I have lived in Virginia most of my life. I have always written, and the only thing better is reading. I would still be a confirmed bachelor, but 20 years ago Fate intervened when I was run down while riding my bike. Both of my arms were broken, as well as a wrist. A French woman in my apartment building took pity on me and took me in tow. Next thing I knew, I was married. What attracted me? Her French cooking? The fact that she was a bookworm? Her good practical sense? Perhaps. But we were quite simpatico, in a mysterious sort of way, and marrying her was the best thing I ever did. One can almost believe that a Jungian form of coincidence was at work here.
What inspires you to write?
Enjoyment. It’s the most absorbing pastime imaginable. Samuel Johnson said something to the effect that anyone who doesn’t write for money is an ass. Which I guess makes me sort of…let’s not go there. But I won’t deny that the success of one of my books, which has generated modest revenue, has pleased me.
Tell us about your writing process.
Strictly seat of the pants. I have only known beforehand the ending to a few of my books. I prefer to think this is in the tradition of Dickens, who only had a general idea of where he was headed–although it’s true he always kept one eye on the marketplace. On the other hand, when Wilkie Collins talked him into outlining Great Expectation, the result was one of his best novels. Isaac Asimov said he planned out every one of his books and only a fool would do otherwise. Which once again puts me in the corner with the dummies. But if you arrive at your destination before you even begin, where’s the fun?
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I probably do without being aware of it. If my protagonist begins doing something outrageous, I often use a secondary character voice my own thoughts. For example, at the end of The Godless One I have Ari perform an act that is touching, but also very unsettling. I have an Deputy Marshal who is observing the scene say, “What are you doing, Ari?” under her breath, which is pretty much what I was thinking, too. But Ari wanted to do it–actually, emotionally speaking, he had no choice–so I let the scene play out according to his desires. For a more substantial example, I return to Dickens, who often interacted with his characters. Joyce probably had great fun interacting with Finnegan, but I wouldn’t really know since I couldn’t get past page 20 of the Wake. Leopold Bloom, though, was great.
What advice would you give other writers?
As I mentioned before, keep plugging away. I also suggest reading. They can be great writers, semi-great, or god-awful. They all have something to teach you. But this is not a hard and fast rule. I recall reading an interview with a writer several years ago (can’t remember his name) who said he never read anything. On a personal note: don’t be overawed by literary prizes. I think some of the big winners over the last dozen years are real stinkers. By the way, don’t ever let a literary agent talk you into making changes until you have some kind of contract with either him/her or a publisher. I spent a couple of years making changes to one of my novels (At the Midway) to suit an agent, only to have him finally declare that the market he had in mind for me was no longer available.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
After many years of coming within a hair’s breadth of getting a reputable publisher, I pretty much gave up on the idea of embracing fame via my writing. I also reached an age where I could give fame short shrift, which is what it deserves. Whenever I finished a book, I would submit it to a few agents and accrue the usual rejections. Several agents wanted The 56th Man, however; but when they saw my other books they decided I was not a proper genre writer. I even had to go through the cumbersome process of negating a contract with one of them. I was on the verge of placing my books at Manybooks for free–and I still think that’s a wonderful concept. But then the grace and majesty of Amazon Kindle descended upon the world, and I promptly posted half of my manuscripts online. It’s generally nicer to be read by a few than by no one at all.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Unless the electricity fails or hackers finally succeed into dismantling the internet, I think the industry is headed for ebook dominance. I personally like both options. In spite of owning roughly 10,000 books, I still go to the city library and inhale the volumes. But let’s face it, most libraries don’t have all of Balzac on their shelves–and the complete La Comedie humaine is available at Project Guttenberg! In English!
What genres do you write?
SF, Mystery, Historical, Social, Tragedy, Comedy
What formats are your books in?