Cloudbreak: Stories of Our Times

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

I like writing anthologies, as I have done with my first two books, because it affords the flexibility to write lots of diverse types of stories on different subjects.

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

Oh yes. I have several books or stories I’ve been trying to work on for years. It’s just a matter of making the time to complete them. Plus, I want to get everything right. I hate the thought of forcing anything. I think you have to be careful that you don’t put yourself on some kind words-per-day schedule; writing under the gun like that for no good reason leads to poor writing.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

If it’s a good story, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. I really believe that. I hear would-be writers say things like, “Nobody will be interested in this,” and I tell them people will be interested if it’s a good story and it’s well-written.

What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?

I think the cover and title are two of the most important aspects of a book, at least for marketing purposes. The way I look at is, if someone is not familiar with my work and they walk by the book in the bookstore, are the cover and title compelling enough to make them pick it up and take a look? That’s half the battle really. If they look through it and decide not to buy it, then you haven’t really lost anything. But if they do buy it, you’ve won another potential marketing outlet for other readers.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

As I have said before, I think the most difficult struggle aspiring writers have is simply getting started. I think a lot of people fail to start writing because they are afraid of what people will think about their work; they are afraid of rejection. They are afraid of failure. They are afraid of what people will think about them. Don’t let others influence your writing. You define your own success and failure, not others. Just start writing.

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

I’ve been blessed to have experienced a lot of things. I was a Division 1 scholarship athlete in football and baseball; I went to law school, graduated and became a lawyer. Then the United States Marine Corps gave me the privilege of earning a commission as an officer, which was the most challenging and grueling thing I’ve ever been through. I’ve served on active duty and as a reservist for nearly 20 years now, and it has been the most-rewarding experience of my professional life. And I had the opportunity to serve as a federal prosecutor for the Department of Justice. So the answer is yes, I definitely draw on those experiences to form my fiction, but my fiction is exactly that: fiction.

How realistic are your books?

I try to make my fiction as “real” as possible. People like stories that resonate with them personally, and in order to do that you have to be unsparingly open and honest in your writing.

Are there any books that you are currently reading and why?

It seems I always have about 10 books piled up on my nightstand to the consternation of my wife. It’s rare that I read a book non-stop from cover to cover. Right now I’m working my way through Marine veteran Phil Klay’s “Redeployment,” Norman Ollestad’s “Crazy for the Storm,” Hampton Sides’ “Blood and Thunder,” and The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

After publishing my new book “Cloudbreak,” I’ve turned to completing my first full-length fiction novel. I don’t want to reveal too much, but suffice it to say it’s a continuation of one of the short stories in one of my books, a full-length spinoff, if you will.

Who is the most supportive of your writing in your family?

My wife is my number one supporter, fan, and muse. Pretty soon she’s going to be my editor and agent. (Laughs). She is always a positive, encouraging force. She inspires me. My mother, a retired English teacher, has also always supported me.

Do you like traveling or do you prefer staying indoors?

I love travel and couldn’t be happy without it. I’ve written several stories on my wanderlust affliction. I love getting outside and into the outdoors. If I stay in one place too long I get stir crazy.

Whose work do you enjoy reading the most?

I read almost everything Carl Hiaasen puts out. John Grisham is still writing very good books. I admire Hampton Sides a lot; he can write on almost any subject and make it so absorbing it’s difficult to put down. As far as older works, I’m a big fan of Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Pat Conroy, and Tim O’Brien.

Are you satisfied with your success?

Sure. I never started writing to make money. I did it because it was a lifelong goal. If one of my books were to explode and make me a lot of money of course that would a nice collateral result. But I write to create and put my thoughts out there. I look at my first two books as a big, 150,000-word journal I can leave my two boys that might help them understand how their father looked at things; maybe they’ll understand me better.

What is your motivation for writing more?

I’ve found that writing becomes addictive. I feel the need to do it now. And I have a lot more stories to tell. I am interested in current events, especially in sports, and as I follow certain issues – such as the concussion crises in football and other sports, a situation that has affected my own family – I will continue to weigh in on those issues.

Do writers become narcissists once their book starts to sell?

That’s a very good question. I can’t speak for others. I try to stay who I am and remain humble. The difficulty is, if you have a robust presence on social media, which I do, you can come off as self-absorbed and narcissistic if you’re not careful. For instance, I have professional pages on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. The only reason I have these accounts is to market my writing. So my posts are heavy on my writing, which probably appears to some people like that is all I do care about. I am still trying to find the happy medium between posting too little and posting too much.

Which book would you want adapted for the silver screen?

There are several stories in both of my books that I think would make for great movies. (Laughs). A lot of my work is about military service, and I think people like military movies. It seems like a timeless genre.

Do you pen down revelations and ideas as you get them, right then and there?

