I was taught the amazing beauty and majesty of the English language by Bob Dylan, Robertson Davies, Charles Dickens and Leonard Cohen in a way school could never inspire.
I’ve travelled the globe, dined with politicians, rock stars and beggars. I’ve rubbed shoulders with priests and murderers, surgeons and drug dealers, and they will all live again in my books.
I live in Forbes 5th Most Miserable City in America, with my beautiful wife Janet. We have three sons and three grandchildren.
1.What got you into writing / what made you sit down and actually start something? I have always wanted to be a writer. As a young child I wrote lots of stories. I hope to do a “Collected Works” anthology of short stories and I think it would be fun to go back and put some of those in the front of the book.
As an adult I have always kept a file of story ideas, outlines and even titles for unwritten books. When my first son was born I worked where I was pretty isolated and really didn’t know anyone. Every day I would write during my lunch hour. I think that was the real beginning. Everyone who read the manuscript begged me to get it published. As with most “wannabes” I had no clue what was involved. So it still sits in a drawer with the letters, comments and multiple copies I ran off.
Fast forward twenty years. As they say life happens. Driving to work one day I heard a song. By the time I arrived, the outline for an entire book was bouncing around in my head. I ran in, wrote a one page summary, and promised myself to write the book. And I did! Now I can’t seem to stop!
What is a usual writing day like for you, how is it structured? I have a habit of re-reading the chapter I am working on, kind of like priming a pump. With that done I usually get into “the zone” pretty quickly. Since I am employed full time, I really have to plan to sit down and write. Once I get going I usually bang out 1,500 to 2,000 words in a sitting.
Do you get writers block? If so, how do you overcome it? Writer’s block has never been a problem for me. When I lay out a book I give myself a four or five line summary of where I want to go at the top of each chapter. If I feel I’m not doing well or it is feeling contrived, I will jump to another chapter or section and write a scene that seems more fun. Then I go back to where I was and it has magically been swept of creative cobwebs!
Are you a plotter/planner when it comes to writing a story? When I start, I always have a pretty good idea of the basic plot. I use a 13 chapter template for creating a chapter by chapter framework. The fun of writing, particularly a series, is that major characters have a personality and mind of their own. So, I keep structure fairly loose to let them go, do and say what would be natural within the basic plot idea. A to Z is the journey, what happens in between is why I keep writing.
What was the publishing process like for you, & any advice to aspiring authors? Confession time! I am a horrible proof-reader. After I think I’ve caught every possible error, I send the manuscript to my proof reader and she finds a million or so more! When it comes back I re-read it several times and make cuts, changes and modifications. I have a couple of trusted friends who read the book with fresh eyes and look for inconsistencies or glaring plot flaws. One more round of tightening and tweaking and off it goes!
Next to writing the book itself, my favourite part is working with the cover artist. I’m a frustrated graphic designer at heart so seeing my ideas done by a pro is really fulfilling.
My advice to anyone wanting to be a writer is write. Is sounds obvious, but like any craft the act of just doing it brings increased creativity, quality, and increased quantity. You must write every day. Write something; a character sketch, descriptions, random observations, make lists of titles, punch lines, pithy remarks, or just re-tell a story, whatever puts words on paper. Words are your tools, the more you use them the more comfortable they will become and the better you’ll be able to work with them.
Find or create a circle of writers. Read each other’s stuff. Good, bad or indifferent you all should swear to give honest feedback. Then, don’t be offended when they don’t like it. It’s OK to disagree but the main thing a writer needs to have is THICK SKIN. If you can’t take criticism, better take up another outlet for your creativity.
What has been your highlight since becoming a published author? Seeing my face on Amazon.com was one of the most surreal things that has ever happened to me. What a thrill that was the first time (liar, every time!)
The other highlight would have to be old friends reading one of my books and telling me it moved them in some way, or even more importantly that they are proud of me. That is worth a million dollars to me.
Can you share a little of your most recent book with us? And any other books of yours, if you wish. Cole Dust is the fourth and most recent release in the Cole Sage Mystery Series. I am extremely proud of the way it turned out. It tells the story of Cole’s grandfather, a man he never knew and who was shunned by Cole’s parents to a large degree. It is a book within a book. Cole’s part of the story is the mystery wrapped around the grandfather’s diaries and the tale they tell. We meet him as a ten year old and through the journals follow him through two World Wars, The Dust Bowl, the Depression, and the highs and lows of his battle with alcohol and gambling. It is a sweeping romantic tale of what racism, poverty and society can do to the soul of a man. Of course Cole Sage gets caught up in his grandfather’s story and the remarkable mystery he is finally able to solve.
Three Nails is my most recent release. It is not part of the Cole Sage Series. It tells the story of a teacher who tragically loses his college age son. Through the course of a school year we journey with him through the despair and into the freedom of dealing with his grief. It is a year that changes everything he thought he knew and believed. Along the way we meet a cast of colleagues, students and family members that can break our hearts and renew our faith in what matters most.
I have to put a pitch in for the next Cole Sage book Cole Shoot. A street gang shoot out at the San Francisco Chinese New Year’s Parade leaves a friend of Cole’s dead, and another old friend comes to town and becomes a pawn in a deadly game of revenge. Gangs, guns, dragons and a couple of missing special needs kids finds Cole calling for help from the most unexpected places.
Apart from writing, what do you do in your spare time? Music, film and travel are my greatest passions, besides my wonderful wife. We have now travelled to over 30 countries together and plan an extended visit to Ecuador. Music has woven a soundtrack to my life and gives me inspiration and has given me the countless daydreams that are the wellspring of ideas for writing. As I write this I am listening to the Jerry Garcia Band. Film is my way to escape. I love to get totally absorbed in a story, the characters and the beauty of the filmmaker’s art. Thanks to the internet we can now watch the incredible offerings of television dramas from around the world. Sorry to say, all of which, makes USA TV seem embarrassingly shallow.
What tip would you give to new authors when trying to build a fan-base / get followers and market their books? (What to do and what not to do.) I am still finding my way on this one, but I think what I am finding is be true to yourself. Listen to advice from people you trust, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve, and then do what your heart tells you is right for you.
Read a few biographies of writers of the past. You’ll be dumbfounded at the number who were told no! “Change this, change that,” but they stayed true to their vision.
I think the thing that has kept me going and the thing that people are responding to is that I really love what I do. I am always amazed by the remarks posted on social media of the tortured artist “alone in the room struggling with every sentence” Unless you are a masochist or using it as part of some deep psychological therapy, find something else to do. Like we used to say, “If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.”
Most of all be proud of what you do and offer it as a gift to the world. If they like it, celebrate; if they don’t write something else.
How much of your books are realistic / based on true experiences/ people? and how much research do you do when starting a story? When I was in high school I saw Steve Allen, the original host of the Tonight Show, say that he kept 3×5 cards in his pocket at all times. I remember him pulling a small stack from his pocket and explaining how he jotted down notes all day long. Words, things he saw, thoughts, ideas for stories, anything that he thought might help him later.
I did that for a while. Sorry to say I didn’t continue. But the idea has always stuck with me. People, places and things I’ve seen all play a part in my writer’s palette of colour used to paint a vision of my ideas.
I am blessed to have lived a life of amazing events, people and sights. I am even more blessed to have the ability to go to my memory file cabinet and pull out these experiences and use them to base new characters, landscapes, and situations on.
As far as research, I try to make sure my ideas are based on fact. Memory is a lovely mistress but she tends to tell things the way she wants. Always good to do a little fact checking as we go.