I was born in the South and spent my early childhood in the farm country of the Midwest. The lure of aerospace brought my family out to Southern California and I spent my adolescence and eventually went to college in the Los Angeles area. At first, I wanted to be a musician, but the discipline wasn’t right for me and I turned to Film Making and creative writing. After making my first feature and working in the industry, my interest turned more and more to screenwriting and I wrote numerous screenplays and television scripts. The older I got, the less this pleased me and I eventually turned more toward novels and short stories. I published my first novel, “The Galley” in 2012 and have also published a second book, “The Beethoven Incident” in early 2013. I am a father of four and have three grandchildren, all boys. Another is on the way, another boy. I live quietly with my wife and family in El Monte, Ca. Which is close enough to L.A. to be part of it, but far enough away to have a little peace and time to myself.
What inspires you to write?
I am very impressionable and almost anything can inspire me to write. It can be something as simple as a tune or a picture. Sometimes, it is nothing at all. just an idea that pops into my head and starts to develop on it’s own. I think the main thing that keeps me poking away is the urge to create something of one kind or another. If I don’t write, I compose or play music, or paint, or edit film. But there is always something creative to do. I think I would loose my edge if I didn’t. It is the glue that holds me together.
Tell us about your writing process.
I never undertake a story until it is finished in my head first. The basic story usually comes to me in an outline form, which I never write down. I internalize it like a movie playing over and over in my mind. Each time it does, it gets more and more detailed as I actually experience the emotion of it. My stories tend to grow around the emotions instead of the other way around. By feeling the book from the inside it actually helps me to gauge whether or not the work is real and sincere. The rest of the process involves logical integrity. I never want my readers to look at one of my stories and say, “That could never happen.”, or “He just did that to get through it.”. In other words, there must be a logical cause and effect to what is taking place in the story. That’s what makes it flow the way it should. I also don’t rush the process. Sometimes I write very quickly. One feature screenplay went from idea to finished product in less than 24 hours, and no revisions were ever necessary. Other stories, like “The Galley” can take years to complete. I always have at least half a dozen books in development at any given time. But only one is actually on the word processor at a time, and remains that way until it is done. Once I start typing, the only story that matters is the one I am working on. The characters begin as components within the story, but I sketch them as I go, adding personality traits along with personal histories. I prefer to discover my characters, like real, living people. I find that they are more interesting to write about.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I am always listening to my characters, but I usually don’t talk to them. I have been known to comment on their behaviors, “Gracchus, You are a real bastard!”, etc. My favorite film maker was John Ford, he had a knack for creating characters whom you knew intimately the moment you met them. I always shoot for the same goal in my writing, so I give my characters a pretty free reign as far as their reactions and feelings go. I have had moments where I begin to have a character do this or that only to find them sitting next to me with arms crossed, glaring at me and saying: “I would never do that!”. At other times I will write a scene where I expect the characters to do one thing and they end up doing something else. In “The Galley”, I never even imagined that Gracchus would sexually assault Sarah, or that she would turn the tables on him with his own abuse. The characters did that on their own. Similarly, when he was set free to escape, I was amazed when a lance flew over the shoulder of my central character and cut him down. When we turned to see who threw it, it was thrown by the female protagonist! I was amazed as he was, because I had no idea she was so handy with a spear! The test for me with any character is whether or not they develop a sense of spontaneity. This is how I know they are real. If not, I work them over until I can practically smell them. I think characters who don’t have this sense are contrived and I avoid them if I can.
What advice would you give other writers?
Enjoy yourself. Always write what you want and don’t be too much of a perfectionist to let your ideas flow. There is an editing and revising process for achieving perfection and it is better to relax and unfold your story the way it strikes you on the first pass. Don’t second guess yourself. I mention this simply because the vast majority of books that get started never get finished for one reason or another. Usually because of overthinking or self-doubt. The first book is always the hardest and it is easy to stall. But any writer will tell you that once you find you can complete a book, you know can write others and you will. Nobody ever stops at one. So let nothing deter you, get it done. It is better to write a complete terrible book than an incomplete masterpiece. You can always improve it later. The second thing is make a serious study of story and character arcs. Every story, regardless of what it is, has a momentum, like a one-way highway, toward a metamorphosis and conclusion. Don’t just sit at an empty screen and start putting down ideas. Have a very clear picture in your mind of what the overall flow of your story will be. And don’t be too proud to consult experts on the subject of creative writing. There are millions of eBooks on the web that are unreadable and only about fifty thousand or so that are by real writers. (These writers, by the way, are exceptionally good!). For first timers, make the most of your word processor, I never understand why I see incorrect spelling or improper punctuation in this day and age. Modern WPs even help to construct a proper sentence! Finally, when it is ready to publish, be realistic in your expectations. The stories about instant bestsellers is more lore than fact, and an author has to work hard to get even a great book seen and appreciated. Writing is only about 25% of the work. If your book doesn’t take off right away, and it probably won’t, have faith in it and yourself. In time, you can learn how to make your books survive in the marketplace. With patience and effort, you can be a successful writer.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Before I completed “The Galley” I took the issue of publication up very seriously. I had the advantage of being a skilled screenwriter and knew people who were successful writers who gave me the benefit of their experience. The landscape looked bleak. In order to get a book submitted to a conventional publisher there are a number steps, some of which can be very risky, to getting your book looked at. Most publishers turn a cold shoulder to submissions by unknown authors. In order to take that route, I would have needed to spend a good deal of time making a name with a blog of my own and contributing to other online publications. And consider seeking out a good literary agent. This could have taken me months or years I did not wish to invest. The second issue that concerned me was the editorial process, coming from Hollywood, I had learned from experience that this could be a very trying experience, especially with highly original material of the kind I was doing. Nobody had ever written a story like it before, and editors can often conform your ideas into something a lot less imaginative. I finally decided to self-publish, avoiding the pitfalls that an author new to print can run up against. Of course, this is just trading one set of problems for another. A self-published author is left with all the heavy lifting that a conventional publisher can provide, such as publicity, distribution and credibility. The advantages though, can be just as great. You control your content, publicity, marketing and product image, as well as placement. When self-publishing is done right, it can be very rewarding, even if is very demanding. And it is. I not suggesting that this is the best way to publish, nor is it the worst. Each author must consider carefully which approach will work for them.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
There has never been a better time to be an author of literature. Although the old corner bookstore may be disappearing, book sales are higher than ever, thanks in large part, to the advent of EBooks and electronic readers. This market is only going to continue to grow and diversify. While a stigma is still attached to self publishing, this too is beginning to fade with the rise of best selling EBooks and very fine writers coming from the ranks of the self published. That said, book binding and physical books themselves will always remain. Personally, I still prefer the feel of a good, solid book in my hands and countless others do. But EBooks, like everything on the internet, are a rising tide whose boundaries have not yet been reached. Even the most established publishing companies agree with that. The next generation of writing stars will probably come from E publications.
What genres do you write?
Historic Fiction, Science Fiction, Adventure, Horror
What formats are your books in?
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