Shaye Mann is a former comedian turned trial lawyer, and now author of the novel The Executive Graveyard. Born and raised in New York City, Shaye migrated west to follow his passion of exploring the mountains and canyons of the Southwest. Shaye currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife and three boys, He spends his free time hiking, writing, reading, and following his beloved New York sports teams.
Time to chat with Shaye!
What is your latest book?
Right now, The Executive Graveyard is available on the market and I’m currently working on a legal thriller called “The Privilege.” I can’t wait until it’s finished! I’ve been excited about it since I conceived of the idea several years ago.
You’re a former comedian. Although you’re not writing funny books, has your talent for comedy helped your writing in any way?
What? You don’t think my books are funny? Okay … you’re right, I’m writing crime fiction. But yes, my background in comedy has been invaluable. A good comedian picks up on the little things, the nuances of life and then creatively exaggerates their description to entertain others. So, from doing stand-up, I’m almost trained to find those nuances. Since they’re often the little things about life, or descriptions of characters or places, they only serve to enhance my writing.
Is your recent book part of a series?
No. It seems like everyone in the publishing industry thinks writing a series is the way to go. And they’re probably right, from a business standpoint. But to me, writing is about being creative and entertaining and the thing I love about stand-alone books is that each one requires a new, unique idea. That has always excited me as a reader, and now it excites me as a writer. That’s not to say you won’t see recurring characters but right now, I have a bevy of ideas for books and each one is it’s own entity.
How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?
I’ve always been fascinated with the way intricate crimes are solved. The use of the intellect and deductive reasoning to solve puzzles with limited pieces, is something that still intrigues me. So I love writing and creating those kinds of stories.
I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?
Yes, thank you. I just saved 15% on my car insurance with Geico! Sorry Flo.
What else have you written?
Notes for my kids to skip school, classified ads, bad checks.
What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?
That we aren’t good or talented writers because, for one reason or another, we didn’t obtain a publishing deal. Some of the best and well-known writers started out this way and with all the changes in the publishing industry, with ebooks and print on demand, I anticipate we’ll see more and more talent deliberately pursue their careers as independent artists.
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
Not very often. If they do, I get worried that maybe I don’t have things figured out as much as I should. First thing I do for each character is make a laundry list of personality traits, and things that may have happened in their lives that may shape what they are on the page. Some or most of that won’t necessarily end up in the book but it allows me to get to know each character intimately. And once I know who the character is, I write their scenes with their actions being what a person in their shoes would do and say next. And so, if a character were to do or say something totally unexpected, I’d be concerned that maybe I don’t know the character as well as I should.
Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?
This is going to be strange but for my first book, The Executive Graveyard, I started by writing only the scenes involving Wyatt Orr, the protagonist. And I did that because I had trouble with what my subplot(s) would be, and so rather than fighting a form of writer’s block, I wrote what I had already figured out. And once that was done, things magically started falling into place. I hope not to do it again, but for The Executive Graveyard, it worked out well.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
The ending? No. I don’t yet know the ending of the The Privilege. I have some ideas of what it may be, but I won’t make a decision until I get there. The title, however, is extremely important for me to know early on. If I have a good working title, I can start to envision the book and the cover, and it adds to my excitement. And that pushes me harder to get it written!
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
Both. I’m nuts with editing. I did about seven drafts of The Executive Graveyard before I hired a professional editor to help me finish the manuscript. I hope not to need seven rounds with The Privilege, but I will definitely hire a professional editor when I’m ready. Readers deserve a well-polished, professional book and even though I’m an indie author, I feel an obligation to provide that.
Over the years, many well-known authors have stated that they wished they’d written their characters or their plots differently. Have you ever had similar regrets?
How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?
It’s paramount. I try and choose names for characters that will help the reader envision a certain character. And of course, if I have, say a killer, and I want it to be difficult to figure out who it is, I might be inclined to give the character a name one wouldn’t normally associate with a hardened criminal. So the saying “What’s in a name?” means a lot to me. And yes, in The Executive Graveyard, I did change a character’s name because the first name I gave the character just wasn’t right.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?
Of course, that’s my job! Writing crime fiction or murder mysteries, if you don’t write characters you truly despise, then it’s probably not good enough.
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?
If you can find out for me why that is, I would be ever so grateful. I wish I knew. But it goes to show you that there can be a market for just about anything. And that’s why the best advice for writers is to keep writing. And with that comes the next question…
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Sure. Follow your dream and put pen to paper. Now is the best time in history to do that. Can’t get a publishing deal, you can always self-publish. That also means you’ll have full control over your book. And as long as you’re willing to deal with sleepless nights, maybe on … say a park bench, you’ll be fine! But seriously, so long as you’re willing to market and promote yourself, it’s a worthwhile venture.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
It took me ten long years to write and edit the book. I pitched it to a bunch of agents and had a fair amount of interest. But I realized that it could take a very long time, to get an agent and then a publishing deal. And even then, it could be several years until your book is printed. So, I decided that I couldn’t that long and grabbed the proverbial bull and published it myself. I haven’t looked back.
There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?
Trial and error, and lots of (sometimes horror) stories from other authors. I’m a part of several author groups on Facebook and if there’s an issue I need help with, I’ll call on other members for advice.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
I use Twitter and Facebook. I’m not a big fan of Facebook, but I do like Twitter. I like the creativity required to fit a message into a small box (140 characters). I don’t, however, like the fact that it isn’t easy to see your efforts translate into book sales!
Do you have any grammatical pet peeves to share?
Not really pet peeves but I’m a big fan of the comma and semi-colon. I think the semi-colon is highly misunderstood and deserves a wider role in American literature!
