What do you do when you’re not writing?
I lead a very boring life. I read a lot of forensic stuff, a lot of nonfiction. I work out. I taught a creative writing class at Harvard, which was very satisfying. I don’t watch much TV anymore, but I don’t miss Lost, Family Guy or Nip/Tuck. I spend as much time as I can with my family and friends. I’ve become addicted recently to computer Scrabble. I’m a horrible speller.
Where do you get your ideas?
The shower, mostly. And walking. That’s the God’s honest truth. Sometimes I’ll be watching TV or reading a newspaper or magazine and an idea—or maybe just a piece of an idea—will just pop into my head. Most of the time, the idea just comes out of nowhere. Case in point: the idea for REMEMBERING SARAH came when I was living in Nashua, New Hampshire. I was driving home from work one day during the winter and was passing by Roby Park, located about a mile or so from my house. I saw these kids going up the hill with their sleds and heard a voice whisper, “Sarah’s not coming down that hill.” That’s it. The rest of the story grew from that. I know people think there’s some mysterious mental store where all us writers pluck our ideas from, but honest to God, they just pop into my head. For each of the books, I’ll include a section on how—or where—the idea originated (look for the INSPIRATION section on each individual book page).
How long does it take you to write a book?
From start to finish, in the past it’s taken around two years. Sounds like a long time—and it is—but understand in those two years, I’m doing several drafts, and several edits, of the book. Now I’m on a yearly schedule—which keeps not only my publisher happy but everybody else, too.
How many hours a day to you write?
It varies. My goal each day is 5 to 8 pages. When I start a book, producing those pages can be tough. I write a lot, throw out lot, start again, write a lot, throw it out again. That’s my process. Then for some reason the book always opens up and I have that “Ah-ha” moment where I understand where I’m going.
Do you outline?
If by outline you mean do I sit down and write each chapter along with what that chapter will contain, the answer is no. I don’t outline like that simply because I have no idea what the story’s going to be about until I sit down and start to write. I’ll always know how the book begins—I’ll know the opening scene—and I usually have a very clear idea about how it’s going to end. That’s it. Outlining spoils the stuff in the middle—the fun stuff. What writers call “the happy accidents.” To help out my editor and agent, I do a two to three page synopsis of what I think the book is going to be about; that way, we can discuss it. The feedback I get, especially from my editor, is helpful.
And is it true you write outside on a porch?
I used to write outside on a porch. I was somewhat driven outside when my son was born. I needed a space so I wouldn’t hear him crying, so I’d sit out on the porch with my laptop balanced on an old writer’s board, enjoying cigars and bourbon. But I’ve given up those vices for obvious health reasons, and when I moved into a new house, I now have what I call a “big boy’s office”—big desk and a leather club chair in the corner. Now I have space to spread all of my papers and books, and I can crank up the music. I listen to Sirrus Satellite radio nonstop.
What made you decide to become a writer?
That’s the question I most often get asked next to “Where do you get your ideas?” (Answer: Costco). Answering the “why” is much easier than trying to answer the “where.” (Nobody knows where ideas come from, honest.)
Every weekend afternoon, Boston’s Channel 56 played Creature Double Feature—two black-and-white horror movies from the thirties and forties. The scarier movies played on Saturday nights when my parents went out to get a breather from the kids. When my Irish Catholic grandmother babysat me, Creature Double Feature was strictly off-limits (“Those movies will rot your brain,” she always liked to say.) But when my father’s mother, Claire, the cool grandmother, babysat, we’d watch the movie together.
On one particular Saturday night, in between a movie whose name I have since long forgotten, I saw a trailer for something called The Shining. To this day, I remember sitting straight up and skin prickling when the elevator doors opened and the blood come spilling into the hotel lobby. I remember forgetting to breathe when Jack Nicholson, axe in hand, limped his way through the snow, screaming his son’s name. I remembered being terrified. When my parents came home, I ran upstairs.
“Dad, can you take me to see a movie called The Shining?”
(I made sure I pulled my father off to the side and asked him the question out of earshot of my mother, who, naturally, would automatically say no to such a sensible question.)
“That’s rated R,” he said.
“I’ve seen rated R movies before. And besides, I’m almost 13, which is only five years away from 18.”
Impressed by my math skills, or maybe he just wanted to get to bed (it was date night, after all), my father said he’d think about it after he saw the movie next weekend with Mom. When they came back home, I was waiting for my parents in the kitchen.
“There’s no way in hell you’re seeing that movie,” my mother said.
Since my father had involved my mother in the decision making process, I was prepared for this reaction and came up with a compromise. Since they wouldn’t let me see the movie, how about letting me read the book? (A school friend had told me the movie was based on a book. My friend’s mother had the read the book but wouldn’t let her son read it—too scary, she said.) I wore down my parents, who agreed to let me check out the book from the library. I read the book in one sitting and well into the night; by the time I finished, not only was I terrified, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I’ve been writing ever since.
Are any of your characters based on real-life people?
Basing characters on people you know is not only sloppy, it could get you sued. If anything, I’m drawn to personality traits. My wife, for example, is very headstrong; hardly anything rattles her. I like that aspect of her personality, so I applied it to the character of Jess Sullivan in REMEMBERING SARAH. But is Jess based on my wife? Absolutely not.
Do you have a favorite book?
It’s like asking “Which one of your kids is your favorite?” I know it sounds like the typical stock answer, but it’s true. Each book represents a different part of my life. WritingDEVIANT WAYS was a long road—five years—and the book in which I learned how to write. WORLD WITHOUT END represents everything I could do in a book—and everything I don’t want to do again. REMEMBERING SARAH was the hardest, and most frustrating novel I’ve written and the book that has, at least at the moment, paid the most dividends in terms of reader response, critical praise and industry recognition. The book I just finished,THE MISSING, I think is the best thing I’ve written—and the scariest.
What writer or writers influenced you?
My biggest influence was Stephen King. I devoured all of his stuff growing up, and I’d write a lot of these really awful horror stories (fortunately, I burned them all). James Lee Burke was also a big influence, as was Dennis Lehane—Mystic River is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long, long time. I enjoy Michael Connelly. He’s such a quiet writer. It takes me two paragraphs to say what he can say in one or two lines. I’ve also become a big fan of John Connolly’s books. If you’re not reading his Charlie Parker series, then you’re missing out on one of the best writers around.
What books do you like to read?
As weird as it sounds, I generally don’t read thrillers. Part of the problem is knowing the tricks; the other part is, in my opinion, there aren’t a lot of good thrillers out there. The writers I read consistently are Stephen King, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, and Dennis Lehane. George Pelecanos, I think, is a genius. Harlan Coben’s books I always read on vacation. They’re fun, keep you glued to your seat, and they’re funny.
Can you share one of your favorite fan letters?
Dear Mr. Mooney,
I’m writing to you in regards to your book Deviant Ways. I finished it in two days and I couldn’t sleep. You are seriously one disturbed individual to write things like that. It’s clear you have deep psychological problems, and you should have them treated, provided a therapist would treat you. The book was sick, sick, sick. Seriously, what’s wrong with you?
P.S. When is your next book coming out?
Why aren’t the books Kendo and the two nonfiction titles, The Republican War on Science and Storm World, listed on your website?
I didn’t write any of those books. Everything I’ve written is posted here on the website.