An interview with Steve Womack & Wayne McDaniel

Steve Womack & Wayne McDaniel are the co-authors of RESURRECTION BAY. Published by Midnight Ink, RB introduces us to Decatur Kaiser, a family man whose passion for hunting takes a dark, deadly turn. Steve and Wayne were kind enough to answer some questions about RB and working together.

How long have you been a writer?
Steven Womack: Pretty much forever… I remember wanting to be a writer in my early teens. I wrote short stories, poetry, and did a lot of journaling. I started my first novel when I was eighteen, and that
pretty well did it for me. I was completely addicted. Now making a  living at it’s a different story…

Wayne McDaniel: Started writing 3-minute mysteries for my friends in the  5th grade. Only problem was my friends could solve them in less than 3  seconds. Been trying to get it right ever since.

How influential have your past experiences been on your writing?

SW: Very. I think we’re all the sum of our backstories, and our  experiences inform what we write about, the attitude we take toward the  work, and how we see fiction and life in general. I’ve written mostly in  the field of crime and suspense, but I’m also incredibly interested in politics. My first published novel, MURPHY’S FAULT, was branded as a mystery but it was really a story of Louisiana and New Orleans politics.  And that came out of my years as a newspaper reporter in New Orleans.

WM: Well, I’ve tried to base all my writing on future experiences, but the time machine thing hasn’t worked out so well. How’s that saying go – you have 2 ears and one mouth, so you’re supposed to listen more than talk. That about sums up my writing influences. All my writing reflects past experiences, characters, dialogues, plots, conversations — almost everything. I am still trying to work on that time travel/tardis thing, though.

How does this novel compare to your past works?

SW: Mainly in point of view, I think. My first nine novels were written in first person. It’s only been in the last couple that I’ve worked in third person. I guess the biggest difference, though, is that  RESURRECTION BAY was my first successful collaboration with another writer. The story was originally Wayne’s idea and he had most of the book in place before I came on board. And this was, by far, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a writer. Wayne’s a joy to work with and I hope we get to do it again.

WM: I come strictly from a screenwriting background and Resurrection Bay is my first novel. In fact, I had originally written Res Bay as a screenplay and thought – Hey, how hard could it be to turn it into a
novel? Boy, did I find out! Luckily, along the way, I met a real pro – Steve Womack – and he was infinitely patient and adroit enough to help walk me through then entire process.

What was it like writing from the killer’s perspective and how did that change the dynamic of writing a mystery novel?

SW: As I said, Wayne had a substantial amount of the book done before we partnered up, so he really made that choice. All I did was try to get inside the killer’s head along with Wayne and do some exploring. I have to admit, though, that it can be a bit unsettling to really try and get into a killer’s head and see what’s there, and then viscerally try to make that a part of your own psyche. It’s hard to think of it as just noodling around. It can get pretty creepy and sometimes you can find yourself quite surprised at what comes out.

WM: I basically write about 3 things that I will never understand. Death is one. Sudden death is number two. Trying to comprehend how a serial killer — like the one in the book — can function so normally in society (he’s a successful businessman and a loving father) and then commit the atrocities that he does, I think, is intrinsically interesting and, at the same time, repulsive to us all. Writing from a killer’s POV does tend to put one in a dark and helpless place, but where there is shadow there is also light, so I look for the hope as well. With Steve’s help, I think we’ve come pretty close to that balance
of darkness and light.

Where did you get the inspiration for Decatur’s character? His employment as a baker?

SW: Again, Wayne can probably elaborate on this better than I can. But this novel is loosely based on—or perhaps a better term would be “inspired by”—a real life case. In the Seventies through the early
Eighties, Robert Hansen murdered somewhere between 17-21 women (nobody knows for sure except Hansen and he’s been curiously quiet on the subject since going to prison) in Alaska.

WM: Steve pretty much nailed that one. Hansen, who we modeled our antagonist on, did in fact own a thriving bakery in Anchorage, Alaska for 17 years and was in constant contact with the Anchorage police. Talk about hiding in plain sight.

How did you two meet and end up working together?

SW: My former literary agent, whom I’m still friends with, is Nancy Yost. She knew Wayne through a mutual friend and heard that he was working on a project and was looking for a collaborator. She called me, got Wayne and I on the phone together, and the next thing we know it’s a done deal. One that had a very good outcome, by the way…

WM: And the rest is history… Actually, after Nancy called me, I took her advice and ran out and bought several of Steve’s books. I recommend everyone do the same!

What was it like working jointly on one project?

SW: Amazingly easy and gratifying, from my POV. Hell, I wish I could make marriage work this well. I always thought Wayne and I had good chemistry and the workshopping process—bouncing ideas off each other—was delightful. But I think the thing that worked best for me, and I hope Wayne feels the same way, was that we each parked our egos outside before we came into the writing room. If something wasn’t working for one of us, we could bring it up without anyone getting prickly or offended. Another aspect of this was that we did the book entirely online and over the phone. It’s funny, Wayne and I have known each other and have worked together for over two years now and have never met.  Never been in the same room together…

WM: Pretty amazing, huh? We’ve worked for over two years and haven’t met! And of all my many collaborations throughout the years, this was the easiest, most productive and most enjoyable experience that I’ve had.

What influence have other authors had on your writing?

SW: I think most writers start out emulating the writers they admire. For me, it was a broad cross-section. I love Robert Penn Warren’s work, as well as Twain and Hemingway. Lots of contemporary mystery authors have influenced me, I think. Elmore Leonard was among the very best. Oddly enough, as he’s often accused of writing the same story over and over, I love Dick Francis. There may be some truth in that accusation, but I don’t care. He was just so bloody good.

WM: Coming from more of a screenwriting background, my focus is primarily a visual from of storytelling. The films of Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick, Bergman, Hitchcock, Bunuel are my textbooks and guides.

Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?

SW: That’s a tough one, as my reading list is pretty much all-over-the-place. Sometimes I think I read more nonfiction than fiction. Lots and lots of history and biographies… I like the classics, though. I love Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

WM: Besides all the classics, I’m a huge fan of Richard Brautigan. C. Card of Dreaming of Babylon is one of my all time favorites. Maybe history’s worst private eye, Card finally gets a legit case, but he
doesn’t have enough money to buy bullets for his gun. His search to get bullets, while at the same time dreaming of Babylon, is a thing of beauty. You can’t make this stuff up! Until you do.

What do you do when you’re not writing or working?

SW: These days, there rarely time when I’m not writing or working. I teach full-time in a film school, am trying to maintain a writing career, and have two young children. So life’s pretty full. I do have a
couple of passions outside of work. I have a pilot’s license and used to own an airplane, although I haven’t done that in years. And I have my C-Card and love to scuba dive.

WM: What do you mean, when I’m not writing or working? Is this a trick question – there’s something else?

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

SW: The usual: read everything you can get your hands on; write like crazy and be prepared to do it for years before anybody notices, and develop a really thick hide.

WM: Steve summed it up perfectly! All I can add is — have rich parents.