Years ago, as an aspiring writer, I read “The Assyrian” by Nicholas Guild. Since that day I have considered him one of the finest authors in the literary world—and my silent mentor of the craft. There are others who speak highly of Nicholas Guild as well…Publishers Weekly, the Associated Press, The New York Times Book Review, Book of the Month Club, The Library Journal and more, plus a long list of prominent newspapers. The list goes on, especially in international markets from Europe to Japan and Russia, but I’ll stop for now. Fast forward ahead though and today I’m honored to interview Nicholas Guild, and know him as a friend.
From thrillers, historical novels, and on to horror fiction, he has covered the realm of genres and provided novels for every reader’s enjoyment. His first novel was published in 1975 and, thankfully, we still have great works coming from him. In reviews about his novels you read what we all wish would be said about us: “…a master of timing, plot, and style…” “The most languid grace of his writings also sets the measured pace…” “…sentences are tight, well-constructed and an additional bonus, his plot and sub-plots cannot be faulted.” Formerly a Creative Writing professor at several universities, Guild now lives in Maryland.
So, this has been the shortest overview of an author whose accolades seem endless, yet that’s only part of what I want you to know about Nicholas Guild.
Last year I wrote an article about him, placed it on my website, and went on with life, never suspecting where that blog would lead. He read it, replied, and we’ve been corresponding ever since. In Guild I’ve noted extreme intelligence, yet a man who never thinks himself better than you. He is well published, far more than I could ever hope for in ten lifetimes, but he discusses writing with me as if I were a Nobel Peace Prize winner in Literature. We come from totally different backgrounds, discuss life in general, and banter about political views, yet, he treats me with the respect old friends extend one another even if they do not agree. He has complimented my work yet doesn’t spare truths about it (something I value highly in him.) I wish we had become friends years ago, but things in life seem to work out as they should, and now we are. Better late than never, I say. All said, though, Nicholas Guild is a good man. That’s as great a compliment as can be given here in Texas.
My gratitude to Nicholas Guild for the interview and sharing his experience with us. There’s something within the interview for everyone, and I hope you find food for thought.
Q: With the evolution of book publishing—print versus ebook or audio, agent versus indie, publishing house versus indie—how does a new author determine their first path to take, such as to go for an agent, a publishing house, or remain an indie-author?
A: Granted, the publishing business has changed a lot with the advent of the ebook, but the key to selling a book—or anything else, for that matter—is publicity. People have to know that a book exists before they can buy it. And the sad fact of the matter is that advertising an ebook is a tough business. A print book has the advantage that it will go out to prospective reviewers and that, by virtue of the fact that some publisher has bought it, some pre-selection can be assumed to have taken place. Anybody can self-publish an ebook, with the result that there are vast quantities of very junky ebooks. So how does an ebook author bring his or her work to the attention of people who are prepared to pay money to read it? Newspapers and magazines print reviews and, at present, they aren’t much interested in ebooks. My advice is to try to sell your book to a hardcopy publisher first, and this is easier to do with an agent than without. Agents at least know who to go to, so they are worth their percentage.
Q: Although you have an agent and have been published through major houses, your first horror/paranormal novel “The Moonlight” was published solely as an ebook as if you were an indie-author. What were your thoughts on going this route rather than taking it to a publishing house?
A: The honest answer is that my agents didn’t like the book, so I let it sit on my hard disk for nearly twenty years and then I reread it, came to the conclusion that my agent was wrong, and decided that, what the hell, I’ll do it myself as an ebook. In a sense, it was an act of desperation. I thought it was a good novel and I wanted it out there. Certainly, in the current market, I would have preferred to publish it in hardcopy first.
A: If you want to be a writer you should write every day, and write with care. Also, review your work regularly after enough time has passed that you’re no longer quite so in love with it and can look at it with cold eyes, as if someone else had written it. And read as much of the best work in your genre that you can find. Good models, along with the habits of regularity and self-criticism, are essential.
Q: While teaching, you had a lengthy hiatus from the publishing world. What obstacles or difficulties overall, if any, did you encounter upon your return to writing? Smooth transition back to writing or some form of personal search to find your ‘voice’ again?
A: Essentially, I found I was starting over, at least as far as my relationship to the publishing world was concerned. But during my “hiatus” I never stopped writing. I just couldn’t seem to get past the first several chapters of any project I started. I think as much as anything it was a failure of nerve, of confidence. Now I have several started novels, one of which, titled Blood, is already finished. And I’m charging ahead.
A: The only pitfall in research that I can think of is not to do it. You have to do your homework. This is particularly true in historical fiction, which is my primary area. I just finished a novel set in Greece in the 4th Century B.C. (tentatively titled The Spartan Dagger and being brought out by Tor Books—I just couldn’t resist the plug), and you have to know the details of life in that period. You can’t afford mistakes because if you make one, and the reader catches you at it, it shatters the illusion. So do a lot of reading.
