- Do you remember writing stories as a child or did the writing bug come later? Do you remember your first published piece?
I used to lie in bed in the dark and listen to “The Shadow” and other programs on the radio. This led me to make up stories even when I was a small kid. I can remember writing stories as cartoon strips with crayons. A little later, I lay in bed and made up baseball stories, always with me as the hero. My first published piece was a short story, “The Patriot,” about a resistance fighter in Germany during World War II. It was published waaaayyyyy back in 1960, in Hiram College’s literary magazine. Boy, was I thrilled.
- What inspires you most to write your fiction?
I love to write about people who go to distant worlds and have amazing adventures, especially with bizarre, fantastic aliens. I like to find the humanity in aliens who seem completely different from us. I also write about people transforming into weird or marvelous new forms, or about a messiah who saves humanity.
- How do you get ideas?
Sometimes they come from almost NOTHING. One novel came from a single word: Dreamfarer. One time my wife put three bulbs of garlic in my suitcase and I wrote a crazy tale called “Three Pounds of Garlic in a Dead Man’s Hand.” Once I took my son trick or treating and he disappeared briefly behind a trellis, so I wrote a story about a man whose son disappears on Halloween and enters another universe. For years I’d go to a local Barnes & Noble and just stroll about, glancing casually at this or that. Bam and Eureka! Stories would leap into my mind. I saw a book titled The Calm Technique, and at once I imagined a gruesome horror story called The Death Technique. All the basic elements of the story were in place. I just had to write it.
I have to say that it doesn’t always come so easily, especially as you get older. Sometimes you have to search for ideas and struggle with the writing. Even if a story idea comes easily, the writing and rewriting are often hard.
- What is your biggest pet peeve about writing?
It’s so hard to make my fiction as good as it should be. I revise, I revise, I revise, often with editorial help, but perfection or even near-perfection lies far away. Like William Faulkner, “Ultimately I abandon the story in despair.” Or because the editor’s deadline has arrived.
I have to mention another peeve. Well, two, which are related. Rejection, especially repeated rejections for a story or novel I feel is great, and waiting interminably for an editor or publisher to reply only to have them finally reject it. I have to remember that they have a right to their own opinions, and maybe I didn’t capture their slant closely enough.
- What is the most pleasing and rewarding?
Getting turned on by doing it. Nothing beats having the words flow and feeling inspired. I also like selling a story, and having readers say they liked it.
Also rewarding is having editors and readers not only like what you write but understand and respond to it fully. It’s so important to know that your vision was not an illusion or delusion and that others are on the same wavelength and share your fictional world. You are not alone. Of course, ample checks don’t hurt either.
- What is the nicest rejection you’ve ever received?
I received a rejection online. End of story, so I submitted the tale elsewhere. A few months later, what do I get in the mail? A copy of the magazine with my story nicely presented in it, plus a check. A neat surprise, totally unexpected. As I told the editor, “Rejections aren’t what they used to be.”
- If a reader wanted to read just one book of yours to get a feeling of your range, subject matter, and flavor, what would it be?
I’m going to cheat just a tad and say The Amazing Worlds of John B. Rosenman. Why? Because it’s a bundle of four books for one low price. These four books basically constitute a power pack of what I’m all about. You have my science-fiction themes of other worlds, mind-blowing concepts, transformation in cosmic terms, etc. Two of the books are novels, and two are stories. One of the stories won Preditor’s and Editor’s Readers Poll for science fiction and fantasy short fiction. In my not-so-humble opinion, it’s got a great title: The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes. You can find this collection at https://amzn.to/2K5itGv.
If I had to pick just one book, though, it would be Inspector of the Cross, which is the first in my science-fiction adventure series, currently approaching its sixth book. It features Turtan, a really interesting hero seven thousand years in the future.
- Fiction has a lot of heroes. What makes your hero and the novel itself different and unusual?
To begin with, he’s technically 4000 years old. Turtan’s mission is to travel in suspended animation on freeze ships to distant worlds, seeking a weapon or device which will help humanity defeat the Cen, their ruthless alien enemy. He’s the greatest hero the human race has ever produced, and as I wrote these novels, I thought of Odysseus, the archetypal hero who left home for twenty years, visiting foreign lands and experiencing amazing adventures. But even his odyssey had an end, a satisfying conclusion. But Turtan lives outside of time and his quest is endless. Generations grow old and die while he stays eternally young. In one scene, Turtan meets his great grandson, who is an old, old man who can barely walk. Who wouldn’t crack and grow crazy under such conditions? Inspector of the Cross is available at https://amzn.to/2NUI5bo.
