Les Edgerton is a man who needs no introduction, a successful author with 15 bestselling titles to his name, including numerous books on writing as a craft, he is a man whose words should not only be listened to, but followed. He calls things how he sees them, and that is a quality I admire in a person. It was my honor to be able to sit down with him and talk about writing, his past, present and future.
Without further ado, here is part 1 on the greatest interview you will ever read.
Thank you for agreeing to answer some of my questions Les, it is an honor having your drop by.
It’s my pleasure, Alex.
I like to start with a nice open ice breaker, so Les, tell us, who is Les Edgerton?
That’s kind of tough to answer, Alex! I’ve been quite a few things in my life and to relate them all would take a long time. At present, I just turned 70, live in Ft. Wayne, IN with my wife Mary, and write and teach all day, seven days a week. Among other things, I was in the Navy four years, was in prison for a couple, was a criminal for a long time, worked for an escort service, bartended at the age of 12, sold and used drugs, was a gambler, was married 5 times, appeared in porn movies, had call girls working for me, was a bouncer, was a hairdesigner, had a TV show on fashion on Cox Cable in New Orleans, was a womanizer for a long, long time, have published 15 books and taught at places like the UCLA Writer’s Program, the New York Writers’ Workshop, Trine University and was writer-in-residence for three years at the University of Toledo. Lived all over the country and consider New Orleans my spiritual home, but also lived in Texas, California, Indiana, Louisiana, New York, Chicago, Bermuda and San Salvador, BWI, among other places. Have been shot at, shot at others, stabbed, been in a hundred fights, beaten by cops ala Rodney King, was in a high-speed car chase and got away from the cops, and found out last year that the guy I always thought was my father… wasn’t. Some other stuff. Even sold life insurance at one time and almost died of boredom.
You are a best-selling author of both fiction and craft books, a university level teacher and all around writing expert. Yet your rise to the top has not exactly been smooth. Would you agree?
Yep. But, it’s not supposed to be. Anything worthwhile should be hard-won or else what’s it worth? Anything easily obtained is questionable in value and probably not worth much. Not to mention, it would be boring and I hate boring.
There is one question about your self-titled Odyssey. Male Escort… tell me, was it really the way most red blooded young men would like to believe?
I have no idea what others think it’s like. What I did was escort older, very wealthy women for money. Which includes… well, you know. You learn to be very creative in the sack… One of my fondest experiences was being taken to Puerta Vallarta by the heiress to a very famous New Orleans restaurant and we stayed in the villa Richard Burton and Liz Taylor used to own.
I don’t believe in regrets, I choose to believe that everything happens for a reason. Do you regret your past? Would you do it differently if you could?
Don’t regret much at all. Only that I had been a better father and I wasn’t. But, from the age of five all I ever was going to be was a writer and that’s why I’ve always sought out experiences. I knew someday if I was fortunate, I’d be 80 and sitting in some nursing home with a blanket over my lap and I knew that all the cars, money, mansions, clothes, etc., wouldn’t matter at all, but memories would. I have a bunch of ‘em…
You may be best known for your writing craft book and novels, but you first three publications were actually on hair dressing. How did that come about?
Well, I was a hairdesigner for over 30 years (during which I was also doing other stuff) and was kind of a national figure in the industry and was asked to write them and did. Still getting decent royalties each year from them!
You most recent novel certainly has an interesting title, The Rapist. Can you tell us a little about the novel?
It’s the best work I’ve ever done, and since it’s not a high-concept story and can’t be told without revealing too much, I’ll just say that we’ve gotten 31 pre-pub blurbs from some of the best writers in the world and I’ll quote one here that pretty much mirrors what most are saying about it:
Les Edgerton presents an utterly convincing anti-hero. The abnormal psychology is pitch-perfect. The Rapist ranks right up there with Camus’ The Stranger and Simenon’s Dirty Snow. An instant modern classic.
Allan Guthrie, author of Slammer and others. Publisher, Blasted Heath Books
The way you turned your life around is a remarkable story in its own right. Do you have any plans to write an autobiography?
Not an autobiography—that would take too much space. I do have a memoir written and am currently doing a rewrite on it and then seeing about getting it published. The working title is ADRENALINE JUNKIE. My wife’s not too thrilled about it coming out, but what are you gonna do? Actually, I had it sold years ago to the University of North Texas Press and that deal fell through, but before it did, the president of HBO Films read it, loved it, and called it “a Permanent Midnight but with balls,” and told my then-manager not to even to show it to anyone else, that they wanted it. Unfortunately, the deal fell through with the publisher, but hoping they’ll be interested in it again when it comes out.
At what age did you start taking writing seriously?
At the age of five, just after I read my first book. Not being facetious—I knew immediately after reading that book that was what I intended to do with my life—be a writer—and I’ve never wavered from that for a second.
I have just today published my second piece of work, and cannot lie I get that fluttering of nervous excitement while I waited for the file to upload onto Amazon. Tell me, do you still get that same rush when you have a new title come out?
Absolutely. I had my fourteenth book just come out from StoneGate Press—a YA thriller titled MIRROR, MIRROR—and when I got my author’s copy I did the same thing I always do when I get the first copy of a new book. I slept with it. Truth.
Do you have a set schedule that you like to follow when writing? Do you plan everything out step by step or work from a simple outline and allow creativity to do the rest?
