Craig DiLouie is an acclaimed American-Canadian author of literary dark fantasy and other fiction. Formerly a magazine editor and advertising executive, he also works as a journalist and educator covering the North American lighting industry. His fiction has been nominated for major awards, optioned for screen, and published in multiple languages. He is a member of the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, International Thriller Writers, and the Horror Writers Association. He lives in Calgary, Canada.
His latest book, Our War, offers a political hypothetical. After his impeachment, the president of the United States refuses to leave office, and the country erupts into a fractured and violent war. Orphaned by the fighting and looking for a home, 10-year-old Hannah Miller joins a citizen militia in a besieged Indianapolis. In the Free Women militia, Hannah finds a makeshift family. They’ll teach her how to survive. They’ll give her hope. And they’ll show her how to use a gun.
How did you get started writing, and what is your process like?
I’ve found my writing process follows a slightly modified version of the creative process identified by sociologist Graham Wallace, including preparation, incubation, creative frustration, illumination, and implementation.
For me, the storytelling process begins with a compelling concept and big idea. Writing a novel is a massive amount of labor that devours thought, time, energy. For several months, I’ll be living and dreaming it. So it has to be compelling story, ideally associated with a big theme. Often, this starts with a simple question. For my novel OUR WAR (Orbit, August 20, 2019), the question was: What would a second American civil war really look like?
The first step is to gather information. This is the research phase. For OUR WAR, I conducted a massive amount of research on political polarization in the United States, what living in a broken country is like, child soldiers, and how people recover from trauma. I ended up using the Bosnian War as a model, as I believe a civil war would play out similarly in the United States if the cultural cold war ever turns hot. In short, a civil war wouldn’t look like the last one, with states fighting states and armies fighting armies—instead, it would be city versus country. Everybody would fight, and nobody would win. All this research ends up filling notebooks and providing tons of incredible details and story directions.
While this is happening, I’m slowly fleshing out a general outline. This is based on a plot architecture, character arcs, or more commonly both. The plot architecture starts with the inciting incident and runs through the protagonist reacting to a problem and then attacking the problem along three major plot points culminating in the climax. The character arcs are based on people who want or need something and must struggle to attain it; once I know the character’s flaw and what he or she needs and wants, I know who the character is from the get-go, and everything flows naturally from that. So while I’m filling up with research notes, I’m also sketching plot, scene, and character ideas. Plot as what, character as why.
At this point, I jump right into implementation, turning ideas into reality via critical thinking. Illumination—connecting ideas—happens during the process of discovery in writing to each plot point or along each character arc. Creative frustration sometimes occurs—is this going anywhere? That’s when I rely on my love of the initial idea and theme. When I hit a speed bump of self-doubt, I fall back on my belief in my vision of the final product. If I hit a moment of writer’s block, which may be thrown up by self-doubt or far more often by having too many choices for a character’s next move (and the character isn’t telling me what they want to do), I incubate by allowing my subconscious work up a solution. Suddenly, while driving or in the shower, I’ll have a eureka moment, and the problem unravels.
Overall, writing a novel is like climbing a mountain. The peak looks pretty daunting from your starting point. You set up a base camp and climb one step at a time. You trip and fall and get back up again. You find a great walking stick and maybe meet a guide or two. After a while, you look back and see how far you’ve come. When you finally reach the top, you’re only half finished, but now you’re walking downhill, you’re going much faster and feeling a thrill with the end in sight. At the end, euphoria, then exhaustion and a restless hangover, which is best cured by thinking about your next book.
Anything you would like the reader to know about you, or your book(s) that isn’t often asked?
People write for various reasons—notice, income, ego, love, self-therapy. For me, the most important is always connecting with a reader and affecting them in some way. Nietzsche said a single sentence can change your whole world, which means a single book can. My biggest satisfaction as an author is reading a review where a total stranger and I met through the written world and joined mind and imagination, if only for a brief time. Where the reader totally got what I was intending as the writer and that it made them think. If they take time to write to me, that’s my real gold.
So if you’re a reader and love an author’s work, always leave a review, as you’ll be supporting their career that way and helping them give you another book, and never be shy about writing to them. More often than not, you’ll make their day.
Our thanks to Craig for taking the time to explain his process.
Online at https://craigdilouie.com
Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/Craig-DiLouie/e/B001JS1SCQ/
If you’d like to be featured on Books ‘N Pieces Magazine’s “Spotlight On Writing” please let us know.