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Author Q & A

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September 14, 2012 by bernibus

After three decades of writing I’ve been asked quite a few questions about both the craft and myself. The following Q&A represent the most memorable of those.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

Gee, you had to ask that. It goes way back to third grade. The teacher asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up. Each of us had to stand up and tell the rest of the class. In third grade all I wanted was summer vacation. I had no idea what I wanted to be. There were about 30 of us in the class and my seat was in the middle so I had some time to think of something.

When it was my turn I stood up and just blurted out that I wanted to be a writer. There was some snickering in the room as I wasn’t the best student back in those days. My choice also got the first comment from the teacher. “A writer, huh, Charles. Interesting. Why a writer?” I’m sitting there wondering why she’s picking on me because she hadn’t asked anyone else about their choice. So again, I said the first thing that came to mind.

I told her I wanted to be a writer because they don’t really work, they sit all day at a comfortable desk and write. A slacker’s answer for sure. My rationale was that my dad and most of the kid’s fathers in class did physical work and there was no way I was going to be driving a truck or digging holes. The class really laughed at that answer. The teacher just rolled her eyes in disgust and told me to take my seat. I think that little exercise was the actual seed that led to my real desire to write.

How many books have you written?

Too many to mention them all. I’ve published three physical nonfiction titles and one collection of inspirational stories. I’ve written dozens of eBooks on business and marketing. And though I loved writing every last word I always longed to write fiction. The inspirational collection was my first published work of fiction though I’d written a few short stories before that.

I love writing fiction. I currently have two full length novels out, a novella and several short stories all on the Amazon Kindle format.

Briefly, let us know what they’re about along with titles.

Okay, most of my stuff has a happy, upbeat theme. I’ve even come up with a name for the genre because to my knowledge, there isn’t a name for the type of stories I like to write other than inspirational. I call it passing the torch. It’s a simple concept where one or more characters are better off as a result of their association with another character in the story. The example I use is Titanic because most people have seen the movie. Remember back to where “old” Rose has just told the salvage crew the story of meeting Jack and surviving the tragedy. When she’s finished she says, “But now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me… in every way that a person can be saved.”

That’s a great example of passing the torch. I like to put that element in my writing as much as possible. That’s not to say that my work is unrealistically sappy because it’s not. But even a story that’s dark in certain places can have one or more characters learn something valuable or change for the better in some way. I think good fiction needs to reflect real life and we all know that real life isn’t always a picnic.

As for titles, how about I give you a couple. I’m really happy with my new novel, Magic Radio. It’s a science fiction novel with treasure hunting as the main story driver. There’s a huge pile of loot up for grabs along with a lottery ticket worth $33 million. And of course, there’s the radio. What’s magic about it? Can’t say here but if it were to fall into the wrong hands, the world as we know it would certainly change.

Another novel I’ve just released is titled, The Time Traveler’s Guide To Health, Wealth & Romance. It’s about a guy who goes to bed one night and wakes up as the boy he was at the age of eight. The cool thing is that he has all his adult memories of what’s to come. I always loved the expression, If I’d only known then what I know now… This allowed me to speak directly to that saying.

Imagine being able to go back to childhood knowing what was about to happen in history and your own life. It might make life a lot easier, but there’s no guarantee of that. This experience is bittersweet because the main character has left his sweetheart back in his adult life. After a couple of years of reliving his school days he just resigns himself to growing up all over again, only much smarter the second time around. But then he discovers a way to possibly get back to adulthood and his sweetheart. I really love this story because it deals with everything people long for, health, wealth and romance.

Lemme mention one more. It’s a novella titled Pennies From Heaven. It’s about a guy who’s about to lose his ranch to foreclosure. The property has been in his family for nearly 100 years and he’s really upset that he hasn’t managed to keep it. I’m going to give away the ending here but that’s okay. He avoids the foreclosure… he comes up with the money in a most unusual way.

