Buck Stienke is a writer you seldom see interviewed alone. I know Buck Stienke and Ken Farmer as a team, but I interviewed them separately to profile them as individuals. Together they have written a series of bestsellers without using the techniques long associated with selling books in the modern age. They do not blog. They interview together and run their own publishing company, Timber Creek Press. They have tasted success and for the people who said the western novel is dead, these guys are proof that is it alive and kicking.
I will have a joint interview for you to read soon, but enjoy Buck on his own for the moment as I ask him about his own writing experiences. How did he write his half of those bestsellers– books like Black Eagle Force: Sacred Mountain, Black Eagle Force: Blood Ivory and The Nations.
Q) I have to ask, Buck, how does it feel to be such a successful creator?
A) It’s nice to get feedback from fans who enjoy our books and screen plays. As a relatively new writer (I took a forty-year break from fiction), it certainly is no problem to create in different genres. Finding time to write is a completely different matter!
Q) So, what is the creative process like for you?
A) Neither Ken nor I use an outline in laying out the stories we tell. We set up a major premise (sometimes two or three) as the central conflict in a particular tale. Some books have two parallel stories that run concurrently, and then merge to a conclusion. Others have a series of events that affect the lives of the central characters. Once we develop the characters, generally through the use of dialogue and action, we allow the characters to tell the story. Narrative is useful in describing the action, but we don’t like to let it summarize the action. We want the reader to be brought into the story so that they feel as if they experienced it themselves. Since there is no picture in front of them, the reader must be supplied with the description to allow them to “see” they story unfold. As far as emotional scenes, I teach other writers “If you don’t feel it, the reader won’t feel it either.” In that sense, the writer must have an emotional affinity for his or her creation. If the scene is funny, we laugh at the keyboard. If we cry when we write it, I suspect the reader does, also.
Q) Many writers complain about writer’s block. How do you deal with that? Is it even something that bothers you?
A) What’s that?
Q) (Laughs) What do you feel is the essence of a good book?
A) The story is central. The characters tell the story, therefore dialogue is critical. Ken and I actually read every line of it aloud as an actor would say it. (He’s been a professional actor for over forty years.) Too many writers strive to write dialogue in complete sentences with proper syntax. The problem with that approach is people don’t actually talk like that. “Know what I mean?” (I purposely left the “Do you” off the previous phrase as it is generally understood.) Many neophytes write like people write, not like people talk, and the book suffers. I like to use the ellipsis in dialogue so that people can see a pause or hitch in the way a line is delivered. There are numerous guides to making stories interesting. We have a ton of action in our military and western books, and they would all make excellent movies from that standpoint.
Q) How do you feel about the success you are currently experiencing with your writing partner, Ken Farmer?
A) It’s gratifying to experience success with chart topping sales in Amazon’s Kindle stores worldwide. We have made friends with many of our fans on Facebook and enjoy their posts. All in all, its another way to connect with people. We also teach acting as well as writing in workshops. Success in the marketplace has given us a modicum of credibility. One side benefit is that we get asked to speak to other authors at conferences and book fairs and share our experience. We’ve been able to help others become better and more successful writers in their own right. That is satisfying and something money alone won’t buy.
Q) What would be the ultimate literary achievement for you?
A) Really, I haven’t had a specific literary goal in mind since I began writing screenplays a few years ago. It would certainly be nice to be nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay on one of our original works or one adapted from one of our books. Our style and political viewpoint is probably not compatible with Pulitzer or Nobel. So, a consolation prize of a NY Times Besteller will have to do.
Q) Many writers say that they write reams of material that they never use. How often do you write usable material? Do you throw much out?
