The Finest Hat in the Whole World

How important is research to you when writing a book?

Research is very important, especially if you’re writing about an era or subject you know little about. Do your homework! Do it twice – and here’s why: I misread something when I was researching 1917 coins for “The Finest Hat in the Whole World.” I approved my first printed copies of the book without catching the fact that on pages 1 and 2 I had made reference to a $5 silver coin. There were no $5 silver coins! All $5 coins at that time were gold. I knew that, but I forgot to write it down and, in my head all I could see was silver because most coins are silver in color. Well, a reader caught that mistake and brought my attention to it. However, he never bothered to read the rest of the book because of that one thing. He felt that if I screwed up on that one thing about the coin, how inaccurate is the portrayal of the rest of the story’s era? Needless to say, I fixed that error immediately, but it was too late for the first 100 printed copies.

What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

Computer. I am a sloppy typist nowadays due to arthritis. Plus you can revise a lot more than bad typing with a computer. It’s a time and energy saver!

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

When I was nine years old and wrote my first short story for a school assignment. My teacher actually read it to the class as an example of good writing. She encouraged me to keep writing. Subsequent teachers were also very supportive all the way through college.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I always start with a basic idea and plot. However, I always find my characters have different ideas. I let them steer the course through most of the story, and that makes the story better, truer, more realistic.

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

The characters! The characters must be multi-faceted, highly flawed, and highly motivated. If the characters are boring, the reader won’t care what happens to them, and that will kill the whole book. Plus, the characters must fit their roles to be believable in that role. I can’t count the number of books I tossed aside simply because the characters were all so poorly developed that they all seemed to be the same, even to the point of having the same speech pattern.

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

Yes. It makes a big difference when you read your manuscript through fresh eyes.

Poets and writers in general, have a reputation of committing suicide; in your opinion, why is that the case?

I don’t agree with that generalization. People in the Arts who commit suicide usually get more publicity about it because they tend to be “known to the public.” John Q. Obscure who labored as an accountant before he blew his brains all over the office wall won’t get that publicity. Hence, the suicide rate is no greater among poets and writers than the rest of the population.

Writers are permanently depressed; how true is that?

Hogwash. We all have emotional wreckage in our wake, and it makes for great material and well-developed complicated characters. No authors would have the energy or desire to create a work if they were permanently depressed.

Did the thought to give up writing ever occur to you?

Yes, when I was working two jobs. I had neither the time nor the energy. Plus, it didn’t help matters much that I knew I was not where I needed to be – skill-wise and life experience-wise – to be a successful writer. I gave up writing for many years. Looking back, it was a wise choice.

Doesn’t it bother you that when books are turned into movies, they are often changed to suit the audience needs?

Yes, it bothers me. Even the original screenplays don’t match the movie once the movie is finished. That’s the way the film industry works.

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

All writers lend a little of themselves into their characters. To use only oneself as a character seriously limits that character’s development. I would never create a character based entirely on myself.

How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”?

Music often inspires me. I have a very eclectic music collection that serves me well when I am writing. For me, the right piece of music can set a scene, an environment, a mood, etc. However, I never play vocals when I’m writing because it screws up my concentration.

Do you need to be in a specific place or room to write, or you can just sit in the middle of a café full of people and write?

I must be in my office; that is my personal creative space. I need quiet and no interruptions.

Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they’re finished with their project – how true is that in your case?

In my case, that is very true. I tend to fall into a “tunnel zone” when I’m working, so I try to prevent and avoid distractions. Note: that is when I’m working. I call it, “Hyper-Focus Disorder,” and I think a lot of writers reading this are nodding their heads in recognition and agreement.

How possessive are you about your work?

I don’t know about “possessive,” but I am very “protective” of my work. I am diligent about getting a copyright, even for the first draft.

Did you have a lot of differences with your editors in the beginning while you were still becoming used to getting your work edited?

When I was a play writer (back when I was much younger) it was hard for me to accept suggestions for changes. Yet, it got easier for me to accept input once I realized they had the best interests of the play at heart, and I saw their suggestions did improve the work. Nowadays, I am very open to criticism and suggestions, no matter if it’s a play or a book.

How do you think concepts such as Kindle, and e-books have changed the present or future of reading?

At first I was against the idea of e-books, but once I got a used Kindle, I’ve changed my mind. The convenience and portability of those little gadgets makes it easy to take a personal library anywhere. Plus, e-books cost less to produce and buy, yet give the author a higher profit than a hardcover book, which is more expensive to produce.

Do you blog?

Yes, although I have never been certain what the nature of a blog is supposed to be. It seems everyone has his or her own take on the concept. My blog, like my music collection, is kind of eclectic. I want what I write on my blog to mean something and leave the reader thinking. You can find it at: www.thefinesthat.jimdo.com

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

I spend a limited amount of time on social media, mostly keeping up with friends and family. It is a good publicity tool for writers, artists, etc. So far it has not inspired my writing in any way, although I have met and now converse with a few fellow authors; we encourage and promote each other. I love that aspect.

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

At one time, theatre was my first love. There are many talented play writers haunting theatres all over the country. It would be interesting to see another writer’s take on my stories.

Are you working on something new at the moment?

Yes, but I have set it aside for awhile to attend to some real-life items that have since arisen. Now that things are more settled, I am taking some time to relax and recuperate. I’m looking forward to resuming work on my newest book very soon!