Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
I was a late-bloomer, as they say. I didn't start writing until my late twenties, when I was teaching second grade . Those darn second-graders forced me to write—after all, they were writing, why shouldn't I?
What makes writing your passion?
Double Gemini with Mercury and Mars in the 1st house! That's a powerful arrangement: Gemini's quick, alert mind fueled by Mercury's need to communicate, all driven by Mars's warrior spirit. It was either that or become a standup comic.
How long have you been writing?
For decades... I mean, four decades.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
When I tore open the package containing the advanced copy for my first book I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out. Not that I didn't have anything to say or feel, just the opposite: I was overwhelmed by the experience.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
They pick me, I don't pick them.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
The fact that it's never over. You write and write and write, and keep on writing: it's the pursuit of perfection, which as you know is impossible to attain.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
Ignore it. Just keep writing. I always have more than one project going, so when I get stuck I just pull up stakes and move to another project that's simmering beneath the surface.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
Don't look back and don't listen to others. Keep focused on the fact that you can do it (even if your dog dies, your kids won't talk to you, and your spouse leaves you).
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Read more. I once heard the children's author Avi tell students that if they ever wanted to become a writer then they had to read and read and then read some more. Good advice.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Only to make sure there are no spelling mistakes. Bad ones? I curse and scream and throw them against the wall—and then I just as quickly forget them.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
Everyone loves me, well, at least one person does.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
All writing is autobiographical, so the answer is yes. Oh, and by the way, I've only written one novel—a semi-autobiographical novel titled Shark Man.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
Billy-Boy in Shark Man, my one and only attempt to write a novel (I prefer narrative nonfiction) is based on my teenage years surfing up and down the east coast of Florida. I still like him, Billy-Boy, not my teenage self.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
Very, very important. Spend a lot of time both on the image(s) and the text. Large type for the title so it can be read from across the room.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
For the first thirty years of my writing career I hit the road and visited schools and bookstores. In the last ten years of my career I prefer the solitary confines of my house and neighborhood. Aging, no. It's that darn horoscope again: no planets in the upper hemisphere, the sphere of social interaction. I'm an introvert by nature.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
It's terrific, why just the other day the clerk at my local hardware store asked if I wrote books. I beamed, "Why, yes," and every plumber, carpenter, and bricklayer stopped and stared.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
I am my favorite author, not out of hubris, but out of a sense of what I am doing is important and necessary—for me. To hell with others, I write for myself (and any author who says otherwise is simply lying).
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
I'm always rewriting my books, in my head. It's that search for perfection that I mentioned earlier. But new ideas drive me forward: I'd rather research a new idea than fiddle around with an old one. But if I had to I'd rewrite From Lectern to Laboratory, a book about how science and technology influenced the curricula of antebellum colleges. I just got stuck in too many rabbit holes and couldn't get out (which is why one of my editors said that I tend to overwrite; and she's right, I often do).
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
Stephen King, 'cause he's a gazillionare!
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.
Nothing, 'cause it's not worth my time.
What would you say to your readers?
Nothing, 'cause what I've written is what is worth their time.
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I'm a Chicagoan, not native to the city, but I've been here long enough to have deep roots.
What is your day job if you have one?
I write, and read, and write some more.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
Who has spare time? But when I do, I play music, synths mostly, very ambient, droning synths (drives my wife bananas).
Did you have a happy childhood?
Nope. Dad died early, stepfather beat the crap out of me. Any other questions?
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
Reading children's books to my daughters (yes, I'm married and have kids), and to my second-grade students (who loved them as much as I did).
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
Are you kidding? Every writer has a stack of unpublished stories and books. Where would you like to start?
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
Close schools and send kids out into the streets so they can learn about what's really going on.
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
That I could bring my first cat back to life. That I could fly. That I could get to the end of this interview (oops, sorry).
What is your favorite music?
I stream music all day, mostly ambient space music. Not only am I a double Gemini, but I'm all "air" (six out of ten planets, that is).
Share a secret with us 🙂
Well, then it wouldn't be a secret, would it?