What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Pilgrimages? That makes it sound very spiritual. The journey that started me toward writing Dani’s Inferno started when my son challenged me, pointing out that I had put aside writing the fiction that I loved to write when I started writing professionally and had put my own God-given dreams on the back burner. That started a time of prayer and soul-searching in which I took a look at dozens of stories I had outlined or started and asked myself, “If I only get the chance to tell one story to the world, what would I want it to be?”
What is the first book that made you cry?
Charlotte’s Web. I was probably six, and I think my mom spent more than an hour consoling me so that I could get to sleep. Incidentally, it still makes me cry. Doesn’t matter if it’s the book, a stage play, the cartoon movie, this story has always done that to me. I love stories of sacrificial love, and Charlotte’s sacrifice for Wilbur is what started my love for those sorts of stories.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I grew up writing in a home with four noisy younger siblings, a dog, and a cat. At any given time, all of them except the cat were likely to want my attention. I really don’t have much trouble tuning everything out and writing. If anything, what I’ve heard others call “the rapture of research” may be my kryptonite. I’ve been known to spend entirely too much time on rabbit trails when I need to research some point or other. One interesting thing leads to another, which leads to another, which doesn’t lead to much addition to the word count.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I don’t see any reason a book can’t do both. I do have a sequel in mind for Dani’s Inferno and am working on a breakout short story based on one of the characters, but I hope that the sequel would stand on its own if read separately. I also have plans to write books that are completely separate and that will likely be standalone books.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I don’t know that it really has all that much. One thing that I am doing differently is using date/time/location tags with every scene change now. They will probably be edited out, but having them available makes it easier to answer timeline questions if they arise in the editing process.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Interesting question. I suppose an ant, because I love their focus and ability to stay on task - a skill I had to work hard at learning. Proverbs 6 in the Bible encourages us to look to the ant for wisdom, pointing out that they work diligently even though no one is looking over their shoulder. As an author, at least before you’re published, no one is cracking the whip and telling you to keep moving. You have to be self-motivated and self-accountable. That said, I lived a long time in Louisiana, so definitely not a fire ant. Those buggers are mean. Just a regular run of the mill ant.
What did you edit out of your books? (keep it family-friendly, please)
I had initially outlined the book to deal with an abortion but decided it had enough other heavy subject matter. On a funnier note, one part I intended to edit out was when I was writing late at night and realized I’d just had my 17-year-old girl protagonist tell a total dad joke. I shook my head and wrote in my notes to change that the next day. But my then-15-year-old daughter read it, laughed, and convinced me to keep it.
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Other than my family and my relationship with God, take your pick. Seriously, I think most of us who are serious about writing give up a lot of time - time spent writing, of course (ultimately the only way to get better at anything is to do lots of it), but also time reading and studying the craft of writing.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Tough call. Charlotte’s Web is still up there, as are the Little House books. Johnny Tremain was a favorite. Probably, if you’re making me pick, though, it’d be The Chronicles of Narnia. Specifically, either The Voyage of the Dawn Treader or The Horse and His Boy. I was first introduced to Narnia when my little brother brought the books home from the school library. Being 11 years old and way too mature for such things, I teased him mercilessly about his silly books about talking animals (not proud of that), then read them myself when no one was looking. Because I was reading them on the sly, I never did read them in order until I was an adult, reading them as bedtime stories to my son. Reepicheep, the noble mouse knight, is still my favorite character in all literature.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Deciding which idea to work on and sticking with one idea. I spent many years with multiple projects going on at any given time, which led to never finishing anything longer than a short story. I have never understood the idea of writer’s block, but I do have the opposite problem of so many ideas that I have a tough time picking one and buckling down.
What is the easiest part of your writing process?
Creating the stepsheet or outline. Sticking to it is another story. I tend to approach the process of writing like a planner, but the writing itself like a pantser, so sometimes I do have to go back to the drawing board when my characters carry the story off the rails on me. Fortunately, I enjoy that part of the process, so it’s not terribly tedious.
