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Oct 24, 2016

How Bestselling Sci-fi Thriller Author Blake Crouch Writes: Part One

International bestselling sci-fi and thriller novelist and screenwriter, Blake Crouch, took time-out from his busy schedule to talk to me about his mind-bending new book Dark Matter, and adapting his work for both film and TV.

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The hybrid author has penned more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over 30 languages, and his short fiction has appeared in numerous publications.

In addition to having his Wayward Pines trilogy adapted into a #1 hit TV show by FOX, Blake wrote the screenplay for his latest novel, Dark Matter, for Sony Pictures. He also recently co-created Good Behavior, a TNT show based on his novellas, starring Michelle Dockery (set to premiere November 15th, 2016).

His novel Dark Matter was described by the NY Times as an, “… alternate-universe science fiction …. countdown thriller in which the hero must accomplish an impossible task,” and bestselling sci-fi author Andy Weir called it, “An exciting, ingeniously plotted adventure about love, regret, and quantum superposition.”

If you’re a fan of The Writer Files, please click subscribe to automatically see new interviews.

In Part One of this file Blake Crouch and I discuss:

  • The power of self-publishing for a traditionally published author
  • Why in-depth research is so crucial to writing believable fiction
  • The importance of outlining for a bestselling author and screenwriter
  • How the right soundtrack can boost your creativity

Listen to The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

How Bestselling Sci-fi Thriller Author Blake Crouch Writes: Part One

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM

Kelton Reid: Welcome back to The Writer Files. I m your host Kelton Reid, here to take you on yet another tour of the habits, habitats, and brains of renowned writers to learn their secrets. International best selling sci-fi and thriller novelist and screenwriter, Blake Crouch, took time out this week from his busy schedule to talk to me about his mind bending new book, Dark Matter, and adapting his work for both film and television.

The hybrid author has penned more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over thirty languages. His short fiction has appeared in numerous publications. In addition to having his Wayward Pines trilogy adapted into a number one hit TV show by Fox, Blake wrote the screenplay for his latest novel, Dark Matter, for Sony Pictures. He also recently co-created Good Behavior, a TNT show based on his novellas starring Michelle Dockery. His novel Dark Matter was described by the New York Times as an alternate universe science fiction countdown thriller and best selling sci-fi author Andy Weir called it, “an exciting, ingeniously plotted adventure about love, regret, and quantum superposition.”

In part one of this file Blake and I discuss the power of self publishing for a traditionally published author, why in-depth research is so critical for creating believable fiction, the importance of outlining for a bestselling author and screenwriter, and how the right soundtrack can boost your creativity. If you’re a fan of The Writer Files please click “subscribe” to automatically see new interviews as soon as they’re published.

This episode of The Writer Files is brought to you by Audible. I ll have more on their special offer later in the show but if you love audiobooks or you’ve always wanted to give them a try, you can check out over 180,000 titles right now at Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker.

Adapting your Writing for Film and Television

Kelton Reid: I am rolling today on the podcast with a very special guest, Blake Crouch, best selling novelist, screenwriter, short story writer, international best selling author of The Wayward Pines trilogy and most recently Dark Matter. Thanks for popping on to talk with us about your process.

Blake Crouch: My pleasure.

Kelton Reid: I understand this new one is getting just so much positive energy behind it. You’re already, I think, working on a screenplay for Sony. Is that right?

Blake Crouch: Yeah, just turned that screenplay in not too long ago, actually.

Kelton Reid: That’s cool to hear, I’m always interested in authors who adapt their writing for the screen. I’m thinking specifically of another author who came on to chat with me, Emma Donoghue, who wrote Room which is a fantastic and award winning …

Blake Crouch: Love that book.

Kelton Reid: … both a book and a movie. I hope you saw the movie, because the movie is a very, very moving adaptation. She wrote that one, so are you excited about this process? Are you nervous?

Blake Crouch: I like the process. This is my first time wading into the feature waters. Up until now all of my work in adaptation has been in television, in Wayward Pines and in this new show that’s coming out in November from TNT called Good Behavior. This is the first time I’ve jumped into these feature filled waters. Yeah it’s kind of a new experience.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, Dark Matter it seems tailor made for this jump to the big screen. It’s described as an alt universe sci-fi countdown thriller. It’s truly compelling writing, definitely some high concept stuff. What else are you working on at the moment? Now that you’ve got the screenplay in, do you have other projects lined up?

Blake Crouch: We just finished the first season of Good Behavior and we’re in this sort of in-between place, trying to decide if we’re going to have a third season of Wayward Pines or not. On the book side I’m just in that stage of trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. That for me is always the most exhilarating and some days depressing, some days so thrilling process, because to start writing a book you’re making a two year commitment and beyond. Especially if it becomes a television show or a movie. Finding that right idea, it’s so elusive.

