I am thrilled that Owen Laukkanen agreed to be my first guest on my new series of Wednesday posts featuring writer friends. I have no doubt that before long Owen will be a household name in the mystery genre, just like Lee Child and John Sandford. His debut crime fiction novel, The Professionals, will be released tomorrow, March 29th. I, for one, am beside myself with excitement.I first met Owen on Twitter when he was working as a lobster fisherman and posting comedic tweets. Then, Owen stopped in Minnesota last summer (part of his novel is set here). My writer’s group spent a fun night with Owen eating, drinking, touring a cemetery, and talking shop. We all instantly loved Owen. How could we not? He’s good looking, sweet, funny, and enormously talented. (Below the interview, you can read a slew of raving reviews for his book, such as John Sandford calling it a “brutally beautiful piece of work.”)
OWEN LAUKKANEN of THE PROFESSIONALS:
1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?
I write in the afternoons, Monday to Friday, from whenever I can tear myself away from Facebook and Twitter to whenever I reach my word count for the day. I usually try to write five thousand words a day. My goal is to get the first draft on paper as quickly as possible, so I don’t do any editing or revising while I’m writing. I prefer not to write from an outline; the story seems to come out more organically if I just write off the top of my head.
When I’m finished the first draft, I put it away for about a month before I do any editing. I print out the manuscript and work through the hard copy. Typically my first drafts are pretty bloated, so a lot of my editing is cutting and streamlining. Oftentimes I’ll outline the second draft to try to work what I have into a more cohesive plot.
When I’m done editing the hard copy, I retype the novel using the hard copy notes as my guide. Then I go back and look through it again, and if necessary, repeat the process. For me, editing is as important—if not more important—than writing the first draft itself.
2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?
I don’t, usually. I procrastinate a lot, and there are days when I don’t particularly feel like writing, but I’m not sure I believe in writer’s block as some kind of paralyzing affliction. That’s just my experience, though.
Dorothy Parker said that she hated writing, but she liked to have written, and that’s more or less how I feel when I sit down to start work every day. I’m fortunate enough that writing is my day job, though, and the prospect of having to get out and find real work again is usually enough to get my started.
3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?
Stephen King’s ON WRITING is the best book I ever read as far as the craft is concerned. It was given to me by a good friend ten years ago, and I’ve reread it countless times since. It’s fantastic.
4. Who do you read for fun? These days, I read a lot of stuff by fellow clients of my agent, Stacia Decker—stuff like John Hornor Jacobs’ wonderful SOUTHERN GODS, and Seth Harwood’s YOUNG JUNIUS. I’m also trying to catch up on my crime fiction, since I came into the thriller game without much of a backdrop in the genre.
Among my favorite crime writers is John McFetridge, a fellow Canadian who writes these labyrinthine crime sagas centered around a Hell’s Angels-esque biker gang and the police who work to stop them. I can’t get enough of his stuff.
Other writers I really like include Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming and Russell Smith and Thomas King, two more Canadians.
5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.
I guess I was about eighteen when I first seriously started to think about writing for a living. I had a wonderful creative writing teacher in my final year of high school, and he really inspired and encouraged me.
For me, being a writer has always been a kind of vague and ephemeral idea. I always tried to give myself something to fall back on (I went to university, at first, to study veterinary science), but the last ten years have been a series of milestones, each of which I figured would mean I could give up on the fallbacks and finally be a “real writer.”
I wrote a novel, for instance, as a twenty-year-old. I thought that meant I was destined for a career as a writer. I got into the creative writing class at the University of Guelph, taught by one of my favorite writers in the world, and I thought that made me a writer. Ditto for when I was accepted into the writing program at the University of British Columbia, or when I had a short story published, or a play performed, or when I found my agent.
So my writing career to this point has kind of been a struggle between my better judgment, which has argued with diminishing success that a writing career is a foolish and untenable pursuit, and my naïve side, which knows that writing is all I could ever see myself doing, and would never forgive me if I didn’t follow my dreams.
6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Write the book. Get a first draft down, however you can, and you’ll already be ahead of 90% of the people who think they want to be writers. I really, really think that work ethic trumps talent in this business. You need to be able to write at a certain level, for sure, but if you’re not willing to put in the time necessary to grind out a novel, who cares how talented you are?
The corollary, kind of, and my second bit of advice, is that the editing process is perhaps more important than writing that first draft. It’s a difficult skill to master, not in the least because there’s no quantifiable end goal, as there is when you’re writing a first draft, but it’s extremely important nonetheless. You have to be able to cultivate a detachment from your work, and you have to be ruthless in cutting what doesn’t belong.
7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?
I kind of jumped the gun on this question (see above), but commitment to the craft and the ability to self-edit. You have to be willing to put in the time, and you have to be able to look at your work through fresh eyes and recognize what’s not working, ego aside.
8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?
I love chicken curry in any form. I think my favorite, though, is chicken curry poutine, which throws French fries and melted cheese curds into the mix. There’s a chain of restaurants in Toronto that sells it, and I try to stop in every time I go back. It’s heart attack food, but it’s delicious.
9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?
I have about a million of each! One of my all-time favorite movies, though, and one that’s been pretty influential as far as my own writing is concerned, is Michael Mann’s HEAT. I watched that movie with my brothers over and over again growing up; it could be the perfect crime flick.
Certainly, I had it in mind when I wrote THE PROFESSIONALS. Arthur Pender, my lead kidnapper, has a lot in common with Robert De Niro’s Neil McCauley. Both men are meticulous bordering on obsessive, and both have to fight to maintain that professionalism in the face of very real demands on their emotions.
10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?
Just that I’m honored to be the first author featured on your blog, and that I’m looking forward to reading the first Gabriella Giovanni mystery the minute it hits shelves. And I can’t wait to come back to Minneapolis and catch up with you and the gang again!
Here are some of the blurbs for The Professionals.
“Really terrific – characters that live and breathe, a just-right story, and chills aplenty. Highly recommended.” – Lee Child.
“Smoothly written, with a slam-bang ending…a brutally beautiful piece of work.” – John Sandford, New York Times bestselling author of the Lucas Davenport PREY series.
“A page-turning blend of classic suspense fiction and chillingly postmodern amorality.” – Jonathan Kellerman.
“A first-class thriller by a terrific new voice.” – NYT bestselling author John Lescroart
“A fast-moving debut thriller with enough twists to fill a pretzel bag…let’s hope Laukkanen writes more thrillers like this one.”—Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)
“A spectacular debut novel written with intelligence, toughness and heart.” – Thomas Perry.
“The Professionals grips you on page one and doesn’t let go until the last, satisfying page…Highly recommended.” – Alafair Burke
“A coiling plot, insightful characters, and a tale fraught with danger. What more could any thriller reader want?” – Steve Berry
“A high-octane adrenaline and gunpowder-fueled rocket ride…an excellent first novel!” – C.J. Box
“Laukkanen’s clever debut, the first in a new crime thriller series, compares favorably to Scott Smith’s classic caper novel, A Simple Plan.”—Publisher’s Weekly (Starred review)
“Well-drawn characters, lots of action, solid procedural detail, and an unrelenting pace.”–Booklist
Owen Laukkanen’s debut thriller, THE PROFESSIONALS, will be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on March 29, 2012.
An alumnus of the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing BFA program, Laukkanen spent three years in the world of professional poker, traveling to high-stakes tournaments across the globe as a writer for www.PokerListings.com.
A commercial fisherman when he’s not writing, Laukkanen divides his time between Vancouver and Prince Edward Island, Canada.
You can buy it at your local bookstore or here on Amazon.