J. Lee Answers Fan Questions
Each month, J. Lee will select and answer a question submitted by fans. Please submit your questions on the contact page.
With all the deadlines and time-sensitive activities in your plot, how do you keep the dates clear in your head as you write?
The physical act of keeping track of what happens when is not as difficult as you might think. Simply print out a calendar that shows the dates of a given month that match the days you need. For example, let’s say you need two people to meet on February 6th and it must be on Saturday because the meeting occurs at the Saturday Farmer’s market. I would print out the February 2016 calendar and use that as my reference, populating the events on the page. Then you have a visual one-page reference tool for the entire plot.
The real challenge goes back to the rigor of the outlining process. The first (and most critical) step is to understand when the key events of the plot occur relative to each other. From there, simply fill in the days on your paper calendar. And use a pencil. ☺
Is there anything you can share about your next book?
Thanks a lot for asking. Several of the characters from The Hubley Case return, a majority of the book is set in Chicago, and it starts with a question the good guys have to figure out...
Perhaps I’ve just given you the same formula as The Hubley Case (or several other thriller novels) but as it’s still in its final stages of editing, I don’t want to much more away too soon! Stay tuned…a chapter or two may soon be made available.
Do you have any regrets about The Hubley Case that you plan to do differently next time?
Great question, thanks for asking. There’s always room for improvement in my writing and The Hubley Case has no shortage of answers from which to choose. But the example that immediately comes to mind was actually brought to my attention by a fan. The fact is, there’s no such thing as an “ex-Marine” to a Marine. Once you dedicate yourself to that greater cause, you’re a Marine for life. Period. The fact that Ben (in a few instances) refers to himself as an ex-marine is both inaccurate and something I wish I could change.
To that fan (and any others who may have caught it/been bothered by it) – rest assured, the word “ex” doesn’t exist in the next book.
Was there a part of The Hubley Case that you enjoyed writing more than others?
My favorite chapter to write was the very first interaction between Ben and Nikki. I tried very hard to make the dialogue realistic and communicate a lot of information about both of them in a fast-paced way. It resulted in a lot of re-writing but in the end I was really happy with it. And when I got some positive feedback from fans on that interaction, it felt pretty good to hear that they liked it.
You tell the story from various characters' perspectives. Did you write the chapters in the order in which they appear, or did you move things around as you wrote?
I force myself to outline the entire book before I begin writing Chapter One. And to be honest, that’s out of necessity. I wish I had the ability to start with a blank page, but that always seems to result in a lot of re-work and backtracking. Having the outline upfront helps me map out the twists, red herrings and character development at a high level. That said, once the pages are written, I definitely switch their order around as part of the editing process.
Are you planning to write more books?
Writing is a passion and I honestly can’t imagine not doing it. I am currently working on my next book, which brings back several of The Hubley Case characters and begins with a “bang” – i.e. a bomb – in a very public place.
There is no confirmed publication date, but stay tuned for updates!
What is your process for researching different countries, locations, etc.? And why did you choose the locations that you did for The Hubley Case?
Great question. I’ll take it in two parts.
In general, the value of visiting a book’s setting(s) was something I underestimated early in my writing career. And my first two (unpublished) novels show it. There’s something about being there that makes the writing more authentic and therefore convincing. When I write now, I make every effort I can to see places for myself. I spend a bit of time, take in the surroundings and jot down specific things that that are both unique and interesting. You just can’t get that sort of stuff from Google Maps. I run through all five senses individually, and I always get more material than I end up using in the book.
Specific to The Hubley Case, the locations weren’t chosen as creatively as one might think or perhaps as I would like. Instead, it was pretty straightforward and logical. I knew I wanted the primary setting to be the Chicago area because that’s where I live. And I knew I wanted Peter Hubley’s murder to occur on foreign soil, because it added to the mystique, RE: the FBI’s involvement. As it happened, my job as an International Program Manager brought me to Brazil several times during the time I was thinking through ideas for the book, so it seemed like a great location to use. Seeing all the cities firsthand and interacting with the wonderful people who live there allowed me to get a solid grasp of the environments and communities.
Fun fact: I was actually sitting in GRU international airport when the idea for the massacre of a seemingly innocent businessman first entered my mind.
Why did you not tell us you were writing a book? (the most-popular question from friends and family)
I honestly didn't think there wasn't anything to tell. Writing was my hobby, like painting or golfing for others. When things started to move forward – getting an agent, finding a publisher, etc. – I figured I’d share my hobby-turned-published-book once a publication date was set.
What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?The editing. Writing the first draft is what I love, putting words on the page for the first time and transforming an outline into a real story. Optimizing those words, however, using four words instead of eight, making it as tight as possible…that’s a struggle for me. I’m really thankful my wife is willing to help me out in that department.