I was just talking with a friend and it almost compares to getting married to an idea. You’re signing this prenup, kind of, you’re being like, “It’s probably not going to work out. We’re probably going to go our separate ways and I’m going to write something else but for now let’s just see how this goes.” So I’m in that stage with a new book, trying to figure out, Is this the one?

The Power of Self-Publishing for a Traditionally Published Author

Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah. Congrats on all of your successes. I’m interested in the origin of, going from a self published author, you’re kind of a hybrid author I think, you do both self publishing and traditional publishing, going from self published author to now in demand Hollywood screenwriter and scribe. Can you tell us a little bit about the journey? The inception of kind of how you got here?

Blake Crouch: Well, I actually started in traditional publishing back in 2004 with St. Martin’s Press. That was actually my first published book, this horror thriller called Desert Places. I published with St. Martin’s until, I think 2010, but during that period of time none of these books were really blowing up and I felt like a lot of writers did back in those days before digital publishing was an option. I felt like I was in the dark, I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what they were doing for the books. It’s insecurity making is what it is. I was having a lot of difficulty seeing how I was going to continue this path indefinitely as a writer. Each book was sort of subsequently selling less and less, and I could see the writing on the wall. I was like, “I’m not sure what’s going to happen here.”

Then in 2007, Amazon released the Kindle, and shortly thereafter the Kindle Digital Text Platform, KDP as we know it now. I, on a lark, did this experiment with a friend of mine, named Joe Konrath, where we published this short story called Serial and we made it free on Kindle. It hit number one in the store, and back in those days the Kindle store, there was no distinction free or paid, it was all thrown into one thing. It hit number one and we gave away a ton of books. I was like, “Wow, the power of self publishing is real.”

I suddenly had all this control over my own destiny. I got really lucky in terms of timing, because I, at this point in time, had gotten the rights back to some of those novels that St. Martin’s had published. So I had some content to actually put up on KDP. I published Desert Places and Locked Doors and they started to do really well. I published all these short stories I had been selling to magazines in a collection and individually, and those started doing well.

At this point I was still holding onto the dream of a big publishing deal, but I had this novel, Run, which I was really excited about. It was the first big idea book I’d ever tackled, but we couldn’t sell it anywhere. My agent at the time said, “What do you want to do? Do you want to keep trying to sell this to New York?” I said, “No. Let’s go ahead and stop doing that. I’m going to try to self publish this.” I self published Run in February of 2011 and it did really well. It just raced up the charts. People responded very positively to it.

Off the heat of that publication I got a call from Amazon Publishing. They had seen what was happening in the Kindle universe and Amazon Publishing was created to start collecting the stuff that was getting the most attention and try to publish it themselves. I liked the idea of working with a publisher inside of Amazon that could pull all of those levers that were so powerful for marketing e-books. I signed up with Thomas & Mercer and my first book, or second book with them, was the first book in the Wayward Pines trilogy, Pines. And I published the Wayward Pines trilogy with them and we sold the TV rights, and that exploded and got crazy and then it came around time for Dark Matter. Life is weird that way.

Kelton Reid: We will be right back after a very short break. Thanks so much for listening to The Writer Files.

This episode of The Writer Files is brought to you by Audible, offering over 180,000 audiobook titles to choose from. Audible seamlessly delivers the world’s both fiction and nonfiction to your iPhone, Android, Kindle or computer. For Rainmaker FM listeners, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check them out. Grab your free audiobook right now by visiting Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker. I just hopped over there to grab Stephen King’s epic novel 11.22.63, about an English teacher who goes back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK. You can download your pick or any other audiobook free by heading over to Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker. To download your free audiobook today, go to Audibletrial.com/Rainmaker.

Blake Crouch: All signs pointed to the right move being going back to traditional publishing for Dark Matter, because I’d had a lot of success in the digital world with Wayward Pines and with my self published stuff. Though everyone kept saying it, print was not dead, or maybe just fading, but print was hanging around out there. You still see hardcovers everywhere and I wanted my book in airport stores, I wanted the actual hardcover out everywhere because every hardcover is a billboard for your book. So I went back to Crown with Dark Matter.

I was traditionally published, self published, published by Amazon, which is I think somewhere in between, and then back to New York publishing. But right now I still have control of a large chunk of my catalog and I self publish that, my back list. I have my Wayward Pines series with Amazon Publishing and they’re doing Good Behavior as well, and I have Dark Matter with Crown. I feel that’s a good diversification of formats and methods of publishing.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, it’s amazing. You’re truly prolific. Congrats on all of the success man, it’s really cool to see.

Blake Crouch: Thank you.

Why In-Depth Research is so Crucial to Writing Believable Fiction

Kelton Reid: I’d love to dig into your productivity. It’s interesting to me that this most recent one, Dark Matter, that Andy Weir, another guest on the show, called, “Exciting, ingeniously plotted, an adventure story about love, regret and quantum superposition,” which you don’t hear very often. It seems like quite a bit of research went into this one. Can you tell us a little bit maybe about your process as you’re working on a bigger piece like that?

