Tell us a little bit about your family.
I’m blessed beyond explanation. Kris and I have been married for more than 28 years now, and we’re more in love now than we have ever been. She’s also my best friend, co-author, sounding board, and illustrator. We have two children in college, Ryan and Kara, both of whom we’re extremely proud of. And we also have two rescued Siberian Huskies who are just as much family members as the human members of our pack. I just couldn’t ask for a better family.
How do they feel about your career as an author?
My whole family has been incredibly supportive throughout this whole process. For ten years I did my best to balance being a weekend novelist with being a full-time husband, dad, and sailor, or husband, dad, pastor, and student. I didn’t always get it right, but they were always patient and willing to sacrifice a little so I could have some time to write. Hopefully now it’s finally beginning to pay off for them.
Do any of them have writing talent too?
I have a whole family of writers. Kris is an active fan fiction writer and an incredible author in her own right. She and I are now working together as full-time co-authors on our next book project. Kara is a gifted writer, and Ryan has a passion for filmmaking, which includes writing his own screenplays and scripts.
Do you usually like to dedicate your books to anyone? If so, who?
First and foremost, whatever talent I have was given to me by God, so He always gets the credit. After that, I usually like to dedicate my books to the people who most inspired me or about whom I’m writing.
Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it? Does your day job ever get in the way of your writing?
When I first started writing I was a full-time career Sailor, and I suppose I’ll always be a Sailor in some ways. It’s just in the blood. After my Navy retirement in 2011, I went to work as a full-time pastor, which I also loved. Did it get in the way of writing? Sure. All the time. But that’s part of the reason it took me ten years to finish the first book! Ironically, now that Kris and I are full-time authors, the thing that most gets in the way of our writing is the time it takes to market and promote the book that’s already been published.
Have you ever had help from other writers?
Sure. In general, I find that most of the authors I’ve encountered have been more than happy to help a fellow author with whatever they know. I spent an hour one evening on the phone with Londa Hayden (author of Where Two Rivers Meet, Date Pray Wait, Candy Moon, and others) just getting a wealth of great advice on becoming an author and getting published.
What is your view on co-authoring books? Have you done any?
I’m glad you asked! Yes, Kris and I are actually working together on our next project. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy to co-author a book! We have different styles and we don’t always see eye to eye. But we’ve discovered that if we can just get past our pride and actually listen to what the other person has to say, together we can come up with a much better book. Her proofreading and feedback was really instrumental in helping me go from good to great on Farewell the Innocent.
Do you enjoy discussing upcoming ideas with your partner? If yes, how much do you value their inputs?
Working together and brainstorming book ideas, plot devices, characters, and outlines can be really exciting, as long as each of us is willing to be open to the creative genius of the other, even if it doesn’t match with our own ideas. When we start to get cranky and defensive, that’s when we know it’s time to take a break and come back to it later!
Do you proofread and edit your work on your own, or do you pay someone to do it?
Both. Doing our own proofreading and editing saved us a ton of money, but it’s always smart to have a fresh set of eyes look at your work too. I paid a freelance editor (she deserves much more than she actually got paid!) to perform two separate editorial reviews, which turned out to be indispensable and really made a difference in the final quality of the book. Also, new self-published authors should be aware that not having your book professionally edited could make your marketing job much harder, and could adversely impact your overall circulation. Yes, it’s expensive, but booksellers are less likely to take your work seriously if you skip it.
How did it feel when your first book got published? How did you celebrate?
Incredible! After ten years of work, it was such a phenomenal relief to actually see the finished product in my hands. It’s hard to truly express in words how it feels, but the word surreal comes to mind. We didn’t have much money, so we celebrated with a quiet family dinner from one of our favorite Greek restaurants.
You mentioned that your first book took you ten years to write. Why did it take so long?
First of all, I don’t recommend taking ten years to write anything! By the time you get half way through the book, you can’t remember what you’ve already written! It only took me that long because I had so many other things going on that I would sometimes have to go weeks or even months without any significant progress on the book. There was also a ton of research that I needed to do in order to get the historical facts and details right. That was probably the most time-consuming part.
Are you currently working on any new projects that may pique the interest of your readers?
Yes! We’re really excited about this next book! It takes place in the Northwest Territory during the late 1700s and early 1800s. It’s inspired by the true story of an ancestor of mine who was captured by a Shawnee raiding party when he was just a boy, and then traded to the Ottawa. He lived among them for many years and grew into a legendary figure in Ohio history. I won’t tell you the rest of the story, though. You’ll have to get the book to find out! But I will tell you that the story is narrated from the Native American point of view by his Ottawa companion, who is a great character, himself!
When can the readers expect your next book in print?
Our goal is to finish it by early 2017!
Your first book, Farewell the Innocent, is historical fiction. What attracted you to this particular genre?
Kris and I both love American history, and that love gives us a deeper sense of pride and appreciation for the nation in which we live. But, unfortunately, history is increasingly being deemphasized in too many of our school systems in favor of other subjects that are considered more important. The average high school graduate today knows very little about American history when compared to the average high school graduate of, say, the 1960s or ’70s. But if Kris and I can take a piece of history and share it in an exciting way through storytelling, then maybe we can help deepen that sense of pride and appreciation in others as well.
If you’re writing fiction, how can your books really be realistic and historically accurate?
