View Full Version : Classic interview with Jerome T. Burrows

04-01-2010, 05:09 PM
Jerome T. Burrows (http://daconfidential.blogspot.com/) is the best-selling author of five thriller novels, three of which have been made into movies. His best known books are MERCY ME and its sequel NO MERCY, both of which topped the NYTís bestseller list. Heís also known for his frankness in interviews, and Iím grateful he sat down with me for this one.

Did you always want to be a writer growing up, or did you come to it as an adult?

Actually I was very lucky. I was on a train from NYC to DC when I saw a car drive off a bridge. It was hilarious. Anyway, I told the guy next to me that it seemed like the beginning of a mystery novel and he turned out to be an agent. He misheard what Iíd said and thought Iíd written the novel already and, to be honest, I kind of strung him along. Anyway, he said to send it to him so I dashed out a quick draft and he liked it. Heís been my agent every since.

Did you have a lot of support when you began writing, or did you suffer the same raised eyebrow most of us do? In other words, what kept you motivated at the start of your career?

Itís pretty common knowledge that I was going through a lot as my first novel was published, my wifeís sex change and then her getting the kids, so I didnít have anyone to support me, other than my black lab Trudy. Then she got hit by a car, so I bought a cat. They are less supportive than youíd think, more in the ďraised eyebrowĒ category.
What kept me going, though, was the tragedy around me, both personal and globally. As much pain as I was in, I kind of wanted to take it out on others. Hence the title of my second novel, NO MERCY, where I killed off everyone from the first book who had survived. Cheaper than therapy, so I recommend it.

What is your writing schedule?

Iím kind of old school, which means I wake up with a hangover most mornings. Sometimes Iíll still a little drunk, depending on what I had the night before and where I fell asleep. So I usually take a skinny dip in my pool to shake the bugs out and start writing about noon. I usually put out about 1,000 words in the next hour and then quit for the day. I have to spend a lot of time with whiney publishers, marketing people who couldnít sell ice in the Sahara, and even my agent whoís become a little needy in his old age, to be honest. Thatís my day up until martini time.

Do you actively look for story ideas (combing newspapers etc), or do they just come to you?

This may sound odd, but Iíve said it before and I stick by it: but I get a lot of adult magazines and comb through them. You get so many kinds of people writing in, pretty girls to generate energy to write, and weird fiction and non-fiction articles. All very inspirational. I know people say to read the newspaper, but really, corrupt politicians, bank robbers, and homeless people mugging each otheróhow interesting is any of that?

Have you ever thought about writing in a different genre?

Heavens no. What are my options? Literary fiction? No thanks, I prefer not to spend my time looking up long and flowery words where the word ďtableĒ will do. I also like plot in a novel, so lit-fic is out. Fantasy? Again, itís just notÖ interesting. Before I was denied visitation, I used to listen to my four-year-old son talk, a stream of fantastical consciousness. So I figure if a toddler can do it, anyone can and so I donít want to. That belief is reinforced every time I pick up a fantasy novel at the book store and read about clouds turning into warrior nights, or strange lands that are conveniently named in English. As for kids books, this YA and MG splurge weíre going through is ridiculous. Itís like someone out there has a checklist of creatures invented in the 1920s and thousands of writers are methodically picking on one after the other. Vampires? Done. Zombies? Doing it. Mummies? Up next. So derivative itís tedious. Canít we have a new creature? And what kind of weird kids are we having these days, if this stuff is all they can relate to? I might try a western novel next, have a real man (i.e. no insipid, pallid girly vampires), someone who rides horses, shoots Indians, and spanks his girl when she gets out of line.

Who are you favorite authors?

I admire those who tell a good story and create some atmosphere. I like Dan Brown, for example. Great plots, characters who donít wring their hands every time a squirrel gets run over, people who know what they want and go out and get it. Despite my ire over vampires, I also have a certain admiration for Stephanie Myer. She kicked off the mess but her writing is very fluid and you can taste the passion felt by her characters. As for thrillers, no one has written anything worth crowing about since Eric Ambler.

If you could offer just one piece of advice to aspiring novelists, what would it be?

Forget the prevailing wisdom that I see on sites like this, no disrespect meant. That advice is always the same: ďWrite the best book you can.Ē Horse hockey. Look, I conned my first agent into reading a draft I knocked out in less than a week. We fixed the mistakes as we went along. What Iím saying is, write as much as you can, send it out as widely as you can, and if you have to fib a little along the way, then so be it. Think a car salesman makes money by being honest? Come on. Fiction is inherently lie-telling, so itís not like an agent or publisher can be shocked when we stretch the truth to sell them a book. Tell Ďem itís finished. Tell Ďem Random House is already raving about it. Hell, tell Ďem Jerome Burrows likes it if you want. Just hope they donít call and ask me.

Do you outline your novels?

No. Novels are mind-flow. Anyone who outlines needs to give up writing and try architecture or menu-planning. Seriously, if you canít make up a story as you go along, then youíre not a story-teller. Itís that simple.

How much energy do you put into the language aspect of your novels, the ďartĒ so to speak?

Kind of like my previous answers. I donít own a thesaurus. If I donít know a word I donít try and use it, and I use words simply. I just threw a book across the room, by XX. Listen to this: ďShe sauntered lasciviously across the boardwalk, her hips gyrating as though the music from a decade of disco had congealed like cellulite at the tops of her thighs.Ē I thought it was a joke, but apparently not. The embarrassing thing is that I blurbed this piece of crap without reading it, now my name is junk.

Is there any part of being a professional, full-time writer that you don't like?

I do get lonely sometimes, writing is a lonely business. I order a lot of stuff from the internet to entertain me, books, music, even companionship, but nothing is as good as a few buddies at the bar swapping stories. Iím thinking of buying a bar and working there.

04-01-2010, 05:18 PM
That guy is hilarious. I loved Mercy Me. Do you think that stuff about his wife is true?! Never heard that one...

04-01-2010, 05:26 PM
That guy is hilarious. I loved Mercy Me. Do you think that stuff about his wife is true?! Never heard that one...

Thanks HJ. Yes, it's true. I'd heard about it but didn't want to ask directly, but he volunteered that himself. Amazing guy.

04-01-2010, 05:26 PM
Mummies! Maybe we'll see George Washington, Mummy of the Twenty-first Century on the shelf next.

Good Word
04-01-2010, 08:57 PM
Jerome T. Burroughs has been a hero of mine for a long time. His writing is frank, spare, and twisted. I interviewed his agent a while back for AW--the guy is a consummate professional.

04-02-2010, 03:44 AM
Great job, Mark!

Thanks very much, it was fun. And kudos to HeyJude for all her help and encouragement. :)

04-02-2010, 07:24 AM
Great interview! I like his outlook.

Edited on April 2nd. - (HA! Good one Mark!)

04-02-2010, 02:58 PM
And silence.

Mama can keep a secret!

(Not really. Threaten to take away my coffee and I'll spill anything.)

(Whoops. Gave it away...)

04-02-2010, 05:50 PM
Okay, friends, time to call April Fool's on this one...