Listen to them – the children of the night. What music they make! ~ Bram Stoker, Dracula
My most productive writing comes after the sun goes down. Like some manic ghoul, I type madly away, becoming more inspired as the moon rises and the sky blackens. I routinely write until 3:00 am every evening. If I’m on a roll, I’ll stretch it out till 4:00 or 4:30. I come to life at night. Somewhere in the family tree, there’s no doubt vampire blood.
This routine started out as necessity. Working at the State Department or at one of our overseas missions, of course, I was tied to an 8:15-5:30 (more like 8:15-7:00, or later) schedule. Right after dinner, I’d lock myself away and write and get as much in as possible before midnight. On weekends and holidays, I’d let myself go and succumb to my inherent vampire ways. I owe much to Newt Gingrich. His shutting down the government in late ’96 – early ’97 gave me a precious, uninterrupted month to crash on my first novel, Permanent Interests. I also grew a beard and dressed every day like a fugitive from justice. My wife at first was indulgent, then less and less so as my appearance descended into that of a character from Deliverance. Oh, men!
“All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence,” wrote Herman Melville. One imagines that Captain Ahab and the great white whale were spawned in a swale of silence as Melville, too, literally burnt the midnight oil to produce his masterpieces of fiction. But the silence of the marketplace threw him into a three-decade funk. His unfinished Billy Budd, which he was working on at the time of his death, wasn’t published until thirty-three years later.
But silence is what motivates this writer. The silence of the night, when most living things retreat to slumber, provides the uninterrupted peace of mind to create new worlds. Like “creatures of the night,” my story characters emerge from the darkness that surrounds me. They command my undivided attention, talk to me about how they plot against each other, flirt, face danger and let their emotions run rampant. I listen to them and, like a deviant court stenographer, chronicle their exploits, their frustrations, their loves, their ambitions — both realized and smitten. The beautiful Russian courtesan, Lydia, jumps out to tell me of her travails at the mercy of powerful men in Permanent Interests. The ex-East German Stasi agent, Horst Fechtmann in CHASM, explains to me that he turned to free-lance killing only as a means to comfortably retire in Key West as proprietor of his own fern bar. Society doyenne Camilla Loomis, of Tribe, pleads with me to understand why she had to conceal her trailer trash origins as she clawed her way to the top of the Washington political structure. And Yuri, alias Captain Zero in Havana Queen, ruthlessly slaughtered Castro’s minions, he says, only because they imprisoned and tortured his father and, besides, all revolutions are born in blood. These characters get under my skin, go to bed with me, and keep talking to me throughout the day. After the sun goes down and the world falls silent, I then record their tales.
The Spanish have a saying, Quién a solas se ríe, de sus maldades se acuerda. “He who laughs when he is alone is remembering his evil deeds.” A family member who slipped downstairs for a nocturnal glass of milk in my house might overhear me cackling in the solitude of my study. In the stroke of a laptop key, I may have mercilessly killed off a bad guy, or sent a corrupt politician to prison, or cuckolded a megalomaniacal plutocrat. Sometimes the affected character is taken wholecloth from my past: a wicked boss, a conceited high official, a crass military officer, a testicle-crushing ambition-crazed female colleague. In this way, writing is therapy. Do in your fantasy world what you are barred from doing in the real world — and tell the whole world about it as people buy and read your books.
So, it is 2:30 in the morning as I write this and, believe it or not, the moon is full. So, if you’ll excuse me, I must attend to my characters. They are clamoring for my attention.
James Bruno is the author of three bestselling political thrillers. He has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, in the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, regional NPR and other national and international media. His spy-mob thriller PERMANENT INTERESTS and CHASM, a thriller about war criminals, have landed simultaneously on Amazon Kindle Bestseller lists, including #1 in Political Fiction and Spy Tales. TRIBE, his latest political thriller, centered on Afghanistan, has also been an Amazon bestseller and is available in ebook and print form through all major book retailers. You can learn more about James and his books on his website and at Amazon.com.
[A version of this article originally ran on James Bruno’s Diplo Denizen blog.]