All of our books essentially contain two stories. One is the historical backdrop that is presented as factually and accurately as our research allows. That’s why we actually prefer to call it “historical faction,” instead of historical fiction. The other is the story that highlights the historical events, which is usually presented by original (fictional) characters in order to make the historical narrative as dynamic and exciting as possible.
Tell us about your writing style. How is it different from other writers?
There are a lot of great authors out there who are writing great works of historical fiction, so we try to distinguish ourselves in two ways: First we try to get the history as accurate as possible; and secondly, we use an array of literary tools, including non-linear storytelling, a combination of first-and third-person narratives, maps and illustrations, and personal elements such as letters and journal entries, and the use of period-authentic vernacular dialog, all to make the story as compelling as we can.
What about promoting your books? Can you share some thoughts about marketing, book signings, tours, advertising, and so on?
Self-published authors should be especially aware that a lot of the responsibility for marketing your books is going to fall squarely on your shoulders. If you plan to market your book to a wide audience, you definitely need book return insurance! Fortunately, I had some really great help and advice from FriesenPress and other authors to give us a head start. I started by developing a “hook” to catch the interest of the media and potential readers. Then I began getting the word out locally by donating a copy to the local library (which was covered in a local newspaper), and connecting with booksellers and museum gift shops to stock the book and set up book signing events. I love the book signings because they give me a chance to talk to people directly about the book. All of them so far have been sold out! We’re now planning book tours in Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, and possibly Florida so far in 2016 alone.
What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title, and have you ever designed your own book cover?
I can’t overstate the importance of a good first impression. Our cover design and title are often our only chance of getting a prospective reader to pick up the book and take a second look, so they’ve got to be attractive and professional, but not too busy. Kris and I had a large hand in designing the cover for Farewell the Innocent. In fact, Kris also did the front cover artwork. I researched popular trends and marketing concepts for cover designs, and personally supervised and scrutinized every aspect of the design. My goal is to entice the reader to pick up the book without even thinking about it.
Have you ever received a negative review? And, if so, did it cause you to make changes in your writing?
Fortunately, since Farewell the Innocent was released, it has gotten mostly great reviews from readers. But before we published, I submitted copies to several beta readers for review, and I found that when they had criticisms of the book, they were generally constructive, and they caused me to take a second look and make a few changes before going to print. That said, sooner or later, someone who doesn’t like one of our books is going to give a negative review. We realize that you can’t please everyone. The objective is to listen carefully to each criticism to see if it has merit, then leverage it to improve our writing so that it appeals to as many people as possible without losing sight of who we are and why we’re writing.
Some people say that anyone can be a writer; that you don’t have to be a writer in order to be an author. What is your take on that? Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?
The beauty of all art is in the eye of the beholder. That said, there is some art that I simply don’t appreciate. I feel that art is deserving of appreciation if it reflects significant talent, substantial effort, and abundant creativity. Can any writer be an author? I suppose so. But like all forms of art, for a writer’s work to be deserving of appreciation, it should reflect significant writing talent, a measure of grammar, spelling, and vocabulary skills, and some hard work. I’ve read the works of some pretty famous authors who quite obviously are not “grammar Nazis,” but their work just as obviously still appeals to a lot of people because they are talented storytellers who work hard at what they do.
How important is research to you when writing a book? If you’re writing about a city/country/culture you haven’t physically visited, how much research do you conduct before you start writing?
For authors of historical fiction, research is 75 percent of the battle. If you don’t get the historical facts right, your readers will know it, and they won’t appreciate the book as much, even if it is a good story. For us, research is not just limited to the dates and events in history. It also needs to include the customs, language, beliefs, and culture of the people featured in the book. For example, in Farewell the Innocent, we had to work really hard to get the Shenandoah dialect of the 1860s just right, thoroughly research what life was like as a soldier in Jackson’s Army of the Shenandoah or Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and what life might have been like for the everyday citizens of Jefferson County. Since the book included real people as well as original characters, we had to learn as much as we could about those real people. And although in some cases we had to “fill in the gaps” using some artistic license, we did our best to present them as accurately as possible. We take our research seriously. I think it sets us apart from some authors who aren’t willing to go the extra mile to do the homework.
With that in mind, how long does it normally take you to write a good book?
As I said before, ten years is not a good goal! If possible, a well-researched work of historical fiction should take between nine and twenty-four months to write, depending on how much time the author has to devote to it on a daily or weekly basis.
What books have influenced your life the most?
Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers. (Just kidding! Though it is a helpful tool.) Some of the most influential books in my life have been Charles Mercer’s Miracle at Midway and Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, which cemented my love of military history, Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels, which really ignited my passion for the Civil War, and John Maxwell’s Developing the Leader Within You, which, well, did exactly what the title suggests. But by far the most profoundly influential book in my life is the one that contains 66 different books written over a span of more than 2,000 years by more than 40 different human authors, and yet possesses an inexplicable singularity of purpose and theme, and has been preserved with unparalleled accuracy for thousands of years, withstanding extraordinary textual criticism unmatched by any other book ever written. It’s the number one bestseller of all time, written by the greatest Author of all time: The Bible.
Would you ever like to see one of your books adapted as a motion picture?
Sure! We’ve had many family discussions about producing Farewell the Innocent as a motion picture, but only under close supervision to ensure that the movie doesn’t lose too much of the heart and soul of the book in translation.
What’s your favorite movie that was based on a book?
Ted Turner’s 1993 production of Gettysburg (directed by Ron Maxwell) is a fantastic adaptation of Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Even with a run time of 4:14, it’s still my all-time favorite movie today.