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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Author Interview: David Lender

Today I am pleased to present to you all the 80th in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the music-loving, pitbull-sitting, David Lender, and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
David:  I move around a lot when I write. I used a mini cassette recorder almost exclusively to write business correspondence, presentations, etc. in my former career as an investment banker, and that's carried over into my writing. I dictate into a digital mini cassette recorder and transcribe it via Dragon Naturally Speaking software. I used to have a writing studio in an attic room in our home, but abandoned it. I felt isolated up there, couldn’t move around as much as I like to and couldn't interact during the day with my wife, my stepson and our pitbull, Styles. So we put a writing desk in the living room behind the sofa and I hang out there to make notes, outline, get organized, edit on the computer, etc. But when I write I carry my mini-cassette recorder around the house most of the time.

Paul:  What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
David:  I read mostly thrillers, and some classic literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald is my favorite author, and The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel. I read it every few years. I also really admire his novel, Tender is the Night and many of his short stories. I've never found a writer who can perfectly put together a phrase like Fitzgerald, and who manages to convey the emotions of his characters with such poignancy and irony. Thriller writers I admire are Frederick Forsyth — The Day of the Jackal may be the best thriller ever written — Graham Greene — I just re-read Our Man in Havana and The Third Man again—John LeCarre, Robert Ludlum, Thomas Harris, Ken Follett, and Tom Clancy (his older stuff). Elmore Leonard is my favorite contemporary writer. No one does dialogue like him, and no one mixes edgy humor and attitude with suspense as he does.

Paul:  If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
David:  They’d probably find it fairly organized. I get an idea and develop it methodically in thinking through a novel. I work with a structure, building emotional peaks and valleys throughout the story. I let my characters run with things during scenes, but I plan scenes out before I write them, so even that process is reasonably organized.

Paul:  How do you find the time to write?
David:  I'm a retired investment banker, so I no longer have a day job, which leaves me as much or as little time to write as I please. Even without a day job, life intervenes. I spend a lot of time taking care of things around the house, managing our finances, and researching on the computer. Styles also frequently interrupts me when he insists on playing ball. Some days I write for only a few hours, some not at all, but when I get hot, I'll work almost non-stop all day.

Paul:  What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
David:  That I welcome distractions as a means of practicing work avoidance, particularly when writing first drafts of anything, which are the toughest for me. Styles is a great random interrupter. He has a bed underneath my desk, which he uses, but when he's fed up with waiting he’ll jump up into my lap (he’s allowed to), grab one of my hands and pull me, then go fetch one of his balls.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
David:  I am an outliner. My first editor taught me to do detailed character biographies followed by a detailed scene-by-scene outline of my novel. I've softened from the rigor of such a detailed outline as I write more, but I never write anything without knowing where I'm going, and particularly how it's going to end. I also use some screenwriting techniques to work with key touch-points in structuring my story. And before I write a scene, I'll always scribble down key elements of the conflict and tension I want to build between the characters within it, often scratching out elements of the dialogue like a tennis match, back and forth, before I start writing. I'm probably the antithesis of the organic writer.

Paul:  Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
David:  I can’t imagine writing a first draft of anything and not rewriting, then rewriting, to get it the way I want it. The old adage that "writing is re-writing" is certainly true of me. That being said, sometimes I'll write a long sequence of dialogue back and forth between characters in a scene, particularly characters I've gotten to know very well late in the book, that seems so natural and flows so easily that I don't want to touch it. But I usually do.

Paul:  Do you have to do much research for your stories?
David:  I do substantial research even for stories in which I am able to draw on my experience from over 25 years in investment banking, for example, my novels Bull Street and The Gravy Train, set on Wall Street. I believe that relevant details can help bring a story to life.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it
David:  My most recent novel, Arab Summer, released in January, is part of the Sasha Del Mira series. When the Muslim terrorist group, al-Mujari, murders Sasha’s husband, the former CIA agent comes out of retirement to avenge his death by tracking down the al-Mujari’s leader before he can launch an Arab Spring uprising intent on a bloody coup of the Saudi government. She knows her target well; Saif Ibn Mohammed al-Aziz was once her ally — and lover.

Paul:  What inspired you to write this book?
David:  I was inspired to write Arab Summer because of the favorable response from readers to the character of Sasha from my first novel in the series, Trojan Horse. As a result of that I wrote Sasha Returns, a short story, last year, and still kept hearing from readers asking for more Sasha stories. I guess they’re responding to a strong female protagonist who’s both true to her emotions and takes no prisoners when she’s wronged — and has the brains, martial arts skills and weapons expertise to back it up.

Paul:  Do you also write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
David:  I’ve recently written some short stories, which was how I started writing in grammar school. I hadn’t written one since college until about a year ago, and decided to give one a try after reading some autobiographical pieces by F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose short stories I love. In one piece he wrote that he’d written a 7,000 word short story over a weekend, then sent it off to one of the magazines that regularly published them. That spurred me to write a short story again. It took me a lot longer than a weekend, though, but I had fun writing Rudiger and will write a follow-up to that story with the same characters.

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?

David:  When I'm not writing I'm doing things around the house, taking care of the day-to-day aspects of life, playing with Styles, hanging out with my wife or going to the gym. For the last five months I've been overseeing the rebuilding of our detached garage, which got flattened by a 100-year-old oak tree during hurricane Sandy. It's been an incredible distraction, although on some days it’s fun at the same time. I enjoy listening to music. I have great stereo equipment — I’m not an iPod guy — in our home and our weekend house, with tastes ranging from classical to classic rock and current artists. The Beatles, David Bowie, Mark Knopfler and Mozart are favorites. I also enjoy a good red wine and have a well-stocked cellar at our weekend house in Pennsylvania.

Paul:  That was most interesting, David. I wish you every success for the future.

About David Lender: David Lender is a former investment banker who spent twenty-five years on Wall Street. After earning his MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, he went on to work in mergers and acquisitions for Merrill Lynch, Rothschild and Bank of America. His first three novels—Trojan Horse, The Gravy Train, and Bull Street—turned Lender into an e-book sensation. He lives in northern New Jersey with his family and a pitbull named Styles.

David's Blog: David Lender
David on Twitter: @davidtlender
David on Facebook: David Lender
David's latest book: Arab Summer (Sasha Del Mira) (Amazon)

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