It’s my pleasure to welcome Mystery writer Steve Yudewitz to the Member Spotlight this morning. Steve’s been a Book Country member since the early days of the site. He’s a generous reviewer, and his hard work giving feedback shows as he produces each new draft of his book DEAD MAN’S FLOAT.
Lucy Silag: Tell us about yourself: who you are and how you see yourself as a writer.
Steve Yudewitz: People describe me as quiet, loyal, and frequently prompt. I’m a secret optimist, a sports fan, fond of technology, a lover of Science Fiction, and consider myself innovative. Like many creative types, I am cursed by being fascinated about a wide variety of topics and blessed with the curiosity to learn more about almost everything. I value the remarkable array of wise, strong, funny, compassionate, talented people that make up my family and circle of friends. They constantly inspire me.
My legal background helped improve my writing by fine tuning my ability to create logical structure, and break things down into elements. Legal training has helped me synthesize large amounts of seemingly inconsistent information and helps me view scenes from multiple perspectives. It came at a price, though. Legal writing requires an ungodly level of precision in the use of language. It rewards you for things that fiction readers disdain – double negatives, jargon, and phrases like ‘res ipsa loquitor.’ Three years after earning my J.D., I was still unlearning the bad habits I picked up answering essay questions on my Constitutional Law final.
I have been churning out short stories, skits, and mediocre poetry since junior high. I see myself as a patient, persistent writer, and I constantly work to improve my technique.
LS: Where and how in your writing journey did you find Book Country?
SY: I’m always looking for ways to get another set of eyes on my writing and to interact with other writers. I had been working on the seeds of DEAD MAN’S FLOAT for awhile when I stumbled on the press release for Book Country. I was looking for a replacement for a writer’s group that I belonged to for several years and figured I’d try it out. I’ve been a member ever since.
SY: I constantly revise my manuscript with a sense of purpose. The urge to rework is occasionally triggered by a critique but is often based on fixing a chapter that doesn’t satisfy me. I’ll look at something I’ve written and say to myself “this isn’t moving the story forward”, “I’m not describing this well”, or “the characters are not reacting to the situation the way they should.” I check my notes to make sure that I haven’t missed a plot point or a chance to amp up the tension between characters. I look for ways to bring out the themes that sparked my urge to tell this story.
When another writer looks at what I’ve put together and has feedback, I try to figure out how to incorporate the suggestions. That may require a quick touch up or a lengthy rewrite. I’ve learned to go into hack and slash mode when I need to clean up a couple of bad chapters. When I edit, I refer to a checklist of pitfalls to watch for and correct.
LS: What has been the most useful feedback you have gotten on Book Country?
SY: It’s all useful, even when feedback from reviewers is contradictory. Feedback I’ve received on overused phrases has been helpful- I sometimes miss them in the revision process. I’m pretty open to critique. If something doesn’t resonate with a reviewer, I have to examine it and figure out why that is. I’ve received great feedback around pacing, and the balance of dialogue to description. A suggested change that involved the opening pages helped me make a decision that I think helps tell the story better.
LS: You’ve reviewed a lot of crime fiction on the site—have you learned anything as you are reading that helps you with your own book?
SY: First of all, I’ve rediscovered what I’ve known for awhile- a lot of high-quality unpublished writers are plugging away at manuscripts. In addition, everyone has a unique voice when it comes to writing and posesses different strengths and weaknesses. Some writers love describing gore, while others seem at their best when their characters interact. Some write strong dialogue, others are master plotters. Reading and critiquing other writer’s work is a regular reminder that we don’t need to imitate a specific style to tell our stories.
LS: It seems to be like setting is so important in a mystery. I love how in DEAD MAN’S FLOAT, you put us right in Ft. Lauderdale right away—not just with what the landscape, but also imbuing the characters themselves with a certain Floridian vibe. Tell me more about how to do characterizations that fit the setting.
I never set out to build a character that is uniquely South Floridian for DEAD MAN’S FLOAT. The characters came out of scraps of ideas, sketches, and free writes. Over time, I developed detailed back stories for all of the key players that included the undercurrents of the Broward/Miami Dade county experience. Though a lot of characters spent their early years outside of Florida, the ones that lived in Broward as kids all took family trips to Orlando, ate at the same ice cream place after going to Dania Beach, knew that if you rooted for the University of Miami, you couldn’t root for the Gators or Seminoles. They all got lost in Hialeah as soon as the street numbers changed, could easily name a dozen people who own a number 13 Dolphins jersey, and were at one time or another offered free cookies by the kind woman behind the bakery counter at Publix. If they lived in Coral Springs, they couldn’t think of a reason to ever go to Kendall and vice versa. I suppose that’s where the South Florida vibe comes from.
LS: What are your goals for this book?
SY: First off, I want to finish it, which as any writer knows is a big enough challenge. Ideally, I’d love to have it published, entertain readers, get nominated for an Edgar award, make the best seller list, and get it turned into a movie that positively changes society as a whole. What can I say? I dream big.