A) My work schedule often precludes writing in a consistent manner. Often times I’m online late at night trying to find inventory for my gun store. (Sales went ballistic with the current administration’s attempts to restrict certain types of firearms.) When I can focus on writing, I can usually produce 1,500 to 3,000 words at one sitting. My record was 10,000 words without getting out of the chair, but I don’t recommend that to others as a goal. I generally don’t sit down to write unless I can clearly focus and get “in the zone.” What that translates to, is to imagine myself as the character, be it male or female, and in a process somewhat akin to transcendental meditation, move to the place and time in the story and see, hear, feel, taste, and smell the scene. I write what I experience from the vantage point of the character. It may sound crazy to someone who cannot turn loose their creative power of imagination, but believe me (or at least ask my wife!) that when I’m “in the zone,” I am not mentally at the keyboard. I might be at 30,000 feet in an life or death air battle with a J20 Chinese fighter, or crushing the throat of a Somali pirate in the Indian ocean, but I’m not sitting at a keyboard looking at a screen full of text in Lotus Word Pro. I actually almost never throw out much. Ken and I polish, edit and tweak, but rarely throw something out.
Q) Do you think a professional editor is a “must,” or can a writer edit his own work?
A) It is difficult to find editors with the technical background suitable for our type of fiction. Many have never fired a gun, fought anyone, flown a plane, or ridden a horse. We went round and round with the editors on the first book we published. It should not take longer to edit a book than it does to write it. Period. It is difficult to edit your own work. You brain plays tricks on you. Words seem to be there when they are, in fact, missing. English is very tricky, with many words pronounced the same, but spelled differently, and with vastly different meanings. Dew ewe no watt eye mean? Spell check, or as I call it Spell Czech, is helpful but certainly not infallible. I frequent mistype the word “form” in place on the word “from.” Neither Microsoft Word or Lotus Word Pro will catch that error. We have some dedicated friends who help proof our work, and for that we are eternally grateful. Ken and I edit each completed work at a rate of a chapter a day. That involves line by line mentally saying each sentence, slowly. It’s mentally exhausting, but the only way we found to cut the errors down to six or eight out of 100,000. Then we send it to our proofers to try to catch the rest. One thing we find amusing is that folks don’t seem to understand that we intentionally chose to spell some words, particularly in the westerns, phonetically to give the flavor of the different dialects spoken by different characters. “Git yer hands whar I kin see ‘em” reads differently than “Get your hands where I can see them.” Spell Czech goes bloody bonkers, but the final result is what we want the reader to hear inside their head when they read that line of dialogue in print.
Q) I don’t think many people realise how hard it is sometimes to edit a book to have the right feel. Let me ask you, have you ever had an idea that you couldn’t use?
A) In Sacred Mountain, we developed a new weapon for Mama Bird, our airborne battle aircraft carrier. It would have worked well enough, but forces of nature came to bear and made it unnecessary. Also, in the same book, the actual real life bad guy we had chosen to use was, at least in the press, killed in a raid in Pakistan. (Bummer! We were almost halfway through with the book!) We considered a rewrite, but chose to keep him and offer a plausible reason for him to have escaped being killed by the US Navy Seals. By the way, neither of us is what you would call “politically correct.” I’m not afraid to say what I think is wrong or right about the politics of any party, and certainly don’t kowtow to the leftist viewpoint that has found a home in Hollywood and in our nation’s capital. Our first editor didn’t like our use of the phrase “illegal alien.” We refused to change it to “undocumented worker.”
Q) How do you like to write? Is writing something you do during the day? The night? Is it something you “need” to do everyday? Do you like to write with music or in silence? What works for you?
A) I write when I can, usually in the evening and late at night. With seventy hours a week spent at the store or online ordering, free time is a fleeting dream. I can tune out most distractions, but as a musician (I write for and perform with guitar), I actually find music to be a distraction. I tend to want to sing along. Sorry, that’s just the way it is for me. Absolute silence lets me focus on the scene at hand, make the mental movie of the action and get locked into the zone. I write until my wife begs me to come to bed (or my trapezoid muscles of my upper back scream out for a break from the old keyboard).
Q) Thank you for your time, Buck!
A) Not a problem, Nick!
See the interview with Buck’s partner, Ken Farmer, here. Look for an upcoming interview with both of them together, discussing the future of Timber Creek Press and their long partnership.