Q: How do you work through self-doubts and fear?
A: I have a little mantra I say when I’ve had a really bad day. I developed it when I got laid off in 2011 and I had no idea where I was going to live or what I was going to do. It goes like this: “Something good will happen tomorrow.”
I have found that statement to be 100% true. Sometimes I have to look hard, but I can always find something good.
So when I find myself doubting or when I think I’m never going to have the career I want, I let myself wallow in that misery for a very short time. But when I go to bed, I say, “something good will happen tomorrow.” Then I get up the next day and get back to it.
Q: What makes you happiest?
A: My family. I just remarried in March, and I feel so terribly fortunate. I have a wife I love dearly, who understands me as no one ever has. I have a daughter I am reconnecting with after a long estrangement. I have two amazing stepchildren. And they all make being an author possible and fulfilling. Every day is a happy one – even the bad days.
Q: Why do you write?
A: I’m a storyteller. I have been since I was very little. It took me a long time to hone my craft and find the will to really make this dream of mine happen, but I write because it’s my destiny. It’s what I do best. I have stories inside me, and I have to bring them out. And I want them to say something, not just entertain. I write because I have something to say.
Q: Have you always enjoyed writing?
A: Yes. And the more I’ve worked at it, the more I’ve gotten to enjoy it. I used to be solely concerned with creating the story – with getting it down and out of my head. Now, I actually like the rewriting process better. Writing the first draft is my least favorite part of the process, which is kind of unusual since that’s when the story actually gets written. But the subsequent drafts are when I really get to shape it and craft it and make it something I really think is worth reading. That’s the fun part.
Q: What motivates you to write?
A: I have something to say. I write adventure stories, because that’s the sort of thing I like. But I’m not interested in just an entertaining yarn. I want my books to have meaning.
The Wolf Dasher series has a lot to say about the role of politics and religion in society. A lot of the bad things that happen in those books are due to the machinations of political and religious extremists. My new novella, Beauty & the Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale is about the consequences of obsession. Oftentimes, we allow things to mean too much, we let them take over our lives. That almost always ends badly, and I wanted to make a point about that.
It’s not that I sit down and think, “Today I would like to pontificate on X. I believe I will write a new novel on this subject.” It’s more that I get an idea for a story, and, as I’m writing, these ideas start to work their way through the plot. I wrote “Beauty & the Beast” because I wanted to retell the classic fairy tale in a modern setting. But in doing that, I found I had something to say about obsession.
Q: What writing are you most proud of?
A: I think every book I write is better than the last. I’m constantly trying to improve my craft, and I have a really good editor. She pushes me hard to shape really fine prose. Beauty & the Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale is my latest book, and there’s a lot in it I like. I think some of the images and metaphors are really clever. The bad guy, Mr. Nickleby, was so much fun to write. You can get it from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FKO9QHY.
I’m also pretty proud of Red Dragon Five, the second book in the Wolf Dasher series. It’s in many ways a pretty straight fantasy-thriller adventure yarn. But it’s also a love story, and there are a lot of themes about love, loss, betrayal, and what happens when we treat people badly. Also available at Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AA4F1P0.
Q: What are you most proud of in your personal life?
A: My children. Each of them is very different from the others. They have overlapping and separate interests. I enjoy talking with each one of them, hearing their stories. I like going to their sports games and concerts and plays. It’s really fun to sit in the audience and watch them, even when they’re struggling. They are a constant source of joy to me.
Q: What books did you love growing up?
A: I was big into fantasy literature as a youth. I discovered “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis when there was a made-for-TV, animated adaptation of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. My fifth grade English teacher gave me a copy of The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander to read over the summer. I was pretty well hooked then.
In high school, I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. At the school librarian’s recommendation, I read Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series. I really, really loved those books, not so much for the stories but for the world and the atmosphere Donaldson created. His rendering of The Land in the first trilogy and its corruption in the second one influenced my development of Alfar and Jifan, the elf nations that are the setting for the Wolf Dasher series.
Q: Who is your favorite author?
A: I have several. I’m not sure I can pick just one. Lord Byron had a big impact on my writing. The concept of the flawed hero was really attractive to me. All my protagonists have defects. They are not perfect people. They do stupid things. They make huge mistakes. They and their friends suffer for it. And somehow they persevere, soldiering on to do what must be done.
Likewise, Albert Camus was a big influence. He taught me there is more to writing than telling a story. Literature should have meaning. It should have something to say. It should attempt to influence its readers. But it also can’t be a philosophical treatise. If you’re writing a novel, you’ve got to focus on the story. The themes should come out through the action, not because you’ve used a bullhorn to shout them at the reader.
I admire Stephen King a lot. His ability to use detail, to paint a picture in your head with words, is unparalleled. I have to remind myself to put in detailed descriptions, and I try to remember that King doesn’t waste words. He doesn’t detail-dump. He crafts into the story. It’s a rare gift.
Ian Fleming knew how to tell exciting stories. Ernest Hemingway knew how to be economical with his words without sacrificing the story. I aspire to write as well as all those guys.
Q: What book should everybody read at least once?
A: The Bible. At least if you interact with Western Culture at all. It is the bestselling book in the world. The stories within shape the way millions of people think. Whether you believe it’s the authoritative Word of God or a collection of myths created by a superstitious, pre-science people, you should read it carefully, so you understand what people believe and why.
Q: Where else do you make your money other than writing?
A: I’m the theater critic for my local newspaper. I cover the theater scene in Lawrence, Kansas, which, given that it’s a college town, is pretty vibrant. I get to see everything from original, experimental theater to professional touring companies of Broadway shows, which is pretty awesome. I write previews of everything that comes through and review all the local productions that run multiple weekends.
I also teach youth theater. That’s a pretty rewarding experience. Watching kids blossom from shy little ones into confident public speakers is really cool.
Q: What is hardest – getting published, writing, or marketing?
A: Well, for me getting published was hardest. I tried for a long time to interest an agent and couldn’t do it. When independent publishing exploded, I decided to try myself. I had the first Wolf Dasher book, State of Grace just about ready to submit to agents and publishers when the indie publishing thing took off. I decided to try and do it myself, since the potential rewards were much higher.
But I think all three pieces of the puzzle are hard. Even indie publishing is difficult, because there’s so much to know, and it’s easy to make a mess of things. Writing a book-length piece of fiction is a terribly difficult thing to do. I’ve penned five or six novels now, and it is a challenge to get from Chapter 1 to “The End” every time. It requires a lot of discipline and time.
And, while my background is in marketing, I don’t find that any easier than the other aspects of self-publishing. The trick isn’t so much finding marketing opportunities; it’s finding the ones that work.
I keep hearing that independent publishing is easy money, and I hear stories about people who put their first novel out there and sell a million copies. But I’ve yet to talk to an indie author (or even a trad-pubbed one) who said there was anything easy about it. Being an author is a lot of hard work. One of the reasons I decided to go independent was because I’d read that even traditionally published authors have to do all the marketing themselves. I figured if that was the case I may as well take a larger chunk of the profits.
But it has not been easy. Not by a long shot.
Q: How much sleep do you need to be your best?
A: More than I get. Eight to ten hours would be ideal, but I rarely get more than six or seven. That’s the life of a dad with three kids aged 15 to 11. Maybe when the last one is out of high school I’ll get more sleep, but somehow I bet the kids will find some other way to steal z’s.
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Genre - Fairy Tales, Contemproary Fantasy
Rating – PG-13