What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?
I have a terrible time sticking to one genre. Stories are living things, not to be defined solely by a single set of criteria. I’m not defined solely as a writer; I’m also a computer geek, a physics nerd, a role-playing gamer, an actor, a voice artist, and so many other things. Why should a story be solely “Epic Fantasy,” or solely “Vampire fiction,” or just “Comedy”?
That said, my “Nightlord” series is an epic fantasy with a vampire protagonist. Not the most original idea in the world, perhaps, but a good one. Now twist it a little—he didn’t want to be a vampire; he was made a vampire. As angry as that made him, there came a point when he looked at his situation and had to admit it wasn’t so bad.
Of course, he’s also being hunted by nasty people, challenged by magical monsters, and totally out of his element. I think he has a good Everyman feel to him—how would that theoretical Normal Person react to events? Eric isn’t entirely normal, of course, but I think readers can laugh at him, laugh with him, and empathize with his life choices. Unlife choices. Excuse me.
When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?
I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be an astronaut. The problem is that I have inadequate vision, I’m physically lazy, and the stories themselves. They won’t leave me alone. I have to get them out of my head if I expect to sleep at night, and that’s not easy. There are a lot of them arguing for keyboard time. I’ve had to institute a take-a-number system and be firm with them. They seem to behave fairly well as long as they know they’re getting a turn and can see progress being made.
Except for the one about the human private investigator who keeps getting hired by supernatural entities. That one keeps yelling at me about how it’s not fair to make it wait.
How often do you write?
I write every day. I wake up and make that grueling commute to my desk—ten, twelve paces at least. Then I collapse into my chair, exhausted, but I somehow muster the early-morning energy to turn on the computer, load up what I wrote yesterday, and start reading.
Once I get that far, the rest is automatic. I slip back into my world and fly to the end of what I’ve written so far. Then—as I’m sure everyone has wished they could do with a favorite book—I pick up where it stops and continue.
How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?
Not at all. Several years ago, I sat down in a bookstore and started browsing through the latest vampire novel. I forget which one it was, now, but I remember thinking, “This is awful, but maybe it’s a slow starter. I’ll give it another chapter.”
I’m an eternal optimist. I kept giving it another chapter until I finished it. Then I thought to myself, “I could eat a pen today and tomorrow’s toilet paper would be a better book. Is this the kind of crap that gets published today?”
So I set out to raise the bar. I like to think I’ve done it, even if it’s only a little.
Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
It’s an occupational hazard. If I’m out partying, I’m not writing. If I have a lot of friends, they bother my while I’m writing. Stuff like that is why writers sometimes don’t have many friends. We’re busy. There are people in our heads that are doing stuff and nobody know it but us. Besides, my imaginary friends are much more interesting than 99% of the people in the world.
The other occupational hazard—related to this, anyway—is the problem of interruptions. There is nothing quite so frustrating as to be off in a fit of writing, ideas flowing, words tumbling out, everything coming together in a grand, ultimate connection of plot and story and character and phrasing, soaring to the celestial heights of— “I SAID, DID YOU TAKE OUT THE TRASH?”
Boom. Gone. Gateway to Nirvana slammed shut. And non-writers just can’t understand why you’re throwing sharp objects at them for asking an innocent question.
Never interrupt a writer. We hate it. We’re building universes in our heads—playing God, if you like—and bothering us while we’re staring out a window in thought is dragging us back from that.
Do you think writers have a normal life like others?
If by “normal life,” you mean “normal in the sense of average human beings,” I’d have to say no. Writers tend to live more inside their own heads than in any consensual reality.
On the other hand, “normal life” as the phrase is used for people with certain types of mental disorders—yes, we can lead “normal” lives. It does require some adjustment, based on the extremity of the condition. After all, some writers are nearly indistinguishable from normal people. Some of us… are more than a bit different. But we can be high-functioning lunatics, at least, in the sense that we don’t need to be supervised… well, okay, maybe we do, but we don’t necessarily need to be in an assisted-living environment.
