In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?
It’s difficult to say, since I never made a conscious decision to be a writer. I’m not even sure I have yet. However, I’ve always had a creative mind, but often lack the skills to realize those thoughts. My artistic skills seemed to stall at poorly drawn stick figures, and I had little to no exposure to musical instruments. Working with clay or wood – hilarious failures – but I had a lot of fun. But writing seemed to work. Both of my parents were readers, especially my mother, and encouraged me to be one as well. So it wasn’t a huge leap to begin expressing myself through my own stories. Although, I must admit, my first effort, Two Fish, Three Fish, Yellow Fish, Green Fish might have been too derivative of another author’s work.
Are there any authors or artists who influence(d) you?
Oh my yes. Probably too many to list, but some, of course, had greater impact than others. Early on, Agatha Christie delighted me. Via school, I read many classics: Dickens, Twain, the Brontes, Melville, Graves, T.H. White, etc. Enjoying most everything. I eventually stumbled into Sci-Fi and Fantasy courtesy of Ray Bradbury, who I will always maintain is a phenomenal writer. So yes, I hit my teenage years with healthy nerdish doses of Tolkien and Asimov. However, in that genre, writers like Zelazny and LeGuin truly captured my imagination. As an adult, Richard Russo and Christopher Moore delight me with every book they publish. And I must give mention to Stephen Brust who heavily influenced my book. I thanked him in a personal email last year, and will gladly thank him forever. In effect, he taught me that there are creative ways you can turn the world upside-down and make a good story out of it.
Tell me about your book.
Heaven, Hell and Earth humorously collide as the devil Mephistopheles and his assistant JR attempt to outmaneuver an obsessed angel, a power-hungry devil, and an amoral employee; all while entertaining old friends, new friends, and a would-be assassin.
For this comedy, like many authors before me, I’ve borrowed the character of Mephistopheles (thank you Misters Marlowe and Goethe). Mephistopheles, as hinted by Marlowe, disliked his soul-trading role; so I decided to push the tale a few more steps down the road. After a few millennium, he has devised a plan to once-and-for-all extricate himself from it. This plan involves a little bit of magic, a lot of manipulation and reliance on a somewhat unpredictable, hyperactive assistant. Success will free him from this responsibility while failure could result in Armageddon, which would seriously hamper his leisure time.
I’ve provided enough twists and turns in Mephistopheles overly complex plot to keep the reader engaged while providing a few crumbs for thought on the nature of good and evil, mortality, humanity, as well as our reliance on preconceived notions.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I’m currently working (early phase) on 3, probably going to shelve one. Over the years, I’ve only written short stories and essays mostly for friends. Some I’ve accidentally lost to time, which doesn’t bother me as they were mainly temporary creative experiments allowing me to play around with some ideas. Writing, for me and up until this point, has been a side-hobby – and expressive outlet. But as I enter another phase in my life, I feel it’s time to embrace it more fully. Although I still have a massive mortgage to pay and have a full-time plus job to do that.
What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?
Those two words should never go together. No matter how I try to look at it, the underlying concept is faulty and the execution nearly impossible to accomplish.
Books are ideas. You can’t ban ideas. They can be recreated by anyone at any time and can also be spread by many channels other than books. You might as well ban thinking and talking while you’re at it. Certainly, we may be appalled by some, but then it’s up to us to create alternative, compelling ideas/books.
I have seen how many people have felt a need to ‘protect’ others from objectionable material. But that shouldn’t be their responsibility, or role. Each person should have free will to decide and if bad decisions are being made, the faults lie elsewhere. I also understand the special case regarding children, but I feel that should remain in the sphere of parent/child relationships. My own parents set clear boundaries for behaviors as every parent should. But any parent that thinks society as a whole should agree and comply with their arbitrary placement of boundaries is overreaching.
Tell me about a principal character in your book. What makes them memorable?
For this book, I’ll have to pluralize that question to “characters”.