A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?
I think writers are all over the spectrum, but we do tend to skew a bit toward introversion. Personally, I do fine in social situations, and I’m not shy or awkward, but I am introverted and can get along fine with only the people I make up for company most of the time.
When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be an author?
When I was in first grade. Our teacher, Mrs. Phillips, made a big deal to the whole class about a story I wrote about SCUBA diving with sharks and whales. Apparently, having a distinct beginning, middle, and ending is impressive for a six-year-old. She helped me turn the story into a little hardbound book. I wish I still had it. It’s crazy, but I can still get a case of the feels thinking about her affirming my creative efforts. More than forty years later, I can absolutely say that Mrs. Phillips, my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Kraft, and my eighth grade English teacher Mrs. Chandler are the biggest reasons I became and remain a writer.
Who are your biggest literary influences?
This is a bit of an eclectic list, but C.S. Lewis, Jerry Jenkins, Francine Rivers, and John Jakes.
What’s your favorite movie which was based on a book? Why?
The 2005 version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s one of the few movies that I feel actually improved on the book - quite an achievement considering the book is fantastic. The directors did a fantastic job bringing that story to life.
How did it feel when your first book got published? How did you celebrate?
Incredibly validating. I’ve had lots of ghost-written work published before, and lots of editorials and news articles I’ve written have been in print but receiving an offer to publish my first novel was unforgettable. I didn’t do a lot to celebrate, other than share the information with the screenwriting class I was taking and maybe go out to eat, though. I’m a fairly low-key guy. I mean, I spent the next couple of months smiling a lot and doing virtual victory laps, but not much other than that.
What is that one thing you think readers generally don’t know about authors?
Sometimes people act like they’re in awe of your accomplishment when you say you’ve written a book. It’s not like it took some kind of superpower. There’s a certain amount of creativity that can’t be taught, of course, but for the most part, writing a book is like any other project - it’s work. Wonderful work, but work. So, I guess it’s that authors are pretty much like the rest of the world. We just have a little bit weirder thing that we spend our time and effort on.
When it comes to research for your books, are you a hunter or a gatherer? Talk about your research process.
Both. I always have my eyes and ears open for interesting information, interactions, and points of view, but I will also dive deep into research because I want to get things right, especially since I tend to write period pieces and historical fiction. I know as a reader it drives me batty when a writer gets basic historical stuff wrong in their writing, so I try hard not to do that to others.
Could you be housemates with your characters? Why or why not?
I already am. I mean, there’s a little bit of me in most of the characters, so on some level, they already live here, whether I like it or not. Seriously, though, there are characters I’d love to have a root beer with and characters I’d like to slap. Often, those latter types are the ones that have more of me in them than I’d care to admit.
What’s your typical writing routine or schedule?
I know this is probably the wrong answer, or at least an unpopular one, but I don’t really have one, at least not all the time. In writing Dani’s Inferno, I promised myself I’d write at least one scene per day and, with very few exceptions, I kept that promise. Whether a scene was 100 words or several pages, I made sure to write at least one full scene. So, when I’m on a project, I do set a routine, but I’m very loose as far as scheduling and I don’t feel like I always need to be in the middle of a project. I think I benefit from having seasons of writing and seasons away from it.
Writing can be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. How do you recharge?
Writing fiction is generally recharging for me. It’s what helps me recharge from the other draining and stressful pursuits of life. When I was doing a lot of journalistic writing, which is somewhat less recharging for me, I would take breaks and read something completely unrelated to what I was working on.
Do you prefer music or silence when you write? Do you have a writing playlist? What’s on it?
It depends. Sometimes, I need music in the background. Other times, I need quiet. I tend to tailor the music to what I’m writing. In the case of Dani’s Inferno, I listened to a lot of hair rock and Christian rock artists like Petra, DeGarmo & Key, and Amy Grant. With a World War II project I was working on, I listened to a lot of ‘40s music.
Which celebrity would you choose to narrate your audiobook?
