Q & A with Alan

 When did you start writing?

When I was in sixth grade, my best friend John and I decided to write a sequel to WAR OF THE WORLDS. We got about three pages done before we took a break to play basketball. That break lasted decades. I'm happy to say John is still one of my most valued advance readers.

 Where do you get your ideas?

It might be nice if you could subscribe to a service, like Netflix, where they send you ideas—three at a time. After you're done with one, you would return it—postage paid—and they'd send you another. (What, too easy?) Actually, I'm lucky. Ideas just seem to come to me—in the shower, while I'm running, waiting in line at the post office. My head is overflowing with ideas. Many of them stink, but there are a few gems in the jumble. The challenge is to find, feed, and nurture the good ones.

 Do you outline, or are you a "seat-of-the-pantser?"

I start with a vague outline. The beginning of my story is outlined in more detail, while the end is a lot blurrier. It gets crystallized as I move through the story toward the end. I will say, however, that I know which characters and elements I want in the final, climactic scene before I start writing the first chapter. I also try to complete short character profiles before I begin writing. I find it helps me keep everything—and everyone—straight. I'm not so good with names.

 How much do you write per day?

I find I work best when I set daily/weekly quota goals. Depending on the story, I like to shoot for 1500 - 2000 words per day, five days a week. Sometimes I don't get there, but I try to catch up quickly. Of course, that's at first draft quality. I'll spend at least as much time rewriting and editing (okay, sometimes a lot more) as I do writing it the first time.

 What kind of research do you do?

Whatever it takes to get the details down and achieve a high degree of verisimilitude (I love that word). I've gone on police ride-alongs, visited the county detention facility, gone to the shooting range. I've talked to diamond experts, detectives, and stained-glass artisans; visited radio production facilities; hiked through the woods—even gone to open-mic nights at comedy clubs. Let me tell you, the open-mic nights were the most terrifying experiences of all! (And I was simply a spectator!)

 What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Well, it's not "write what you know." If it were, I'd have very short—and boring—books.

Write a lot. Read a lot. Take a few writing classes to learn the basics. Surfing the Internet can be an effective way to pick up a lot of information, but you need to be careful. There's plenty of good stuff out there; unfortunately there is a fair amount of garbage mixed in. Use sound judgment to separate the worthwhile from the bad. I've always found going to talks, book festivals, and writing conferences to be quite valuable—I learn a lot, meet a ton of great people, and find that it recharges my writing batteries.

 Why write a series about a stand-up comic?

Ever since I was a teenager and snuck into a comedy club at a resort in the Catskills, I've been fascinated by comedians. I think there's a fine line between comedy and tragedy that informs many comics' routines, and I thought it would be fun to explore that.

Of course the best part is when you "have to" watch Comedy Central in the name of research.

 Why do you set your books in the Northern Virginia suburbs (including Reston, VA)?

I'm fascinated by suburbia. Dull and monotonous on the outside, teeming with intrigue on the inside. And Reston was one of the country's first planned communities. To this day, they have strict developmental guidelines about what kinds of things you can do with your property, what colors you can paint your door, things like that. I think people's lives are messy—you can't always adhere to a rigid set of guidelines and still be happy—and I enjoy the dichotomy between the perfect plastic exterior and the inner chaos.

Plus I live there.

 Would you like everyone to read your books?

Sure. Buy them as printed books. Download them for your e-reader. Borrow them from the library. I don't care how you get them, as long as you read and enjoy them. (Just don't steal them).