D. B. Jackson is the award-winning author of three novels: They Rode Good Horses, Unbroke Horses, and Small Moving Parts, as well as several short stories. His screenplays include the television series adaptation of They Rode Good Horses, the feature film adaptation of Unbroke Horses, and a feature film entitled Half Past Nine. His television regular series original screenplays include an international political drama as well as an action/sci-fi thriller. Jackson's first two novels were awarded the Western Heritage Wrangler Award, Will Rogers Medallion Gold Medal (twice), Laramie Award (twice), Laramie Grand Prize, Eric Hoffer Award, Peacemaker Award, and the ReadWest Excellence in Western Literature honor.
ALC: Tell us about your writing process, how you set goals, and the amount of time you spend writing vs reading each week.
DBJ: I tend to be a visual writer, so it is important for me get my mind into the story so I can get my bearings before I begin writing. I may spend several days just getting the first sentence written but, after that, everything flows. The next day, I review and rewrite what I had written the day before. It’s sort of an overlap process of write, rewrite, write, etc. I write every day and treat writing like the full time job that it is. Consequently, I do not set goals, particularly word count goals. I believe setting word count targets can be a distraction that encourages over-writing. However, I do know very accomplished authors who do set these targets for themselves and it does work for them. One unintended consequence of writing full time is how little time remains for reading for pleasure. Between reading and writing, I would estimate the time allocation to be 60% writing and 40% reading. At that, most of my reading is trade related and the balance is for the purpose of reviewing and/or blurbing books for other authors.
ALC: What is your editing and revision process, and how do you stay motivated to get through to the final draft?
DBJ: I have two rules when it comes to editing—nothing is sacred, and less is more. Actually three. The third is, always seek out professional help when it comes to editing the final manuscript before you submit it to anyone. I have had the good fortune of working on a number of projects with Pat LoBrutto, one of the publishing industry’s all-time great editorial consultants. His ability to find the soul of the story was like magic to me the first time we worked together. As an added bonus, my wife, Mary, is my trusted first-line editor who has a great eye for catching all the things I miss in the rough draft. One important point on the subject of editing—there are a lot more manuscripts waiting to be sold than there are publishing slots waiting to be filled. If your manuscript is not the best one on your agent’s desk, do not expect him or her to move yours to the top of the stack.
ALC: Looking back at your less-experienced writer self, what do you know now about being a writer that you wish you knew then?
DBJ: That writing is a business, and if you want to partner with a good agent and good publishers, you must be a valuable partner yourself.
"I try to be conscious of how everything I write contributes to the readers’ view of who I am as an author."
ALC: What have you found to be the most effective ways to connect with your readers?
DBJ: Of course, the first thing is to write books that make them want to read more. Your fans connect with the characters in your books before they connect with you as an author.
Networking—building a base of people who like and support your work is critical to developing a fan base.
Recognition—awards and reviews by respected literary organizations and individuals is valuable advertising that can help an author connect with a broad base of readers and industry insiders.
Endorsements—difficult to get, but can be very effective in reaching readers outside your normal circle of contact.
Book signings—these can be hit or miss in terms of sales and turnout, but it is a good way to meet readers one-on-one.
Social media—there is no doubt social media can be a marketing powerhouse. However, social media can also be an elusive pursuit that is ineffective and incredibly time-consuming if not properly managed. Personally, I find Facebook to be more effective than Twitter, Instagram, and the others. One drawback to social media is that it requires daily maintenance, and the reach of every post is limited.
Author platform—I try to be conscious of how everything I write contributes to the readers’ view of who I am as an author. I always write for the reader. While the question asks how to connect with readers, I believe most authors will interpret that to mean how to connect with more readers. My answer to that is, think large. Spending a weekend at an event to sell 20 books is not the way to do it. I know authors who travel to a well-known event, burn up one day driving there, two days at the event, another day driving home, spend $2,000 for gas, lodging, and food, and sell $200 worth of books that cost them $100. I would submit that most authors would be better off investing that money in whatever advertising or PR activity that best suits their personal financial and business situation.
ALC: What is the most rewarding part of being a published author? The most challenging?
DBJ: The most rewarding—having a stranger tell me he or she loves one of my characters. The most challenging—to make the next book better than the last.
ALC: When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and how long were you working on your award-winning debut novel They Rode Good Horses before getting published?
