Deek Rhew is a thriller writer and the author of the 122 Rules series.
He lives with his wife Erin, who is also an author, and their cat, Trinity.
Trinity scares me a little bit.
Thanks for agreeing to the interview Deek. You’ve had quite a journey from looking at a career in the military, to touring with a band, to graduating in computer science. How did you get into writing?
Thank you, Angelo. It’s great to get to meet you and connect with your readers.
It has been a crazy journey. Originally, I’d planned to follow in my father’s footsteps and join the military. I wanted to be a fighter pilot. On the way to prepping for ROTC I found out that you can’t fly if you’re colorblind. Confusing blue with black, and green with red and brown has been a source of amusement for me, but never a limitation. This was the first time it ever really affected my life. In fact, this one small thing completely changed the course of it.
Since I wasn’t going into the military, I focused on one of my passions: music. But after living the musician’s life for a while I realized something very important: A musician’s life blows chunks. Hard. Awful pay, long hours, drunk fans. After I switched majors, got my degree, and a job that, y’know, let’s me eat on a regular basis.
But I still had the creative itch to scratch. I’d delayed and delayed waiting for the ‘right’ time to start writing. One day, a coworker told me about an article he’d read, where the author had interviewed WWII veterans. In it, they were asked, if they could go back and do anything, what would they do? An overwhelming majority of them said that they would do something creative. Art, music, writing. I decided that there never would be a ‘right’ time, so I rearranged my schedule to give myself a bit of free time.
I’ve started several stories, but each time the story fizzled out. Those were more of learning who I am as a writer… Actually I think I’ll always be learning. But when I fell in love with the characters in 122 Rules, Birth of an American Gigolo, and Norman and Demon I fell in love with storytelling and the writing process.
Awful pay, long hours, and drunk fans? Sounds like stand up…
It’s interesting that after having to turn away from the military earlier in your life, it was an article about WW2 veterans – the military – who then spurred you on to take the plunge into writing.
So what is your process in terms of writing? Do you outline at all, or is it more about starting and seeing where things lead?
Oh, man. I’m absolutely not a planner, but a total pantser. I don’t come up with the stories, characters, and so forth per se. It’s more like they find me. In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he talks about how stories are found things. He describes it like this:
You’re walking in the desert and you find the tip of something sticking out of the ground. You uncover it a little and see that there is more buried deeper in the soil. You dig and dig uncovering more, discovering the object’s details. You brush away sand revealing intricacies and fine lines. Eventually you have revealed all there is to reveal.
The thing you first find is an idea. A question. Erin and I talk all the time and sometimes out of those conversations come questions or situations. What-if’s. What if this? What would happen if that? So we explore that. Sometimes, there’s not much there, and we cast it aside. But other times, we find there’s something significant buried in the sand.
My current work in progress, Xtractors, is a sci-fi that came from one of my conversations with Erin. I’m just starting the forth chapter and I think I know where it’s going, but at any point my characters could surprise me and take it a totally different direction. So, just like my readers, I’m going along for the ride to see where the story takes me!
Yeah, I love On Writing, there’s so much great advice in there. It’s funny because for novels I outline pretty much everything, but for short stories I basically do the same as you – start with an idea and see where it goes.
So where did 122 Rules come from? Did you start with the characters there, or was it more the premise/question?
This book started a little different. It didn’t begin as a question or even a situation like the rest of my stories. It started as a flash, a vision. At zero dark thirty in the morning, on my way to work one day, a scene popped into my head. It was so startling and so vivid I couldn’t ignore it. So I pulled over into a dark alley and typed the scene out on my phone (back in the day, I had a Blackberry – has anyone even heard of Blackberries anymore?). After that, the story just unfolded and took a life of its own. As things progressed, the different elements such as the Rules of Psychology, Sam’s alter-ego, Chet, and so forth, revealed themselves to me.
I’m a bit of a rabbit trail follower and let the process – and story – guide me. So, right in the middle of writing 122, a side story of a woman and her cheating husband emerged. Even at the time, I knew I’d have to pull it because it didn’t fit, but Lindsey is a bit forceful and would not rest until her tale had been told. This became my debut mini-novel, Birth of an American Gigolo.
It’s really cool how all those elements came to you, as they all fit nicely together in the novel.
It’s great you resisted the temptation to put the side story in there too. I guess that’s the whole ‘kill your darlings’ thing Stephen King talked about in On Writing. Although in this case you got a whole other novel from that idea, which is amazing.
