Friday, March 8, 2013

Author Interview: Exceptional Question Set

Here's an interview I did for MK McClintock's Blog (Link). I usually don't repost interviews, but MK had an exceptionally well coordinated set of questions, and the chemistry of this particular interview felt just utterly right. Here goes.

Did you plan to be a writer or did it just happen?

I wrote a few stories as a kid, and then after college I wrote a first novel that I submitted to publishers. But it was of such poor quality that I left fiction writing and got deeply involved in career and raising a family. I was determined to never write fiction again. But then in 2005 something dramatic happened to turn my life inside out. I read a love story by Anita Shreve. It was a book-tape I randomly picked off the public library shelf. I’ll keep you guessing on the title, but in the last paragraph, the author had the male protagonist commit suicide, and she consigned the heroine to an old age of despair. Well, I just couldn’t believe what I had read. This plot reversal was so sudden, it was an utter ambush. It was also a punishment, and I was outraged. But not so much for me. Rather, I kept thinking of all the readers who had suffered because of such literary cruelty. English-speaking readers deserved better than this, I decided, and suddenly I felt the call. At first, it felt unreal. This can’t be happening, I thought, even as I unwillingly started anticipating the research I would need to pursue this preposterous notion. But the clincher was that I could already see the story—at least enough of it to be drawn by its siren song. I held out awhile. It was a delicious time of being suspended over a decision that seemed the stuff of fairy tales. But this suspense only lasted a short time, and by the next day I was writing what would become my first published novel, Coinage of Commitment.

What is your favorite non-writing pastime?

I’ve always enjoyed film. In fact, I’ve long been more movie goer than fiction reader. And this became more pronounced once I became a writing contest judge and book reviewer. For mental conditioning, I do read a lot of fiction, but always as book tapes, and even then, I only finish a fraction of what I start. It’s film I usually rely on for inspiring my stories.

What inspired the idea behind your book?

It always struck me as odd that no one wrote love stories that got deeper into the nature of love and what it is capable of, the heights it is capable of achieving. I mean, if you’re a young, single character who’s hungry for romance, and you look around at the placidly humdrum marriages that most people have, then why would you want to follow the same romantic path they have? If you do everything the same, you’re only likely to end up the same. If you want something higher, something stronger, something richer and longer lasting, then you’re going to have to think and plan about how to achieve the better outcome you seek. I decided that if I ever returned to writing fiction, it would feature characters who want something better from love, and who are willing to work and plan to make it happen. This is the theme that dominates Coinage of Commitment. Although Wayne and Nancy have class, political, and religious differences—plus opposition from both families—they are drawn to each other. And they each share a dream of achieving love that’s higher and longer lasting than any other.

What has been your greatest challenge in writing Coinage of Commitment?

The second weekend I was drafting Coinage of Commitment, I got the flash inspiration for the book’s surprise ending, one unlike any I’d encountered in literature or film. It was the inspiration of a lifetime, and it changed the frame of reference for producing the book. To make best use of the ending, I incorporated new characters, and I added a love triangle I hadn’t thought of until then. As I drafted the book, it became clear the character and plot elements were harmonizing in a special way. My challenge, then, was to write prose good enough to match the quality of story I’d been given. The original print edition benefited from three rounds of professional editing before publication. The print book then became a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Book Awards. I went on to publish another novel, plus I undertook nonfiction pursuits, but I always felt a certain bonding with this one special story. A few years later, in the spring of 2012, I realized that my writing ability had improved dramatically since writing Coinage. In the next instant, I knew I would rewrite the book. I simply could not turn away from the opportunity to make it substantially better than what the National Indie Excellence Judges had originally seen. The rewrite took seven months; the digital second edition was published on the Kindle platform in January.

What message do you hope readers take away from the book?

I hope they get a glimpse that higher love is within our grasp, it’s doable, and that with work and planning, it can indeed last. Most of all, I hope they come away thinking the effort is worth it.

Which character in Coinage of Commitment will be the most difficult to part with?

All the characters change and grow throughout a story that spans decades. But one of the mains is transformed by decisions and events to a position that’s very nearly a complete reversal. This is the character whose final disposition readers will be pondering afterwards.

Do you have to be alone or have quiet to write?

Not when I’m passionate about a project. I wrote Coinage while dining in restaurants, while waiting in airports, and while sitting in the Costco snack area. Many times I awoke in the night and rushed to the adjoining bathroom. There I would scribble draft while kneeling at the sink.

Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?

Coinage of Commitment is my favorite because it’s an exceptional story with a unique surprise ending. And the characters are the best I’ve come up with who strive for higher love and refuse to settle for less.

How do you unwind after a long writing session?

I’ll usually watch a movie.

Why did you choose to be an Indie writer and would you choose to self-publish again?

Indie self-publishing has become such an attractive option that even some established authors with traditional publishers are choosing that route. Many traditional authors are finding that their publishers will no longer budget funds for promoting their books. They are literally on their own. Traditional publishers still have a monopoly lock on supplying brick-and-mortar bookstores, but the stores themselves are withering away. I am happy with the switch to Indie publishing. I would choose that route again.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

Great prose can’t happen unless you write clearly and with the fewest words.

How long did it take to get this book from idea to being published? What was the most grueling process?

The original print edition took twenty months from inception to publication. That included two query campaigns and three passes of professional editing. Plus I designed the cover. The second edition rewrite took seven months. That included one pass of editing, one conventional query campaign, a week for professional formatting, and a few hours to actually get the book digitally published. For me, the most grueling aspect of the process is querying.

What is your favorite movie based on a book, where you preferred the movie?

The Count of Monte Cristo, the 2002 version starring Jim Caviezel, is superior to the original classic, which I’ve read many times. The screenwriter took liberties with the plot and characters to produce a magnificent love story, one of my all-time favorites on film. If you’ve read the original book, this movie is a delightful surprise to take in the first time.

Laptop, desktop or notebook and pen/pencil for writing?

I use all of the above. When inspiration strikes, I grab whatever is handy. But apart from that, I write certain scenes by hand, and others by word processor. I can’t detect any logic to it, but I always know which to use. Then there are other instances where I’ll start drafting by hand, then switch to writing on the PC.

Have you ever literally deleted or thrown away a book you’ve written?

Yes, my first novel, completed when I was in my twenties, was so dreadful in quality that I eventually discarded it.

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