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Author Interview: The Writing Life with John DeDakis

INTERVIEW:

Journalist, Novelist and Writing Coach John DeDakis is a former Senior Copy Editor on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” DeDakis (pronounced deh-DAY-kiss) is the author of three mystery-suspense novels, Fast Track, Bluff, andTroubled Water.

Strategic Media Books is publishing Bullet in the Chamber, the fourth novel in the Lark Chadwick series, on October 1, 2016. The story deals in part with the death of John’s 22-year-old son Stephen in 2011.

During his award-winning 45-year career in journalism (25 years at CNN), DeDakis has been a White House Correspondent and interviewed such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.

DeDakis is a writing coach, manuscript editor, writing workshop leader, and has taught journalism at the University of Maryland – College Park, and American University in Washington, D.C.

John’s website: www.johndedakis.com. 

What’s inside the mind of a mystery-suspense-thriller author?
A jumble of things, but you’d be surprised that the next novel isn’t one of them. That’s probably because job #1 right now is getting the word out about the current novel, plus I’m looking ahead to making my novel into an audio book, a TV series, and going on tour.
What is so great about being an author?
Being a published author is its own reward.  It means a lot to me that my agent, Barbara Casey, fell in love with my writing more than ten years ago, found homes for my four novels, and encourages me when she says that each successive book is better than the previous one. 
As a writer, it’s extremely easy to talk yourself into thinking you’re not good enough.  But when a stranger who’s a writing professional has confidence in you, and it’s reaffirmed by people you don’t know who like what you’ve written – then that’s a confidence builder.
The other great thing about being a published author is all the interesting people I’ve met around the country and overseas. I love introducing people to my work and getting them acquainted with their inner muse.  Being an author has opened doors for me that I never knew existed:  People pay me to edit their book-length manuscripts; I lead writing workshops; I have the honor and privilege of being a writing coach who encourages aspiring writers.  Becoming an author made all those things possible.  
Because I set out long ago to perfect my writing and get published, by the time I retired from CNN after 25 years, I was able to step right into a second career doing what I love to do.  Don’t get me wrong:  I enjoyed being a journalist. But now I do what want rather than having my life dictated by the news of the day.  Now every day is Saturday.
When do you hate it?
Hate is too strong a word for the parts of being an author that are unsavory.  I find that it’s drudgery crunching email addresses that I collect from book talks and book signings.  Keeping track of receipts for tax purposes is a pain. And I certainly don’t like it when I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter and can’t write my way out of it.
What is a regular writing day like for you?
I worked overnights at CNN for many years, an experience that bludgeoned my sleep-deprived body into submission.  Consequently, I usually only need five or six hours of sleep at a time. 
I wake up without an alarm around five or six in the morning.  The first thing I do is write in my journal.  I’ll dip into social media, Facebook, and email while having breakfast (usually just a bowl of cereal), then I segue into whatever writing project I have going on at the time. 
My writing is best when I’m fresh in the morning.  I’ve found that if I do any “creative” writing late at night, I don’t sleep very well. 
Lunch is light— a sandwich— then I pivot to a manuscript I’ve been hired to edit.  In the evening, my wife Cindy and I will probably make dinner together and then binge watch a series on TV.  Lately, however, I try to step back from television to do some reading for pleasure before bed. 
I’m pursuing a hobby as a jazz drummer, so I look for time in the day to take breaks by either sitting in at the drum kit I have in the basement or practicing rudiments.
Do you think authors have big egos?  Do you?
I’ve met some authors who have big egos, but most of the writers I know are confident in their abilities, yet they’re generous in their willingness to encourage up-and-comers.  
I have a healthy sense of who I am.  There are some things I do well and other things that, um, need work.  I’m confident, but I pray I’m not arrogant.
How do you handle negative reviews?
I try to learn from them.  Most of the negative reviews I’ve gotten (there haven’t been many) have, thankfully, not been snarky or hurtful.  Also, I’m enough of a realist to know that I won’t be able to please everyone. Furthermore, I know there are scads of writers who are way better than I am. All I can do is my best, even as I strive to make my best even better.
