“Maintain discipline when writing, but know when to put it down” Writing Insights From Noir Crime Novelist Bruce Woodhull
I recently had the privilege of interviewing author Bruce Woodhull, whose novels include Omaha In The Time Of Saints; Wild Indians; Tularosa Reckoning; and A New Mexico Ghost Story. Woodhull’s style of writing melds the violence of Sam Peckinpah and the cool brio of Quentin Tarantino with the infectious textured energy of Mario Puzo.
How would you describe yourself?
People read my posts on Facebook, or private correspondence, and get an image of me as a comedic guy. In person, I’m quiet, somewhat reclusive, sometimes intimidating and always with the dry humor. I believe in truth and honor. I’m a big guy, physically, which adds to the confusion of what my motives are, when the humor comes out. I believe in loyalty to the person. That person must earn my loyalty.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I haven’t read that book yet.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Ya know…. My energy to pick up where I left off, on a project, must be energizing. I’ll work on a project until I’m exhausted. When my attention span is shot for the day, I shut off the computer. I must force myself to maintain discipline when writing, but I know when to put it down for the night, or day.
I’ve done several 24-hour sessions of writing. I keep a gallon of Carlo Rossi nearby, or refine my mixing of Cuba Libres. My love in life is creating with words. I gave up writing for 2 ½ years to attempt a relationship with a woman I fell madly in love with. It didn’t work out. I took refuge from the world in my writing. Two new books came out of that time in my life. Sadly, like a dope, I still love that woman. I can live without her. There’s my energizing dynamic.
That being said; if a great idea comes to mind, I immediately take notes on my thoughts. I will make an outline with explanations, for when I eventually start work on the great idea. Not all great ideas work out, but I have the outline and notes if I ever want to revisit the project.
A New Mexico Ghost Story was started in 2006. I put it on the shelf and started researching Omaha in the Time of Saints. Last year I took out Ghost Story and finished it. At the time I shelved that book, I had no idea where it would go or end. Once I picked it up again, the second half of the book, new characters and the conclusion fell into place. After that, on the recommendation of a friend, I researched and wrote a novella, Tularosa Reckoning. I kept it in the style of a dime novel from the 19th century; think 1890s. Reckoning is a Western. I went to the library and checked out books on the Old West. I knew nothing about that era, other than what I knew from movies. It’s a short piece, but I’m proud of it.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I live in obscurity. I get blown off by other artists looking for that next great script. Their ego is bigger than mine. If I want to deal honestly with people, I have keep my ego in check and tell others, who offend me, to pack sand. Let the big egos drive off that bridge. I’m an old guy. I like to talk on the phone, instead of texting. So, I call guys. Most of them are too important to talk on the phone with guys like me. I make the call once. They blow me off, I won’t call again. Why waste my time and theirs? There’s your big ego.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
No. Why confuse those few fans I have? My name goes with my work.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m friends with several authors; who will go unnamed here out of respect for their privacy and careers. I speak on the phone occasionally with other writers. Some are very successful, others not so successful. As writers, we seldom critique or share unpublished work. It’s a new day; social media, the internet. A great idea conceived by a writer and shared with another writer could be around the world in an instance, and neither writer would be aware. I spoke with other writers who considered organized crime as their subject matter. I had started out to write non-fiction on organized crime, and realized I was rehashing other authors work. I made up my own stories about organized crime. My characters interact with real persons and events. I pack my books with historical trivia. My readers tell me they didn’t know some of the history of Omaha. Fiction is more fun for me. My author friends complain about verifying facts for their non-fiction books. I don’t have that problem. One thing about organized crime writers is the mob guys they all claim they know. I won’t say who I know or who I talk with.
As for being a better writer; I have to keep at it. Write, rewrite, consult books on how to write. I just started writing a book, years ago, and learned what works and what doesn’t work. Plus, we live in a time where books are less popular than the internet or seeking affirmation from social media on a cell phone. Technology is a great thing depending on how it’s used. My daughter sends me real-time pictures of my 8-month-old granddaughter. I love getting those pictures on my cell phone.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I can’t think of any author that answers this question.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
At the moment, none. I’m working on screenplays now. I have two I’m working on. I’m in the process of learning how to write screenplays. This is new to me. I love it. Screenplays, for me, are more challenging that a novel.
How many hours a day do you write?
I get up at the same time every morning, drink coffee, have a smoke, check messages and emails, and jump in. I write for 3 to 8 hours a day, depending on outside invasive events.
What did you edit out of Omaha in the Time of Saints?
Good question. I edited out dialog between my fictional characters. I took out descriptive narrative that was repetitive. The original book was longer than the published edition. I’m happy with the edition on Amazon now. I keep my books relatively short, in pages. My readers and I have short attention spans.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I name them after real-life persons I have known. The names are from my imagination, but I try to keep the persona of characters as true to memory as I can. I get my character development from events and people I remember from my youth. I served in the Army with some great guys. I get some of my inspiration for names and their character from my Army days. I have a rule; when I’m working on a project I won’t read another author’s book. My fear is, their characters will bleed into mine. I rewrite characters, try new names, and see how it reads or adds to the continuity of the book. My second book, Wild Indians, is essentially a follow up to Omaha in the Time of Saints. A few characters in Wild Indians are purposely named to remind the reader of real persons of the mid-sixties. The book is shorter, in pages, than Omaha in the Time of Saints. I thought a sequel or follow up should be to the point and conclude without a lot of buildup.
Since you asked about names, I’m learning how to develop strong female characters. I don’t write gratuitous sex into my books. That’s a cheap way to make a book interesting. In New Mexico Ghost Story I developed two strong female characters. I tried different names for these women. I finally chose two names that worked in relation to the other characters in the book.