My book switches back and forth between two point-of-view characters, the 17-year-old protagonist and her older brother. Ideally, I’d love to have it narrated so that the scenes in Dani’s head are read by a female and the scene’s in her brother’s point of view read by a male. I guess if I had my pick, I would love to see CCM artists Amy Grant and Carman narrate. I’m probably dating myself by picking artists who were big in the ‘80s, but that’s kind of the setting of the book (early ‘90s), so I think it fits.
What well-known author, living or dead, do you wish could be your mentor? Why?
C.S. Lewis. In addition to his being such an enduring author, I think we could really connect discussing theology and history.
What is your favorite of the six senses (touch, taste, smell, sound, sight, intuition) to write about, why?
Probably intuition, though I find I have to be careful not to overdo it. Giving a character too much intuition can feel a bit like cheating, but giving them those occasional flashes of insight can give readers a glimpse into who the character is inside.
What is a favorite location you’ve written about? Have you visited that place? How did you choose which details to include?
Northern California. And yes, as a matter of fact, I moved to Northern California in December 1990, and was there during the start of the Gulf War, which is when Dani’s Inferno, starts out in Northern Cali. I remember it well because I moved out there thinking the whole state was one big beach and constantly 85 degrees. Turns out, it got down to the teens when I was there (I hadn’t even packed a coat or a sweater). At the time, they were record-breaking lows. I had always wanted to work that little weather-related tidbit into a story, and managed to, albeit in a small way.
Travel back in time (without negative effects for y or the timeline) what year do you visit? Why?
Not fair to ask me to travel to just one period, but if it can only be one, I’d go back to sometime between A.D. 50 and 60 because my next project is set in that time period and I’d love to see how the common folks lived in the provinces of the Roman Empire (and Ephesus, in particular).
What is something about your hero or villain that drove their character, but you didn’t specifically tell your reader?
Dani, the titular character, becomes very attached to people and absolutely can’t stand to feel like she’s let someone close down. It makes her a loyal friend but also leads to some poor decisions.
Have you ever resuscitated a project you'd shelved? What helped it work better the second time around?
Yes. In fact, Dani’s Inferno originally started when I was working with at-risk youth in a residential facility. I made it up on the fly as a series of bedtime stories based loosely on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I started to write it dozens of times, and outline it several more, but it was never quite what I wanted it to be until one time I made one change - I changed the prodigal to a daughter and the story instantly became 1,000 times stronger. It went from a story I’d have liked to have told to one I had to tell.
What do the words “literary success” mean to you? How do you picture it?
If someone reads my book and is moved by it, especially if they experience the love of God through it, I consider that success. Numbers are great, and I’d love to sell millions of books, but it’s honestly not about sales or bestseller lists (cool as those are). For me, it really is about one reader turning the pages, finding something to relate to, and walking away with some encouragement, consolation, comfort, or really anything that makes them feel their life is better for having spent a few hours reading my scribblings.
Can you tell us about your current projects?
I’m working on outlining several projects. The frontrunner for my next project is a story set in first century Ephesus and deals with the relationship between a young man whose father makes silver idols for the Artemis shrine Ephesus was noted for and the family’s Christian slave. The other projects I could possibly move ahead of it include a love story set during the Louisiana Maneuvers in the runup to US involvement in World War II. There is a humorous and historically true interaction that took place between General Patton and a local priest in one of the small local towns that gave me the initial idea to set a story during those exercises. And there’s a sequel to Dani’s Inferno that I might move to the front of the line.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?
At the end of the day, if you want to be a writer, you need to write. With that said, though, take time to learn the craft. Read as much as you can about writing. Pick other writers’ brains as often as you can. And read a lot of the types of books you’d like to write.
Please provide links and/or instructions about how readers can purchase signed copies of your books.
The best place to buy my book is on Amazon, though it’s also available on Barnes & Nobles and most places where you can buy books. If someone would like a signature, they can contact me directly at my Facebook author page and I’m happy to make arrangements to send a signed plate or otherwise sign their copy.
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