Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
I began writing science fiction short stories in high school. I started writing software and system engineering, non-fiction books in 1993. And I started writing speculative fiction (science fiction, paranormal, fantasy, and horror) novels and anthologies of short stories in 2000.
What makes writing your passion?
I write speculative fiction (i.e., science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, steampunk, and horror) because I love to read it. I wrote engineering books for software and systems engineers to spread the lessons I learned developing large, complex, software-intensive, military systems. Finally, I wrote a book on consciousness, neuroscience, and AI because I love the topic.
How long have you been writing?
I've been writing for over 5o years, having started writing science fiction short stories in high school.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
It was absolutely fantastic to hold my first book, some 23 years after I first started writing.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
Many of my books are driven by the situation I initially put my characters in. Often, that drives my choice of main characters. For example, in my Hell Holes series, the overnight appearance of huge holes in the Arctic led to my selection of a geology professor and climatologist as two of my main characters.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
Marketing and advertising. You can write a book that doesn’t sell well despite getting fantastic reviews and winning various book contests. It is difficult to compete as an indie author against authors backed by publishing companies willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to market and advertise a single book.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
I combat writer’s block by having multiple projects. I might work on another book or on a different chapter of the current book. Sometimes, I write a short story.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
Sadly, the vast majority of authors do not sell sufficient books to make a decent living. Writers often write because they have stories to tell. We primarily write because we enjoy writing, the sense of accomplishment, and how good reviews make them feel.
Keep writing and reading. Writing is a skill that improves with practice.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
It is never word doing something for which you will later feel embarrassment or guilt. And don’t fail to do things which you will later regret not doing.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Absolutely. I read every review, both good and bad. I look for specific complaints (especially when multiple bad reviews mention the same problem) so that I can fix them. I remember that even famous books get some bad reviews because everyone does not like the same things. Finally, I also look at the distribution of the reviews. For example, if I get lots of four- and five-star reviews and only a very small percentage of one- and two-star reviews, then I know I can be proud of what I accomplished.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
I absolutely love the great reviews, especially if the reviewer takes the time to be specific about what they liked. A great review can be a wonderful motivation for working on the current book or story.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Absolutely. For example, my fourth and fifth Hell Holes book involved gladiatorial combat. I used to fight in armor as a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism. This enabled me to make the combat in the books more realistic. Similarly, I have been in numerous meetings on military bases, so I know how they go.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
I am probably closest to Dr. Jack Oswald, the geologist who is the main protagonist of Hell Holes 1: What Lurks Below.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
Very important, but not as much as the actual story. The cover and title may sell a single book, but a great story will create a fan who will read many books.
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 talking with my readers via email and in person at book fairs and conventions. Some of my fans have become beta readers and Facebook friends.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
Absolutely great. We authors put a huge amount of work into our books, and it’s wonderful when your readers show their appreciation.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
It’s hard to pick a single author. As a teenager, I read every book that Isaac Asimov wrote: science fiction, science, basically everything. In college, it was JRR Tolkien. When I spent a year abroad, studying at the university in Munich, the only English language books I took with me were his trilogy. They were books I could read over and over again.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
I would love to have my Hell Holes novels made into movies. I did have a couple of producers commission a spec script for my first book in the series, but nothing ever came of it. Sigh.
I don’t really think in terms of comparing myself with any other author.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
No. While I happily make minor fixes for anything that slips by my editor and beta readers, I would much rather write something new than rewrite something that already exists.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
I don’t really think that way. I am happy to be 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.
Never feed the trolls. I ignore them. Then again, I’ve also been lucky enough to never have to deal with one.
What would you say to your readers?
I look forward to reading your honest reviews and to meeting you at book fairs and science fiction and fantasy conventions.
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I live in Pittsburgh with my wife, my adult daughter Sera, our dog Grommet, and our cat Sage. I have six children.
What is your day job if you have one?
Before I “retired” to devote myself full time to writing, I spent over 40 years developing large, complex, software-intensive systems. I am widely recognized as an authority in system and software engineering, having published seven technical books, authored over one hundred articles and papers, spoken at dozens of international conferences, and given training courses to hundreds of engineers. I have used this background to ensure the scientific, engineering, and military accuracy of my novels.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I handcraft and sell one-of-a-kind magic wands from various woods and gemstones.
Did you have a happy childhood?
No. I was raised by a fundamental Christian mother that strongly drilled into me the premise of “turning the other cheek.” Between that and being intellectually gifted resulted in significant bullying. I also had extremely poor relationships with my father (arrested when I was five) and stepfather. Things only improved when I moved out and got a job at age 17.
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
No. My love of reading (especially science fiction) naturally led me to writing my own short stories.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
I am currently working on Hell Holes 5: Insurrection. It tells the story of the rebellion of human and other alien slaves from their demon masters.
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
1) Fund public education at the state and federal level instead of by local property taxes. The quality of education should not depend on the relative wealth of the local community.
2) To teach the true history of racism in this country, including that against Native Americans, Blacks, and Asian Americans.
3) To assign books that tell uncomfortable truths.
4) To teach how other countries handle socially important issues such as health care, infrastructure, policing, etc. Students should not automatically assume that everything is better in America. Having visited over 30 countries and lived in two of them, I know it isn't.
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
Assuming these are author-related wishes:
1) Have a movie made from my Hell Holes series.
2) Have a book on the New York Times bestseller list.
3) Win a Hugo prize.
What is your favorite music?
I like just about every type of music except country western, heavy metal, and rap. I typically listen to music from the video game Skyrim when I write. If I want to write powerful fight scenes, I listen to music by Two Steps from Hell.
Share a secret with us 🙂
I'm an introvert and somewhat of a self-sufficient loner. I spent three months bicycling by myself over 3,000 miles in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. And I would often go on 2-3 day hikes by myself in the Cascade Mountains, just enjoying having the wilderness all to myself.