Sporting leather elbow patches, he has a low boredom threshold. Read on and find out more…
According to Wikipedia, ‘a superhero is a type of heroic character possessing extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers and is dedicated to a moral goal or protecting the public.’ Sounds like a writer to me!
Join me as another one of these unsung superheroes invites into their personal ‘batcave’.
If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?
Since I could read, I have absorbed novels. I remember Andre Norton’s sci fi, James Thurber’s whimsical life stories, and the exciting tales of Roald Dahl (whom I later discovered also wrote stories for “Playboy”). By age 12 I was reading a lot of English lit, including Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare. I think that’s when I also discovered “Playboy”. My first novel has been totally junked (see “Sandra”), although I continued working on another one for 35 years because it was promising.
All superheroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.
I tutor students from grade school to Ph.D. candidates in reading comprehension and writing. As a former teacher, I discovered most English teachers don’t actually know how to teach the reading of literature other than “read it again”, so I developed a secret formula. Most of my students have no idea I write novels.
Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?
My best partner is my wife, Sandra. She was an editor for the United Nations University, and has an incredible eye for plot and character as well as technical issues. Early on she told me exactly what the major problems were with my writing, although it took me a few years to believe her (I really wanted to be another Dickens or Hardy!). To have someone in your house who can give you honest, yet expert opinions is a fantastic super-asset.
Where do you get your superpowers from?
Unfortunately, I’m a mere mortal. I had to take the old-fashioned route to learning how to write: read a lot of great writers, study technique, and practice. Then practice some more. And edit ruthlessly. While I believe I’m a great story-teller and can see the action in my mind and translate that to paper, I am not a naturally gifted purveyor of purple prose. It took me many years to learn how to construct strong plot and characters.
Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?
We have an office in our bedroom. It’s about 12 x 12, with a bay window that looks out at redwoods and oak trees. The walls are surrounded with shelves and paintings, along with our college degrees. Oh, and a Rod Laver Signature racket hanging above a tennis painting that says “love”.
Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?
It would start with off-white oxford jeans over light brown brogues. The open collar of a white, button-down shirt would peek out over a blue cashmere sweater, topped with a gray tweed jacket—leather elbow patches, of course. I’d have to carry a leather messenger bag and a pipe, even though I don’t smoke.
What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?
The thing that weakens me is a low tolerance for boredom. With very few exceptions, I have not been able to stick with a major project (novel, screenplay, etc.) from start to finish. Even if I have half a dozen things going (which I actually do), I always look for another idea. Why? Because if I’m bogged down in one, I am frequently getting ideas for one of the others: doing research, writing snippets of dialogue, working out plot details. So what if it takes me three years to finish one novel? I generally finish one major work every six months, simply because I have so many things going on. And what about the times I just don’t have anything at all to be working on that is really new and exciting? I study writing, and then go back to those stories on the back burner and revise, revise, revise.
What was the supervillain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?
My only supervillain is my own laziness. I confess, sometimes sitting at a computer, it is tempting to check email, cruise the Internet randomly, etc. I have to wrestle that villain down frequently.
What important lessons have you learned along the way?
Keep practicing your art. Read a lot of writers you admire, especially in your genre(s), and study what they do that you like. Read articles and books on craft. Then put those lessons into practice in your own writing.
What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?
Mostly meeting other writers, speaking with them, getting energized and motivated by their struggles and their successes.
If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?
I would join a writing club at the very beginning (I’m a 10-year member of California Writers Club). Not only is the camaraderie important—not to mention the networking—but in a good club you will learn a lot about craft, about publishing, and about marketing. I would not change the fact that I write whatever takes my fancy, rather than sticking to one genre. Very boring.
What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.
“Write what you know.” A lot of people misunderstand this, thinking it limits them to past history. What it really means is make yourself an expert in a subject before you write so your words will be “true”, they will have both knowledge and passion. If you want to write murder mysteries, study how both killers and detectives operate. If you want to write historical fiction, do tons of research on your subject before starting the novel.
Tell us about you new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.
Please, do NOT drop anything, especially if you’re holding a baby. Or a glass of wine.
My latest HF novel, “The Grindstone”, is a mixed-race family saga. Set in 1950s Arizona, it follows an adopted boy who suffers from Fetal Alcohol and Drug Syndrome as he struggles to succeed in school, life, and Little League baseball. Not only will you learn a lot about the educational system of the era, but something about child psychology, dealing with ADHD, and that society. I have also recently released “The Jersey Jupiters”, a humorous novel about a start-up football team in the early days of the NFL. It’s mostly based on the career of Bill Veeck, translated from cowhide into pigskin. But there’s a lot of actual history in that as well, not only about the players, but the culture of that era.
What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?
A movie producer asked me to write a screenplay on a concept I pitched him about Charles Martel. The working title is “The Franks”. I’m also working on “The Shakespeares and the Crown”, about the civil upheaval in England during the Elizabethan era. The Shakespeare family represents the devout Catholic faction, while William Cecil and Francis Walsingham represent the spy ring developed by the determined Protestants. I’ve spent three years researching that, and there’s a lot of fascinating stuff, both about the Shakespeare family and how Elizabeth’s “spymaster” manipulated world events.
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