So have you ever suffered with the dreaded writer’s block? If so, what do you usually do to, well, un-block?
It absolutely is. It was a difficult decision, but I knew it had to be done. Lindsey got shelved for a couple of years while I finished 122. In between the last edits and the date the book actually came out, Erin and I, along with my content editor, Anya, started editing the stank out of Birth. Fortunately it was much shorter, so it only took a few months.
On writer’s block… Oh, the dreaded syndrome! I have suffered from it, of course, but for me I think writer’s block comes down to simple fear. I’ll give you an example. Right now I’m a half a dozen chapters into the rough draft of my newest manuscript, Xtractors. I had the first chapter knocking on my brain for months and months, but I kept putting it off because I had to finish up the first round of edits of 122’s sequel, 122 Rules Redemption.
When I finally sat down to write it, I got the first two chapters out in a couple of days, then tweaked them until they felt approximately right. After that, I got stuck. It wasn’t that I didn’t know where the story was going – the basics are rattling around in my imagination and I can see a vague outline. I think the problem is that I’ve been afraid to let the story tell itself. Of letting go.
When you’re editing, you’re totally in charge, but storytelling – at least the part where you’re getting the basic bones down – is about letting the story be in control. I’ve been editing so long I almost forgot how. It’s taking me a little bit, but I’m finally starting to get a groove on.
To unblock? I write. Weird huh? I try and totally blank out my mind, choose a scene, and just go. If what comes out is total garbage, then that’s okay, I know how to use the delete key. 😉 Also, as I’ve mentioned, I am really familiar with editing. Either way, I slog through, dragging the words out even if they’re kicking and screaming.
So far, the last third of each of my stories has come out so fast that I have trouble typing fast enough. Hopefully, I can let go of my fear and control sooner for Xtractors.
I definitely think it’s good to give yourself permission to make mistakes, or to explore things and then get rid of them later. It’s quite liberating in a way.
So do you have a writing routine, or a particular place or time to write?
How about on the beach in the Caribbean? This seems ideal to me! For real though, in a few years, Erin and I are going to become professional vagabonds. We will sell everything and move from place to place every six months or so. One of the places I’ve always wanted to live is a small cobblestone town in Italy along the Mediterranean. Now that’s a place to write!
Really, I can write anywhere. My best times are the mornings, but that usually only happens on the weekends. Erin and I sit side-by-side and write in bed, though we have a screened-in back porch which is amazing in the fall and spring. Not so great in the winter and summer.
Since, as part of my editing process, I read out loud, I usually go out to our big couch. This poor piece of furniture has gone, literally, from one side of the country to the other in a U-Haul trailer. I’ve ‘fixed’ the busted frame, and the seams are starting to give, but it’s super fluffy and amazingly comfortable so we’ve held onto it. This is also the perfect spot for me to record audiobooks – see my website for a sample chapter. The couch and the carpet provide great sound dampeners.
I used to write at Starbucks in the wee hours of the morning on my way to work. I’ve written in libraries and conference rooms at my work. So, yeah, pretty much anytime I can squeeze in the time, I’ll find a place to crash.
The professional vagabond plan sounds great… There’s a real freedom in that, and as a writer it’d be amazing to have so many different experiences in different places.
So, in terms of the ‘business’ side of being an author, how are you finding promoting and marketing your work?
Ahhh, yes, marketing. Where to put your limited time and money? Well, right now Erin and I are promoting on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Goodreads. These are great avenues for meeting people and getting the word out. Really, of them, I’d say we are most active on Twitter. In fact, Erin and I met on Twitter! Yep! Our first interactions were via tweets and we eventually started dating across the country (I lived on the West coast and she on the East), and got married. So there’s a quick little bunny trail, answering a question you never even asked. 😉
Anyway, we interact with a lot of people over Twitter. That’s where we build relationships and promote fellow authors and bloggers.
Other than social media, blogging is our next biggest promotion tool. Have a great blog – NOT just about your book, but about interesting topics – and people may become interested in your writing. Erin is a ton better about blogging consistently than I am, especially when I’m in the middle of raw content writing as I am right now. It’s hard for me to pull away and spend time writing a blog when it feels like I should be working on my manuscript.
There are groups for your genre you can join. For instance, I’ve joined Mystery Thriller Week 2017. I’m going to host a live event on Facebook on February 20th through them and got to do a guest post on a topic near and dear to my heart – The Making of a Villain. So, you can reach a lot of people that way.