Each one of these stories is loaded with adventure, humor, intrigue, larceny and more. And each one also has the passing the torch element as well.

Where can we find your book/s?

Right now all of my fiction and nonfiction can be found on Amazon.

What is the driving force behind your creativity?

It’s got to be my imagination. Sometimes it’s a person. I started reading books when I was young, both novels and comic books. I still remember my first novel. It was written for kids. The title was, The Forest Fire Mystery by Troy Nesbit. I remember thinking how cool it was to create a mystery story and then solve it having all the little pieces fall into place. It wasn’t long before I was writing my own little stories though I wasn’t very polished.

Now I walk in the country nearly every day and have to fight off all the story ideas that come to me. Okay, maybe not fight them off literally but I have far more good story ideas than time to write them all. Walking out in nature just seems to have enough of a calming effect on me to bring out the creativity. I also speak out loud to no one in particular as I walk. Sometimes characters from a current story will let me know what they’re about to do. I can be inspired almost anywhere but I think being outdoors in nature is probably the true inspiration behind my work.

What is your writing strategy?

Hmmm. Seat of my pants, I’d say. What I mean is that I don’t sit down and write an outline before starting a story or novel. For a long time I thought all authors wrote from plot outlines mapping out every move the characters made. But then I read Stephen King’s On Writing and discovered he didn’t do that. There are many authors that don’t. King says he bases most of his stories on an unusual idea and just lets the plot create itself. What a relief it was for me to hear that. It was weird, really. I’d already had several decent stories written using a similar strategy but felt I’d been lucky they turned out well. Kurt Vonnegut was known to say that the main character should be made to want something. Okay, to me that’s pretty vague but it’s a start.

So what’s the alternative to outlines and strict plotting? I can’t speak for anyone else but with me it’s a clever idea, a hook. Sometimes it will start with the “what if” premise. For years I had an idea for a story based on a saying we’ve all heard. That is: I wish I knew then what I know now. Think of that for a minute. It’s a time travel story just waiting to be told. Taking it a bit further, what if I had all the knowledge of what was to happen over the next 40 years as a boy of eight? Hmmm. Lots of possibilities there.

I kept the idea alive for nearly 20 years before actually writing it. What I needed was a new, unique mechanism for going back in time. I couldn’t use a DeLorean. Lotions, potions and magic were worn out. Let’s face it, time travel is a popular theme in science fiction and I wanted something that people would stop and wonder about, something that would make the reader think, wow, this might actually work. And then one day it came to me. I had it. I had no idea what was going to happen after I got my character back in time but by then the main character had his own personality and ideas. The story wrote itself.

I think the key is to create dynamic characters and weak characters and confident and frightened characters, just like real people in real life. And then turn them loose around the idea. That’s how my best stuff has evolved.

What was your first eye opening reading experience?

My imagination has always been out of control. When I was a kid my parents never knew when I was joking and when I was serious, especially my mom. As for my imagination in relation to writing, I think it came with my first book by Robert Heinlein, The Door Into Summer. Heinlein had a very engaging, conversational style and was super easy to read. But what fascinated me about his work was he made science fiction seem so real. There was nothing about any of his stories that seemed forced or fabricated or even unusual. The science fiction aspects were easy to accept.

That’s when I began to seriously think I might like to be a writer. But it’s interesting that I consciously rejected science fiction back in those days as something I want to write. I’m not sure why. Maybe I didn’t think I could pull it off like some of the folks I considered masters. Funny that once I hit my stride as a writer it was science fiction that bubbled to the top. I don’t consider myself strictly a sci fi writer though. I’ve written some good old conventional fiction as well.

What’s your favorite meal?

Hmmm. There’s a curve ball. I’m tempted to say FOOD. There isn’t much I don’t like. I’d probably say my favorite would be a nice chunk of baked halibut or cod, filled with some sort of creamy stuffing containing chives. Then some roasted veggies like zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, and artichoke hearts. Maybe leave out the celery. And of course, French fries. The main course might be preceded by Caesar salad. The meal followed by ice cream or maybe banana crème pie. Yeah, that would work.

