Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
I started writing fairly early, with short stories when I was 8 or 9.
What makes writing your passion?
I like the challenge of communicating well.
How long have you been writing?
Just shy of 50 years, but that says more about my meandering path than my accomplishments.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
Relief. How naive I was, thinking I was done.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
Taro is Japan’s legendary boy samurai. He’s also the quintessential hero of three timeless Japanese folktales: Kintaro, Urashima Taro and Momotaro [Golden Boy, Island Boy and Peach Boy]. Each legend stands alone, they’re unrelated except in name [Taro is roughly equivalent to Junior], but I thought it might be interesting to weave their stories into Japanese history, an alternate history of course.
I have a strong affinity for folklore, fables, myths, and legends, innately, and for all the reasons that Joseph Campbell expounded. I imagined a parallel between the personalities of Japan’s three warlords, the Great Unifiers, and Momotaro's animal companions, the pheasant, monkey, and dog, and I thought it might be interesting to write a story about it, an update of the classics in an alternate historical context, a new legend, one that might enchant new generations to appreciate Japanese folklore.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
There's just not enough time in a day to do it all.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
There are so many other tasks to support the writing. When I find myself at a writing impasse, I read, research, and outline.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
Just write and read and re-write and you will find your inspiration.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Get busy! Time's a-wasting!
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Of course, I do, and even the bad ones can a have a positive effect if the criticism is constructive. As for the really bad ones, the haters, it's best not to spend a moment's thought on those.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
It feels great, knowing I connected with the reader. We all want the praise, but I get the most satisfaction out of knowing the reader enjoyed my writing.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Absolutely. Mark Twain is most often attributed with the saying, "write what you know," and I do wholeheartedly subscribe to that theory, even if it's just an oblique reference.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
If we're talking about my most recent novel, Taro: Legendary Boy Hero of Japan, sure, I drew on some of my own feelings for Taro, but he certainly wasn't based on me. He's intended to be larger than life. Hopefully, I succeeded.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
It's an unfair question when you consider you're not supposed to judge the book by the cover, but these days, with so much competition to entice readers to the story, the cover can be the hook that gets the reader. So, while I do believe the story is all that matters in the end, the means to that end starts with the cover.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
Of course, I prefer to reach my readers through my writing, but I always welcome reader questions and I do connect with my readers on occasion.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
Proud and humbled.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
It's an unfair question because I have so many favorite authors, for so many different reasons. Robert Louis Stevenson deserves first place for being the first author that truly captured my imagination, Treasure Island the quintessential adventure story. J.R.R. Tolkien was a genius. Say what you like about his writing style, to me it conjures the epic poems, Beowulf and Chanson de Roland, but his imagination, his world-building, every fantasy writer after him is destined or doomed to make his stand in Tolkien’s shadow. What wouldn’t I give to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time again, not knowing what comes next. I was glued to those books for days, you know. So, I guess you could say I like fantasy and adventure, but I love history and historical fiction, too. And I have my writers who inspire me with their incredible styles, Faulkner, Mishima, Marquez. Their narrative makes your head do somersaults.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
I don't really dream of being as big as someone else, but I would like to reach a wider audience. I just want to connect with my readers and share what I have to offer in the hope that people may enjoy it.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
This is a terrible question. Of course, I'd rewrite all of them, endlessly! Why do you think it has taken me this long to publish?
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
Also an unfair question, but I'll admit it would be nice to know what it's like to write like Stephen King, the guy is such a prolific dynamo. Should I choose Faulkner or Mishima instead, but then what price genius? Perhaps the best answer is, I'd switch places with any writer who surpasses me in creativity and skill, then the sky is the limit! So many writers I read just inspire me to work harder, and that's just fine. Wasn't it Somerset Maugham who said, "A mediocre writer is always at his best"?
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.
It seems I have a few myself. As I said before, they're haters, just looking for attention, no, perhaps more accurately, distraction, from their own self-loathing. It's best not to spend a moment's thought on them.
What would you say to your readers?
With so many stories out there, and so little time, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking your time to read mine. I hope it pleased you in some way.
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I live in Decatur, just outside Atlanta, Georgia. Yes, I'm married, 30 years this month, and I have 2 wonderful children: Sayer, who is currently living and working in Japan, and Miya, who contributed her charming illustrations to Taro.
What is your day job if you have one?
I’m a trial lawyer by day. I have a small firm in Decatur, Georgia, focused on family law and civil litigation.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I don't have much free time, but when I do, I keep it simple: I LOVE good food and drink, family and friends. Then reading, movies, languages, and travel are hot on their heels.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Who comes up with these questions? Is this supposed to be like, well, writers are mostly all miserable or they came from broken homes? And the great writers, well, they're hopeless? I believe I was fortunate, regardless of my circumstances, fortunate because my mother especially gave me a love of reading and storytelling, and for that I am forever grateful, not because it made me a great writer, but because it made me a good reader, a good listener, a good observer. At least, I like to think so.
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
My first "worthy" short story was based on an incident of racism I witnessed in a small town in Georgia. The writing was just okay, but the telling of the story was the real eye-opener.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
I'm fond of history and, unintentionally, it seems I've spent a fair amount of my time writing historical fiction. I'm working on a new story set in Japan, but perhaps I'll revisit the first 2 novels I've written at some point. Remember when I said if given the time I'd rewrite endlessly?
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
Are we talking about this country? Because we should be. Education should be free, and it should be the best it can be. That's not socialism, that's just enlightened evolution instead of taking one step forward and one or two steps back. When teachers are venerated and PAID like celebrities and athletes, THAT will be a social revolution. If you want a better country, if you want better people, start educating ALL of our children like it REALLY matters, because it does.
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
Ugh! You're killing me with these questions. I'll take: More time, more energy, fewer mistakes!
What is your favorite music?
Dixieland Jazz, without question.
Share a secret with us 🙂
Alright, you can thank one of my recent readers/reviewers of TARO for this one:
What happened to the character of Yama Uba, the mountain witch? It's not a spoiler, because it's not in the book.
I created back stories for all of my characters, even if those stories didn't make it into the book. Yama Uba was a tortured soul, similar to Kamehime's mother - used by a high-ranking samurai, then shunned when she became pregnant, she was driven into the mountains in shame. Her child died at birth, and Yama Uba was the result, a tortured, vengeful spirit "feeding" hapless travelers with her potent spirit only to feed on them, reliving the terrible cycle of pain she endured as an aggrieved mother, but Taro charmed her as much as she charmed him. Her talisman, her mirror, held her vengeful spirit, and looking in the mirror kept that vengeful spirit alive, until it held a power of its own (think Sauron's ring), even after she eventually died and became the vengeful ghost known as Yama Uba. But Taro broke that spell, so to speak, especially when she gave that part of herself to protect him on his journey. Her sacrifice set her free, so that only the power that still dwelled in the mirror was left of her, and when Taro looked in the mirror, he released the last of her. Neither she nor Taro understood what happened, it just happened. But in that happening, even Yama Uba's character had her resolution. At least, I know it, and now, you do, too.