Who are your favorite authors?
Elmore Leonard, for his engaging stories and spot-on dialogue, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Vince Flynn, for their great thrillers; John Steinbeck, Garrison Keillor, and Harper Lee for their incredible characterizations and sense of story; Philip Wylie, for his imaginative scenarios; Erma Bombeck, Susan Isaacs, for their storytelling ability and phenomenal sense of humor; J. K. Rowling for perhaps being the most imaginative writer of the century who got youth back to reading books. She’s a wizard herself.
Not a definitive list; just to name a few.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Usually the smell of coffee, but I’m an early riser anyway. I feel if I can get some substantial writing accomplished before noon, I’ve once more won the day. I’m thankful for every hour God gives me to tell stories, even though He knows most of what I write are fabrications.
How do you discover the books you read?
I search for the genre I want, such as crime, suspense or thriller. Then I look at the authors’ reviews, if I don’t already know the writer’s work. I’ll “look inside” and read the opening pages. If I like what I see, I’ll pop for the book and add it to my library. If it passes that early test, I’ll usually read it all. But if I get bogged down in too much descriptive “telling,” lousy dialogue, or too many flashbacks that make me want to “skim” or screech my page turning to a halt, I’ll stop reading and move on to another work by a different author.
Do you remember the first story you ever authored?
The first story I ever told was at a Boy Scout Jamboree. There was a roaring campfire and after a while the antsy group wanted some kind of entertainment, so my thoughtful dad, the Explorer Scoutmaster, graciously volunteered me to tell a story.
In horror, I said, “What story?”
“You know. That one about the ancient Pyramids,” my dad said.
I hadn’t the faintest clue what he was alluding to, and neither did he. But when I looked out at the fire-lit faces of the now silent crowd, I knew I’d better come up with something or risk being burned at the stake in that very same fire. So I began this long rambling yarn about the discovery of a secret passage into the tomb of the most powerful Pharaoh in all of ancient Egypt. Ten minutes later, the mouths of the boys were open, their eyes wide, rapt in the suspense I was unconsciously unfolding with palms you could wash a camel with. I finally ended the tale on a hook moment and the crowd went nuts. Screaming and complaining, “More, tell us more. Don’t stop now.” Just like those boys in the movie Stand By Me.
I never wrote that story, which, by the way, went on to another ten installments over our two-week camp stay in Arizona, but I had an inkling that I’d hit on something I really could do: Tell a captivating story…or at least one that could blow the minds of bored teen boys in a desert wilderness.
The first thing I ever wrote was a limerick in my 8th grade English class. It went like this:
“There once was a boy named Paul,
Who went to a masquerade ball.
He thought he’d risk it,
And dress as a biscuit,
But a dog ate him in the hall.”
I got sent to the office by Mrs. Fleming for writing a dirty limerick, which, to this day, I never understood. Must’ve been something hinky going on in her twisted mind, best I can figure.
What is your writing process?
First of all, I’m a “pantser.” [a person who writes by the “seat of their pants,” and lets a story develop organically] I dislike outlines. Had to do too many of them in school. I try to set up a character in an inciting incident that, hopefully, will sustain the story from beginning to end. If my idea craps out by page 50, I file it under “Nice Tries.” Also, as a screenwriter, I have several very solid stories that would translate into pretty fair novels with some healthy adaptation. I worked in Hollywood as a script doctor and now have this pile of screenplays and screenplay ideas to draw upon, plus a couple of stage plays.
I also belong to a writers’ group that really knows how to keep you on-track with a story line. A sharp bunch who don’t let you get away with any lazy writing.
When I was in grade school, many of my teachers regarded me as a non-attentive dreamer. They were right. What they didn’t realize was when I was gazing out a window and mentally far away, I was working.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first book I remember reading, other than early primers and dime western novels, was The Secret Sea, a story about two kids in search of a rare seashell, called the lion’s paw. I liked it, but it wasn’t until the 7th grade when my science teacher, Walter Kramme, read us Moby Dick by Herman Melville that I got hooked on reading.
Walter was a science teacher, so one might ask why was he reading his class a novel? Well, there were times when the class grumbled about certain science experiments, such as the dissecting of a cow’s eye, which made a lot of students a tad squeamish. So Walter, sensing the class’s discomfort, would pull out a book and start reading to us. He would portray all the great characters like Ishmael, Queequeg, Ahab, Starbuck and others with the intensity of Marlon Brando or Anthony Hopkins. When he had us totally sucked into the story, and at a critical cliffhanger juncture, he would slam the book closed and face the class. “Now let’s see if we can get this cow eye inspected, then we’ll resume Moby Dick as they lower to hunt the great white whale.”
Needless to say, I wanted to read more stories like Moby Dick. I started reading in earnest and never stopped.
Later in the term, Walter read us The Most Dangerous Game, a thriller short story that iced the cake for me on reading stories.
How do you approach cover design?
Having only done a couple, I’m not certain I’m on solid footing with cover design. I may have to leave that to the pros, although I’m a fair graphic designer myself and have designed numerous ads and websites for people. Jury’s still out on my involvement in covers, but I like to be hands-on and control my own work. We’ll see.
However, for the interior of my books, I use a highly-rated professional editor for my novels and have no intention of trying to do that myself. Believe me, it’s worth every penny.
