Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
After several years of poetry writing that started in high school, while in college my creative writing transformed into writing song lyrics. I’d take songs by artists I liked and write my own words to their melodies. After graduating, I tried hard to be a successful song lyricist, and although I had songs cut, mostly overseas, I realized about ten years later that it just wasn’t going to happen for me as a career. Fast forward to about twenty-years later after working in the landscape industry from the time I stopped writing lyrics, I eventually got the desire to write a novel due to an internal unhappiness with my life that I didn’t recognize until I conceived an idea that eventually turned out to be my first novel, The Poe Consequence. That story was inspired by the many low-income housing projects I worked at throughout Southern California that had their share of neighborhood gang problems and my fictional novel is directly related to that.
What makes writing your passion?
Forgive me for doing a 'cut and paste' from my website but it's truly the best answer I can provide to this question.
"Many of us are driven to write through experiences born from pain, generating a need to uniquely express our own inner turmoil. Light-hearted inspiration is certainly an enviable reason to tap into one’s creative juices, but those feelings don’t stimulate the kinds of thoughts that lodge within me and grow in complexity. I can pinpoint a tragic, life-changing event occurring in my mid-teens that transformed me into a writer, and it seems that the weightier side of life continues to be my motivation."
How long have you been writing?
From my first poem as a teenager through my song lyric days and now through my two novels I've been writing creatively for over 50 years.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
Although there are no doubt many fine books that are self-published, the fact is that anyone can do it and find their book in print with someone which leaves a galaxy's worth of room for poorly written books. I went through two different indie companies myself before being accepted by a traditional publisher. For me, when I received my acceptance letter from Black Opal Books (small yes, but not an indie), the feeling was euphoric and an enormous relief.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
In one of my novels I have 6 main characters and 2 (some might say 3) main characters in my other novel so I can't answer this in one paragraph.
What I will say is that for me, I want the reader's emotions to be centered on the characters I’ve constructed in order to make them memorable in both good and bad ways. If I’ve succeeded that will mean that the situations in which they’re placed will be alluring because they’ll either be cheering them on or rooting against them. The one character I will mention that has the most impactful background for me is Kayleigh Michaels from my novel, You Say Goodbye. Kayleigh is a ten-year old girl with cancer who was inspired by the real life story of Alexandra Scott from the Alex's Lemonade Stand foundation that raises money for childhood cancer research. I happened to read the obituary section of the L.A. Times when her death was published and after reading it, was moved so deeply that it eventually inspired an idea for a book and the Kayleigh character plays a major part in the story.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
The constant hammer-over-your-head marketing from companies that claim how much they can do for you when in reality they can't do much, if anything, for you. I've lost too much money learning this lesson the hard way.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
First of all, this is quite common and the creative process sometimes needs recharging, so I accept the need to be patient with myself. But it's important to remember that fictional writing allows us to journey into our own minds away from our current realities, so I remind myself each time I write to appreciate that I'm 'escaping' from the real world for the world I'm entering and developing that is all mine. This mind-set limits writer's block for me.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
Quite honestly, having only written two novels, this question about 'what makes you keep going' would best be answered by those authors who truly do keep writing almost every day. I truly expect to work on a third novel, but until I find something meaningful enough for me that also offers something that I can present in a unique a fashion, I admittedly am not currently 'keeping going.' As for advice, here's my top five (in no particular order):
Have an idea that you think is so interesting that a lot of people will be anxious to read about it and which, more importantly, will maintain your own interest to keep going.
Develop an outline for a beginning, middle, and end, knowing that it will constantly need tweaking but which gives you a game plan to follow.
3. Be patient with yourself! What's the rush? This is where that cliche that states it's all about the journey not the destination is so true.
Be prepared to critically edit your work, (multiple times) and once you finally think it's ready to be published, spend some money and have it professionally edited. It's a painful but necessary process towards your goal and be open to the editor's suggestions.
Finally, don't think you'll make money at this. With all the marketing you'll attempt at promotion, most likely you'll lose money. Now that self-publishing is so widespread and easy to accomplish, there are a million books per year that are published. Your only goal should be the gratification that comes with completing an extremely challenging experience. And if you can do this, the feeling of accomplishment is priceless.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Buy stock in Apple
And, in case you're looking for another answer, I'd tell my younger self to slow down and smell those damn roses, because with each year that train of life picks up a little more speed.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
I read all of my reviews, and am very grateful that most of them have been good. However, there are those, of course, that find fault in various things and I'd be lying if I told you that it doesn't hurt when so much time and effort have been given. But any creative field is open to criticism, not just writers. Actors, artists, dancers, musicians - it's all part of the game, right? Once you put your work in the public domain, there will always be the critics.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
Mainly a deep feeling of gratitude. To know that my creative work that originated in my mind and went through my heart could move and inspire a reader is a truly validating sense of accomplishment. I can't think of another thing that boosts my self-esteem and mood as much as a good review.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
My novel, The Poe Consequence, is a supernatural thriller/human drama that involves, in part, two warring L.A. street gangs. I mentioned in the first question that I worked in gang affiliated low income housing areas for many years while working in the landscape industry. Various things that I witnessed and experienced made their way into my story. And in another previous question I mentioned the obituary article I read about Alexandra Scott from the Alex's Lemonade Foundation and how she became the inspiration for the little girl with cancer in my novel, You Say Goodbye.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
I had a few (very) minor accomplishments as a professional song lyricist and the main thing I remember about those days is the many rejections and sense of frustration. In my novel, You Say Goodbye, the protagonist, Sean Hightower, is a 50-year old one-hit-wonder ex-rock star who feels that his best days are behind him. The one thing I took from my own experience in creating the Sean Hightower character is that frustration of constant rejections and bitterness that ensued over his failure to find success as nothing more than a one-hit wonder.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
That said, it's important, of course, to have a cover that catches the eye of the potential reader. The competition pool is way too wide and deep and if you can get someone to be curious enough to read the premise through the bait of the interesting book cover, that's a big deal.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I enjoy connecting with my readers very much and certainly hope the feeling is mutual. I can't speak for other authors, but for me to discuss my stories with them is the culmination of all the creative work and emotional effort I put forth in the desire to engage people's minds and affect their emotions.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
I need you to slow down on this one. Right now a public recognition is nothing but pure fantasy where I'm sitting in a restaurant and someone comes up to me, asks me if I'm Keith Steinbaum, and proceeds to tell me how much they enjoyed my book. But I can answer the first part of your question with an emphatic 'it feels wonderfully gratifying' when people have expressed their appreciation of my work. This especially applies to book reviewers because they don't know me and are coming from a completely objective viewpoint.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
I don't have one particular author that I would call my favorite because the amount of great ones I've been fortunate enough to read covers way too many both past and modern times. Authors from days gone by such as Edgar Allan Poe and H.G. Wells come to mind but most of my reading has been by authors of the modern era. Some of those that stand out are Dennis Lehane, Pat Conroy, Kristin Hannah, Stephen King and Ken Follett. As to 'why?' I get hooked by various factors such as total engagement in the creative storyline (KIng's strength) the execution of being inspiring wordsmiths that make me feel that I'm right there with those characters and feeling what they feel (Hannah's and Conroy's strength), the ability to offer believable and engaging dialogue that move the story along at a crisp pace (Lehane's strength) and turning obvious research into important parts of the story's framework. (Follett's strength).