At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?
According to my mother, my kindergarten teacher declared her son would someday be an author. Where the teacher got that from, I haven’t a clue, and that ‘someday’ ended up a long way down a winding road. But I’ve always enjoyed stories, particularly fantasy or fairy tales. The natural world has always struck me as a magical place, infiltrated by presences we cannot see. Perhaps, my kindergarten teacher saw how much I loved to listen to or launch into a story. Keep in mind she also reported that I liked to take long naps, which all means, of course, that I can write in my sleep! Getting back the question in earnest, I started off in a professional career in theatre and was writing on the side. After many years, writing stories eventually got promoted from a side dish to the main course.
What first inspired you to write or who inspired you?
I have always found stories compelling. Books opened up new worlds, introduced peculiar characters I would have liked to have as friends. Stories taught me profound truths which I could not grasp any other way. But it was Ernest Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a novella by Richard Bach that had the greatest impact on my young and impressionable imagination. I wept for Hemmingway’s old fisherman. Then, I got angry. I refused to believe that the old fisherman’s experience, which read like a sad parable, was all life had to offer. Jonathan Seagull, on the other hand, swept alongside a young artist and promised much, much more than meets the eye. I was astounded that stories could wield so much power. Perhaps, those novels were the turning point, a prompting a subconscious choice perhaps, that there would be no other path than that of the storyteller.
Do you have any writing tips to pass on to aspiring authors?
Write. Read a lot. Pray regularly. Submit. Cry sometimes. Celebrate. Resist cryptic messages from your insecure brain, such as, “No one is going to give your stuff a second look.” Know writing is also a business — Repeat. I should add that my coaches have always been other author’s books, which is the primary reason I created www.thewriterslessonbook.com, a free educational website providing fiction writers tips and techniques harvested from the books we love to read.
Do you let unimportant things get in the way of your writing?
Other than making another coffee (I’m a procaffeinator! I can’t do much until I’ve savored one — or two.), walking the dog, checking on my websites, visiting FB, looking into the abyss a la the Grinch, holding my head in my hands, sifting through the cat litter, answering emails, collecting my mail (with the dog!), watching the leaves turn color out my window and reading weird stories. Other than the above mentioned, I am a writing machine! Kidding aside, I pretty much get obsessed with what I happen to be working on and those things above can be welcome distractions.
What hours do you write best?
Morning, 9 a.m. to 12 noon, sometimes well into the afternoon, every day hands down, in my barber’s chair or standing in front of my desk, which elevates or descends at the press of a button. Fun! As late afternoon turns to evening, my brain transforms into something between porridge and a stump, good for stirring in a pot or sitting on, but not much good for writing.
Do you work from notes when you write?
I primarily work with index cards (the virtual sort), writing short summaries of the chapters ahead, but most of the time I allow the unfolding sweep of the story and its character’s to take the driver’s seat. Which means, however, that I have to check the map a lot and do back adjustment edits. By the way, if you want to write, learn to love editing! Writing is much more than pouring out a first draft. Think of a sculptor, or a painter, who chisels or sketches out the first impression of her vision. After that it’s shaping, revising, smoothing, sharpening and detailing. Writing is editing.
What do you find most difficult about writing? What do you find most exciting or rewarding?
The most difficult thing I found about writing Shelter Island, or the books which followed, was the business aspect: submitting manuscripts, building and maintaining a ‘platform’ and selling books. The whole business of writing tends to dishearten rather than spur on a writer. Agents and publishers are often deluged with submissions. Publisher’s websites frequently include a note warning your submission is one of a multitude, from which a select few will clinch a second peek, that you will have to wait threescore years and ten before someone rescues it from the slough, and if that weren’t enough, the to-be-pitied author will only be contacted if his manuscript has managed to set said agent’s or editor’s heart ablaze. Lately, many publishers and agents will not do the author the courtesy of a form rejection letter. Kate Di Camillo once said persistence is the key; Keep writing, keep reading, and keep submitting. I say, write. Read a lot. Pray regularly. Submit. Cry sometimes. Celebrate. Resist cryptic messages from your insecure brain, such as, “No one cares.” Know writing is also a business — Repeat.
What are you currently working on?
Inspired by George MacDonald’s classic fairytales for adults, Lilith and Phantastes, I am putting the finishing touches to a Heroic Fantasy for ages 12 and up. Will Flint’s longing for his missing father ignites a dramatic and fateful quest into a mythical country (secret Book Title) in which the unseen things of the world have transformed into creatures of elemental power, a land in which an impulsive request transforms one realm and shatters another. It’s a little darker than my first books, but who doesn’t like to feel their heart thumping once in a while?