Although, come to think of it, that would make it simpler to just sit and write more often.
If you had the choice to rewrite any of your books, which one would it be and why?
All of them. Once I’ve turned it loose into the wild, the book is a separate entity. It’s like a child you’ve raised who moves out and lives their own life. You did your best, you tried your hardest, and now they’re on their own. Every time you look at them, you wonder if you could have done more, what you could have done differently.
For me, looking back at my previous work, I keep wanting to take it apart and put it back together again—all of it. There is no such thing as a “finished” book, for me. There is always something I would choose to change every time I read through it. Maybe just one word, maybe a sentence, maybe switch the order of two paragraphs—something.
I never finish a book. I just finally let go of it. It’s the only way I can ever start on the next book!
How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing?
That actually happened once, several years ago. I brought my laptop, so it wasn’t a bad thing; I got more writing done than I expected. Plus, there were a number of staffers present who stopped by to talk. They were unfailingly nice about it.
As for my feelings, it would be a lie to say I wasn’t disappointed. On the other hand, it was a last-minute thing set up by the venue, so I wasn’t expecting much. No advertising, no publicity… I didn’t think it would be worth the time, but you never know.
Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?
It depends on where they post them. If they take the trouble to find me and tell me what they think, then I know they mean it—that I’ve touched them in some way, and their feedback is important to them. Otherwise, no. Some random note buried on Amazon or in someone’s blog isn’t trying to attract my attention; the one who posted it isn’t seriously trying to communicate anything to me.
I do try to respond to mail, of course, but there’s only so much of that I can do at a time. My primary focus has to be on cranking out the story, not on answering questions about the last one. Still, my track record so far has been darn near a hundred percent.
Does a bad review affect your writing?
Absolutely. I’m heartbroken that not every single person in the world loves every word I write. It’s devastating to think I’m not the most popular author in the history of the written word. I have to seriously consider weeping inconsolably until my broken heart has time to heal from the horrific wounds dealt by that bad review.
Then I remember I’m allowed to be a sarcastic jerk and I go back to writing.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Step one: Read everything.
Step two: Learn all the rules of grammar, syntax, punctuation, story structure, plot outline, the works. Take the courses, do the workshops, all of it.
Step three: Break the rules you’ve learned. That’s why you learn them—so you know how to break them, and break them correctly.
There once was a Master who wrote unstructured stories. A novice writer, seeking to imitate him, also began to write unstructured stories. When the novice asked the Master to evaluate his progress, the Master criticized him for writing unstructured stories, saying, “What is appropriate for the Master is not appropriate for the novice. You must understand Tao before transcending structure.”
Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?
Not at all; there have been so many books over so many years! Maybe something from the Golden Book collection?
However, the book I read the most as a child was Heinlein’s “Have Space Suit, Will Travel.” I wore out two copies of it and have a third still sitting on my bookshelf.
Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
Someone once told me I write like the love-child of Anne Rice and Terry Pratchett, raised by Arthur C. Clarke. I’m not sure I see that, but I take it as a compliment.
I think my style—if we can call it that—is very basic. In the “Nightlord” series, Eric—the protagonist—is sitting in his study, dictating a diary, and that’s where we get the story. It’s a very verbal, very flowing thing, generally. It borders on stream-of-consciousness at times, with some strange digressions and loops in his narration, very much like someone thinking aloud. I like to think it works very well for the story.
How realistic are your books?
In general, I try to be as realistic as I can. Bear in mind the “Nightlord” series is about a vampire. In a High/Epic fantasy world. There’s only so much realism you can have in there.
On the other hand, given the rule set for a magical world, the protagonist works in a realistic way, I think. He’s heavy—his flesh is denser than a human—so his mass makes it difficult to corner at high speed. He manipulates scientific forces—gravity, light, that sort of thing—with magic, but he does it in ways that make realistic sense… given that magic works.
