Elmore Leonard, for his engaging stories and spot-on dialogue, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Vince Flynn, for their great thrillers; John Steinbeck, John Grisham, Garrison Keillor, 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 suspicious truths with very dusty edges.
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 peek inside and read a few 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 or spare 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. I also am not a fan of prologues, which are almost always unnecessary. Begin the book with Chapter 1.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
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 the ancient world, since I had recently been fascinated with reading tales from ancient Egypt. Ten minutes later, the mouths of the boys were open, their eyes wide, rapt in the suspense I was unconsciously unfolding with sweaty palms one could use to wash a camel. I finally ended the yarn on a cliff-hanging 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 seated around a crackling fire.
The first full manuscript I ever wrote was a play titled Moose, Why Are There Walnuts in the Medicine Cabinet? It was performed at my college theatre and went on to make the community theatre and professional dinner theatre rounds.
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 Orson Welles 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 have 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?
I’ve done a few using a graphic program. I am a fair graphic designer 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 in Oregon for my novels and have no intention of trying to do that myself. Believe me, she’s worth every penny.
What are your five 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 DaVinci 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.
What do you read for pleasure?
Woodworking books, Writer’s Digest, and at least a book a week from my never-ending list.
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. I temporarily self-published some of my books to get feedback from my beta readers and a few reviews from unbiased readers. I receive 4.5 out of five star reviews typically on Amazon and get exceptional comments, although I will still seek and welcome traditional publishing through a professional literary agency.
I mainly work in my recliner with my 60″ flat screen TV as my monitor. I have a wireless keyboard and mouse for my lap and can write in total comfort while my four 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.
When did you first start writing?
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.
I asked a famous writer what was the most lucrative form of writing. He said, “ransom notes.”
Having someone say, “I read your book and couldn’t put it down.”
The First Commandment of Writing, one author of fiction writing books said, “You must engage and entertain your reader from the beginning page to the end.” If you do that, you have accomplished what it’s all about in being a writer.
What are you working on next?
I’ve got several new stories on the burner. A sci-fi thriller may be my next endeavor and I have begun a World War Two story involving a special group of Allied prisoners being kept by the Germans in a famous castle on the Swiss border.
What would you like your books to expand to, such as audio books or other media?
As a screenwriter I tend to write my novels like I’m viewing a movie, which is where I’d love to see them play out ultimately.