I do have a set schedule for writing. It’s 365 days a year. I never take a day off. What would I do? Watch TV? Have you seen TV lately? No thanks… For novels and nonfiction books, I use a 15-20 word outline. It’s vastly different from what most folks think of as an outline. It isn’t one of those Roman numeral, Comp I thingys. It contains five statements. The first is one describing the inciting incident that creates the story problem for the protagonist. The next three describe the three major turns every novel takes, and the fifth is the resolution. It gives me a road map for where I want to go, but also allows me complete latitude and freedom in how to get there. I have to have a road map. I wouldn’t start out driving to Adak, Alaska without a road map and I wouldn’t begin a 350-page novel without a road map either. I may not look smart but I think I am and that would be kind of asking to waste a lot of time if I didn’t, imo…
What does a typical day look like for you?
In Indiana, cold, wet and gray. Flat landscape. Lot of dead stuff out there. Oh! You mean work-wise? I get up around 5 am, take my old-man pills, drink coffee and do the bathroom thing where I get some reading in and then hit the computer. I don’t eat breakfast or lunch—it uses up valuable time I can use writing. I write all day, which includes writing itself, addressing my writing class’s stories and work, reply to interviews like this, read (reading’s the most important part of writing other than the actual writing), and just do all the things writing entails. It’s far more than just sitting there cranking out stories!
You are an author in the traditional sense of agent and publisher. What is your take on the independent authors and their rise in recent years? Be gentle now, because I am self-publishing my current novella series.
I can’t speak for anyone other than myself. Personally, I’d never self-publish. There’s a reason most folks’ work is rejected. The truth is, most of it just isn’t very good. Nobody has a right to be published, whereas I guess everyone has a right to be printed, electronically or otherwise, but I don’t regard printing something myself as being published. There’s a reason it’s hard to get published. It takes skill to have knowledgeable people—the gatekeepers—invest money in a writer. It’s not personal—publishers don’t care if they like you or not, but the work has to be of quality before they’re going to put their money into it. It used to be the average cost of putting out a book was around $50,000. It always amazes me when you hear someone say they’re being treated unfairly by publishers for not publishing their work and then when you ask them if they’d invest their own $50,000 in their novel, they give you a look as if you were crazy. But… they expect someone else to invest that much money… Anything worthwhile has a price. There needs to be time and blood and sweat and tears expended to get to the place where the work is good enough to ask someone to invest in it. Most self-publishers seem to me to be from the ranks of today’s generation—they want instant gratification and seem to feel they’re somehow entitled to get published. Same kind of folks who think they’re entitled to a free phone from the government… Alex, I’d like to be positive about this, but I have to be honest. I just haven’t seen anything self-published that I’d actually spend my own money for. That doesn’t mean it’s not out there. It may be, but I’ve seen enough of it to be fairly certain that I’d have to buy an awful lot of those books to find one worth much. I’m sorry if I stepped on any toes, but I’m at a place in life where I feel I have to be honest.
If self-publishing had been this big when you were first breaking through, would you have considered it as a viable route?
No. My goal has always been to be an author, not a typist. And, it was available when I began. They just called it “vanity publishing.” I don’t see much difference, to be honest. It’s just a lot cheaper and easier to do. What I see most self—published typists doing is spending most of their time on social media trying to market instead of spending that same time in learning their craft. Or even to learn the language and the grammar and the proper punctuation… Or what a story is.
Can you still remember the day you sold your first novel?
Absolutely. It sold after 86 rejections. And, those were the days of snail mail when you had to mail the entire mss in and pay for postage both ways and provide a SASE. And wait. Forever. It’s called “paying your dues” and “learning your craft.” Not done today. People get 5-6 rejections and they’re devastated. Kind of what we called in the joint… “pussies.” It takes guts to be a real writer. A thick skin and a dedication to getting better.
You spend a lot of time teaching others about writing. Throughout all of your classes, what is the most important message that you try to impress upon your students.
That good writing isn’t easy and it takes time. That no one has a right to be published. If they want to be printed, that’s easy, but then they’re not writers—they’re typists. That anything worthwhile takes a lot of work. That talent, while necessary, isn’t the deciding factor. There’s a bazillion people out there with “talent.” Big whup… The deciding factor that all good writers share in common is that they didn’t quit or take the easy way out. I tell them to watch people who are successful in other endeavors and look closely at their work ethics. I ask them to watch Gordon Ramsey’s shows on reviving failing restaurants. He teaches the same things I do in our classes. The primary thing these failing places have in common is that their food isn’t very good. Most of the owners are lazy and want to use shortcuts and microwaves. As writers, we get lazy the same way—we use clichés and adverbs and lots of adjectives. Begin our stories with setup and backstory and characters ruminating. On his show, we see chefs who keep putting out the same old crap and expect people to come in and pay money for it. As writers, we do the same thing when we use story structures that were archaic fifty years ago. Or, the kitchen is just plain filthy. (Being clean in a restaurant is the equivalent in writing to understanding professionalism in proper format, proper language use, proper presentation.) Gordon’s one of the best because of one simple thing—he outworks everyone else and he works smart and he doesn’t repeat mistakes. He can do more than one task at a time. He doesn’t keep “hours” but works until the job’s done. I ask my class to watch a good football or basketball team and ask themselves why they think they’re winners. The reason is they work harder than anyone else. Lots of teams have “talent’ and don’t win. The winners have the coach who won’t accept excuses and the players won’t accept excuses for their own behavior and work ethic or lack of it. Look at anybody successful in any field and I’ll bet they simply work harder and smarter than the others in their field. Writing isn’t any different. The person who wants union hours and union pay isn’t going to be much of a writer. The guy who leaves work on the dot is going to pretty much remain where he is and he’ll be the one bitching about the guy who got hired after him who got promoted to manager over him. He’s the guy crying, “It’s not fair” all the time. Forget him. He doesn’t count in the scheme of things at all.
Come back tomorrow for the second part of this interview. Trust me when I say you won’t want to miss it.