Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
A bit in high school (1973-77) but more in college (Virginia Military Institute 1977 - 1981). Most of these were assignments. But some became serious works, such as “Sand Here and There” about a soldier experiencing madness and confusion when confronted with sand that reminded him of combat stress. It became re-worked as “Monster in the Sand” (MITS) a cryptozoology-related short using the “unreliable narrator” style/POV made famous by Edgar Allan Poe. MITS was a psychological and spiritual thriller published in 2019.
What makes writing your passion?
It is how I serve my fellow humans and God. I care whether people grapple with serious issues and also get their money’s worth.
How long have you been writing?
Professional writing has been intermittent, starting in 1992 with financial and business brokerage articles and a few short stories.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
Wow, you really want to know the emotional battle that ensued? Okay, then:
My first book was a 1997 novel, The Pleistocene Redemption (TPR). TPR was recommended to Ed Gleason at America’s largest Science Fiction publisher, Tor, by two of its bestselling authors, Doug Preston & Lincoln Child. But I learned from my agent, Frank Weimann, that evaluation, inevitable improvements needed and publication would take about two years! Impatience – and ignorance of the self-publishing stigma – led me to self-publish in mid-1998. TPR received twenty-six strong reviews (half pre-publication) and two slams by the end of that year but sold 4,100 copies (net of store excess inventory returned). That’s still strong sales when you consider TPR had just $1,500 in advertising and a dozen small-time tabling events, and a few local media interviews by the end of 1999. TPR was a Writers’ Foundation Best of America Award finalist. What caused organized retribution for a self-published novel doing reasonably well, however, was this: TPR also beat out over 100 royalty novels for the Science Fiction Writers of America Nebula award, coming close to making the final ballot. That caused serious, even organized retribution. I was informed by author Robert J. Sawyer that some fellow members of the Science fiction Writers of America solicited certain fans and fellow authors to write negative reviews on Amazon and other venues! On top of that, the disrespect given to such authors by industry professionals and some readers was shocking. Despite Improvements over the years, that stigma dogged the project, despite a new agent and interest by Paramount and some small presses. But I don’t give up, and now people all over the world can enjoy TPR’s re-write, Ancient of Genes (AOG), and my agent is making progress with the TV pilot episode script and series proposal. It just might make it this time!
I’ve written other books, nonfictions like The Secrets of Successful Financial Planning, short stories and articles. These have all been royalty-published. But royalty publishing is not all it’s cracked up to be and I have experienced that big publishers lord it over authors!
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
Harrigan and Freund are different sides of me: tough-guy heroes, soldiers, scientists (I am a serious hobbyist in the natural sciences). They are friendly but fierce debaters over faith and miracles. Lloyd is a buffoon who grows into a leader and hero; he and Harrigan as well as other characters shape numerous spinoff short stories that will form a sequel to AOG. I should not ruin the story by giving hints about the antagonist, Iraqi Premier Ishmael Mon. I’ve written nonfiction and other tales not closely related to AOG, but it and the slowly progressing Ancient Beacon series are my primary works.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
Snooty, highbrow “experts” who scoff at self-published authors. Here are two examples: A now deceased friend, Bob Silverman, showed me an article by a well-known author who submitted to major publishers manuscripts of actual bestselling books he’d written… only to have those actual bestsellers rejected! In another case, an agent then with Jabberwocky Agency – unaware that I wrote TPR and its rewrite, AOG, in 1997 and 2017 respectively – told me that the premise of my book was unoriginal because authors like Graham Brown and some others wrote bestsellers in its sub-genre in the 2010s. He also said that prologues were not allowed for first time authors – he was also unaware that I had written two books in addition to TPR/AOG. Not all experts know what they’re talking about or even seek information before they offer expert advice.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
Writing outlines and charting linked events helps to almost eliminate writer’s block because you give yourself many small writing assignments. Most of us are habituated to complete assignments.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