Q: How connected do you become to a novel you are writing? Ever reach a point of addiction whereby you feel you must write at every opportunity or can you walk away and return to your project as you wish and still have the tempo and flow of the work?
A: Once I’ve started a book, I almost have to work on it every day. If I miss a day I tend to lose my nerve and it will take me a while to get back into it. This is just my own, no doubt neurotic, pattern. If I’m really into a book I start dreaming about it, and some of the dreams are really strange. When I was writing The Assyrian I dreamt that I ran into Sennacherib behind the counter of a dry cleaning store, where he told me, “you know, you weren’t quite right about. . .” Part of writing a novel is sustaining a fantasy, and that can do funny things to your head.
Q: Has any other profession ever come to mind that you might enjoy if you were not an author or had been a Creative Writing professor?
A: I don’t have any choice about being a writer. I have to write. It’s an obsession. But I was an English teacher for several years and I enjoyed that. Mark Twain once said about being a riverboat pilot, “I loved that profession, far more than any I have followed since.” I almost feel that way about teaching, but not quite.
Q: What do you feel are the worst or most common mistakes new or established authors make?
A: I think that both the worst and more common mistake that any writer makes is to fall in love with his own words. Scott Fitzgerald once said that every story has to go through three editing processes: one for grammar, one for style and one to cut out all the immortal stuff. When you stop being critical of your own work, you’re lost.
A: I have no idea. Sometimes an idea for a novel will just drop into my lap out of nowhere. Sometimes I’ll start with a gesture or an idea for a scene and the novel will grow up around that. Sometimes the story will have to marinate for years before I’m ready to write it. Believe me, the “creative process” is as much a mystery to me as to anyone else.
Q: New or aspiring authors often mistakenly place well established authors, such as yourself, on pedestals, and believe your work flows like honey and your lives are far different than the “everyday man.” What is an average day like for Nicholas Guild, a best-selling, international author? Any sort of routine or schedule you follow to balance life and writing? Or is your life truly champagne and caviar?
A: It sure as hell isn’t champagne and caviar. I work at writing as a job and I work at it seven days a week. A writer’s life is quiet and isolated. You have to be prepared to spend large stretches of time alone. Aside from that, I live like everybody else. It’s a mistake for a writer to imagine that he’s significantly different from other people. In the first place it isn’t true and in the second it isn’t good for your art to cut yourself off from normal life.
Q: Are there any special traits or talents which set authors apart from each other?
A: It goes without saying that a writer has to have a certain facility with language, which is probably not any difference in kind from having musical talent or a talent for fixing machines. Beyond that, in my experience most writers, at least writers of fiction, are neurotic and insecure. I have a theory that we all live mainly in fantasy until we’re about four or five, and then most people start living in the real world and the fantasy machine sort of shuts down. A writer keeps creating an imagined life for himself/herself until he/she is old and gray. Why? Probably because the writer-in-embryo doesn’t find the real world all that congenial, and the situation doesn’t improve with time. I used to tell my creative writing students, “if you find this isn’t for you, congratulations. It just means that you had a happy childhood and are reasonably well adjusted.” Fiction writing doesn’t proceed out of anything healthy.
A: My recommendation would be, start writing. Just get stuff down on paper. It will either begin to take shape in your mind or it won’t. Writing comes first, thinking comes later. In this business there are no magic formulas.
Q: The Internet, Social Media and Networking. These have had profound impact on the publishing world. What are your thoughts on them or the future of publishing?
A: Obviously, the internet and its components are the wave of the future. In a few years hardcopy books will be a niche business. The problem is that the internet is not really set up to support something like the book business, at least not yet. We don’t have the equivalent of, say, The New York Times Book Review, where the reviews command real respect. There has to be some sort of selection process that keeps out the books that are obvious trash—although God knows enough hardcopy books are obvious trash. The internet book business needs to develop a marketing structure. I have no doubt this will happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Q: Who or what acts as the sounding board for your novels when you have finished a first draft and want feedback?
A: I show drafts to such friends as are willing to read them, and of course I show them to my agent, who is very good at finding what is wrong—too good for comfort sometimes.
A: I have one I’m working on at the moment which is a sort of romance for grownups. I always hate to describe the plots of my projected stories because they always sound so goofy, but it is set in the 1870’s.
Q: Where can people go to learn more about you and your writings, as well as purchase your novels?
A: Try my website, which I am sorry to say I wrote myself: http://www.nicholasguild.com. I try to have an essay on some aspect of fiction on my home page and you can read reviews and what amounts to flap copy of the novels I have available as ebooks. The ebooks themselves are available at most of the important outlets like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple.
Want to know more about Nicholas Guild, his works, coming novels, or contact him? Try these links:
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/AuthorNicholasGuild
Twitter – https://twitter.com/NicholasGuild
E-Mail – Nicholas.Guild@gmail.com