It is often believed that almost all writers have had their hearts broken at some point in time, does that remain true for you as well?
I think it was Hemingway who said that writing is easy—just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
To some extent, I think that’s necessary. How do you write about pain if you don’t know pain? Or about love if you haven’t felt it? Oh, we can imagine things, based on what other people tell us, and have a dim, fuzzy idea of what these things are. But it’s the difference between being told about fire and actually seeing it, feeling it, being burned by it. If I tell you about fire, you’ll recognize it, but that’s about all. If you play with fire for a few days, burning different things, smelling smoke, getting a few blisters, you’ll understand fire.
But do writers need to have their hearts broken? I’m tempted to say every human being needs to have a broken heart at some point. It’s a growth experience, a metamorphic process. We have our hearts broken and the shells of innocence around them cracked to pieces so our hearts can grow larger and stronger. We gain empathy through that pain, for having experienced it, we know what it means to inflict it on others. That gives us the capacity to be better people.
Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy, how true is that?
Boy, someone is lying through their teeth.
It’s true that some writers are independently wealthy. About one percent. Of course, they’re famous—they’re popular authors with tons of bestsellers; everyone knows their names. Boy, aren’t they successful? And so rich!
And then there’s that guy you never heard of. He’s a writer. Does that make him rich? Well, if you’ve never even heard of him, odds are you never bought one of his books—maybe you don’t even know someone who bought one. He’s not rich; he’s writing to eat. And there are thousands upon thousands more just like him, trying to gain recognition and publicity in a world where the staggering flood of information makes any single voice inaudible.
Anybody want to buy a book and feed the writer? That’s what you’re doing with books not on best-seller lists.
From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?
A drunken man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts, a writer just puts them down on paper. Some writers need a little brain lubricant, though. Personally, I don’t like drinking; my notes are always in terrible, terrible handwriting. Then again, I always have terrible handwriting. It’s like my own, private code.
It’s easier to just come up with ideas sober. I can type while sober.
Is it true that anyone can be a writer?
As with so many things, the answer is yes and no. It’s like asking if anyone can be a race-car driver. Yes, you can get in the car and take it around the track. With practice, you build skill, and you get around the track faster. Good work.
Does that mean I can race at Monaco if I work hard enough? Maybe. I can certainly drive in smaller circuit races and take home a few prizes.
Yes, you can learn to use proper grammar and syntax, where the punctuation goes, and why split infinitives are Eeeeevil. Does that make you a writer? You can churn out stories by the yard, book after book after book, and someone will like them; it’s a big world. Can you make a living that way? Sure.
I’m not saying that you need a Spark of Genius to be a writer—although that certainly helps. You can be a writer with nothing more than literacy and determination. But the question, I think, implies something more than a paid-by-the-word typist with imagination.
The real question is whether or not we can be storytellers. We use the written word instead of gathering people around the campfire, these days. Writers tell stories, and that comes from a desire—or a need—to do so. So, yes, anyone can be a writer… if they have a story inside them desperate to get out.
People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?
Oh, maybe I should elaborate on that one.
Being a published author means book signings, speaking engagements, movie and television deals, all that, right? Nice. Maybe a Hollywood party, some book-launch events, and so on?
How about the email marketing campaigns, the advertising copy, the budgeting, the end-of-quarter tax accounting, jobbing the cover art, screaming at the typo in the proof copy, trying to arrange for travel and accommodations during those books signings, getting some sleep in between, dealing with fans who want to talk rather than let the rest of the fans get their books signed, and the inevitable slew of fan mail—mostly good, some bad.
Oh. And finding time to write. You have to do that. While it’s good that people eagerly want the next book, having ten thousand of them ask you “When’s the next book due out?” is wearying. You don’t want to be mean to a fan; you want to appreciate them, even encourage them. There’s a relationship, there, between the writer and the reader, and it’s a wonderful thing… but it’s also exhausting, not glamorous.
