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“Five things you need to know to become a great author” with A.D. Hopkins

Outline! I used to write stories with each paragraph simply suggesting the next, like a rambling conversation. Some liked those stories, but if they didn’t read the whole thing they might miss the best part. Outlining a newspaper story puts the important parts first; outlining a novel draws a map of how to tell the […]

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Outline! I used to write stories with each paragraph simply suggesting the next, like a rambling conversation. Some liked those stories, but if they didn’t read the whole thing they might miss the best part. Outlining a newspaper story puts the important parts first; outlining a novel draws a map of how to tell the story, and divides it into manageable and logical chapters.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing A.D. Hopkins. A.D. is a lifelong journalist who has worked in Virginia, North Carolina, and Las Vegas, and is a member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame. Besides his new novel “The Boys Who Woke Up Early,” he edited and co-wrote “The First 100,” a history of Las Vegas. He has edited magazines on gambling, Southwestern travel, and history, and is an authority on early Nevada gunfighters.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

When I was 13 or 14 I was sick in bed and I was bored, so I wrote a short story. People said it was good so I decided to write more.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

My newspaper had reported that a crooked gambler, who had been convicted of fixing basketball games elsewhere, was hanging around the UNLV basketball team. The team was extremely good and therefore beloved, so everybody said that could not be true. Then I published photos of this gambler sitting in his backyard hot tub with three members of the team. UNLV boosters were outraged — not at what the photos implied, but at me for publishing them. People tailed me around town; the gambler’s cronies planned to have me beaten up, but I managed to avoid that. Somebody put up a $30,000 reward for the identity of the person who gave me the photos, but we kept it secret until he voluntarily came out more than a year later. I had to keep my notes in code because somebody at the newspaper was reading my computer files and leaking them to the people trying to kill the scandal.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In one of my stories a dog drank from a dripping outdoor faucet, though the dog supposedly had rabies. Then somebody told me that dogs with rabies don’t drink; that’s why the disease is called hydrophobia. Lesson I took away is that if a plot turns on whether a character has some malady, the character must act in a manner consistently with having that malady, if he does have it, and inconsistently if he does not.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Everybody wants me to write a sequel to “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” I may have to do it because otherwise I won’t be able to get the idea out of my head!

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

An editor taught me to know clearly what I am going to say before I start writing. I never used to do that, and that leads to unfinished books. Now I outline even a short article before I write it. Not necessarily a formal outline with capital letters and Roman numerals in the proper hierarchy, but some kind of plan.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

It was pretty interesting when the central character, Stony, and his kissing cousin Gina, who think they’re living in an utterly respectable small town, find a closet full of Ku Klux Klan robes. They find them in a building owned by Gina’s dad, so they have to keep their discovery secret.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

It’s young people who often lead the way in social change. Sometimes they don’t even realize they’re doing it. And even flawed people sometimes do good things.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

It’s easy to be too busy with career and other interests to find a regular time to write. But I had insomnia, so I decided that every time I couldn’t sleep, I would write. Those times became my most productive hours, and writing also pushed worries and all other concerns out of my mind. After an hour or two of writing, I always slept well.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I’m affected by Charles Willeford’s and Elmore Leonard’s South Florida caper novels, because these guys truly know what evil lurks in the heart of man. My heroes overcome that evil and my villains don’t, but both harbor evil. I also like J.R.R. Tolkien for his ability to build believable worlds out of whole cloth, and S.E. Hinton because she wrote utterly believable and engaging stories about boys the same age as my main characters.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

I hope it encourages readers to act boldly. I want readers to realize they’re a little brighter or at least better informed than my naïve main characters, and that “If those bozos can do some cool stuff, I’ll bet I can too!”

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

Listen to people who tell interesting stories, and think about what makes them interesting. If you don’t already know the subject intimately, learn a lot about it. Fill your writing with details that evoke the time and place.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Outline! I used to write stories with each paragraph simply suggesting the next, like a rambling conversation. Some liked those stories, but if they didn’t read the whole thing they might miss the best part. Outlining a newspaper story puts the important parts first; outlining a novel draws a map of how to tell the story, and divides it into manageable and logical chapters.

“You write about an army when it’s at war; you write about gamblers when they’re gambling.” This was advice given me by the late novelist Ed Silberstang. I remembered that years earlier I had written about a young reporter developing a friendship with a criminal who had tried to rob him. Some readers found the way they met, and thus the whole story, hard to believe. It would have worked much better if the characters had become friends in the context of the reporter’s work on the crime beat.

Don’t try to be another version of a living writer. I tried to be William Faulkner, but the job was taken, and I don’t know that Faulkner himself much liked the job. When I tried it, people pointed out they’d already been required to read all the Faulkner they would ever need.

Don’t write as if your generation invented dope, criminal behavior, or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Characters may have any or all of them, but they need other traits and activities to be interesting. I once heard an editor say she hoped never to see another “Jill’s-first-prom story or another Jack-gets-laid story.”

Nobody is so good he doesn’t need an editor. One of Stephen King’s novels has a character thinking about suicide and holding his pistol, which is identified as a Colt Woodsman, a famous .22 semiautomatic. Later this character is found dead with a .38 revolver in his hand, and the attentive reader will assume this means the character did not really commit suicide, because that’s not his pistol in his hand. The reader expects, on the basis of this clue, to find out who murdered this character. At end of book one realizes it wasn’t a clue; just a dumb mistake.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to hook up homeless people with work that needs doing and figure a way to pay them enough to house and feed and clothe them. When I was growing up almost nobody had to beg on the street; now it’s commonplace. I don’t know how to get back to the way it was, but I’d like to.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

AD Hopkins.author is my Facebook page. I post on news and topics related to my writing, my book’s setting in the mountains of the South, and about writing in general. I post every Monday, and sometimes more frequently.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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