Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sophie's Question for Keith Raffel

You've been a successful entrepreneur in a high-tech environment, where the pace was no doubt frantic and the stakes were high. How was the transition to the relatively solitary and self-directed life of an author?

You know, Sophie, I don’t find a career as a writer to be a solitary one at all. A highlight every year is hanging with you and other compadres at ThrillerFest, Bouchercon, and Left Coast Crime. As you know from personal observation , I mean to go to one terrific panel or another, but often end up drinking tea in the lobby or beer in the bar with you or another pal. (In photo at left that's you, Alex Sokoloff, Jim Rollins, and me at ThrillerFest 2009.)

On a more regular basis, I call my friend Larry to kvetch. And I have three or four other friends who read my manuscripts and give me feedback. If I’m dying of loneliness, I can always call my agent who pretends to be glad to hear from me. I’ll be spending the rest of this month and most of November on the road visiting bookstores. What’s better than meeting with people who have or will read your book? Listening to what readers like – and even what they don’t – provides inspiration and impetus for the next book.

In terms of discipline, working in high tech and writing are surprisingly similar. In the former we used project management software to ensure that a product stays on schedule. About two years ago, I wrote a little spreadsheet program to manage the writing process. I get a real charge of staying on my schedule of 5-7000 words a week. Of course, the writing process is not mechanical. Inspiration and creativity are vital, and you can’t force them. Still, the best way to find them is to keep writing on a schedule.

When I’m really rolling, I don’t write at home. My wife isn’t pleased because we outfitted an office in the house with a nice desk and bookshelves. It kind of looks like the place an author should churn out masterpieces. (As if….) The trouble is that we have Wi-Fi at home. I’ve discovered I average about 150 words per hour sitting at my desk. What happens? I get stuck at the end of a paragraph and say to myself, “Oh let me check email while I’m thinking things through.” Twenty minutes later I’m reading about Ramses the Great in Wikipedia. The cafĂ© I write in has no Wi-Fi (or really it’s $15 per day which amounts to the same thing). I’m sort of like Norm on the TV show Cheers there. Everyone who works there knows me, they know I’m on deadline. They’re friendly and incredibly supportive. They even turn down the music when I come in. I’ve worn out the piping on the couch where I sit. It’s a community.

Sophie, I’ve been procrastinating, dancing around the real answer to your question, so here it is: When I’m writing that first draft of any manuscript, I’m not alone. I’m in a parallel universe where I become the narrator/protagonist of whatever I’m writing. When I wrote Smasher, I was Ian Michaels who interacts with his wife, his mother, his work colleagues all the time. Sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? Well, to quote E.L. Doctorow, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” In fact, when I finish a manuscript, I’m kinda lonely. I miss being Ian and hanging with the other characters.

See you tomorrow!
As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at


Jen Forbus said...

Hey Sophie, maybe Keith can text you each day and make sure you got to your writing goal - call you names if you didn't! ;)

Everyone make sure they pop over to my blog today...I have 2 Criminal Minds sharing their memoirs!! :)

Diana Orgain said...

Great post, Keith. I have a spreadsheet too - and a cafe - oh and we did also build a home office...oh my! I think it might be time to dust off the spreadsheet and head on out to the cafe!

Sophie Littlefield said...

Great answers, Keith. It's true, writing for me is a dizzying pendulum swing between full-on character crush and pensive solitude. I too love the company of other writers (uh....obviously, as anyone who's been mowed down by me at a conference knows) and have learned to reach out to them via email, online, phone etc. to get through tough days.

And since I know where you work, I can confirm that the Raffel "office" is a mighty fine place to rack up the word count! "More tea, Mr. Raffel....?"

Sophie Littlefield said...

and Jen, that's a great idea. Keith? I expect a text from you, but give me until 5pm so I have something to report!
PS Jen - great memoirs today!!

Shane Gericke said...

I know what you mean, Keith, by home being too swell to write in. At this very moment I'm sitting on the deck,writing this note while smoking a fine ceegar and drinking coffee. This is, of course, research and, uh, fine-tuning plot points for my fourth thriller, which is about, um, well, that's why I'm researching.

I need a little cafe. But only if you will visit and say, "More tea, Mr. Gericke?"

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Congrats on your launch (which I only know about because I read Sophies comment. You can and should put that stuff in your blog posts too!).

I tend to hide in my lovely cave when I'm not at conferences or on tour. But I do have a serious and inappropriate crush on a character right now. He's exploiting it to get a higher word count and not be brutally murdered too.

Laura Benedict said...

I so empathize with the distracted-by-Internet thing, Keith. But we always have interesting dinnertime conversation because I've stumbled on the recipe for Cat's Eye Soup or a video on how to make Spam. Lucky you, having such a supportive community. I write outside of my office mostly because it's too messy.

Bouchercon was the best--so fun to see you all! But, uh, Shane? What are you doing smoking cigars?! You must be feeling better! ; )

Kelli Stanley said...

Wonderful post, Keith! I wish I had a couch and someone to fetch tea for me ... my dog resolutely refuses to fetch anything but slippers, and believe me, you don't want to wear them after he does (reminds me of Lucy Van Pelt yelling "My lips touched dog lips!" on the Charlie Brown Special ... but I digress). ;)

It was wonderful to get to see everybody at B'con, though too briefly. We never had a chance to hold our CM par-tay, either. I don't know where the time went! It sure wasn't spent sleeping, 'cause I'm still exhausted! At least I can come see you at one of your signings and hopefully see Soph, too. She is amazingly disciplined, and I hope I'll be able to get some focus in on my next book as soon as I wake up. :)

xoxo to you all!

Keith Raffel said...

Kelli, before reading your comment, I'd figured there was a Criminal Minds party that I wasn't invited, too. Sophie, send me your cell number and I'll send you little encouraging texts. Shane, sure I'd enjoy waiting you (as soon as the sun rises in the west. Yes, Diana, WRITE! Rebecca, in re to last night, over 100 people at the launch. Lots of fun. Laura (the fashion icon), what a delight it was to see you and your outfits in Indy.

Kelli Stanley said...

Keith, my dear, you are a CM through and through and will be at any party we're lucky to have ... we had neither a quorum nor conducive schedules this time 'round.

Glad to hear about the SRO for your launch!! Smash 'em, baby, smash 'em! :)


Shane Gericke said...

You will be charmed to learn, Laura, that starting that fine ceegar was the stupidest thing I've ever done. I thought I was feeling better. Took the first deep puff and hacked till the cows came home. Sheesh. Guess it's gonna be awhile yet.

Shane Gericke said...

Congrats, Keith, on the fine launch. A hundred folks is a great outpouring!

I hear there's a place in New Orleans that, because of the bend in the river, the sun DOES rise in the west. I'll take my tea with sugar, no cream, please :-)

Sophie Littlefield said...

hey KR, will send you my cell # on the DL, but for now let me just say that I didn't *quite* get to 3k today. If you'd texted me I'm sure I would have. :)

Can't wait to see what you've cooked up for us tomorrow...

Jen Forbus said...

WHAT SOPHIE?! You didn't make your goal? What were you doing? Slacking? I'll have none of that!!!

See Keith, no nice notes. You must be firm and make Sophie meet her goal!! LOL

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