So, glamorous? Yes. The parts you usually see. Everything else? Not so much.
Whose work do you enjoy reading the most?
Wow. That’s a tough one. I’d have to say it’s a split decision. I love Roger Zelazny’s work—he’s incredibly lyrical with his prose; I wish I could write like him!—but Sir Terry Pratchett’s sense of humor and satire in “Discworld” is a never-ending source of fun. Then there’s Steven Brust and his Vlad Taltos novels… and Heinlein. Must not forget Heinlein and his whole Future History story arc. Or the Lensmen series by E.E. Smith. That’s some founding-father space opera, there. Absolutely classic.
This is not a fair question. Writers start life as readers and never grow out of it. With a dozen favorite authors, you want me to pick one?
Was it all too easy for you – the writing, the publication, and the sales?
Oh, god, no. The only easy part is the writing. Fighting with publication systems is something I do only when I have to.
Sales… look, let’s be clear on this. I would cheerfully and gladly never leave my house if someone would take care of everything mundane. I will sit in my office space and make up stories—and no one will ever see me again, because that’s all I’ll do.
Marketing? Publicity? Advertising? Sales? Revenue streams? Taxes?
I don’t want to sell you anything. I just want to write stories. If you want to read them, that’s wonderful. Please throw some money at me so I can eat. Here, let me write you another one.
Find me an agent who will take a percentage and handle all that… other stuff, the mundane, real-world stuff with the advertising and publicity and whatever. Please. Really. Any volunteers? Anyone?
Don’t get me wrong. If I need to go to a convention, I’ll go. Book signing? Just tell me where to be and when. Otherwise, leave me in my quiet little Zen garden of the mind and let me write.
What is the secret to becoming a bestselling author?
There are three easy ways to become a bestselling author.
Unfortunately, no one knows what those are. We’re pretty sure one of them involves a signature in blood. The other two are still complete mysteries.
There are some general hints, though, if you don’t insist on the easy way.
First, READ. Read everything.
Second, write. Yes, you will write a steaming pile of crap. That’s part of the process. You think Shakespeare never did a rewrite?
Third, KEEP WRITING. You hone your craft, find your voice, learn your way around. You get into the habit and you learn from your mistakes.
Fourth—and maybe this is just for me—find someone who will help you. You’re a writer. Find someone with complementary skills. I write; I need a businessman to market what I write. With the combination of literary savvy and marketing brilliance—best-seller list, here I come!
All I need is some literary savvy and someone with marketing brilliance.
Did the thought to give up writing ever occur to you?
Actually, a writer friend of mine decided to give up writing. It wasn’t easy. He tried everything—drugs, alcohol, hypnosis, psychotherapy, the works. He eventually did get cured, after a fashion. The people at the institution cured him of writing, but not of his need to write.
Poor guy. He wound up sitting in a padded cell wearing a jacket with wraparound sleeves, muttering about characters. Very sad.
Still, it was an educational example of what happens to writers if they stop writing. I haven’t stopped and have no plans to do so. Whenever I feel as though my work is unappreciated, or when I’m having a day of “Oh, everything I write is crap!” feelings, I just go visit his grave. Boom, straight back to writing.
What does the word ‘retirement’ mean to you? Do writers ever retire?
“Retirement” means “having enough money to stop worrying about all that mundane, real-world crap and focus on my storytelling in peace.”
I suppose it’s a “retirement from the world” that I look forward to. I despise being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the “real world” of mundane concerns. If I had a housekeeper who did laundry, brought in the groceries, poked food into my office with a stick, and occasionally dusted around me, I’d be very happy.
Was there a time you were unable to write, At All?
I don’t understand this sort of thing. I hear about writer’s block, but I don’t comprehend it. To me, writer’s block is that thing you put your laptop on so you can write.