By the way, the Cross-Cen war has lasted for 5000 years. Imagine trying to plan strategy under those conditions.
- Do your novels carry any kind of message?
Usually good prevails over evil and right over wrong. I’m not a Christian, but Turtan and some of my other protagonists are neo-Christian heroes who fight to save humanity. I like to be positive. Occasionally I have bittersweet or mixed narratives because, well, life is that way. A few times, the ending is mixed or ambiguous, leaving the reader to decide. In general, though, I avoid futility and a negative outcome. The protagonist may struggle mightily, sometimes against overwhelming odds, but I try not to leave the reader with the feeling that it’s hopeless.
- How much of yourself do you put into your novels?
I put a lot of energy and determination into my fiction, trying to make it as good as possible. While perfection may be impossible, I operate as if I can achieve it. This means endless revisions. Revise, revise, revise! For twenty years I belonged to a writers group. We met every two weeks, and I would listen to and read all their comments. Frequently, my stories and novels would go through multiple drafts.
I have signature or favorite themes and subjects which seem to filter through into most of my novels. Besides the archetypal hero which I just mentioned, I like to explore the endless, mind-stretching wonders of the universe and the limitless possibilities of transformation and transfiguration—sexual, cosmic, and otherwise.
On at least two occasions, I actually put myself in a novel. You can find me in my young adult, coming-of age story, The Merry Go-Round Man. There, I put some childhood friends
through a sea change—as well as myself. Find me if you can. The link is: https://amzn.to/2mSS7OA – I’m also in The Best Laugh Last, which is about a white English teacher in a black college. Significantly, these are my first two novels.
- What are some of the favorite novels you’ve written and why?
Boy! I’m 77 years old and I’ve scribbled a lot, so that takes in a lot of territory. I’ll try to be brief. I like A Senseless Act of Beauty (https://amzn.to/2LA3Sbw) because it’s African science fiction and my most ambitious, experimental novel. It’s 115,000 words long and also a framework novel, with four thematically-linked short stories embedded in it. It’s published by Crossroad Press as is Alien Dreams (https://amzn.to/2K5Dtgn), which I like because it’s my most cosmic novel and involves the most unusual, incredible sex scene in all of my fiction. I like The Merry-Go-Round Man because it gave me the chance to revisit my childhood and write about it. I could go on and on. Perhaps most significantly, Inspector of the Cross and the other novels in the series enable me to explore the adventures and personal growth of a continuing hero.
- Despite exceptions, it seems that most of your novels are science fiction adventure or speculative fiction. Well, why sci-fi? What is it that draws you to it?
I find science fiction or science fantasy to be the largest, most all-encompassing genre there is. Think about it: is there any subject or possibility that it does not contain? Westerns are limited, but you can have science-fiction westerns. They call them space operas. Detective stories or mysteries are limited, but you can have science-fiction mysteries. I’m just drawn to a genre that gives my imagination completely free rein. Besides that, I find the real, practical world we live in to be constricting. So often, I want to break free.
- What’s your most recent publication?
That would be Skyburst, the fifth novel in my series. It’s about Sky Masterson, a plucky fifteen-year-old girl who loves Turtan. She survives cancer and grows up to be an elite agent like him. She’s a great fighter and killed three men by the time she was twelve.
I try various things with Sky’s story. One involves an experiment which is somewhat unique. If you put together book three and book five in the series, you get one massive novel. Together, they present the same events on a space station as seen from the viewpoints of Turtan and Sky. It’s interesting and revealing, or so I like to think. https://amzn.to/2uZM9jv
- What are you working on now?
I’m waiting to get the edits back on Crash, the sixth book in my series. MuseItUp Publishing recently accepted it. In this novel I put my hero through perhaps his greatest tests. I really stack the deck against him. Turtan crashes on an alien world, his ship disappears, and the people there struggle to save his life. As if that isn’t enough, his face is destroyed and he has no memory at all. He doesn’t even know who he is. From then on, things get even worse.
I’m also revising some old stories and selling them as reprints. Some are SF, some are fantasy, and some are horror. Yes, I write horror and dark fantasy too. In some cases, I make far more money from reprints than I did from the original markets.
- Tell us about a favorite minor character.
Thaddeus Burke, in Dax Rigby, War Correspondent (https://amzn.to/2LunpKF) is a dissolute drunk heavily into pornography who becomes spiritually reborn when the hero brings someone back from the dead. However, he still writes bad poetry which is unintentionally humorous.
