undertaking this publishing journey?
DW My biggest Reward was holding my first novel in my hand. My wife (and biggest fan) called my parents to tell them that the shipment had arrived. When she handed the phone to me, I was so overwhelmed, I was unable to talk to either of my parents.
Guess what? The second book was just as exciting. (It doesn’t get old!)
Dave Wickenden is the author of In Defense of Innocence and Homegrown. He is also a contributor to the Filles Vertes Publishing Anthology, Flicker, with “Burning Love”, and has recently seen his first historical thriller, 300 Souls on the Line published by Toronto Prose Mill. The novel can be downloaded for free. He has just completed his fourth novel, Deadly Harvest.