How important is research to you when writing a book?
It has been critical in every novel I have written so far. In my time travel stories, I want the history to be accurate enough to make the story real. I enjoy hearing people say “I didn’t know that happened” or “I never knew that place existed.” In my second novel which deals with the paranormal, the research done on parapsychology and “ghost hunting” will make the story all the more believable.
How often do you write?
When I am moved to do so. When I have an idea for a project, I generally don’t start writing until I have it pretty clear in my mind. I’ll think about while lying in bed, riding the bus to work, whenever. At some point I’ll have a “eureka!” moment and say to myself “I have a story!” Then, the very next chance I get I’ll start writing. It may be on my computer at home, my laptop during a lunch break at work, or even my tablet while commuting.
How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?
It’s not hard to start writing once I have the story worked out in my mind. I’ve learned to not even try to write if I am not clear on what I am going to write.
Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
Never. For me, creativity is ephemeral. I can only write when I have the inspiration, when I have the ideas together in my mind. If I just sit down and write I’ll end up with junk, usually. I actually sort of envy those who can set a goal and write so many words a day. They are the ones with the multi-volume epics. I just hope that the few books I produce are good and that people enjoy them.
Do you think writers have a normal life like others?
Except for whatever idiosyncrasies that may be related to my writing, like people watching, daydreaming, imagining what life might be at a different time or place…I guess there is no real difference. I cannot imagine seeing someone on the street and saying to myself, “there goes a writer.”
Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
Yes to both. I like to have a general plot idea, but as I am writing, I will allow the character or situation to drive the story. Makes it more real and often will surprise me. In my first novel, The Chronocar, some of the most talked about scenes, including the surprising ending virtually wrote themselves.
Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last?
Yes. It has lasted hours, weeks and months. I can’t write until I feel like it is right. Once I do start writing again can’t stop.
Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?
Walk away from the project for a while. If you’re not on a deadline, put it out of your mind. When I get serious writer’s block I like to write a little fan fiction. It usually does not require much character development, and what might ordinarily be considered simplistic or even a little shallow can work with fan fiction because the characters and situations are already established.
Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?
Oh, yes. My first novel took 6 – 7 years. I’d play with it, get discouraged and put it away. I’d spend months researching then drop it for a while. It was a matter of self-confidence. When my wife read an early manuscript and threatened to divorce me if I did not finish it, I took her playful hint and got serious. After that, I’ve never left anything “stew” for more than a few weeks.
What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?
For fiction, it has to be enjoyable, period. It can be serious or silly. It can be long or short. It can be educational or totally without any significant meaning. If it is enjoyable, it is a good book. Fiction, is, after all, entertainment.
How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing?
It’s happened a number of times. It was disappointing at first. Now I just accept it and try to figure out how to plan better. My worst turnouts actually occurred during a blizzard, a terrible thunderstorm, and during one of the Chicago Cubs World Series games. So they could not have been helped or predicted! I’ve had enough events with a decent turnout to balance it off.
Does a bad review affect your writing?
Have not had any really bad reviews yet. But I consider the numbers. If 80% of the reviews are positive, I may look for something to learn from the 20%, but chances are I may never make them happy. The 80% would be my audience. Some of the less then stellar reviews I have read for my writing and some others have been by people who are not even fans of the genre. Not that you cannot benefit from bad reviews, but I would never change anything because a few people did not like it. If I got a lot of bad reviews, then I may stop and think about what I could be doing wrong.
How much of yourself do you put into your books?
Here is where I think I cheat. In every novel so far, the main character is somehow based on me. In The Chronocar, the young college student is very much like me at that age, he even attends Illinois Tech, my Alma mater. My second novel follows the life of the main character from pre-school to middle age, and although the story is fiction, there is a lot of me in that character and I asked myself what I would do in particular situations during that time in my life. My third novel features a retired, curmudgeonly computer geek; and many who have read the manuscript recognize me right away.
Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy, how true is that?
I have a very simple reply to that. HA!
From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?
Writers are regular people. Some may be alcoholics or drug abusers just as any other artists or even non-creative person might be. I am barely a teetotaler. I probably have a glass of wine once in a few months. I have never smoked, gotten drunk, done drugs, gotten into fights and I have never been a womanizer. Hemingway would be ashamed of me.
Is it true that authors write word-perfect first drafts?
Only if by “WordPerfect” you mean the old word processing program…
Do you enjoy book signings?
