Journalist, Novelist, and Writing Coach John DeDakis is a former Senior Copy Editor on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer." DeDakis (pronounced deh-DAY-kiss) is the author of four novels in the Lark Chadwick mystery-suspense series.
His fourth and newest novel, Bulletin the Chamber, deals, in part, with the death of his son in 2011 due to an accidental heroin overdose.
DeDakis is a writing coach, manuscript editor, and writing workshop leader.
During his award-winning 45-year career in journalism (25 years at CNN), DeDakis has been a White House Correspondent and interviewed such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.
He lives in Baltimore and has taught journalism at the University of Maryland – College Park, novel writing at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland and at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.
John’s website: www.johndedakis.com
Thanks for letting us interrogate you! Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?
I wanted to be an author because I felt I had interesting stories to tell, and, well, yes – I wanted to be the next John Steinbeck. I believe I’ve accomplished the first. The second? Not so much.
Tell us (we won’t tell promise!)…
Is it all it’s cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
Perk # one is the kick of knowing that I’ve actually written books that people will pay money to read. The “demand” is the realization that not as many people as I’d hoped have actually done so. Good thing that writing is its own reward.
Another perk is that even though I’m not a best-selling author (or haven’t been), many doors have opened for teaching, speaking, and editing opportunities that wouldn’t have opened had I not gotten published. The demand that goes hand-in-hand with that is that much writing time is sucked up by having to market myself.
Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?
I went the traditional route because I felt I needed to prove to myself that I was enough of a professional that my writing could attract the attention of a traditional agent. I am and it did.
If I hadn’t been able to land an agent, I probably would have gone the self-pub route. In many ways, traditional publishing and self-publishing share one common component: You have to do most of the work of promoting your book. That is unless you’re a brand-name author and don’t need a publisher’s dwindling promotional dollars. It seems to me that traditional publishers promote their stars while the rest of us – traditional and self-pubbed – have to do it ourselves.
Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
To be honest, it was a sore spot with my wife when I was writing my first novel back in the late 1990s. At one point, she referred to it as “your mistress.” So, finding the balance between work, writing, and family was always a struggle. I’m “retired” now and she’s become more, um, accepting. Maybe even proud of me. At times.
In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?
That’s a good and very realistic, practical question. Cindy and I have been married 38 years. We’re a good team. But, honestly, she’s a better mom than I am a dad. In those years when the kids were little, I often felt as if the walls were closing in. I can only imagine how much more so that felt like for her.
I was fortunate, though. For many of those writing years, I worked the overnight shift at CNN, so when I got home at, say, eight in the morning, the kids were in school, Cindy was at work, and I had a few quiet hours to write. But, often on weekends, or on family vacations, I was “there,” but not “present.” I’m not proud of that.
What was the craziest or most insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?
I’m at a Barnes & Noble, standing behind a table piled high with copies of my latest novel. It’s a daunting task to hand-sell your book to a stranger when thousands of other books are clamoring for attention. So, I don’t sit back passively and wait for customers to beg me to sign a copy of my book for them. It’s not gonna happen.
As I stand there, I make eye contact (if possible), and, if I’m really lucky, say something clever like, “Hi, how’s it goin’?” Many times that turns into a mutually satisfying conversation – and sometimes even a book sale.
But as this particular day grinds on, I see a woman a few yards away from me, studying the array of books piled on the “recently released” table.
Suddenly, I come up with what I think is the question that will lead to pay dirt:
Me: “Are you browsing?” (I’m thinking that if the answer’s yes, then chances are she’s at least open to hearing my 30-second pitch.)
Her: “No, I’m just looking.” (She smiles then resumes browsing the “just released” books.)
How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
I love Facebook. It’s extremely dynamic. But it can be a time-suck if you let it. I grudgingly use Twitter, but rarely. I’m just not presidential material, I guess.
Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
Let’s face it: John Grisham has nothing to worry about from me. I make more money editing people’s manuscripts and leading writing workshops than I do selling books. But, if I hadn’t gotten published, I wouldn’t be doing those things that I love.
Even so, writing novels is its own reward. The payoff there is intangible: the satisfaction of knowing I’ve written a good story, and the wonderful experience of being able to make so many new friends. So, I might not be as effective as I’d like to be “making the sales happen,” but that shortcoming is made up immeasurably by the richness of the people who are in my life.
What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
Even though I have an agent, my first two novels are print-on-demand. That has led some bookstores to incorrectly assume that my novels are self-published. They’re not. But many bookstores don’t like to stock self-published books because, for one reason, they’re not returnable. So, sometimes getting mistakenly lumped in with self-published books has been frustrating. But I’m over it now. I’ve moved on. (Got any wine?)
Okay, too much sugar for you today! Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in. Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above don’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
You just said it best. Now, peel me a grape.