In the non-digital world, Erin and I attend a lot of cons where we meet fellow authors and get to sell a lot of books. At Illogicon a few weeks ago, Erin and I got to record ourselves reading from our books. That was totally fun and they even posted it on YouTube!
Monetarily, we try and keep our expenses low. We’ve tried Facebook ads, but the ROI (return on investment) on those is not good. We already pay for our web sites and domains, which is a yearly expense. I’ve heard good things about NetGalley, but haven’t tried it yet. Recently, I reposted a blog for authors on a survey about book advertising.
Yes, I feel a similar way regarding blogging – as much as I enjoy it, I do always wonder if I’d be better off working on a novel or short story.
I did try Facebook ads as well. The targeting is great – due to the huge amount of information Facebook harvests about everyone… – but I didn’t find the ROI particularly good either. I know other authors/musicians who swear by Facebook ads though.
So do you have any plans for another 122 Rules book?
I do! The next book in the series is 122 Rules – Redemption and the third book is 122 Rules – Reckoning. I also have a 122 Rules On Assignment – The Habiliment Professional mini-book mostly complete.
Redemption picks up right where the first book left off. Tyron Erebus, a merciless hitman and insane in the membrane psychopath, is on the loose. Federal agent Sam Bradford breaks rank to catch him. You can read the full synopsis on the Redemption page.
Reckoning picks up a few months after Redemption. Trying to escape his past, our favorite stoic Federal agent discovers both love and death while he helps rebuild the town Erebus destroyed.
I just finished with the seven months of first-round edits on Redemption. I’ve put that on a shelf while I write a sci-fi thriller, Xtractors. Once it’s done, I’ll pick up Redemption again and start another round of edits. Then I’ll turn it over to Erin, who’s not only my Ideal Reader but also a brilliant content and line editor.
Reckoning is about a third of the way complete and the mini-novel’s rough is complete. So many books in the air!
Because of a contract snafu, I won’t be able to publish any more of the 122 series until April 2019. But when that date rolls around, I’ll be releasing Redemption and Habiliment. In addition, be on the lookout for audiobook versions of all three books.
So do you have any advice for anyone writing their first novel? Is there anything you wish you’d known earlier?
First, I’d say, learn the rules of publishing. The first draft of 122 Rules was 157,000 words long. Yep, I kid you not. I missed the memo that said debut adult novels are about 80,000 words. So, based on your genre, figure out the word count. That one mistake cost me several years.
Second, with all the options for self-publishing now, I recommend either going Big 5 or self-pub. Skip the small press unless you get to control the edits, cover, and get a bulk of the royalties.
After you’ve edited edited edited, find a reputable content editor. It will most likely take several rounds with them to get the story right. If the editor tells you your debut novel is great and doesn’t need much work, then yank it back from them and find someone else that will tell you the truth. You need a professional not a sycophant.
Next find a reputable line editor to fix grammar and punctuation problems. In both cases, check your ego at the door. These people are there to help you. They will make your book the best it can be and will help you become a better writer.
They are going to be right 99.9999% of the time, so take your lumps and do as they say.
After that, get an awesome cover artist. Do not accept mediocrity. A really good cover artist will probably read your book, then make recommendations on a design. If they promise a low price, super-quick turnaround, and their covers look like cheap photos with a title pasted on the front, or their images are cartoon drawings, then bypass them.
Find a book you love that is well written and has a beautiful cover, and find out who did the work. If you need recommendations, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the absolute best and can provide you with their contact information.
Lastly, keep going. Erin and I have ‘Tenacious’ tattooed on our wrists because that represents who we are. We had to be tenacious to be together, and tenacity made it possible for our books to be created. I think the dedication page of 122 Rules says it all – For the Tenacious: Never Give Up.
That’s a great answer. Very thorough!
OK, so lastly, I’ve been reliably informed that none of this would be possible without your feline writing assistant, Trinity. Is that true?
Her royal fatness told me to tell you: I, Trinna Rhew, am the epitome of grace and literary knowledge. Through me, all things are possible. Now, give me some bacon jerky! (evil maniacal laughter)
Sounds like a typical cat then… 😉
Well, thanks for taking the time to do the interview Deek, it’s been very interesting and a lot of fun!
Thank you for hosting me today, Angelo. I’ve had a total blast getting to talk to you and connect with your readers!
Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/18666884-deek-rhew