What are some of your favorite books, and why?
Ben-Hur, because it’s a fabulous story paralleling the story of Christ, that General Lew Wallace wrote on a dare. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, for its great story and characters. Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor, because it creates a fictitious world in Minnesota that is filled with humor, traditions and characters that are magnetic. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy, because it’s the first techno-thriller and it creates a gripping, plausible scenario that had me pondering if it could actually happen. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, because it’s the model for the modern thriller. The Bible, because the stories there are too numerous to cite, and they endure today in so many books and movies that it boggles the mind. On Writing by Stephen King, and Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us by Jessica Page Morrell, because they are two of the best books I’ve read for writers. Below are a few more that I particularly like and have read more than once:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Iliad by Homer
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
Papillon by Henri Cherriére
In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters
What do you read for pleasure?
Woodworking books, Writer’s Digest, and at least a book a week from my never-ending list. Writer’s Tip: If you want to write well, read a lot.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have a Kindle Fire currently and I like it, but I may go to something a bit lighter in weight soon.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Word of mouth is, by far, the best, although I’m a recent user of Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and blogging. Websites can be very effective too with good promotion and SEO programs in place.
Describe your desk.
I mainly work in my recliner with my 55″ flat screen TV as my monitor. I have a wireless keyboard and mouse for my lap and can write in total comfort while my three cats figure out ways to wangle treats from me.
Tell us about your growing-up experience.
I was born in Portland, Maine in winter with ten-foot snowdrifts blowing about town. It scared me so bad i didn’t speak for nine months. My dad was a career military man who got transferred about every year or two. I went to twenty-four schools before I graduated from high school. Quite an interesting education. I don’t recommend it for everyone, but I did okay with it. Lots of fights upon entering new schools and lots of tears when leaving my new friends behind. My mom was Lucille Ball with a PhD in psychology.
When did you first start writing?
When I was in college, I wrote a play that was performed at the University of Maryland (UMBC) where I did my undergraduate work. Afterward, I kept writing plays, then later, screenplays. After many years of that, I switched my attention to writing novels.
A famous writer was asked what was the most lucrative form of writing. He said, “ransom notes.”
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The dramatic changes in the traditional publishing industry that make it more and more difficult to break in and get the promotion that was available some years back. It makes indie publishing a godsend. I think it will change the world of publishing forever and allow for better pricing and availability for the reader, and certainly better opportunities for the writer, Remember, J. K. Rowling, Pearl S. Buck, Margaret Mitchell and many, many others were rejected numerous times by traditional publishers. And even those authors went to press when the publishers were much more generous in their acceptance, promotion, and marketing.
The liberal, open door policies of indie publishing will have its downside, since it has very little to do with book content evaluation, it allows for a lot of authors to publish books that are sub-standard since they can bypass the story and structure vetting that traditional publishing demands and employs. However, I’ve read several New York Times best-seller list stinkers too, until I’m fifty shades of grey in the face.
But cream has a habit of rising to the top. Good writers will prevail in indie publishing and many will thrive or become hybrid authors.
How has self-publishing contributed to your success?
By allowing me to put my books on the market easily and with practically no cost, plus get my work out for feedback from my beta readers around the country, and get early unbiased reviews to see what the public says about my books. Self-publishing offers many other helps that aid the writer in his or her quest for success. The program is pro-writer and will be a major player in the independent publishing revolution. And now, as indie authors achieve hefty sales, guess who’s back trying to sign the authors they formerly rejected or never met? Yep, the traditional houses. When that happens, we have a new breed of writer: “the hybrid.” Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to get traditional publication with a hefty publicity push, but they seem to cast a jaded eye toward any writer who self-publishes before checking with them first. They’re missing a lot of great indie books out there that would easily make their NYT best seller lists. But they have their own philosophy, I guess, and it must be working for them. Time will tell how it all will play out.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Having someone say, “I read your book and could not put it down.”
The First Commandment of Writing, one author of fiction writing books said, “You must entertain your reader from the beginning line to the end.” If you do that, you have accomplished what it’s all about in being a writer.
What do your fans mean to you?
Everything. No star ever rose or shone without the support of fans. I’m fanatical about fans. (Groan).
What’s coming up for your books?
I just completed an action-crime thriller about the person who won the most money in Las Vegas. A Killer Season is fiction, but based on a true story told to me at Caesar’s Palace by the owners and general managers of several casinos at a breakfast I got invited to. A story that had the hair on my neck standing up.
This person won a lot of money, and I mean an obscene amount of money, in one summer and was never seen ever again. Understandably, the Vegas guys don’t talk about it much, but they were kind enough to tell me the story, and everyone at that breakfast table, about twenty men, concurred with the story I was told.
My third book, another Detective Frank Dugan thriller, becomes the prequel for The Omega Formula, and is now up on Amazon. It’s titled Murderers’ Island (formerly titled as Resort Isle) and deals with recidivist crime in America and what one victimized man does about it. Hint: Murderers’ Island ain’t the Club Med.
A third Detective Frank Dugan novel is currently in coming off the keys with the working title Murder Comes to Paradise. It’ll be another thriller with my Florida detective getting into his usual share of hard knocks and maddening predicaments. The antagonist in this one will be a shock to my readers of the Dugan novels.