During a lull at work, after a random search on the internet, I came across the phrase: “PASSAGE GRAVES”. My brain exploded. The name had me hooked. What in the world was a passage grave? My life changed in that moment, and the four-book series of PASSAGE GRAVES was born. The story immediately blossomed. Like writers say, “it just came to me.”
PASSAGE GRAVES was originally written as a screenplay while I was a post-grad film student at UCLA. In fact, in its infancy, the script was entered into a screenplay contest sponsored by Steven Spielberg and won as a finalist. Over time, I transformed the story into a very intricately researched novel. The characters came alive, and a larger story arch emerged. Indiana Jones was reincarnated, thrown into the 21st century and faced with surviving the impending Apocalypse!
The day job? I make a living as a technical writer. I have worked for the Department of Defense developing weapons of mass destruction. In fact, I edited classified material for “The Manhattan Project.” I have devised plans for futuristic tactical satellites (the size of a Coke can!) and developed technology to track fallout from biochemical weapons. As a hardcore pacifist, I eventually transitioned into medical writing. In some strange form of transcendental penance, I now write solely to cure cancer. It has been a wonderful transition. I hope my love for science is evident in my fiction. Mostly, I hope I can make science freakin’ fascinating! Research is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing a book. And PASSAGE GRAVES has required a remarkable amount of research. I have traveled the world meeting archeologists and acoustic scientists (which is a great tax deduction, by the way).
What inspires you to write?
The novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee inspired me to write. I read it in 7th grade. The book deeply affected me. I discovered words could change my life and my perspective. The Cat in the Hat was also a game-changer. Inspired!
Tell us about your writing process.
I’m an “outliner” when it comes to the writing process. I have a little black notebook I keep with me everywhere I go. It is filled with timelines and plot points, character descriptions, etc. As you work your way through the notebook, you can watch a character change and grow–really evolve into someone with multiple dimensions and great complexity. Honestly, I feel like these stories and characters already exist and I am compelled to discover them.
Even mapped stories can “hit a wall”, so to speak, and stagnate for a few weeks if I haven’t yet comprehended what is supposed to happen next. That can be frustrating. It usually signifies that my map is wrong. Intuitively, I understand something has to change. Fortunately, it is only a matter of time until the plot is revealed to me. That takes patience, though. It also takes research, time and exposure. Sometimes I don’t know what is supposed to happen because I (as a writer) need to learn or experience something in my own life in order to realize the next scene. After that, it all boils down to craft, discipline and fine-tuning. Writing and rewriting.
It really helped to develop PASSAGE GRAVES as a screenplay, scene by scene, almost mathematically hitting the 15 minute mark “inciting incident” and following the 3-act structure. I mapped the story–the bones–and then ran with it.
After mapping the story, typically from there I fly by the seat of my pants. What is most surprising is when you tell you character that in chapter X they are supposed to do Y, and the character actually does Z. In the end, the characters dictate story. I can know where I want to end up, but the journey can take many unexpected twists.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I definitely listen to my characters. Sometimes, they keep me up all night. For PASSAGE GRAVES, I struggled the most connecting with Ian. I had a difficult time getting into his head. He is one of the most important characters in the series. In the first book of the PASSAGE GRAVES series, I felt I needed to tread a fine line in making his persona “likeable” and “relate-able”. I want the reader to be indecisive about whether they do or do not like him. His is the story of a person of faith failing and losing his faith. That is an unpleasant tale. I hope, at the very least, the audience is sympathetic toward him.
Also, successfully or not (that’s up to the reader), I have purposefully crafted a series where it is unclear who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist. I don’t know anyone who is entirely good or entirely bad. We all have redemptive qualities. We all live complicated lives.
What advice would you give other writers?
Write because you love to write. If you write for any other reason, you will be disappointed.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
How did I decide to publish PASSAGE GRAVES? That is a long, painful, drawn-out story. The short version? I didn’t have a choice. I could either self-publish or shelve it. I signed with a NY agent in 2012 (who shall remain nameless). As far as I know, he solicited publishers for six months without success. During that time, he was enthusiastic, excited and supportive. His agency is a duo team, and although they were both rookies, they had a track record–a few great hits. At the time I signed with them, I strongly felt they were the right choice in terms of representation. PASSAGE GRAVES needed new vision, the eagerness and fervor of someone wet behind the ears. Immediately following the termination of our contract, the agency did not reply to any emails or phone messages. As far as I know, they dropped off the face of the earth. (Although, I have seen they have a made a few big-six sales in the last year, so they are obviously alive.) Regardless, I was stuck. I had no idea who they had queried. They were unresponsive. So, like I said, I had no choice. I could bury PASSAGE GRAVES for another decade or take control and publish it myself. It was a difficult, yet very self-empowering decision. Ask me in three years if it was worth it.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I hope the new business model of “writers maintaining their e-rights, finding success and then selling their publishing rights” continues. Handling marketing, promotion and PR as a writer is a daunting task. There are many times that I wonder if my time would be better spent working on the next novel instead of searching for blog-tour opportunities. Ultimately, it will be the fans who decide what succeeds and what fails.
What genres do you write?
Techno-thriller, Young Adult, and Literary Fiction
What formats are your books in?