Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
Long before I had anything profound to say, I was telling stories. And not long after I learned to write, I started putting those stories on paper. I would not care to vouch for the quality thereof, especially in the earliest days, but I've never lost the taste for stories and storytelling.
What makes writing your passion?
I have always felt there was just a touch of magic in the written word. There is something about “voices” reaching across the ages that always moved me. Whether those voices were inscribed in stone, handed down on parchment or printed in a book. And I can remember no time when I didn’t aspire to be one of those voices. An author who tells fascinating tales populated by nuanced characters in (sometimes) impossible situations. It is through the magic of stories that we tell each other how we might deal with this mystery we call life.
How long have you been writing?
Since grammar school. None were ever published, and I have no idea where they are now. In most cases, it’s probably just as well.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
I published West of Tomorrow, my first novel, in 2015. After years of writing, re-writing, critiquing with my author’s group and two full revisions, I should add. I think my first emotion was relief that I actually finished it. That relief was quickly replaced by trepidation about how it would be received. My first public reading helped assuage some of those fears. But from that moment on, I’ve always been aware of having to face whatever music my writing earns, good or bad.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
That depends. Many of the characters in my contemporary stories are based on people who’ve had a significant place in my life. In those cases, I will often lift traits from several people I’ve known and wind them together in a single character, based on what purpose they serve in the story. In my science fiction tales on the other hand, many are products of imagination. Constructed as part of the overall process of world-building, some take on traits that are at variance with what we think of as “normal” human thought processes.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
To be honest, I can’t think of anything that annoys me consistently. If anything, it’s probably the perversity of word processing software or the actual mechanics of updating my website. I find some of the logic that went into WordPress web builder painfully obscure. But most of the writing life is something I’m enjoying, including the iterative process of editing and revising.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
I don’t know that I’d call what I get “writer’s block.” There are times when I have to “work” at it, but I tend to think of those as being temporarily “stuck. When I’m stuck or struggling to make something work, I usually find that do something else creative for a while helps. I just let my sub-conscious work on the problem, while not actively thinking about it. Usually, the solutions I need in my plot or characterization come to me when I’m doing something else, often without me even being aware of it. When I come back to whatever I had me “stuck,” the answer, whatever that means usually comes to me.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
What keeps me going is my fascination with life and people. These are the essential building blocks of stories and I find both endlessly fascinating. I’m a compulsive people watcher and I enjoy constructing narratives in my mind based on my observations of the people I’m watching. I get flashes of insight that come to me through the people I know or in some cases, just happen to be observing. They teach me love, kindness, thoughtfulness, anger, sorrow and the full spectrum of human experience just through their observable actions. So my advice to new authors is to read with attention and engage in life every instant. Then bear witness to what you see all around you in ways that add to human understanding in what you write.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Dare. Be kind, be wise . Pick your battles, but dare to do “it,” even when it terrifies you. The more terrifying “it” is, the more we need to do “it”…whatever that is, for our own growth.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Yes. I take a deep breath and allow myself a momentary preen if it’s a good review and I shrug if it’s a bad one. Nothing I write will get applause from everyone, but I’m often surprised what others enjoy (or don’t). For me, the takeaway has been that none of us really know anything. We just think we do. So, I do my best and see the author’s journey as a process that will end when I die or stop writing, whichever comes first. The corollary being, don’t take any of it too seriously. It’s just stuff.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
It feels great at the time, especially if it’s a thoughtful review by someone whose own writing reveals intelligence and thought and a genuine appreciation of the story and characterization. But the high doesn’t last. The key, in my opinion is the not let it go to my head. I’m not my best or worst review. I’m shades of both.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Sure. I think most authors incorporate things they’ve learned or seen in their lives into their novels. And I’m no exception. Even if we embellish or change the names to protect the “guilty,” we import our experiences and how events affected us at the time in order to bring life to our stories and believability to our characters.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
In my first novel, West of Tomorrow, Clay Conover is very similar in experience, thinking and philosophy to me. It wasn’t strictly a veiled autobiography, but anyone who knows me well recognizes the author in the protagonist. More broadly, I think a lot of my attitudes and values wind up leaking into some of my principal characters. In other cases, they are antagonists/foils to the main characters. Often these are based on other people I’ve known. I will sometimes drop one of my own weaknesses into one of the characters and force them to work through them.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
From a marketing/promotional perspective they are probably co-equal. I think the cover should be evocative and draw the eye, as well as represent the genre (at least) in which I'm publishing. But if the story doesn’t deliver on the promise of the cover and the book description, I’ve done something wrong. Likewise, if the cover doesn't catch readers' interest when they see it, maybe the cover hasn't done it's job.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
Every chance I get. I enjoy hearing my readers’ perspective on my work. It’s important, I think, to know how what you wrote actually affected your reader. If the reactions don’t dovetail with what I thought I wrote, the question in my mind becomes “do I truly understand who my readers are…or did I do something in the story mislead? Either way, I have some work to do. I don’t want to repeat that mistake.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
Who is your favorite author? Why?
I only get one? Sorry. I can’t stick with just one. For historical fiction I’d have to say Frank Yerby. I thoroughly enjoyed his Odor of Sanctity, Ariston the Spartan and The Saracen Blade. For science fiction it’s probably either Robert Heinlein or John Scalzi. For non-fiction I’d have to go with Alvin Toffler.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
I’d like to be as highly thought of as an author who writes evocative stories that stick with them. I’d like to be as well thought of as Heinlein, or Frank Herbert in science fiction or maybe Nicolas Sparks from of "The Notebook" fame.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
I occasionally go back and tweak word choices, because I realize I could always have said something or described something better. I take that as a sign that I'm growing as a writer. But I like to think the plots and characters are pretty strong just as they are.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
However this my sound at first blush, I have to say no one. It has nothing to do with believing I’m all that great. It’s just that I want to be known for being me, whatever that is.
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.
I really don’t engage with them. Everyone is entitled to their take on my work. It just comes with the territory. In some cases, I actually appreciate what they have to say.
What would you say to your readers?
Read and by all means, circle back with me and let me know how my work affected you.
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I currently live in Laguna Niguel, California with my wife, a psychotic cat and 14 year old Ball Python named Corona I’ve had since he was a hatchling. I have one daughter, grown and gone.
What is your day job if you have one?
I am retired and write full time.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I’m a gym rat, an accomplished woodworker, an accomplished snow skier and a pretty good shot with a pistol.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Not particularly. It wasn’t awful, either. A lot of whatever angst I dealt with was self-inflicted. Home life was tempestuous and at school I was often the weirdest kid in the room.
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
Reading my grandfather’s letters. He wrote under his own byline with AP for over 50 years. His command of English was intimidating, second only to his intellect.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
No. Other than a couple I’m still working on. One is a contemporary novel about someone looking backward at his life. The other is the third volume in Knolan Cycle, a science fiction yarn of first contact.
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
Critical thinking. Collectively as a nation we suck at it. Whether it’s political dialog or scams it’s hard to argue with Robert Heinlein’s quote: “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” You can monetize it, weaponize it, mine it for political power and gaslighting each other.
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
Perceptiveness, inspiration and kindness.
What is your favorite music?
Jazz, New Age, Flamenco, Celtic.
Share a secret with us 🙂
There’s a reason secrets are secrets and as a Marine officer, I’m better than most at keeping them. Okay, okay. A scandalous secret, then. I often forget how old I am. I find I have to do quick math in my head to remember I was objectively over the hill a LONG time ago...