How do you feel about e-publishing compared to traditional publishing?

I’ve been writing eBooks since the end of the 1990s. Before that I had four physical books out in the stores. Three of those were nonfiction, while the fourth was inspirational fantasy. Those books were all self published. Two of them did pretty well.

What we’re seeing right now is really cool. The old established publishing houses are learning a massive lesson. The ones paying attention are finding out the reading public might not be so snobbish or picky.

What I mean is there are some very successful authors publishing on Amazon and other platforms who would have waited several lifetimes to ever get a mainstream book deal. Why? Because perhaps the big publishers feel their prose isn’t perfect. But with all the self published eBooks out there it’s become very clear what people want. They want to be entertained and they’re not holding authors feet to the fire in the name of literary perfection. Of course, well written books are still at the front of the line.

What’s your favorite movie?

I used to say it was Harold and Maude. It still might be. Harold and Maude is a major passing the torch story. Maybe that’s why it’s so appealing to me. It might be easier to pick my top five. They would include Groundhog Day, Sister Act, To Kill A Mockingbird, Point Break and The Day The Earth Stood Still (the first one). I guess that’s six. Maybe I should make it ten…

What’s your all-time favorite read?

It would depend on the day. I guess you could say it’s a tie between Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.

Who is your favorite author?

Again, I’d have to flip a coin between Robert Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut. Both were brilliant authors. I love the way Vonnegut wove his stories. To begin one of his books the reader might have no idea how any of it would could possibly make sense. But by the end everything magically falls into place with plenty of irony, pathos, joy, revenge, you name it. I don’t think there are many writers as clever and skilled as Kurt Vonnegut.

Heinlein was a masterful storyteller too though his methodology and style was much more conventional. I think if I were forced to make a choice it would be Robert Heinlein because the overall tone of his writing is far more upbeat and optimistic than Vonnegut’s.

What interests do you have besides writing?

I like being outdoors in nature. I like to play guitar. I love listening to music, mainly rock, jazz, folk, classical, show tunes, hell, all music. I like to read. I like to kiss and hold hands and be close to that special someone. I love to walk long distances. I like the water. I love animals, especially kittens, puppies, any new life. I love ducks, they’re my favorite birds. I love feminine beauty.

I like spontaneity over detailed planning. I like jokes and laughter. I like figuring something out when that a-ha moment arrives. I’m interested in spiritual and metaphysical topics and enjoy reading and exploring those subjects. I sometimes like to play Rummy and occasionally, Scrabble. I like good food.

Do you draw from personal experience when writing, such as people, places and situations?

Oh, yes. What else is there? If I have any talent it’s the ability to pay attention to what’s going on around me. I’ve been this way since I was a little kid. People are so interesting. Watch how a small kid in a grocery store will get his parents to buy her something. I’m not talking about temper tantrums, I mean the subtle stuff, persuasion, negotiation. There’d always plenty of dynamic interaction going on everywhere we look, though most people aren’t looking. This is the stuff stories are made from. I have a background in healthcare and in business. I could spend the next five years creating stories based on the things I’ve witnessed.

I was in the Navy in the early 80s and assigned to a guided missile destroyer. We’d just come from the shipyard in Long Beach and were on what they call our shakedown cruise. We were in a rough storm off the coast of California when someone needed to go ashore for a medical emergency. During the transfer the captain of the ship fell overboard and was several hundred yards away from the ship inside of a single minute. The sea was rocking and rolling with swells up to 10 feet and more. If it hadn’t been for the guy who tossed him a lifesaver with a little strobe light attached we might have never found the guy. That’s just one of hundreds of situations and settings. There are many, many more. I think most writers are good at noticing what others take for granted.

