Today, we'd like to share our interview with Chris Ludovici, author of The Minors. Enjoy!
What is the first book that made you cry?
I’m not sure, probably Flowers for Algernon.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Like most writers, it’s probably both - when it’s going well I feel energized by it; when it’s a struggle I feel exhausted.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Worrying that what they are doing isn’t any good. I’ve known a lot people who said they wanted to write but they started a story and hated what they wrote and quit. The first draft of anything isn’t really about being good so much as it is working out the basic shape and structure of what it is that you’re trying to do. It’s foundational.
A good story does a lot of different things well, and it’s almost impossible to do all those things simultaneously because they all require the writer’s full attention. It’s really hard to think about character and dialogue and plot and pacing and prose all at the same time. I think the trick is to basically do one pass on the narrative itself, where you’re laying down the beats and scenes of the story, and then you go through and do revisions to fix all the stuff that you did wrong the first time.
There have been plenty of times where I knew what I was writing was bad but pressed through anyway, because I didn’t know exactly how to fix it and I wanted to just get to the next section or chapter or whatever. Then, later, when working on a different section the answer of how to fix the bad section revealed itself. Or, in thinking about why something didn’t work I was able to tease out what was missing and fix it. But you can’t do that without it being down on the page first.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I think that if I’m good at writing at all it’s because I spent a lot of time listening to the people around me and trying to understand their perspective in order to understand their actions.
I think ego in that respect is often a problem because it can make it hard to listen to people and to empathize with them. I don’t particularly like the idea of moralizing or judging my characters or looking down on them. And I think ego can impede that empathy.
Ego can also get in the way when accepting constructive criticism. What I really want is to be heard and understood. If I’m writing a character who I want to be funny or scary or loveable or whatever, and people tell me this isn’t reading as funny or scary or loveable or whatever, I need to be able to hear that and adjust, or else I’m only talking to myself.
That said, it’s also important to have enough of an ego that you trust your own instincts as the final arbiter, in part because a writer will almost certainly get conflicting feedback, but also because ultimately it is the writer’s story to tell.
I think the key word is big. I don’t think having a big ego is particularly useful, but I do think that a healthy ego is required.
If that makes sense.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Readers block? No. I read too many different types of books to ever get any kind of block - if I get tired of one type of book I switch to another. There hasn’t been two days in a row over the last couple decades where I wasn’t actively reading something.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Sure. I think, first of all, that “strongly” is a relative concept and that one person’s strong feelings are another person’s repression, so it’s hard to say what strong really means. I know that there are, for instance, a lot of modern filmmakers who get the rap of being cold and unemotional, guys like Christopher Nolan or David Fincher come to mind. They’re often called clinical or dry or detached or whatever, but I find their work to be intensely emotional. To me, they’re very personal, very emotional story-tellers, and I connect with them on an emotional level. I have no doubt that there are prose writers who work the same way but I don’t read enough literary criticism to know who they are.
Secondly, a lot of the emotion in a story is brought by the reader. He or she sees something they connect with and that they invest with their own meaning. It could be that a writer is like an architect who designs beautiful spaces for other people to fill with their own emotions.
Third, there are people who don’t feel strong emotions and they’re right there in the world with the rest of us, they deserve to have a voice and to be understood. I said this earlier but I’m a big fan of empathy and maybe it would be useful for me to learn what it’s like to not have strong emotions, maybe that would help me understand the world a little better.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
My wife is a writer and any and all success that I have as a writer is completely because of her. Putting aside the fact that she’s my manager, she’s also my editor and my fiercest critic. She is not afraid to tell me when something isn’t working, and even if she didn’t want to tell me, I know her well enough to know when she doesn’t like something. She’s been a writer much longer than I have and she takes it ultra-seriously, and if she doesn’t like something she takes it very personally because she considers it a waste of time to be reading it in the first place. Frankly, her criticisms can border on cruel from time to time, but I also know if she does like something it’s because it has value.