Blake Crouch: Well, I had been wanting to write about quantum mechanics for a decade. This was going back into my traditionally published days, but quantum mechanics is so cerebral and convoluted and complicated that every time I got excited about it I would start to do research and become demoralized, because I felt like I didn’t understand it. While all this other stuff was going on in my professional life I would consistently come back to the idea of writing a thriller with quantum mechanics at its core. I would read articles and I would study everything I could find that I could understand, building this body of knowledge about this field of science.

When I finished Wayward Pines and I was starting to try to figure out what my next idea was going to be, that sort of, “Are we going to get married or not?” phase, I came back to this quantum mechanics thriller concept. I finally felt like I had done enough of the research and at least knew enough about the general concepts to take a swing at it.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, so kind of the incubation phase was working in the background as you were working on some other projects I imagine, and then you had the illumination that you were ready to get it in there.

Blake Crouch: Exactly.

The Importance of Outlining for a Bestselling Author and Screenwriter

Kelton Reid: That’s cool. Before you crack your knuckles and get working, do you have any pregame rituals to get you in the mode for writing?

Blake Crouch: No, I don’t. When I start a book, when I start an idea the first thing I do is I’ll buy a journal and I’ll spend several months, sometimes six months, just taking notes on the idea, taking notes on various characters. It’s very free form. It’s kind of like just improvisation until you finally land on something that you think is worth expanding out. I have, like with Dark Matter, I think I have three or four journals of notes on that one. The early stages are like all these other ideas that I was contemplating at the time. It’s interesting to go back and look at those.

I very distinctly see where certain key characters or plot turns or themes were hinted at in those pages. It’s almost like a conversation I’m having with myself, part trying to psych myself up to write the book, part trying to explore all the ideas that at any given time are bouncing around in my head, because I do think if you keep coming back to a certain idea or these sort of subconscious things that keep haunting you as a writer that it means something. It means it’s the book that you’re probably supposed to write next. You just have to tune into that frequency and figure out what it is. In terms of actual … You’re asking what my actual writing day looks like when I’m cruising along.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, absolutely.

Blake Crouch: I go back and forth between some days trying to get five hundred words, some days trying to get a thousand words. It just depends on how it’s feeling and other things that are happening in my life at that moment. By the time I sit down to start writing I’ll generally have journaled enough that I have a pretty good sense of the first act, less of a sense of the second act, and some notions about the third. The first hundred pages usually comes fairly easily and as I’m writing those hundred pages and knocking down five hundred to a thousand words a day, I’m still starting to think about what comes next and trying to start sketching out at least a general structure so that when I break into the second act I don’t have to come to a standstill and figure it out.

Kelton Reid: Yeah. I imagine as both a TV producer and screenwriter that you’re changing modes from time to time. Are you a morning guy? An evening guy? Do you do a little bit of each? How do you break that up, in your brain, anyway?

Blake Crouch: I really like writing in the mornings, just because if I get my writing done by noon, if I’ve gotten my word count knocked out I feel good about myself for the rest of the day. Everything else is gravy. If I’m in the midst of writing a book and I don’t start writing until late in the afternoon there’s this anxiety like I’m not going to hit my words and I start feeling kind of *****y about myself, like, “Ugh, wally. You wasted your day. Yeah you did a bunch of phone calls about other things but phone calls aren’t writing.” It just is always better for me if I can get my writing done before lunchtime.

How the Right Soundtrack can Boost your Creativity

Kelton Reid: Yeah, absolutely. Are you a writer who can stick on headphones or do you prefer kind of quiet while you’re getting your words in?

Blake Crouch: I can’t listen to any music with words, with singing or any kind of lyrics while I’m writing. Generally I like silence, but for a lot of Dark Matter I would stream Hans Zimmer, especially the soundtrack for Inception and Interstellar. I actually built a soundtrack of music from films that I love that somehow carry the spirit of what I thought Dark Matter was, like The Fountain, the Darren Aronofsky film. I’m blanking, I think it’s Clint something. I’m blanking on the …

Kelton Reid: Mansell. Yeah, totally.

Blake Crouch: There it is.

Kelton Reid: That is so awesome.

Blake Crouch: Yeah, I kind of built a playlist for myself that was the score for my book.

Kelton Reid: That’s so funny. You are not going to believe this but I actually stuck on that Inception soundtrack while I was reading your book, just kind of had it humming in the background, because it’s one of my favorites to write to but it’s so atmospheric and creepy but it’s not overwhelmingly so. It’s that perfect soundtrack music. That’s amazing. That’s really cool. You’re a fan of Christopher Nolan’s work.

Thanks so much for joining me for this half of a tour through the writer’s process. If you enjoy The Writer Files podcast please subscribe to the show and leave us a rating or a review on iTunes to help other writers find us. For more episodes, or to just leave a comment or a question, you can drop by WriterFiles.FM. You can always chat with me on Twitter @KeltonReid. Cheers, talk to you next week.