1. Research is essential, but experience is the only thing that can yield authenticity.
2. Imagine situations and scenes, jot them down in a notebook.
3. Whatever you cut, keep -- in an organized way -- for use in other stories.
4. Elicit emotion by showing action, character reactions & other effects; rarely by telling.
5. Every action and scene must move the story forward; even intentional red herrings (as with crime or mysteries) are needful but MUST have a purpose beyond being merely interesting.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Don’t slack off going to church and working on your prayer life.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
I do. I used to get upset (the TPR experience). But now I glean all the insight I can.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
Like anyone, I need an Atta boy from time to time. Good reviews can also give insight into what needs to be done more or expanded.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Yes. See my “A Writing Style Shaped by Life-experiences” in the back matter of Ancient of Genes or at AuthorDan.com. An example is that the fight scene in Chapter One really happened almost exactly as described.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
See the foregoing comment about Harrigan and Freund.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
I discovered in 1998 the power of a book cover. Cover art can stop a browsing reader in his/her tracks. Combined with intriguing teases on the back cover and references to front or back matter a well-designed cover can cause a purchase or motivate sampling. I have observed this process work many times at tabling events.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I love to communicate with readers! The Contact page at AuthorDan.com sends me a direct email, and I answer every one.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
We must all avoid letting accomplishments go to our heads; there’s always someone else better at tasks than we. As a practical matter, though, professional accolades and word of mouth recommendations are essential in order for people to at least learn of an author’s work so that the work may be of benefit to readers.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He is versatile and excites readers. Generating emotion is job one for any author, and readers deserve to experience them!
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
I do not have a goal to be “as big as” anyone. My goal is to prompt as many readers as possible to grapple with big issues – and to help them have fun doing that.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
I did! My nonfiction, The Secret of Successful Financial Planning needs some of the tax chapter revised, but there are updates on my website.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
I would not switch places because I love my wife, kids and animals; I would not want other authors to struggle as much as I have.
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’m unaware of that, but I do know that some people would use their keyboards to harm others of opposing philosophies; I’ve already mentioned above those motivated by outrage, jealousy and the pleasure of harming others.
What would you say to your readers?
Ponder the situations and issues my writing broaches; exercise your mind if you don’t already!
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
Charlotte, NC. Laura and I married in 1988, loved raising our four children, and assisted both Boy and Girl Scouting at our church through 2010.
What is your day job if you have one?
I retired in January 2019 after thirty years in the financial planning and business brokerage field. I taught part-time, worked wood art, and started a freelance content & editing business. However, my replaced knees and atrociously deteriorating spine made all of that progress from difficult to impossible. Even my short story writing is arduously slow and error-prone. I have to re-edit and write down reminders far more than most writers. What’s harder is giving up, so I progress very slowly but with dogged determination!
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I love to explore the woods, find and carve highly figured wood. That’s burled and other extraordinary grained & colored wood. That is quite rare now indeed. Mostly, I sit with my wife and sometimes my kids and enjoy the company of friends.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Yes. I was very active, usually had multiple activities going simultaneously. I studied and exercised hard to one day be a soldier or a spy. I became a soldier and served numerous spies in my financial practice near Camp Peary, VA (the CIA human intelligence training facility).
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
Teachers required it, and I found I enjoyed it.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
I have a humor book composed of a wide variety of items from limericks to humor short stories. People like these. I promise to get to finishing that, too!
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
Back to basic skills: Rhetoric, symbolic logic, persuasion, literary analysis, mathematics (especially practical math), truthful history, science, business/Econ, other humanities, and real PhysEd. No time for indoctrinating; gotta halt that stuff!
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
Some are unrealistic or impractical or private. So, I wish that:
1. educators would promote a love of good literature and the foregoing disciplines
2. publishers would not be highbrow or snooty.
3. experts would really be that, instead of causing the public to become jaded.
What is your favorite music?
I have catholic taste in music, but recoil from most country, hard rock and rap.
Share a secret with us 🙂
I supported a Special Forces mission into the Soviet Union long ago, but will give you no details. I mean it; no details. But it was crucial that this technical “act of war” operation had to be conducted.