The two main characters are Mephistopheles and JR Wolfe – as I like to label them – two mischievous miscreants. Despite that, they are both well-meaning and, I hope to the reader, lovable. What makes them memorable is the interplay between them. While having some attribute overlap, they are opposites in many ways and that helps create some great situations and dialog that is a joy to write.
Indie, or traditionally published – and why?
This book started as an experiment – a bucket list item if you will. So I never had the intention of starting a full career as a writer. Indie publishing has come a long way from what it was when I was younger. You no longer need an outlay of large sums and guarantees of selling X books. There are positive and negative aspects to this one-button, open to everyone and anything method that’s available now, but, for me, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
I was able to focus on crafting a book and then follow a few short steps to making that a reality. Of course the downside is that I don’t have a marketing machine behind me, but again, this wasn’t a career goal and I’m not looking for my work to financially support me. I sincerely wanted to have the experience of writing a novel and having someone enjoy reading it. Considering the feedback I’ve gotten and the requests for more, I feel (hope) I have accomplished that.
Given my goal and situation, I’m not sure I can help anyone who is starting a career in writing decent advice as to which direction to take, and even if you opt to go as I did and self-publish, there are still a number of options to choose through.
It’s said that to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?
I couldn’t agree more with that statement. Read, read, read. It will open your mind to a variety of styles and possibilities as well as keeping your writing ‘muscles’ in shape. If you decide to reread a favorite book, take the time to look at it as a fellow author. Look at sentence and paragraph structure, consider how characters are portrayed, study the way the plot is developed and reflect on how dialog is handled.
However, having said all of that, when I am deep into writing, I avoid reading other authors, especially when it comes to comedy (I may even avoid television comedies as well). This is because I want to avoid being influenced and allow my own voice and style to come out. Once I start editing, though, I’m okay with it.
Tell me what you feel the worst, and the best, aspects of being an author are, and why.
I can readily tell you the worst, because it was a new experience for me: insecurity. Business writing is a large part of my professional career and having worked in the corporate world for almost 35 years, I have a ready sense as to how good or bad my work output is in any given document. However, creative writing is much different. In fact, I think that’s the key – creation. I have a sense that all people who are involved in artistic creation must feel this. How well you destroy something is pretty easy to measure (it’s gone), but how well you create something, especially something with mostly subjective measures is exceedingly difficult to gauge. And that leads to insecurity. But, you are creating as well and there’s a certain amount of joy and catharsis that comes from that. Before long you are both loving what you’ve done, then thinking it’s absolute garbage and then back to loving it and so on.
The flipside comes from people’s responses to your work. I mean, sure we all enjoy people saying how much they like it, etc., but for me, writing comedy, there is one important measure. If I am told that at some point during my book, a person has almost involuntarily chuckled out loud; well then I feel like I’ve done my work in this world. It’s an amazing feeling.
Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?
My gosh, I think I’m both, but probably lean towards pantser. I always begin with a vague, mostly nonverbal idea of where the book needs to start and where it needs to go. There are some very clear scenes that come out of that with a very distinct flow. This allows me to construct a high-level outline. Then I begin to layout major chapters. But there are always gaps in that outline. Not all of the milestones are clearly set. While writing, I will find myself jumping from place to place to write the clearer sections so I can get a better view of what I need to do to tie them together. As a result, I’ve created subplots, characters and situations on the spot. It’s like that with my dialog as well. Snippets will occur to me months before I’m at that point of writing, but it isn’t until I start to write it that I can tell exactly what my characters are going to say and why. And, yes, once I’m deep into writing, the characters may end up saying and doing things that have me changing large chunks of my initial layout.