It’s true I sometimes don’t know where a specific story is going. That’s okay. I just start writing it in any direction it wants to go. Then, if I like it—if it’s a direction that can lead back to the more distant story goals—it stays. If I don’t like it, I start over and go a different way.
Not being able to write, “At All,” is like asking me if there was a time I was unable to breathe. I’m alive, aren’t I?
Do you prefer writing over reviewing the work of others?
Yes, absolutely. I can’t review other people’s work. I get into it—knowing they’re going to get the opportunity to change things—and get too many ideas for my own work. It’s like walking through a restaurant kitchen before deciding what to eat. There are so many things coming together there, it’s like an olfactory menu exploding in your head.
So, if I review the work of others, it just makes me write more… which kind of destroys my ability to review. I’m killer at the brainstorm session, though. I’ll sit and talk about ideas and characters, plots and story twists, all that. Several hours later, when we’re hoarse from the excited babbling at each other, we can part company and go somewhere to write.
Doesn’t it bother you that when books are turned into movies, they are often changed to suit the audience needs?
Not at all. It’s all about the story. Every medium has its own way of telling a story, just as every actor has his own way of portraying a character. Printed pages tell a story by exciting the reader’s imagination to supply the visuals, the sound effects, the smell of rain or the feel of wind. Then there’s that chest-thumping THUD of a nearby thunderclap, the blinding blue-white radiance of the thunderbolt…
Then we move from there to the screen. We can see the lightning, we can hear and feel the thunder. The emphasis is on creating sensations rather than evoking imagination. The story may still be there—most of it. But it has to change to fit the medium, and stories, when they change, are sometimes no longer recognized as the stories we read.
It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?
Let’s turn that one around. If you don’t believe in your own writing, will you ever start to write?
It takes a certain amount of nerve to be a writer. You have to either be immune to the slings and arrows of outrageous critics, or you have to believe in your story. If you don’t think you have a story to tell, why on earth did you open that word processor? Or did you get that far?
“I don’t know,” he mumbled. “I don’t have anything to say.”
Well, there won’t be any writing done here.
“Ooo! I had an idea! How about if this zombie raven shows up and talks to the guy with the silver hat, telling him about the werewolf in the—”
Okay, that guy can sit down with me. We’ll talk about that until we have a thousand little things all worked out—and he can go home and write.
What are your views about elaborate synopsis of books at the back of the cover? Do you think they reveal too much?
Not usually. The point of a synopsis is to give the reader an idea of the story. A smart synopsis writer doesn’t come out and say who the villain is, just that there is one. The typical book-browser needs to have some reason to actually open the book, and that’s partially the synopsis.
Besides, the best part of the story is the journey. Endings suck.
Tell us about an interesting or memorable encounter you had with a fan?
I was on a plane, flying into Dallas. I was on the aisle and about two seats ahead of me, a lady was reading a book. I noticed it because the cover seemed awfully familiar—it was “Nightlord: Sunset”!
We deplane and head up the ramp; she’s got the book in hand as I come up alongside her. I ask her if her book is any good. She responds that it’s such a wonderful book! She loves it, the narrator is so funny, and it takes such unexpected twists and turns! It’s fabulous!
She gushes on about it all the way up the ramp and into the terminal. I can barely get a word as she goes on about it—not that I wanted to, but still.
Finally, we’re standing there consulting our boarding passes. My connection is one way; hers is the other.
“Well, I’m glad you like the book. I’ll have the sequel out soon!” And I head off to catch my flight. Several paces later, I glance back; she has the book out and is staring intently at the rear cover flap and the author photo.
It was a good day.
Do you enjoy theatre? Would you ever like one of your stories to be turned into a play?
Yes, I do. I think “Clockwork” would be an excellent candidate for a play. It’s short, it’s poignant, and it’s got very little in the way of scenery changes. It would take three actors.
Huh. I may have to do that, now…