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
A ton. I had to study police procedure, and park procedure since The Executive Graveyard takes place in Zion National Park. I had to have my landmarks correct, and my descriptions on target. I also needed to learn the interplay between the various law enforcement agencies. I visited the park numerous times and interviewed as many rangers, employees, and local law enforcement as I could. In the end, one of the local Sheriffs read the book, and posted a review on Amazon expressing how accurate the interplay between the various agencies was. That was very gratifying.
Is there a question I haven’t asked you that you would like to answer? If so, what is it?
Okay, how about: Do you think there’s anything special or unique about your voice or your writing? The Answer is yes. I try to include a life message in each of my works, something that the reader can take and apply to his or her daily life. The Executive Graveyard has a life message, something I think all of us overlook and take for granted. Is it earth shattering, or something you never knew before? I’d say no. But to read and enjoy a story, and then be able to apply what you’ve read to your own life is very special. So I strive to achieve that in each of my works.
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
My wife is the only one who reads or hears about each chapter as I write them, and that’s because she’s too impatient to wait until the book is done! Otherwise, I don’t want anyone reading piecemeal work since he or she won’t know where I’m going with the story. Thus, their input won’t be of much help and if they don’t like it, I could see that playing head games with me and affecting my confidence. So, no.
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the feedback I’ve received for The Executive Graveyard. I mean, I’m confident in myself and I know The Executive Graveyard is an excellent story. But I guess I always thought there’d be plenty of critics eager to pounce. So far, that hasn’t happened, but I’m sure it will at some point. Trying to thicken my skin…
Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?
Jokes and legal pleadings. In fact, some judges have considered my legal pleadings a joke, but those are stories for another time!
Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?
Oh God yes!!! That gave me fits when I was pitching to agents.
Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?
Pursue the traditional route. Being an indie author is very challenging and I think all of us, deep down, wish we had a big publishing company behind us. Do everything you can to get an agent and publishing deal. The good thing is that, if you can’t, there’s a whole indie underworld filled with us writers just waiting for you to join us. You’re always welcome here!
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
I’m definitely a night owl. And I have three wonderful boys whom I love to death. But I need there to be quiet in order to write so it’s usually after they’ve gone to bed. Since their ages are 12, 10, and 6, my writing time seems to be getting later and later these days!
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
It’s the single most important piece of marketing you will ever do. And I’m guilty of it every day. If I see a book with a dull cover, I have a hard time picking it up or getting into it. Your cover doesn’t have to be conventional, it can be unique, but make sure it’s attractive and pleasing to the eye. Otherwise, you could be sitting there a year later with no sales thinking, “Maybe I should change the cover?”
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
I believe that if you ever have complete control of your characters then your novel will end up stale. Part of writing is to develop a character and watch as they live their lives and in my case, wreak havoc of others’.
Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?
No. Characters are like Doritos, “crunch all you want, we’ll make more.” When I’m done with a book, it’s time to start another story and create new friends
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
I don’t press people for them, and I don’t tend to use reviews in marketing the book. The problem is the perception out there that not every review is genuine. But I want as many reviews of my work as possible because they are extremely important. And so, I would say the following: Would you stay at a hotel or eat at a restaurant if Yelp or Trip Advisor had it rated very low? Probably not. Well those ratings are from customers. The same applies to books. Our work contains blood sweat and tears, and if you enjoyed it, or if a story resonated with you, by all means please share the word so others can have the same experience. You can’t deny that when you look at a book online, you look to see what others have said about it. Ultimately, reviews will drive sales.
Do you know anyone who has ever received any auto DM on Twitter (with a link) who was happy about it?
God no. They should get rid of it altogether, or only allow messages actually typed by a live person. I mean, what do attractive women looking for sugar daddies send in their automated DM: “Thanks for following me. Can you take me shopping for some expensive new threads tonight?” Let’s get rid of it.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I currently live in Phoenix, Arizona. If I had to move it would be to Hawaii.
Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?
Who were John Candy and Steve Martin, for 200, Alex.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
Love Sloppy Joe. I hate anything that’s green.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
My three boys. They’re loving, precious, and supportive. I couldn’t ask for better kids.
Have you ever played a practical joke on a friend? Ever had one played on you?
You’re asking a former comedian, and one who loved sketch comedy? My pre-lawyer life was essentially daily practical jokes! I’ve had a few played on me and I’m afraid to share them here!
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
Compatibility/sense of humor. I prefer one on one to being in a group. So I look for friends that are like-minded, good, compassionate people, with warped senses of humor. Life has so many challenges that you have to be able to laugh at just about anything. There’s very little that I take seriously.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
I’d love to be able to print money.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
That I hated English, grammar, and writing in high school. I’m sure my teachers, wherever they are, are shocked that I’m writing novels!
What music soothes your soul?
Are you looking for “Old Time Rock and Roll”? I’m a rock and grunge guy. I used to work in the music business (for Sony Music and Capital Records) and went to a lot of concerts. I love grunge and alternative rock. Put on some Pearl Jam, 311, or Collective Soul and I’m good. But, having grown up on Long Island, my absolute all-time-favorite artist is Billy Joel.
What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?
Negotiations. It’s not just what I do for a living as a lawyer, but it’s the one skill you utilize every day, with just about everybody.
If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?
I am, and there are four shows that I absolutely love and can watch endlessly. Taxi, The Honeymooners, Seinfeld, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
Favorite film is a tie between Running Scared with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, and Back to School with my comedy idol, Rodney Dangerfield. My favorite Book is either The Poet by Michael Connelly, or The Partner by John Grisham.
Have you ever walked out of a movie? If so, what was it?
The most recent one I walked out of was the End of the World, with Seth Rogan and all his friends. I love comedies and enjoy Seth Rogan’s work but I found that one unwatchable.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream. But don’t share that with Phoenicians, it’s not always easy to find!
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