Are the characters in your books based on real people?

Yes, for the most part. A lot of them are composites. A little of my dad, a little of a friend, some of myself, a lot of someone else. Teachers, old bosses, old girlfriends, military folks. It goes on and on. There have been a few of my characters who were based entirely on people I know or have known. The reason is simple. That individual’s personality fit the story perfectly. I have a really dynamic female character I want to feature in a series of novels though I don’t know when I’ll get to it because there are two books in front of it presently. This character will be based almost entirely on a real world friend of mine.

I think a lot of authors create main characters or heroes according to the way they see themselves. I don’t remember now where I read it but one of my favorite authors, Robert Heinlein, was said to have been the alter ego of character Jubal Harshaw in Stranger In A Strange Land. I can say that many of my own beliefs and ideals are expressed through characters in my stories both male and female.

How many books have you read in your life?

Thousands. I have no way of knowing. I started young and continue to this day. I do know that I’ve read many of my favorites more than once. Reading is the oil for the human writing machine. Stephen King said in his excellent book, On Writing, that there are two fundamental things all writers need to do consistently. That is, read a lot and write a lot.

If you could morph into any animal, what would it be, and why?

I think that depends on the day and my mood. Some days I’d want to be a cat, other days, a dog. Some days I think I’d enjoy being a duck or a crow. I love ducks and crows as much as I love cats and dogs. I guess I’ve narrowed it down to four.

Have you attended any writing classes or workshops?

I haven’t. In fact, I was in danger of not graduating high school on time because I was failing senior English so maybe I should have had a little extra help. I’m a terrible student. I don’t know why my writing works, at least not in the technical sense. Over the years I’ve absorbed a lot of stuff about grammar, punctuation and syntax but I’d be hard pressed to actually cite the rule or reason for a piece of prose. My understanding of language is an auditory thing. When I read and write I hear the story in my head.

I’ve been tempted to try a workshop or two, especially when I wrote primarily nonfiction but now I feel that doing so might mess up the mojo that just seems to come naturally. In other words, if it ain’t broke, leave it alone. Pretentious maybe, but I’m sticking with it. I do sometimes read books about writing though.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I’m a baby boomer so I love just about everything created for my generation. The Beatles are my all time favorite band and Steely Dan is in second place. There’s almost no music at all that I won’t listen to. I’m a fan of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Frank Zappa, The Archies, Shitake Monkey, The B-52s, Michael Jackson, the list goes on and on and on. If there’s one category I could take or leave it would be traditional Opera. Not much of a fan of that high pitched singing in foreign languages.

What’s your overall impression of self-publishing?

I’ve been involved in traditional self-publishing (physical books) since 1996 when my first nonfiction book, The Streetsmart Homebuyer was released. It’s a business like any other. There’s a lot to learn. Much of what has driven the old school publishing establishment for centuries is becoming obsolete.

What I mean is, one could almost guarantee sales with a decent book and cover and enough promotion. The exposure or publicity could be purchased from publicists. So if an individual was willing to spend enough money he or she could conceivably end up with a bestseller. That formula has changed a lot, especially with e-publishing. These days it’s not enough to write a great book. Now you have to be able to market and promote it effectively as well.

Where’s your favorite place in the world, and why?

New England. A silent, still setting with lots of freshly fallen, heavy virgin snow everywhere, draped from trees, power and phone lines, fences, everything’s covered. It’s late afternoon in winter. It’s cold and I can see my breath. There’s a lonely sparrow skittering across a naked lilac branch knocking bits of snow to the ground. We’re completely aware of each other, the sparrow and me like we’re sharing something special. The snow begins to fall again. First a few lonely flakes come down lazily. Then more. And finally, it’s snowing. It’s daytime but nearly dark and quite still. I’m in my back yard back of my boyhood days. I guess I thought of this because it takes me back to my carefree days.

Technophobe or technophile?

