Author Interview, The Avid Reader Blog (01/12/2019)
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
How many hours a day do you put into your writing?
Since I’m a fulltime writer, I have the luxury of planning my day around my writing. I try to devote about 5 hours per day to working on my latest manuscript. Some days that might mean researching rather than creating. Still, I maintain a consistent schedule. The routine helps my mind to settle quickly into writing mode. No one has enough time to wait on muses. I welcome muses, the little fires that erupt infrequently and turn writing into a joyous conflagration of imagery and thought, but I can’t depend on them. My book work is a five-days-a-week job. I typically write from 10 to 1 and then take a lunch break. Hopefully, I’m back at it by 2, and usually work until 4. I’m slow. It takes me two years to finish a book. Steady progress is the key.
Do you read your book reviews? If yes, do they affect what you write in the future?
I can’t resist reading my reviews. Many writers advise against it, but honestly, I can’t help myself. Unfortunately, I take it all personally. I know we’re supposed to have thick skins, and I claim to be one of those authors, but it’s not true. Readers who love my work enough to review it fill me with joy and those who pan it plunge me into despair. It’s just the way I’m built.
Do their comments affect what I write in the future? No. I write what I write. I’m always working my craft, seeking ways to improve, so I take constructive comments to heart but how I write is my particular gift to readers. What story I choose to write next is totally up to me.
Do you leave hidden messages in your books that only a few people will find?
Not intentionally. However, since we’re all products of our upbringing and experiences, certain people and incidents, sayings and references, do creep into my novels. Members of my family, my friends, even coworkers often point to parts of my books with nods and knowing grins, as if to say, “That’s me here, isn’t it?” Sometimes they’re right; more often, they’re not. Few of us have sufficient self-knowledge to see ourselves as others see us, so my denials usually stick.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Still Breathing?
The variety of characters in STILL BREATHING was one of the pleasures in writing the book. I had first world and third world characters from radically different cultures to play against each other. I felt like the boy who shakes red and black ants together in a Mason jar.
The central actions of the book follow the growing friendship between Lizzie Warton, a sixty-nine-year-old American from the Midwest and Nankunda Birungi, a forty-something Ugandan woman from Kampala. Lizzie has seldom travelled far from home, and never alone. She’s stubborn, clever and good-hearted but can be surprisingly naive. Mrs. Birungi is strong-willed, humorous and persistent, which is all the more admirable when you discover her tragic past. Both women are widows and are now thrown together to carry out the nearly impossible task of freeing donated books from a corrupt customs system. Each woman is forever changed by her relationship with the other.
Can you tell us a little bit about your next books or what you have planned for the future?
I have many story concepts waiting in the wings, but I’m already well into the development of one called WHITE EYES. The genre is general fiction and the setting is a struggling cattle ranch in South Dakota during the 1950’s. The story focuses on an emotionally broken family and what it will take to heal them. The father has been separated from his wife and son for 12 years when he receives a letter informing him that his wife has unexpectedly died in Chicago. With no other options, his city-raised 14-year-old son is being sent to live with him. The father and son haven’t seen each other in more than a decade and all the boy knows is that his dead Mom hated everything about the ranch and the people who live there.
Do you have a certain number of words or pages you write per day?
I don’t have a mandatory output but I have a sense of what will satisfy me. You need to understand my process to appreciate what I’m about to say. I write all my initial drafts in cursive using a pen and standard tablet paper. I’ve found that my ideas flow best when they're linked through my hand to a pen that's making actual marks on a page. No, I'm not kidding.
The ink spilled across the paper tracks a battle of ideas fought across the page. I read it aloud (if I'm alone) or read in a muffled whisper (if someone's near). I make scribbled changes, cross out words, draw arrows, read it again, tasting the rhythm, and then go on. If the pages grow too muddled, I rewrite them onto new sheets. I’m satisfied if I produce three clean handwritten pages in a day. Some red-letter days have seen 6 or even 7 pages! Many bleak days have returned only 1.
What inspires you to write?
Simple questions often have complex answers. No writer answers this question in the same way. For me, I have a compulsion to write. There are never ending stories in my head that I feel must get out and be allowed to breathe upon a page before I lose them. I believe I have a writing gift entrusted to me. I must use it regularly in order to feel worthy. But it’s not the writing only that feeds my soul; it’s the connection to readers that fills me up. Years ago I got a comment from a reader of my first book who lived in the UK. He thanked me for brightening his daily commute on the train. For two weeks, he said, he looked forward to each trip because he had my book to read. The simple image of that man lost in my story on his way to and from work has kept me writing ever since.
Would you rather read fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction is always my first choice. I read a lot of books in a year and have learned to toss the ones that disappoint. I used to feel obligated to finish books, but not anymore. I can roar through a book if I want to, but if I like a story and enjoy the writing, I slow way down to make it last.
Would you rather read series or stand-alone?
Stand-alone books are my first choice. I have a writer’s bias that each book should have a beginning, a middle and an end. I feel manipulated when an author concludes his book with the beginning of the next one in the series. I have found few stories wide enough that actually require a series to tell them. However, I have read a few that worked.
Would you rather read science fiction or horror?
Science fiction is always my go to genre. My first book, NOW & AGAIN, is science fiction. I don’t write in the horror genre and I rarely read anything from it.
Would you prefer to read Stephen King or Dean Koontz?
If those are my only choices, I’d pick Stephen King. If I’m required to pick only one of his books to read, I would select ON WRITING.
Do you prefer to read the book or watch the movie?
I would always pick the book since it’s the original and the more complete medium. In addition, books are not limited to less than two hours runtime. As a former screenwriter, I am intimately familiar with the brutal sacrifices asked of stories and characters in order to jam them into less than two hours of screen time.
Are you more likely to read an eBook or a paperback?
I have far more eBooks than paperbacks these days. I like the ability to carry thousands of books within a single device. With the Kindle Paperwhite device I can read in sunlight or darkness and change the font size when my eyes get tired—hard to beat that with a paperback. Still, I love the feel of a physical book in my hands, especially if it’s my own book.
Would you rather do a cross-country bookstore tour or a blog tour online?
I guess the main question is, who’s paying? If the costs and tour organizing, the advance field work, the booking, travel and food are all coming out of the publisher, then let’s hit the road! However, in the real world of authors and books, even with a publisher, the most cost effective is a blog tour online. Besides, you get to meet cool online people like the good folks at The Avid Reader.