MD Moore is the author of Waiting for the Cool Kind of Crazy, a family saga that spotlights the adult son of a paranoid schizophrenic mother. He has worked as a therapist with the most chronically mentally ill patients in Washington State’s largest psychiatric hospital. He lives in Gig Harbor, Washington with his wife and two teenage sons. Visit M.D. Moore online at: www.mdmooreauthor.com.
Thanks for this interview. Why don’t you start by telling us about your book?
My story is about a middle-aged son of a paranoid schizophrenic mother who has the problems of the world on his shoulders, but doesn’t have the skills to navigate any of them successfully. He has a mentally ill mother who still is the cause of chaos in his life, a life threatening illness, a failing business, and a host of people who want to see him fail on all fronts. He also has 2 legal strikes (a third would result in a mandatory life without parole sentence) and anger issues. He is forced to see a therapist against his better advice who seems to have as many issues as he has. The only bright spot in his life is his reunion with his high school sweetheart, but even she is just recently divorced from his high school adversary who has the power to destroy what Harmon has worked to build. The story focuses on how he navigates and untangles the messes of his life to a logical conclusion.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
Being my first stab at writing, I thought I’d try the “write and see where it takes me” method of writing. The “just let the story tell itself and you dictate” method. The idea was intriguing and sounded like fun. Guess what? It was fun until the story stopped telling itself and I found myself alone with my morning cup of coffee and a laptop that needed to be recharged. After the first 20 or so pages, the story decided to tell itself to someone down the street and left without a thought in my head. After that, I learned that I need to be a heavy outliner. My outline is detailed and thorough. Every once in a while, a new idea will wander in and be great, but mostly, it’s just hard work that gets the story on the page. That said, every writer is different and is inspired in unique ways. If you are able to have a really interesting story pop into your head as you’re writing, then go for it. It really does intoxicating to have a great story drop onto the page like that. I do that long enough and about all that’s going to pop out on the page is my grocery list.
Did your book require a lot of research?
It probably needed a little more than I did. This book was written a lot from my first-hand experiences working in a psychiatric hospital so I guess that would be considered research. As far as doing real research research, I didn’t really do any. I subscribe to the write what you know idea so I wrote what I knew. I’m not really a research guy (just ask my grad school research chair) though if I ever had a great book idea that I felt that I had to write and it required that I learn about a particular subject, then I would do it. Otherwise, I prefer to use my imagination. There’s a reason I write fiction, after all.
Hopefully, the reader will have a better understanding of the lives of those with mental illness and the struggles they, as well as their families, face. A lot of what I wrote came from stories that I heard from patients in the hospital – stories that you wouldn’t necessarily believe were true save for the confirmations from their families. Mental illness is so poorly understood by the community in general. In our state, funding for the mentally ill is being cut substantially and those who need the aggressive, intensive treatment provided in the hospital, are being released into the communities where many, if not most, will end up homeless without resources or medications. This is a group that doesn’t have strong advocacy or understanding so they often are left in the margins of society. I’m hoping that my book sheds a little light into this growing problem.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
I get my best ideas and feel the most creative during rigorous exercise and the moments right before I go to sleep – both being times that kind of suck. I don’t care for exercise, but when I’m struggling I find that when I’m swimming or walking, the ideas just come flooding in so I make myself do it at times. I just carry my iphone and record the ideas as they come (or after I leave the pool). The other time is literally the minute or two before I drop off to sleep. I’m often thinking of what I want to do next with my story and that is when some great idea or another comes to me. I force myself awake and again, record the idea into my phone so I will remember it the next day. I found that if I don’t record it, it will be absolutely gone the next morning. As for why this is, I believe that exercise wakes up some creative part of my brain that’s snoozing when I’m at work and when I’m going to sleep, that creative part that starting to wake to take me into dreams starts to work on some of the writing problems that I’m facing. I wish I could turn these creative buttons on when I sit to write – it would just make life so much easier. Unfortunately, my muse is about as accommodating as my dogs – no real regard for what makes my life easier.
Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?
No, I don’t get along with her particularly well. She comes and goes as she pleases and rarely cooperates when I need her to. It’s like I described earlier, she’ll show up right as I’m nodding off to sleep – my favorite part of my day – and ruin it by dropping an idea into my head, albeit a good idea. When I invite her in when I sit down to write, I imagine that she’s off doing her own thing with the other moody muses, complaining about their ungrateful writers. As for placating, ha… I don’t placate. I write whether she shows or not (though she takes credit for everything I do). Every once in a while, she’ll grace me with her presence when I actually need her and it’s during these times that I realize that I know we’ll never break up. She’s just too great when she does show. We usually make up and work together during the editing phase where she has shown her ability to work hard and throw out all those extra words that I felt were needed at the time of writing. By the very end, we’re friends again.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
Good God, if I’d known when I began the process how long it would take, I honestly don’t think that I would’ve undertaken the endeavor. Beginning to end, it took over 9 years and at least a half dozen re-writes. I literally have over 3000 pages of text in notebooks on a shelf in my home. They take as much space as a child and weighs more. I’m glad I didn’t know, but as I like to think of it now, the years were going to pass either way so I’m glad I did this then and didn’t wait any longer.
Describe your working environment.
Anyplace that’s quiet and comfortable. I’m writing this in a La-Z-Boy in a cabin on the Oregon coast on my family vacation. My wife and kids are out on a hike (I will join them when I’m done with this), but I decided that with the cabin quiet, I can concentrate enough to write. I’ve tried the coffee shop thing and listening to all types of music when I write. My problem is that I get easily distracted and need as close to absolute quiet to get the writing right. And why not be comfortable? I could write at a desk if I had to, but always prefer to be slightly reclined with a laptop. What could be better?
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
I tried to edit as I went along when I first began writing with the idea that when I was done with the first draft, I’d be done with the book. This really bogged down the creative process and ultimately didn’t save me any time so I tried to just write the first draft and that worked much better. I will usually read over what I wrote the day before when I sit down just to weed out the really obvious poorly chosen word or phrase, but nothing more.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
I’m actually fine with a negative review as long as I believe the review has merit. I don’t appreciate someone’s poor review when it is obvious that they did no more than skim a few chapters. I know my book isn’t perfect and also know that not all books are for all readers. I’ve read very well acclaimed books that I thought were awful and know that others will read my book and feel the same way. Of course, I prefer a great review, but know that bad reviews are just part of the game.
How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?
Because my children are still in the home and I put my job as a parent above all, I work my writing around their schedules. I figure they’re only in the house for a few more years and feel they are my biggest responsibility so writing gets crammed into the early morning (before they wake) or late at night (after they’re in bed). When they are out of the house, I’ll take more of the prime hours and work on writing, but for now, it’s the children who are my top priority. As for planning, yes, as much as possible I try to plan when I’m going to write and try to stick with a schedule to make sure that I get it done.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve received and the advice I now give is to 1) learn your craft then practice, practice, practice and 2) Keep with it. This is a very competitive business and generally speaking, those who do due diligence will be rewarded (we all know the exceptions, but I personally don’t know any of them). Nearly everyone I meet “has a book in them”. I thought I had a book in me until I initially sat down to write it. I then realized what I thought was a book was no more than indigestion. To get the book out of me, I had to take classes, attend workshops, read writing books, have my work critiqued, etc. Nine years later and a stack of rewrites taller, that book finally popped out of me. There’s just no way around the work so if your looking for an easy buck, you’d be luckier panning for gold in the neighbors pool.
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I’m working on my second novel tentatively titled Stealing Heaven. It’s about a priest who has a crisis of faith until he has an afterlife experience after dying in an accident and how he deals with that.