16. You’ve written so much, but was there ever a time when you were unable to write?
I’ve had occasional periods of writers block when ideas didn’t come to me and my muse stayed away. Now, as I get older, short story ideas are rare. And they used to come so freely! However, it wasn’t until I passed seventy that I embarked on my first series, which is a more grandiose project than I ever previously attempted. So far I’ve generated six novels in the series. Perhaps there will be more.
Seven years ago I became really sick with a disease they couldn’t diagnose for a long time. Finally we learned it was Celiac disease, which involves extreme gluten intolerance. I lost thirty pounds and was semi-bedridden for months. Needless to say, I didn’t write much.
17. Do you promote much?
I try, but I probably don’t do as much as I should. I advertise online in FB and Twitter groups. I have a blog and website which I’m presently updating, complete with a subscribers list and newsletters which will be mailed automatically. I’ve gone to some writers conferences and had some book signings.
- Ah, book signings. How would you feel if no one showed up for them?
It’s happened, and it happened again recently! Last month, I arranged for a book signing at a book store. The manager advised me in advance that people wouldn’t buy. From past experience at other signings, I knew he was right. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained – right? You’ve got to try. So I brought in my books and homemade sign and he provided the table. I sat there for over two hours and nothing—wait! One of my friends suddenly appeared, said hello, and purchased a book, which I was happy to autograph with my Sharpie.
How do I feel at these futile events? Initially exposed and self-conscious, then later mildly depressed or resigned and sometimes angry. Incidentally, my first book signing was a four-day affair. I had my table and large homemade sign outside a small bookstore in Elizabeth City, NC. FOUR DAYS, six hours a day. However, I did sell four copies of my dangerous novel, which ultimately cost me my job (it was about a white teacher in a black school and at that time, I was a white teacher in a black school). If you ever have a book signing, promote it in advance. And take a book or something to read because you may be idle for hours.
- You’ve mentioned writers block and feeling mildly depressed. Are there ever times when you just want to quit writing, perhaps permanently?
Many times. Many, many times. Often, it seems like you just can’t win. Either the creative juices aren’t flowing or the rejection slips are relentless. Sometimes a harsh critique or criticism will make you want to slit your wrists and burn your mss. I’ve even sold a story about that for $300.00. Some irony there.
- Do you read much and if so, who are your favorite authors?
Yes, I do, though I’m not a fast reader. It should come as no surprise that I read a lot of science fiction. I like Robert Silverberg’s short fiction and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos. I taught at historically black universities, and it was my pleasure to welcome Octavia E. Butler, science fiction’s first commercially successful black female writer to Norfolk State University. Earlier, when I read her edgy, prize-winning story “Bloodchild,” I was hooked. I also like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels and Nelson Demille’s The Gold Coast. I try to read widely, not just genre, but some mainstream fiction, and nonfiction as well.
- Do you ever read to research something, perhaps for information you can use in your writing?
Yes, indeed. I read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and other works to learn and write about Nigeria. I sold two of my Nigerian stories to major markets, and they are included in A Senseless Act of Beauty, a novel whose protagonist is of Nigerian descent. Three of my stories are about Nauru, an island or atoll in the South Pacific. I’ve never been there and doubt I will visit. No problem. Solange Petit Skinner’s The Nauruans provided the information I needed.
Of course, travel is another way to conduct research. In 1994 I traveled to Europe with my sister. While in Rome, I visited the Sistine Chapel and had a very beautiful and emotional experience. That, plus research about the Chapel enabled me to write one of my best stories, “A Spark from God’s Finger.” I recently sold it as a reprint.
- Finally, do you have any advice or recommendations for writers, especially prospective ones?
Sure. I’ll give them the same advice I often give myself. Write, write, write; revise, revise, revise. And lest I forget, Read, Read, Read. In fact, reading comes first. In my freshman English class in college, my professor told me that if I wanted to write, I needed to read as much as possible. I took him at his word, and I’ve tried to follow his advice.
If you’re a writer who wants to be published, you also need to research the markets and aim for the best and most appropriate ones first, even if they are most likely to reject you. And keep sending your book, poem, or story out until you either realize it won’t sell or until you receive criticism that convinces you to revise it. And when you have revised it, send it out again. And again and again.
Join a writers group of like-minded souls, weigh their comments, and revise accordingly. As I said earlier, I belonged to a writers group for twenty years, and their advice—some good, some terrible—helped me to sell several novels and dozens of stories.
Above all, don’t quit or become too discouraged. Put a story away for a week or month if necessary, but resolve to return to it. Sooner or later, it will be worth it.