How do you handle positive reviews?
I try not to let positive reviews go to my head.  When possible, I thank the reviewer.  More than anything I find good reviews to be encouraging, affirming, and an incentive to keep writing and not quit.
What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?
Usually people are excited and impressed when they learn I’m an author. I think that’s partly because they may never have met a writer before. 
I’m uncomfortable doing all the talking so, as soon as possible, I try to turn the spotlight back onto the other person.  “Do you write?” I often ask. 
Usually people tell me about the book inside them that they’ve been thinking about writing, but often they tell me they don’t know how to write a book because the task seems too daunting.  “I don’t have the discipline,” many people tell me. 
I like suggesting ways to demystify the writing process and help them unlock the straightjacket that might be inhibiting the writer in them.
What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?
If I’m not feeling it, then I don’t write.  Simple as that.  I feel sorry for some of my friends who are under contract to crank out a book every nine months. For me, that would be like writing with a gun at your head.  It’s extremely easy for me to walk away from it when The Muse is on strike. 
One thing I’ve learned, however, is that even when I’m doing something else and not sitting rigidly at the keyboard, I might still be thinking about the story. And that, I’ve come to learn, is an essential part of the writing process. Ruminating is writing, too.  Sometimes we need to give our subconscious a chance to process things without our conscious selves getting in the way.  
Any writing quirks?
Probably the biggest “quirk” is that I’m in my sixties, but I write in the voice of a woman in her twenties.  I believe the key reason I’m able to do that is that throughout my 45 years in journalism, I worked closely with manyyoung women. They told me about their lives – their careers, families, boyfriends – and I listened.  Also, my wife Cindy and daughter Emily, 35, are not only quite talkative, but substantive, as well. 
Many of the women in my life are my beta readers.  They read early drafts and let me know what’s working and, more importantly, what’s not. 
Probably the coolest book review I got was for my third novel, Troubled Water.  Book reviewer Vicki Liston wrote, “DeDakis is not only able to write convincingly as a woman, but he writes in such a way that makes the reader completely forget he’s a man. I’m usually mildly irritated when a man presumes to understand the way a woman thinks but in DeDakis’ case, he actually gets it and he conveys that brilliantly in his writing style.” 
Nice.  And thank you, Vicki.
In short, it’s the women in my life who make me think younger, write better, and live more fully.
What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?
It wouldn’t matter.  In fact, I’m sure that’s already the case.  My job isn’t to please them, live up to their expectations, or get them to view me the way I want to be seen.  It’s my life and I’m enjoying living it the way I’ve chosen.
Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate?
Sure, but I think a love-hate relationship to writing might especially be the case for people who have to write to survive financially. Under those circumstances, writing can be more of a chore than a joy.
Do you think success as an author must be linked to money?
Absolutely not.  Money’s nice.  We all need it.  But I think that deeper down what we need even more than money is the satisfaction that comes from doing what we love— and doing it well. Then writing becomes its own reward. When you’re there, that’s success.
What has writing taught you?
Writing has taught me to think clearly and to communicate effectively and efficiently.  I’ve been journaling for more than fifty years (yes: I’m old!). Putting pen to paper forces the mind to slow down so that each thought and insight can be captured, chronicled, and analyzed more objectively. 
Leave us with some words of wisdom.
Don’t give up.
////////////////////////////////////
Title:  Bullet in the Chamber
Genre:  Mystery-Suspense-Thriller
Author:  John DeDakis (pronounced: deh-DAY-kiss)
Publisher:  Strategic Media Books
About the Book:
Gutsy White House correspondent Lark Chadwick is in the right place at the wrong time – front-row center when the executive mansion is attacked, the president is missing, the first lady’s life is in danger, and the man Lark loves disappears.  It’s Lark’s job to sort it all out in this dead-line-a-minute thriller about drugs, drones, and journalism.
The story is based, in part, on the fatal heroin overdose of the author’s 22-year-old son Stephen.

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