Which approach is best? I’m all for whatever works for you, the writer. But I do feel that the pantser approach is easiest when you are most familiar with your characters. You can let the leash go, as it were.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I wouldn’t write if I couldn’t. I truly revel in doing this, although I wouldn’t call them ‘secrets’. I can give one example from the book – there are more, but I’m not telling. There is an object mentioned in two sections of the book. It’s a 3500 year old figurine of an anthropomorphized cow. The fun thing is, it actually exists and sits in a museum. On occasion, I’ll drop in a line from a song I’m listening to, not that I would ever, ever expect anyone to get that, but it’s kind of fun to do. I was listening to Hollow Moon by AWOLNATION, and at one point the singer says “You’re all still here.” At that very point I had Mephistopheles turn around and say exactly that. Fun with writing.
Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.
Food! Gardening, nutrition, history of food, cooking – all of it, I can discuss forever. Needless to say, my friends love dropping in for a bite to eat.
What are you writing at the moment?
As I mentioned, I’ve got three book concepts I’m sketching out and writing parts to. None of them are a sequel to this one – that will come next. I want to develop these three and then probably put the weakest one aside. One is a sort-of prequel to my book involving events at the Garden of Eden. Another is a paranormal fiction that is coming out a bit more serious than I had planned. In the third one, I’m looking back on a Greek myth (favorite reading as a child) and recasting it as a comedy. I have had to slow down appreciably this summer, mainly because of work demands and dealing with a family issue, but I’ve recently taken the reins back up.
What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?
It’s true and I’ll throw my own book into that mix, but only because we’re saying it at a general level of “overall as compared to those from a publishing house”. There are two reasons for this:
1. As I indicated earlier, anyone can publish anything now. I have a friend whose brother publishes garbage ‘how-to books’ (basically pamphlet size things with boiler-plate information) simply on the theory that if you put out hundreds and only make fifty cents on one copy of each, it will still bring in money. There are no controls for that kind of thing and it skews the answer to this question.
2. And closer to home, an Indie author often doesn’t have the financial resources to hire an editor (from copy editor on up), while publishing houses supply those services. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who provided developmental, and some substantive, editing at an extremely affordable price for me. But I really wish I could have afforded a copy editor and/or proofreader.
What is your favourite genre to write, and why?
Comedy and fantasy. I enjoy the former because it feels more natural to me and I actually have fun rereading some of the things I’ve written (and I know, that sounds egocentric). Fantasy is a great genre to write in because you can express so much whether it’s blatant or veiled. There is the burden of world-building or internal consistency to contend with but I find the freedom extremely rewarding. I also enjoy taking known elements or characters and reimagining them. To do so, you need to do your homework and have a good understanding of them.
If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created? Why / why not?
I definitely would. Firstly, it’s a lot like the one we’re in now and, overall, I really like this world. Secondly, it leaves open the possibility for other existences beyond this one. It’s not something I go into very much in the book, but there is a Heaven and there is a Hell and both aren’t so bad.
If you could go back to the start of your writing career, what is the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?
Take more time editing your first book. I know it’s exciting and you can’t wait to be able to share it, but take the time.
Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?
Yes, not always, but often. I tend to switch back and forth between classical, alternative (rock), and big band/blues from the 30s and 40s – all depending on the mood I’m setting in what I’m writing. As I mentioned earlier, a few drops may fall into the prose.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I never believed I could write anything novel-length. It had been all short stories and essays. It was difficult at spots and early on I remember looking at the word count (only 25,000? But I’m almost finished with the story!) and by the end, with the help of my friend, needing to cut about 15-20,000 words out. I was floored.
Tell me three unique things about you.
1) My middle name is Louis, but actually I was middle-named after my grandfather Luciano(Americanized) who, was originally named Lucifer (before being Italianized). It turns out that in the tiny town he grew up in the name retained its original meaning and did not have the standard Christian annotations associated with it (I believe there was even a monastery there named after a monk named Lucifer, but that also changed names in the last 50 years or so).
2). I was born 6 weeks early and as a result I don’t shed tears. I have them, but they drain into my sinuses if I cry or chop onions. The tear wells didn’t form correctly.
3) I’ve got around 5 patents in User Interface design sitting out there somewhere from when I worked at AT&T.