Author and editor, Robert Chute recently interviewed Nate Hendley for his informative blog, Chazz Writes. We reprint that interview with Robert’s permission.
Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based author who was born in Connecticut in 1966. He is a full-time journalist and writer and has published and written over a dozen books, primarily on true-crime topics. He lives with a demanding cat and has a website at www.natehendley.com. You can check out his latest works on the Five Rivers website at http://www.5rivers.org/index1.html.
His books: Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers (Practical tips on how to start up or step up a freelance writing career) & Al Capone: Chicago’s King of Crime (An intimate portrait of America’s most famous gangster)
Previous works by Nate Hendley:
Edwin Alonzo Boyd: The Life and Crimes of Canada’s Master Bank Robber, The Black Donnelly’s: The Outrageous Tale of Canada’s Deadliest Feud, Dutch Schultz: The Beer Baron of the Bronx, John Lennon: Music, Myth and Madness, Crystal Meth, American Gangsters Then and Now: An Encyclopedia, Bonnie and Clyde: A Biography, Jean Chretien: The Scrapper Who Climbed His Way to the Top, William Lyon Mackenzie King: The Loner Who Kept Canada Together
CW: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
NH: I was around 10 or so, living in England (where my dad took a year-long sabbatical in 1975-76). I recall I started writing—by hand—a long war story that I ended up calling “Tank Tracks in North Africa”. As might be surmised by the title, it was all about a bunch of guys in a tank fighting Rommel in the desert in World War Two. That’s the first long-form book I recall putting together. I think it ran to something like 50 pages.
CW: Tell us about your book. How did you get the idea?
NH: Two books actually. One of them is on Al Capone, the other is about motivation for writers. The Capone book was originally part of a series of gangster tomes I penned for Altitude Publishing, an Alberta-based company that ,alas, is no longer around. When Altitude went belly up, Five Rivers Chapmanry kindly bought some of my Altitude books for republishing.
The second book, Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, is a rather drastic revision of a book I initially self-published. Lorina Stephens, publisher at Five Rivers, liked the concept of my book but wasn’t totally excited by the contents. I ended up rewriting quite a bit of the book, making it more professional and taking out a lot of the personal anecdotes that filled my self-published tome. The newly revised book is considerably better than the original, which demonstrates the power of having a good editor crack down on your material.
The idea for Motivate to Create came from the fact that there is a dearth of info out there on motivation for non-fiction writers. Almost every writers’ motivation book is aimed at creative writing, which is fine, but not what I do. A lot of the existing books seemed very sappy, too—all this crap about “finding and unleashing your inner muse.” I was more concerned with concrete, practical advice that had already been field-tested by other, established writers.
CW: What research was involved in your book’s development?
NH: Researching Al Capone involved reading all the available literature on the man (which is quite considerable) and tracking down newspaper and magazine articles from the period in which he lived. I was pleased to be able to correct certain falsehoods about Capone that have been perpetuated throughout the years. He was never a national crime boss, for example. He controlled the Chicago underworld but certainly didn’t control organized crime across America.
For Motivate, I queried various writer friends and acquaintances and used some of their quotes throughout. The rest of the material was thought up by me.
CW: Do you have any formal training in writing?
NH: I went to journalism school after finishing university. I never actually completed J-school, having failed desk-top publishing three times in a row. Anyway, journalism school taught me the nuts and bolts of news and feature writing and was an invaluable experience.
CW: What is your writing process?
I don’t really have a writing process. One of the tips I offer in Motivate to Create is not to get too precious about your writing time (i.e. “I only write when the golden sun rises from the horizon and the muse dances upon my forehead”). When I have a writing project to do, I just sit down and do it.
CW: How long did it take you to write the book and find an agent and publisher?
NH: Capone took about a year to put together (research, writing, editing.) Motivate was spread over a longer period because I essentially rewrote the book when Five Rivers purchased it. Self-publishing is a pain in the butt so I am glad that a real publisher took the book over. I still have about 30 copies of the original book sitting around my apartment. Unless you’re really interested in marketing and promotion, I would not recommend self-publication.
CW: What’s the most surprising thing you discovered in writing this book?
NH: Can’t really think of any. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of freelance writers willing to respond to a general questionnaire I sent around for Motivate to Create.
CW: What was the biggest disappointment you experienced through this book?
NH: The biggest disappointment was that I didn’t get fabulously wealthy through self-publishing. I thought orders would come flowing like a river. More like a trickle from a tiny pond.
CW: What was the hardest part of the publishing process? What did you most enjoy?
NH: Research and editing are by far the hardest part of the publishing process. Writing is the most enjoyable. When you self-publish, doing all the promotion and marketing is the hardest part.
CW: What advice would you give unpublished writers?
As Creedence Clearwater Revival once expressed it so well, “keep on chooglin’.” In other words, just keep at it. Practise doesn’t necessarily make perfect but it does make you more professional.
CW: Have changes in the book industry forced you to change how you published or marketed your work?
NH: Yes. Thanks to websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn I can do more to promote my wares online.
CW: What’s your next book project and what can you tell us about it?
NH: I’m revising a book about the drug methamphetamine for Five Rivers. It is a revamped version of a book I initially did for Altitude that came out in 2005. The new version has new interviews and updated statistics.
CW: Thanks for doing this, Nate! You can follow Nate on twitter at http://twitter.com/natehendley or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . The Five Rivers site is located at http://www.5rivers.org/. Best to check the Five Rivers site for any info on upcoming book signings.