Absolutely. I always have a notebook with me so I can write down thoughts and ideas as they come to me, because they come to me around the clock.

Have you ever written a character based on the real you in some part?

You’re asking about the “alter-ego.” The idea is your main protagonist or some other important character in the story is based loosely or directly on you, the writer. Pat Conroy did this in almost all of his books. Philip Roth, author of “American Pastoral,” also used this technique to great success. I have used it too, and I think it’s a very helpful tool to get a new writer started in writing stories. Just tell a story about your life, but change your name. The collateral effect of doing this is it sort of frees you up to be even more open and honest than you would if you were actually writing about yourself.

Fiction or non-fiction? Which is easier?

Fiction is easier. Non-fiction requires research and accuracy. A writer loses credibility if he/she is inaccurate in non-fiction. This is time-consuming and burdensome at times. On the other hand, fiction is pure creativity and untethered art.

Which book is the one you keep going back to again and again?

I have re-read John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil several times. It has so many different themes; Southern Gothic, southern society, social caste, the criminal justice system, and it’s set in the Low Country (Savannah), one of my favorite areas in the country. It’s sort of the epitome of the South, or at least that stereotypical version of the South we see in books and movies. And being a Southerner myself, it all appeals to me.

Have you ever written a character with an actor in mind?

That’s another fun question. The answer is sort of the opposite of the way you phrased it. I have written stories I thought might make good movies, and then thought of which actor(s) might be best for the part. Here’s a perfect example from another great author of the past. Robert Ludlum wrote The Bourne Identity in 1980, at the height of the Cold War. The main character in the book evoked the image of a man who was well over 6 feet tall, over 200 pounds, and a super athlete; a big, strapping man. I read the book in the 80s and that’s certainly what I had in mind. When the movie came out in 2002, my first thought was I would never have cast Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. But of course, Damon did an unbelievable job playing Bourne, and now I can’t think of the Bourne character without thinking of him. But I think I would still want some sort of artistic control over who played one my main protagonists if I ever got so lucky to have one of my stories turned into a movie.

Do you have specific culture you like to write about?

The majority of my life has been spent as an athlete and Marine, so much of my writing centers on sports and military service. Both have provided me with a very deep well of experiences to draw from when I write my stories. And they are two sub-cultures that are extremely insular; it is very difficult at times for veteran athletes and military veterans to relate normally to everyone else and vice-versa.

What’s your favorite movie which was based on a book?

No Country for Old Men. The Coen brothers didn’t change anything from the plot of an already incredible book by Cormac McCarthy, and the result was an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Were your parents reading enthusiasts who gave you a push to be a reader as a kid?

My mother was an English teacher for 27 years. I was always at the public library across the street checking out books and always reading something. She didn’t really push me; she just opened the door to that world.

Do you have a library at home?

I suppose you could call it that. We have bookshelves everywhere filled with books of all kinds of subjects and genres, half of which I haven’t even read yet, it seems. I have an affliction for buying books and not being able to get to them.

If you were given a teaching opportunity, would you accept it?

In a heartbeat. I’m at the point professionally where I’ve accomplished most of what I set out to do and I would welcome a career change to something in which I could give something back to younger generations.

Which literary character do you most resonate with on a personal level?

George Webber. In Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, George Webber, is a fledgling author who has just published his first novel to widespread critical success and acclaim, a story based loosely on his hometown (“Libya Hill” in the book, based on Asheville) and its residents. But when Webber returns to the insular and narrow-minded Libya Hill, he is greeted with outrage by its citizens who feel he has betrayed them with his depictions of them.  It was this book that gave us the saying “You can’t go home again.”  But the idea is not so much that you can’t go home; it is that you, your home, and the people who reside there have all changed.  What you seek is a return not to home, but the ability to go back to a time in your past where everything was peaceful, as you remember it.  The problem is you can’t go back in time.  I think everyone suffers from this condition from time to time.  I mean, who among those of us with grown children wouldn’t want to go back to when they were two or three and pick them up and hold them in our arms just one more time?

How active are you on social media? And how do you think it affects the way you write?

Yes. My Twitter account is @Glen_R_Hines, and I also have a Facebook writer page. I use them both to market my writing and books.

Do you enjoy theatre? Would you ever like one of your stories to be turned into a play?

Yes. As with so many things, my wife got me interested in theater. As financially strapped law students, we went to New York City for our honeymoon on our own dime, and saw The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. It blew my mind. The actors’ talent for singing and acting, live, was incredible.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Yes. Calm down; everything will work out. (Laughs). And try to live in the moment. Soak in every single experience of every single day. I spent a lot of my time in younger years always focused on the future, to use a military term, “looking downrange.” I look back and sometimes wish I had lived more in the moment. But that’s okay, because part of life is learning and changing for the better.