Very much so. I worked in and near the Sears (Willis) Tower for years, and dreamed of doing a book signing at Barbara’s Bookstore in the Lower Level. When my first novel was finally published, I managed to do a very successful book signing event there, a couple of months before it was forced to close because the building management had other plans for the space. I have also lived the dream of being interviewed about my book on WVON and WGN radio, two of the most historic and iconic radio stations in Chicago.
Have you ever taken any help from other writers?
When I submitted my first novel the first time, I got a long, helpful rejection notice, suggesting that I join a writers group. The best bit of advice I ever got. The first group I joined was extremely helpful, and I am part of one now that has seen me through two manuscripts. I also enjoy reading the other members’ work, often genres I never thought of reading before, and I get great satisfaction in helping them polish their work. In each novel I mention them by name and thank them for their help in the dedication.
What is your view on co-authoring books; have you done any?
Tired it once many years ago. The other person was not a writer. It was a disaster.
What is that one thing you think readers generally don’t know about your specific genre?
The definition of science fiction has become severely diluted in recent years to include things like superhero comics and magical fantasy. In real sci-fi, the science, whether real or imaginary, should be so central to the story that of you remove it, the story falls apart. By that definition, Star Wars is not science fiction; you could give the characters metal swords, horses and seagoing ships and have the same basic story. My novel The Chronocar has been called “pure” science fiction, which I consider to be a very high complement.
How did it feel when your first book got published?
I was 64 years of age when that happened. It was the realization of a lifelong dream. When I finally held a copy in my hand I cried like a baby.
Have you received any awards for your literary works?
My first novel, The Chronocar, was selected Book of the Month by the Black Science Fiction Society in August 2015. My Alma mater, Illinois Institute of Technology plays a significant role I the story. A copy of The Chronocar is now in the university’s archives.
Is today’s generation more aware of the literary art or less?
Less. Young people are more attracted to film and video. This is evidenced by the number of “blockbusters” that seem to have more explosions than story.
Have you ever written a character with an actor in mind?
Oh, yes. In The Chronocar, I imagined a young Denzel Washington as the college student and a young James Earl Jones as the young son of a slave and genius Simmie Johnson in the 1800’s and an elder James Earl Jones as the middle aged Dr. Johnson 30 some years later. Even if they made a film, this would not be possible, but it did help to visualize the characters.
Were your parents reading enthusiasts who gave you a push to be a reader as a kid?
My mother worked at a printing company. She would always bring home books and magazines and made them available for us to read. Being an avid reader herself, she set an excellent example. One day she brought home a book entitled I Robot by Isaac Asimov. I was instantly hooked on sci-fi. I was about 12 or 13 years of age at the time.
Do any of your family members make occasional cameos in your books?
Yes. In my novel, The Chronocar, a lot of what happens to Simmie Johnson, a Black man who migrates from the South around the turn of the century is based on stories that my grandfather told me as a child.
What are the non-fiction genres you enjoy reading?
Science, especially astronomy and astrophysics. I recently finished reading Welcome to the Universe by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and others. I do read the occasional biography, The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama being one of the books I plan to read soon.
Have you ever written fan-fiction?
Yes! I like to write fan fiction when I get “stuck” on a more serious project. I love the idea of crossovers. I’ve been a Star Trek fan since the original series premiered in the 60’s. In the 90’s I was introduced to the Highlander series by a friend. When I discovered fan fiction I made the connection, since the Highlander, Duncan McCloud lives forever, then eventually he would find himself in the Star Trek universe, so I put him on Deep Space Nine in a story with what I thought was a clever title; “Where No Clan Has Gone Before.” I have since done crossovers with Star Trek. Dr. Who and Pinky and the Brain.
Do you enjoy discussing upcoming ideas with your partner? If yes, how much do you value their inputs?
My wife is my first “sounding board.” I’ll often bounce ideas off her and she is generally honest with her input. She has not been wrong yet!
What are your views on modern erotica? Have they completely dehumanized the idea, or is it better?
I used to think that, but I have a friend, who is part of my writer’s group, who writes excellent erotica; stories with real characters that you care about and stories that are fascinating that has explicit sex scenes dropped in logical places. She has actually changed my mind about erotica.
Do you enjoy theatre? Would you ever like one of your stories to be turned into a play?
I enjoy theatre on the stage and on the radio. Can’t imagine any of my stories on the stage, but I have thought of converting part of one of my novels to a radio drama. In the 1970’s I wrote and produced original radio drama, so I could probably pull it off if I tried.