What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I am a vagabond author, so I am literally on a pilgrimage at all times. I make it a practice to always spot and check out a location I’ve read about if I am near. I think the closest thing to what you are referring to is a trip I made with my daughter and her best friend after we’d read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. We went to Rome and tracked down as many sites mentioned in the book that we could. It was great fun and we learned an incredible amount of actual history as well. In writing, I’ve frequently gone places just for research. When I wrote The Gutenberg Rubric, I visited the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany and got to pull a print on a ‘Gutenberg press.’
What is the first book that made you cry?
Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Wounded Land, book one in “The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.” At the end of the book, the characters end up in the Giant’s town where all the giants had killed themselves in shame over the corruption of three of their number. Covenant creates a Rite of Camora to purge the giants of their guilt and shame. At the time, I thought it was the most beautifully written prose I had ever encountered and it profoundly influenced my writing for many years.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Yes. In general, writing first thing in the morning is the way I start my day and get ready to face whatever challenges it brings. Sometimes, I can hardly stop writing to do such mundane things as eat. There are times, however, when a scene or passage that I’ve written is emotionally and physically so draining I have to take a nap.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I’d have to say the most common trap is not reading what you have written. To some extent, I blame technology. We write on the computer and depend on little squiggly lines to tell us if something is wrong. We write under ‘the influence of the muse’ and have a natural tendency to believe it is inspired and therefore perfect. I cannot even begin to tell you how many stories I’ve read that I’m sure the author never actually read after it was written. This is not just for proofreading spelling and punctuation. When you actually read your work, you will find confusing sentences, duplicated concepts, redundancy, inconsistency, even gaps in the plot, and many other problems. Read what you’ve written!
What is your writing Kryptonite?
‘Research.’ I frequently have a browser with two or three or a dozen tabs open where I’m looking up things like “Camora” (the rite Covenant performed above) and find that I am reading a plethora of information about an Italian mafia-type crime syndicate. A little interruption just to check a spelling can cause long side-trips into subjects I didn’t know I was interested in. I have never, however, had my writing process interrupted by cleaning house, doing laundry, or washing dishes.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Although we write in starkly contrasting genres, Jason Black is a great friend and influential author as well as an incredible editor. His young adult and children’s books (Blackpelt, Bread for the Pharaoh, Pebblehoof) are great reads and will soon be out in new editions. But Jason has also taught me to read critically and to understand the process of writing. He has edited several of my books and has significantly changed the way I look at what I’ve written. (www.plottopunctuation.com)
I’ve also had the opportunity to read several of Amy Romine’s romance thrillers, some long before they were published. I particularly remember the margin comments one of her editors made regarding dialog attribution. It profoundly affected how I wrote my upcoming release (June 2020) American Royalty 1: Coming of Age.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
My first published book was For Blood or Money back in 2007.I’d written the entire first draft during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and discovered the joy of writing fast. Of course, writing fast wasn’t enough. You have to go back and read what you’ve written and edit the heck out of it. But I got an entire novel written in 30 days. I’ve maintained the process of writing first drafts fast, even if not during NaNoWriMo, and this past year averaged 3,129 words per day in first drafts. For 365 days!
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
A Sears Electric Typewriter. I spent almost $200 of my student loan in 1968 to buy the typewriter. My first short story was written on it as well as all my college papers. It also contributed to the ability to write 3,129 words or more a day by getting my typing speed up over 100 words per minute.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
That’s a tough one because I don’t like to admit that I ever hurt someone’s feelings. But I actually learned that at a very young age when I lost a dear friend through hurting her feelings by something I said. Sadly, it is a lesson I have had to relearn many times.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Ryan Sylander’s Opus One. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32066817-opus-one) This is again one of the most beautiful works of prose I’ve read. It not only has beautiful passages about brilliant musicians, it has an incredible sense of passion, both for music and for people. Ryan and I have often laughed about how our works have influenced each other but I am happy to be second to such a master. (Only available as a serial at StoriesOnline.net.)
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A few years ago, I was searching for a title for the second of my Erotic Paranormal Romance Western Adventures. I was doing research in Laramie, Wyoming when something Jason said to me finally woke me up. He said the first book’s title, Redtail, was not only a type of bird but was a description of a characteristic. That was when I realized my raven would be called Blackfeather. It seemed like the moment I chose the title, my life was filled with Ravens. I drove south from Laramie to southern New Mexico as I wrote the book and it seemed there was a raven sitting beside the highway like a special guardian every five miles along the journey. I was adopted by this symbol of creativity and now wear a raven medallion around my neck and carry a raven engraved worry stone in my pocket. I’m thinking of a tattoo.
What does literary success look like to you?
Readers. I had to really consider that question when I started publishing and at first, like most new authors, success looked like a six figure advance from a major publisher. But the more I considered the fact that I’d been writing for more than thirty years before my first publication, the more I realized I don’t write for a living. I write to live. And the evidence of that is not in sales but in readership and reader engagement. I answer five to fifty emails from fans each week and my lengthy serial Living Next Door to Heaven was downloaded 1.2 million times. Even though it was free, I consider that success!
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Not being the opposite sex. Much of what I write is influenced by experience. A character’s viewpoint is either influenced by my own or by an interaction. It is very difficult to let go of my opinion about how ‘she should react’ and accept how ‘she would react.’
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
You do like difficult questions. I believe everything I’ve read has influenced how I think about fiction. And I suppose that reinforces the cliché that writers read.
How do you select the names of your characters?
My mother, rest her soul, loved to collect names. This was long before baby name websites. I have more than fifty typewritten pages of four columns of names. Many of my early works had names selected from her lists. I’ve used various family names (Serepte Allen) for characters. Of course, now it is easy to pick names from a website of family names and have it at least be reasonable for a person from the culture or area of the country that my character matches. Sometimes I look at meaning as well as origin. And sometimes I just say “John” until something better comes along.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Not really. Still I know that some things are written only for myself. A theatre director in my current WIP has his assistant memorize his coffee order: Cream and double sugar. It will mean nothing to anyone else, but it was how my own director in college ordered his assistants to get him coffee.
What was your hardest scene to write?
In the lengthy saga of Living Next Door to Heaven, Book 8 Becoming the Storm, there was a college shooting. One of my favorite characters was killed and five more were seriously wounded. I couldn’t believe I’d killed that beautiful young woman who had so much potential. I was camped along the Oregon coast when I wrote that. I spent a day throwing rocks and screaming myself hoarse yelling at the waves crashing on the shore. I didn’t write another word for two weeks.
What is your favorite childhood book?
I was an avid member of the Weekly Reader Book Club and the first book that became a favorite was Champion Dog Prince Tom. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/202070.Champion_Dog) Perhaps it was because my dog Buttercup looked a lot like Prince Tom, even though he was a purebred Cocker Spaniel and mine was a purebred mutt.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
The lull between. I have upwards of thirty-five books in the market and when I finish writing one, it is almost impossible for me to wait before I start writing another. I typically have three or four works in progress at various stages. Posting as a serial, editing, rewriting, or drafting. But it is drafting a story that I am addicted to. Taking time off between stories is almost impossible.
When you die – what would you like the universe to say to you as you walk into the next life?
“Wait! You’re dead? I thought you’d never die!”
“I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, ‘Aw shit, he’s up!’”
Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
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