DBJ: I never knew I wanted to be a writer. However, when my second novel won the Western Heritage Award and I saw the list of previous winners that included Cormac McCarthy, James Michener, Larry McMurtry, Barbara Kingsolver, and Ruth Beebe Hill, I was overwhelmed. I made a personal commitment to make sure the judges never looked back later and thought they had made a mistake when they picked me. They Rode Good Horses was a 10-year labor of love. Originally, I wrote it without an editor and submitted it to Tor Books (Tom Doherty & Associates) in New York without an agent. They responded two weeks later with an acceptance. After we began the initial process, Tor informed me they were going to focus solely on sci-fi and would be moving their westerns over to their Forge imprint. Not fully realizing just how difficult a task it is to get a manuscript accepted by a reputable publisher, I naively asked them to send the manuscript back to me so I could rewrite it before we gave it to Forge. They did, and it sat on my shelf 10-years while I focused on climbing the corporate ladder in the wine industry.
"The minute you are tempted to add anything that does not contribute to the story,
that’s the time to quit the research and go back to writing."
ALC: Tell us about your research process for your books. How do you ensure historical accuracy in your storytelling, and how do you know when it is time to stop researching and start writing?
DBJ: Such an important point. I believe an author must be able to back up every factual detail and actual location used in the telling of the story. Much of They Rode Good Horses takes place on the Oregon Trail, and part of the research for that involved traveling and visiting all the locations used in the book. Small Moving Parts includes detail from 1958 that had to be verified before I would use it—everything from the price of a cola to whether or not a ballpoint pen was in common use at the time. If it is a location, I go look at it in person. I consult with experts, and use the internet extensively. If you cannot back it up, do not use it in your book. Readers never miss an error. In my opinion, an author must be aware of the trap research can become. The more you learn, the more you want to include it in your story because of the perceived credibility it lends to you as an author. The minute you are tempted to add anything in your book that does not contribute to the story, that’s the time to quit the research and go back to writing.
ALC: Your most recent release, Small Moving Parts, is a bit of a departure from the Westerns that you are known for. What inspired you to tell this story, and what do you hope readers take away from it?
DBJ: Small Moving Parts is a transitional novel for me—away from the traditional Western genre into literary fiction where I feel there are more opportunities to tell timely stories that are more relevant to the world we live in today. Small Moving Parts was born out of the notion that suicide could be a liberating force. The idea that, once you know without question you can pull the trigger, you, arguably, are in control of your destiny—at least to the extent the time and place of your death is up to you. The contrast of an old man at the end of his life and a boy at the beginning of his, both bound to take their own lives, is the basis for a story of love, compassion, caring, and hope surrounded by violence and despair. Small Moving Parts explores several universal themes dealing with the human condition and, in the end, is a story of love and hope. I want readers to put the book down after they finish it, and to reflect back on the subtle questions the book asks while, at the same time, I want them to feel like the journey they experienced was worthwhile and uplifting.
ALC: Much of your short fiction work has been published in anthologies. How have these opportunities come about? For writers that are new to writing short stories, are anthologies one of the best avenues for getting their work published?
DBJ: Getting short stories published is certainly one way for an author to add to his or her resume but, like all things in the publishing world, the is more than one way to get there. In my case, it was a combination of gaining a certain amount of recognition for the first two novels, networking with other authors, and taking the time to find out who was publishing the next anthology, and what kind of stories they wanted to include. Generally, most anthologies do not sell well, and they do not do much to elevate the authors who write for them. On the other hand, it is one way to get your work published and, while it may not pay the bills, it does help fuel the ego, for whatever that is worth. A beginning writer is not likely to find a reputable publisher for his short work unless it is included in an anthology of other writers. If an author writes short fiction, participating in anthologies can be a great way to get started. It is also a good way to learn a little about the publication process as well. ALC: Tell us about the process of writing the screenplays for the TV series adaptation of They Rode Good Horses and film adaptation for Unbroke Horses. How does your creative process for writing screenplays differ from writing novels?
DBJ: Screenwriting is a precise discipline. Taking a novel from a 300-page tome and condensing it into a 120-page feature film script, as we did with Unbroke Horses, is a challenge. In a novel, you have the luxury of telling your story on multiple levels over as many pages as it takes. In a screenplay, every page is money. The process is made more complicated because, not only are you writing to the audience, you must write to the producer, the director, the cinematographer, and the actor...all of whom want to help you tell the story the way they see it. A novelist can learn a lot from the screenwriting process. It’s not for everyone, but it can be very enlightening. Conversely, adapting a novel like They Rode Good Horses for the television audience required a somewhat different mindset. I wrote it as a ten-episode limited series with a two-hour pilot. Each episode has its own arc in a format that includes a teaser and five acts covering roughly 50 pages for each one hour episode. For the television networks, the process is complex. Typically, they want to see a treatment that includes a logline, a short summary, a character bible, and an episodic summary of the first season, along with a brief summary of Seasons 2 and 3. This is in addition to the complete scripts for the first three episodes. Original screenplays are, arguably, easier to write than adaptations, in the sense the story will not be judged based on the audience’s expectations from having read the book.
For more information about the author and his work, visit www.dalebjackson.com
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