Welcome to my blog Richard. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about yourself and your books.
Q. Tell us about your latest work—title, genre, etc. — and why you wrote it?
A. I released two connected new novellas beginning in August, with Home and just this month with Troll. Both deal with human intolerance and overcoming it to achieve a sense of community or losing the struggle. Troll is really a fictional account of the last days of species collision in Northern Europe, as modern man confronts his predecessor, Neanderthal. Recent discoveries and genetic code research has determined that they occupied the same ground over many thousands of years. That is the basis for my theory, detailed in the book, that the earliest origins of racism and the universal stories of the Boogey-man, emerged from this conflict.
Q. What draws you to your genre(s)? Why is this type of story compelling to you?
A. I’ve always been drawn to stories of conflict that are resolved through the most simple shared human traits, or fomented by our differences. In my opinion, colonialism has been the greatest scourge we have seen, and its effects linger everywhere there is lasting reprisal bloodshed. Even the Pax Romana eventually failed. Humans don’t like bosses. I guess I’ve also been drawn to historical fiction because of how cogent it is to understanding today’s conflicts. Humans don’t seem to learn much from the past.
Q. What is your writing process like? Do you map the whole thing out or do you just let it unfold.
A. I always begin with a resolution, or a general theme and a setting, so that the characters will have some flesh, lots of research generally follows. Not so much for specific historical points but more to understand what forces were working on my characters, in their time and place. Once I start a draft, it flows out unimpeded, on its own until it is time to check research and scribble down notes about interactions, events, etc. I will refer to these along the way, but the story is always the navigator. It gets more structured when I begin rewriting. I also have taken a tip from Irving and Stephen King, lately who say they usually begin at the ending. It was very helpful in both of the novellas, and I think I’ll work that way on the next one, too.
Q. What kind of research was involved in writing your book?
A. I have been a student of paleo-anthropology since childhood. I read a lot and keep as current as I can on the latest findings. Troll involved probably more than 100 hours of study and cross-discipline investigation. All my books, even the recent sci-fi release, Home, involve checking theory to fill holes in the plotting. I like my fantasy settings to be accessible, so that the setting is secondary to the human story, but still a player.
Q. How much of YOU makes it into your characters?
A. We’re all composites. Any author that claims they don’t put lots of themselves into their work is being dishonest about their process. I’m sure that pieces of me are scattered through every page of Troll, but I hope it’s not obvious! I had a “gypsy” childhood – we moved every year until I was thirteen, so the search for a place, and knowing it when you get there is probably the dominant theme (if you like that term) in all my work. Being the “new kid” isn’t easy, but it teaches you how to cope and adapt, and most of my characters are good at those things.
Q. How do you balance the need to have time to write with the needs of family, society, etc.?
A. By needs of society, if you mean marketing and promotion, all I can say is it isn’t easy! I seem to mentally set time aside every day for as much of both as my family can tolerate, but in order for my brain to work, I also have to get away from it every week for a couple of days. I’ve been self-employed since around 1979 and pretty much retired now, so the strain of meeting deadlines and sales targets has dwindled. Being older, I’ve gotten used to not always meeting my own self-imposed goals, so that’s easier now, as well.
Q. Have there been any authors in particular, that inspired your writing?
A. Everyone I’ve ever read! The first, though, oddly enough, was L. Frank Baum. When I was a kid, I was one of those cereal box readers, but I didn’t really discover books on my own until I was seven or eight and my grandmother found an old first-edition of “Tik Tock of OZ” in her attic. The adventure grabbed me and never let go. I still have the book today. It made me want to create characters and adventures and all that went with it, as did Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Walter M. Miller. As an adult, I began reading a lot of John Irving, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and even revisiting Dickens but it took me until I was in my late forties before I started writing fiction seriously. Ad copy and grant proposals took up most of my writing before that.
Q. What other projects are you currently working on or about to start?
A. I’ve got the third book in the Gatekeepers series shelved for the time being, as I’m getting ready to begin a new novel which will investigate a family’s simultaneous connection over several generations to Red Hook, Brooklyn and New Orleans’ Marigny district, sort of an Irish-Creole Tale of Two Cities, or something like that.
Q. Could you share some of your marketing strategies? Which ones are the most effective in your opinion?
A. It’s hard for all authors now to get their books recognized now, even if you are working in a block-buster genre with a publisher’s contract in your back pocket. There is so much choice of what to read, concentrating on targeted discoverability is the key. You’ve got to know your reader, so online communications and review/exchanges, like this site; as well as social networking are all critical if you want to sell books and find readers. Refining your understanding about what appeals to your readers is also very important. You can only get there by putting your ideas out and digesting what comes back, even if it causes indigestion. Visibility through traditional marketing media (advertising, bookstore posters, etc.) in the large-scale venues is now mostly beyond the budget of most indie authors, Neil Gaiman and EL James excepted, of course. If you have interests, like I do, over a wide range of areas and subjects, be visible and accessible without being an overbearing self-promotion bully. Fit in the best you can, don’t be a Baptist preacher at a poker game. Keep your eyes peeled all the time, for unusual, unexpected opportunities, and be sure to give back whenever you can.
Q. What would be the top five, (or 3 or 1 or however many) things you would tell aspiring authors?
A. 1. Write. A lot.
2. Write what you love and believe it.
3. Find a good editor by hook or by crook.
4. Be active in writers groups and workshops. You always need opinions and ideas.
5. Stand your ground when it’s strategically necessary, but retreat when you must, so you can fight another day.
6. Learn to love rewrites.
Again, thanks Richard for taking the time to share your knowledge with us. We appreciate you and your work.
Good luck with your current and future publications.
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