Also I’ve been friendly with a handful of other writers, from novelists to journalists and screenwriters and people who write for television. I would say the most helpful thing they’ve done is just to being people that I know and who were friendly. Like, I think when you want to do something like writing it can be easy to think of it as this impossible task that only select people can do. But when you’re friends aunt is a novelist and you’ve spent nights in her den watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 when you were in high school, or your other high school friend ends up writing for Cougar Town eventually creates a show on ABC starring Eva Longoria, it feels more attainable because it’s a thing that people you’ve known have done.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My cat was my spirit animal.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
I mean, I don’t really base my characters on real people very often. I sometimes take real-life situations and put different people into them in order to talk about something that I think is interesting, but the people who inhabit the situation are made up. I guess the closest person I’ve ever actually based a character on is my little sister, but I don’t owe her squat because she put a crease in my Sandman number eight back in nineteen ninety-seven after I specifically told her to be careful with it. That comic was signed by Neil Gaiman.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have one unpublished novel that I co-wrote with my wife that we’re in the process of editing, and one novel that I’ve almost finished the first draft.
What does literary success look like to you?
Success is a disappearing horizon. When I was younger I just wanted to write a book for its own sake to prove to myself that I could. Then I wanted to write something that I actually thought was front to back good; then I wanted to write something that actually sold, and so on.
Now that I’ve had a book published I think success would be having three or four more books published. I want to feel like I was able to sustain and build a readership so that people who read The Minors would be interested in something else that I did. Right now, that’s what success looks like to me.
But if that were to happen and you were to ask me what success looked like I would almost certainly have a completely different answer.
What’s the best way to market your books?
I think I’m pretty good at talking, maybe interviews and readings? We’ve done a few and they seemed to go pretty well.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I don’t do a lot of research before I write because my books take place in the present and any real facts that I would need are available on google or whatever when I need them. Like I might want to make sure that a movie or song was out in a specific year or that one city is a specific distance from another or something like that. I use google maps to get street views in order to describe certain locations better too. I also have friends who I call when I have questions about specific things that I might have, like I have a friend who is a lawyer and went to school at the University of Chicago and he was helpful for little details about life in a law firm or the area specifically around U of Chicago.
That said, there are books that I would like to read sometime in the future that I would want to do research on, but they would mostly be psychology and sociology books.
In the book I’m working on now I actually have the characters actively using their smartphones to look up details about things and learning while they are interacting with other people, so if there’s something that I’m interested in for the story I often make the character interested in it and actively research it quickly.
How many hours a day do you write?
I don’t write in terms of time, I write in terms of words. I have a set number of words that I want to get in a day and I usually don’t stop writing until I get to that number, and if I don’t hit that number, the difference rolls over and is added to the next day.
So when I’m starting something I usually try and spend the first few weeks getting down five hundred words a day. Then, when I feel like the five hundred is coming easily, I up it to seven-fifty, then a thousand. At that point, I usually stick to a thousand words, sometimes I will do more if inspiration strikes or whatever, and I’ll end up doing fifteen hundred or even two or three thousand words in a day. But that’s super rare and only when I’m in the middle of the climax or something like that.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
Mostly I’ve written about childhood, teenagers and young adulthood, but as I get older I write more and more about adulthood. When I wrote The Minors I was thirty two and my protagonists were sixteen and twenty eight. I’m thirty eight now and in the new book I’m writing the protagonist is thirty two or so. I don’t think I like to write about something until I’m at least five or so years older than the person experiencing it. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it tends to be where I end up more often than not.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Usually pretty randomly. I’m not great at remembering names in real life, I just look at the books all around me and I think of the names that pop out at me, either writers or characters, and I put them together in ways that sound appealing. That’s what I mostly do anyway, sometimes there are more personal reasons. Like my favorite name is Sam, for a boy or a girl, so it was the name of the main characters in a lot of the stuff that I wrote, and also my cat’s name, and also the name of my son.
So now I think I’m pretty much done with naming anyone Sam.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work? And if writing isn't your "day job", what are you currently doing to pay the bills?
I currently am a booker for a talent agency.
What is your favorite childhood book?
If I had to pick something specific, it wouldn’t be a prose book. It would probably be Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
Completely. My wife is my manager and editor and best reader and I literally would be dead in a ditch without her.