Ace Collins has written more than sixty books and has three nonfiction and one novel coming out in 2009. He writes becomes he loves to write. He often thinks back to his days of starving to death in the business, a time when he was substitute teaching and officiating basketball games, as great times, because it was such a challenge each week to come up with enough new ideas and sell enough magazine stories to make it until the next week. Those testing times created the environment needed for great growth. His lifelong goal of creating fiction was finally realized after three decades of writing nonfiction. He feels it was worth every moment of work to finally get to hold a dream in his hand. That dream was Farraday Road.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
I outlined Farraday Road when I was a college student three decades ago. So in a very real sense this book has very old roots.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
The original concept was about an attorney who
had no enemies who was murdered along with his wife. As I wanted the victim to have to solve his own death, I decided the EMTs would bring him back to life. This allowed me to create a plot where a man was dealing with a great loss, a sense of rage, a feeling of being powerless and being driven to solve a mystery. I dreamed up the entire scenario just to allow the lead character to uncover his calling. That calling will become clear in the second book in the series, Swope’s Ridge
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
Lije Evans is a man who begins the book with very little substance. He is nice, but has no depth. In the situation he is tossed into, he must develop as a person in order to cope with his loss and the mystery he is trying to solve. Eventually he evolves into a reluctant hero, but it takes some time and some trials.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
I really enjoy every facet of it. It is hard work, but there was nothing I felt was taxing. In fact, once I start a novel I literally have problems sleeping. It will not leave me alone. I love developing the characters. Creating people with nuances and depth appeals to me. I have one blind person in the book and she was a joy to write because she “saw” the world so much differently than I would. Thus she forced me to grow in my own vision.
What made you start writing?
I was always a reader, so the writing was natural. I decided in third grade I was going to write a novel. Started one then. After a short career in public relations and coaching basketball, I fell into writing nonfiction books and magazine stories. I had editors that honed my craft, gave me the experience and finally lifted me to a point where I felt I could do justice to my fiction ideas.
What does your writing space look like?
My office walls are filled with memorabilia from 1930s Hollywood. I love old movies and have collected stuff from that era for years. I also do some writing in our game room that looks like a 1950s malt shop. So I guess you could say that I kind of step out of the present when I go into a creative mode. It is nothing I planned to do when I began my career, but in removing myself from the concerns of the present world, I am probably better able to focus on and become completely lost in my work.
What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?
I run 40 sixty-yard sprints five days a week for exercise. I also ride bikes. Those are stress relievers. I keep up with college football and basketball (the latter is a passion) and restore pre-World War II classic cars. I actually put one of those cars, a 1936 Cord 810 Westchester Sedan, in Farraday Road. Another one, a 1934 Auburn 652Y Sedan, plays a pivotal part in Swope’s Ridge. In real life I try to drive my old cars at least once a week to the post office, bank or Wal-Mart. Finally, I love Turner Classic Movies and watch a lot of classic films.
Obviously my family is very important to me. I am involved with both my sons in activities they enjoy. My wife and I are best friends, so we do all kinds of things together. I also lead singing at our church.
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
You will laugh at this, but it’s sleeping. The novel and the character will not let me go, so I literally have problems going to sleep at night. The other facet that is difficult is the last week I am working on the book. It is then I realize that these people I have created will be going away soon. It might seem strange, but they have become so real to me that I hate to say goodbye to them.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
I put facets of my life experience into the books, and many of the characters have traits that come from people I know, but I don’t see myself in those I create. I guess each of the characters must contain a part of me, because they come out of my head, but I don’t do that intentially.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
The goal of any novel should be to create a special world and bring the reader someone or something they care about. Also, it has to entertain readers. In my case I think the characters are presented to make people think about their own lives and goals. We are all searching for a calling in one way or another, no matter our stage of life, and by being witness to these characters involved in such a search in the pages of my books, it might move the reader closer to finding their own calling.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
Once I lock onto the hook, I do what I call a super outline. With each chapter or stage of the book planned, I begin the writing process at the beginning. What I find in each book is as the characters grow, they change the course of the book itself. In Farraday Road I trapped my crew in a situation where I realized none of them had the skills to get out. Thus I had to go back and insert another character that had those. She became such a strong personality, I kept her.
I also pull a lot of my ideas from real life events or news stories. Thus I find ways to include new studies or new concepts within the body of the novel. In Swope’s Ridge there is a man who has a newly discovered syndrome that I think readers will find fascinating. His “affliction” does help us solve a huge mystery too.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
I love the early stuff by Clive Cussler. I was influenced early in my life by Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A lot of my mystery inspiration also comes from listening to old radio programs from the 1930s and 1940s. There was some great writing going on in programs like Boston Blackie, Richard Diamond, The Whistler, The Saint and many other programs that aired during the Golden Age of radio.
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?
Courage to submit ideas and the self-discipline to carry those ideas through.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
Zondervan is so good at marketing me, I don’t really do much but follow the marching orders from the experts. I do find radio interviews to be a great way to get the news out there. I also post a sample chapter on my website of each of my books. I think when readers get to take a free test drive they become more likely to want the book.
I also try to keep in contact with anyone who had read one of my books and then taken the time to email me. I ask them questions about the characters and scenes they liked. I want them to feel like they are an important part of the process, because they are. I learn from what they share with me.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
I have a novel set in the new future called “Past Imperfect Future Unsure,” I want to land a home for. I think it is a really fun ride. I also am developing a book series set in World War II concerning a man who has lost his identity and doesn’t know which side he is on. As he races to find out who he was, both the Germans and the Allies are on his trail thinking he is working for the other side. It is called the “Unknown Soldier” and the man literally had no where to hide.
I also have three nonfiction books that are coming out in 2009 and at least two more in 2010. Sticks and Stones is being released right now, Stories Behind Heroes of Faith comes out later this spring and 25 Days 26 Ways To Make This Your Best Christmas Ever will be out in time for the next holiday season.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
When kids ask me about getting into this business I tell them to remember that writing is a team project. None of my projects are “me” projects, they are “we” projects. It takes a team of editors, designers, promotional staff and a great sales force to create a successful book. Each of these people is as important, if not more important, to the success of the books as I am.