Neither. Somewhere in between, closer to technophile I think but certainly no wiz.

How do you handle feedback from readers, both negative and positive?

Life is a learning experience. Feedback is part of life. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to hear good things about their work. I’m no different. I’ve had my share of good reviews and a few really nasty ones. I once wrote a fantasy story and received a comment that suggested I did a lot of drugs in my day. Hello. It’s a fantasy story. I guess the reviewer didn’t dig fantasy. To each his own.

If you could sit down with any author and have a chat, who would it be, and why?

Well, since my two favs are gone now I’d have to say Stephen King. I’m not a big fan of horror but I am a fan of great writing. King definitely delivers the goods. I read many of his books when I was younger. I relate a lot to his methods. I have something in common with King. Like him, I was born in Maine. I envision sitting down somewhere in a Moose pasture and just shooting the breeze about dangling participles and stuff. My second choice would be Elmore Leonard. That cat writes really great dialog. Anyone studying writing would do well to get a bunch of his books just for the dialog lessons.

A piece of the world or world piece?

Whirled peas.

Do you use social networking such as Facebook and/or Twitter, and if so, how do you find it and can we have your details? 

Yeah. I avoided social networking until recently because I thought it was a time waster. But it’s like anything else, it’s how one uses it. I’m actually enjoying myself on Twitter and gaining some decent exposure, and I’m making friends too. I’m still trying to figure out the Timeline thing on FB. I wish they’d listen to their subscribers and change it back to the way it was.

How do you market yourself and your book/s?

Interesting that you should ask. My newfound interest in social networking comes into the picture. I’ve read a lot of stuff on book marketing in the last few months. And it comes back to one thing: provide massive value. I first heard it put that way back in 1997 when Mark Victor Hansen said it at a book marketing seminar he was giving.

It can be challenging to be heard over all the marketing noise out there. So it makes sense to have a great product (book, story, music, etc.) in the event someone decides to check you out. Get enough people to look and then to tell their friends about what cool stories you’ve got and before long, you’ve got fans and success.

If you could sum yourself up in one word, what would it be?

Persistent

If others would sum you up in one word, what would that be?

Insightful

What does the future hold for you and your writing?

Bestselling author of inspirational stories that are being made into movies. The success would fund a unique noninvasive healing technique I’m aware of. The process will be described soon in the sequel to one of my novellas.

Lennon or McCartney or neither, and why?

Oh, my. John, without hesitation. In the latter part of the 60s I was one of the biggest John Lennon fans in the world. I read about him all the time. I couldn’t get enough. I loved him because he was a rebel poet, a nonconformist. He wrote and played great music. He had such freedom, so many possibilities. I’d sometimes make decisions by asking myself, what would John do? Mind you, I was 15 or so at the time. I had him up there on a mile high pedestal. I still love Paul and George and Ringo but John was my main guy.

Who is your hero and why?

My mother. Really. It’s only recently that I’d name her as my hero. If there’s anything good about me it’s because of my parents, especially my mom. She was kind and never spoke a harsh word. She taught me to treat others as I would like to be treated and never to judge people.

As a kid I was critical of both my parents as many kids are. But recently, after my mother passed I learned some things about her that blew me away because she’d never spoke about them to us. She was a twin but her twin sister died as a child. Not long after that, her mother died. And several years later her father, despondent over the death of his beloved wife, took his own life. My mother was left to be raised in a Catholic orphanage with her five siblings. She was the youngest.

Her marriage to my dad was stormy. But to look at her and talk to her no one would have ever known she’d been through so much. The things she endured would take many people completely out of the game. But she persevered, with a smile even. Everything she did, she did for her kids. Yeah, my mother is my hero. Bless you Ma.

If you were on a desert island and could only have three books, which would you choose?

Cat’s Cradle Kurt Vonnegut
Stranger In A Strange Land Robert Heinlein
The Sermon On The Mount Emmet Fox

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