Exclusive Interview with
Let’s start with your Career as a writer!
When did you start writing?
I started writing science fiction short stories during the late 1960s while I was in high school. I started publishing software engineering technical books in the early 1990s. Finally, I started writing novels in the early 2000s.
What makes writing your passion?
For my non-fiction engineering books, it was the desire to share the lessons I learned developing large, complex, software-intensive systems. I have always loved science fiction and fantasy, so it was the desire to tell the stories I came up with.
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing for over a half century, successfully for thirty years.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
It was amazing to finally hold my first book in my hands.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
Most of my stories are plot or idea driven, so my characters are selected to drive the story forward. I also select characters to provide tension, conflict, and character growth, to provide subplots and subordinate stories, and to increase the emotion of both the story and the reading experience. When I write stories in a first-person point-of-view, my primary character is selected and written to pull the reader into the story.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
The necessity of spending a lot of time marketing and advertising my books instead of writing. I also recently "retired" to devote myself full-time to writing, but that has greatly decreased my monthly marketing/advertising budget.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
I take a break from that book or story and start working on another one.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
I don't write to make money (although it would be nice to be much more profitable). I write because I have stories that drive me to get them out and on paper. Also, great reviews are incredibly important for keeping me writing.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Because my early short stories weren't that good, they were never published. That experience caused me to stop writing for over 20 years. I would tell my younger self to continue writing and honing my craft. Like any other skill, writing improves with practice and study.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Absolutely! Good reviews really recharge my batteries and increase my productivity. I face bad reviews three ways: I seriously consider any constructive criticism (especially if multiple people complain about the same issue), I remember that all books (even famous, successful ones) get at least some bad reviews because different readers like and dislike different things, and I look at the ratio of good reviews to bad reviews.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
It's a huge rush, especially if the review is long and specific rather than something short and generic like "I loved it."
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
My past experiences do influence my writing, but not specific events. For example, I have a great deal of experience working with the military, and I have incorporated aspects of that into the military aspects of Hell Holes 3: To Hell and Back.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
Not really, although there are some similarities between Matt Mitchell (in The Secrets of Hawthorne House) and my younger self when I was in high school.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
NOT as important, but it is critical. People do judge books by their cover, so a good cover is necessary but not sufficient. Great writing is worthless if no one picks up the book and reads it.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
Primarily via book reviews and my beta readers. However, I respond to ALL emails and contacts via Facebook and my author website (something I learned from my ongoing correspondence with Isaac Asimov as a teenager). I also have continuing contacts with some of my biggest fans.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
Absolutely fantastic. One of my goals as an author has been to be recognized by fans at conventions, book signings, and book fairs.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
In high school, it was Isaac Asimov. In college, it was J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, there are too many to count.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
I would like to walk into any major brick-and-mortar bookstore and find my books on the shelf. I would love to have people recognize my name when I'm introduced.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
No. I have way too many new books to write. On the other hand, a fan has talked me into considering rewriting my short story, The Confession, as a novella or maybe a novel.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
Nope. I am who I am, and that's good enough for me.
What would you say to the “trolls” on the internet? We all know them – people who like to write awful reviews to books they’ve never read or didn’t like that much, just to annoy the author.
Trolls are awful people for whom I have absolutely no respect. I therefore pay no attention to what they say and have nothing to say to them. Also, feeding trolls is always a bad idea.
What would you say to your readers?
I love and appreciate you guys. Please leave honest reviews; they are critical to both authors and potential readers. Feel free to contact me and say hello.
Thank you for sharing! Let’s talk about your Personal Life!
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I live in Crafton, a little town just outside of Pittsburgh, PA. I'm happily married and have six children, one of whom still lives with us. I've lived in Germany and Switzerland and have visited 32 different countries. I speak fluent German. I've traveled to East Berlin and Moscow in 1974 during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. I've stood inside the core of a nuclear reactor. I was at the snow line on Mt. Saint Helens three days before it blew. I have been named a distinguished engineer by the Association of Computing Machinery.
What is your day job if you have one?
I still do occasional training and consulting gigs in system and software engineering.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I make unique, hand-crafted magic wands in my spare time, which you can buy on my Etsy store) https://www.etsy.com/shop/FiresmithWandShop. You can also order autographed copies of my books there and on my author website.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Not really. I was a nerd and bullied as a kid. I also had to move away from home when I was 17, getting a job and finishing high school on my own before college and grad school.
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
Nothing particular. However, I read every science fiction book in the small local library while in high school, which made me want to write my own short stories.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
I am currently working on Secrets 2: The Secrets of Sanctuary Cove and Hell Holes 4: A Slave's Revenge.
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
Federal funding (instead of local property taxes) for public schools so that ALL schools (not just ones in affluent white neighborhoods) are adequately funded. Increased pay for teachers. Increased standards for teachers (e.g., they should have to study science if they are going to be science teachers). Free public college tuition, and cancellation of student loans. Mandatory classes in civics, critical thinking, and life skills (e.g., cooking and finances).
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
(1) Indefinitely long life with good health for myself. (2) All governments aggressively tackling the climate crisis. (3) An end to racially-motivated domestic terrorism by both individuals and governmental organizations (e.g., police and political parties).
What is your favorite music?
Too many to count. Music from the late 60s and early 70s, epic music, classical music, a Capella singing (e.g., Pentatonix), game (e.g., Skyrim) and movie (e.g., Harry Potter and Tolkien) ambient music, and many more.
Share a secret with us 🙂
But then it wouldn't be a secret any more, now would it?