Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taking the Leap--Ace Collins: Part 1

With a name like Ace Collins, you'd either need to be an actor or writer. Too great of a name to waste. Ace started writing 25 years ago and has written over 50 books since. He's written the range of biographies--from Evel Knievel to Bette Midler, to a book on Lassie. His "Stories Behind" series have covered Christmas songs and traditions, and heroes of faith. Ace's latest nonfiction, Sticks and Stones, is about making the words you use each day count in others' lives.

Besides writing, Ace gets around a lot. He's been on TV, including Good Morning America, The Today Show, CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox and Friends, The NBC Nightly News, Entertainment Tonight, Court TV, E The Untold Story, At Home Live, The Early Show and Crook and Chase. And he averages more than 250 radio interviews a year. In his spare time (?) Ace restores classic cars. And he's very accessible to readers, particularly through his Facebook page.

What's not to like about this guy?

Ace had one thing missing. He hadn't written fiction. Enter Farraday Road, Ace's first novel, and the debut in his Lije Evans mystery series.

How does a successful nonfiction author cross over into fiction? What are the pitfalls, the joys and sorrows? What's to learn? Today and tomorrow I present Ace's story, written specifically for Forensics and Faith, about how he made the leap.

I had written more than sixty nonfiction books for twenty different publishers when Zondervan asked me if I would like to try my hand at a fiction series. Yes, over the years I had outlined a few ideas for novels and had even written one for fun (still unpublished), but my identity was so firmly cemented in nonfiction I figured I was forever “typecast.” Thus, the chance to break out and grow in a new area was one that I couldn’t refuse.

I submitted several concepts to the editors. I was surprised when they chose an idea, “Innocence on Trial,” that I had actually created when I was college. At the time I was too inexperienced and undisciplined to tackle the project. All these years later I knew I had found the discipline, but I wondered did I have the talent to make the leap? After all, Zondervan had a stable of novelists including Brandilyn Collins, James Scott Bell, Terri Blackstock and Karen Kingsbury, who had set the bar very high. So, for the first time in years, I had strong doubts as I signed the contract.

Before I could actually begin to flesh out my novel I had two nonfiction projects I had to complete. The time it took to write those gave me an opportunity to fill a journal with ideas I wanted to employ in “Innocence on Trial.” Six months later, when I actually stared at the outline, my notes and the finished sample chapters, I was again overwhelmed. Could I really sustain a story?

My editor had set a goal of carving out a new niche for inspirational fiction. I was to create a series of books that were similar to the adventure found in mainstream author Clive Cussler’s initial Dirk Pitt novels. Yet I wanted a much more human lead than Cussler’s Pitt. I wanted Lije Evans to be forced into his role, a man who didn’t want to be a hero but had no choice. Thus, as Lije searched for a calling he could display doubts and fears rarely seen in secular heroes. This concept gave me a chance to not just explore the mystery hidden in the pages, but to delve into the mind of the lead character.

Once I began the actual writing, I found myself surprised by two things. The first was how easy it was to sit down and create. My problem was not with writer’s block, but with having too many ideas wanting to come out of my head all at once. The second element that shocked me was how I soon lost control of my outline. Within the first hundred pages I realized that the folks I had created would not react in the way I had originally written the outline. So as I wrote, my characters changed my story. While the actual adventure and mystery remained firmly anchored, the characters living that story took me into areas I had not foreseen. In my mind that is the biggest difference I found in writing fiction and nonfiction. In the former I always stick to the facts at hand and I direct the flow on the pages, while in the latter the story actually leads me.

In one key part of the book, when I had trapped my “Scoopy Crew” in a cave, I realized none of them had the skills to cope in this environment. Thus, I had to go back several chapters and introduce a new character into the story. Janie, who was blind, was never intended to become a part of the team, but rather to be the person who was needed as a guide for the moment. Yet her personality, insight and wisdom were so strong, she demanded more (yes, fictional characters make demands). So Janie remained an important facet of this story and carved out a spot as a major player in all future Lije Evans Mysteries.


Tomorrow--Part 2, the highs and lows.

Become Ace's Facebook friend--(tell him I sent you.)

Read his full bio--full of interesting stuff.

Web site, with info on all Ace's books.


Rosslyn Elliott said...

I enjoyed this interview, especially the discussion of what happened to your outline as you wrote. Thanks, Ace and Brandilyn.

Julie Garmon said...

I appreciate this interview. I'm a non-fiction writer trying to do the switcheroo too.


Sheila Deeth said...

Nice to meet you again Ace, and interesting interview.

Ace Collins said...

Thanks for you kind words and thank you Brandilyn for asking me to create this blog.

Ace Collins said...

I actually meant your kind words. Where is my editor when I need her?