When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?
It’s funny. The time I remember actually knowing that writing was something I wanted to do was in my mid-teens. I had written a short play for my church—watching all those people saying my words; hearing people laugh; watching an honest-to-God story unfold out of something I’d written…that was magic. But I was apparently writing long before that, as my mother handed me a manuscript I had created somewhere around the fourth or fifth grade (so I was maybe nine or ten years old at the time). The manuscript was written longhand, and stapled inside a black construction paper cover, complete with my own artwork depicting a drippy-bloody hand reaching from a closet. It was a horror story entitled “The Thing in the Closet.”
What inspires you to write?
So many things, but I seem to get the clearest “feelings” about a story idea when I am either reading or watching television. The ideas that surface during those times usually aren’t a direct result of the plot of the book or TV show, but something I see will make me think of something else, or (more likely) give me a strong feeling about something that might have a story buried in it somewhere. To clarify the whole “feeling” thing, one of my strongest and darkest books (A Fractured Conjuring) was born out of a road sign. Seriously. I was driving down a freeway through a long stretch of nothing, when the sign for the next off-ramp caught my attention. It was a simple little-girl kind of name (Kimberlina Road). And I got a feeling. I had no idea what it was or what would come of it, but I was haunted by that name for nearly a year before I sat down and started writing the book. The brain is a weird thing, and a writer’s brain is even weirder.
Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
I wish I could. Every day is different, and every project is different. Basically, I aim to move the story forward. I am usually not very happy if I get fewer than 1,000 words in, but I try not to let it bother me, because sometimes a story will only give me 500 words that day. I’ve learned to trust the process.
Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
I think it almost has to be that way, to some degree. Whatever it is that makes good writing happen is very much an internal thing. We can certainly get ideas around people, and interaction is good for the soul, but at some point we have to go inside, alone in our heads, as deep into our souls as we can safely go.
Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
I’m not sure I could plot a story to save my life. As noted earlier, most of my stories start with a feeling, sometimes a sketchy scene, or just a character who starts whispering that there is a story to tell. Sometimes I have more of an idea than others, but it is almost always something that comes to me as opposed to me chasing it down.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
I read constantly. My favorites (in no particular order) include Lawrence Block, Peter Straub, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Patrick Rothfuss, Stephen King, Trent Zelazny, Clive Barker, Dan Simmons, Robert B. Parker, Ray Bradbury, William Goldman, Thomas Harris. So many more, but I’ll stop there.
Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?
I have beta readers I trust to let me know if my pants are down, but I ultimately do my own editing. I know that makes writers cringe—we are supposed to be the worst editors for our own material. And perhaps that’s true, but so far no one has called me out and said my work needed an editor. Fingers crossed.
Have you ever let any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?
That’s exactly what happened with my novel A Fractured Conjuring. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but the story seemed to need it. A lot of stewing went on with this book, and I can only hope it added to the flavor.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Make sure it’s something you love to do, and not something you think will make you money. Only do it because you can’t not do it. Then, if you are absolutely sure it’s what you are wired to do, read everything you can get your hands on—books you love, books you don’t love, book about writing and writers and the writing life. Read, read, read. And write occasionally, too.
Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?
This is a tough one. I was always reading something, but there are three books that stand out in my memory: No Such Thing as a Witch by Ruth Chew; 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith; and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Both of the latter books should be read by anyone who even halfway enjoyed the movies. I read these three over and over, often finishing one and starting over at page one. The Witch book was plain fun, and of course the witch was not a bad person…and she had magic chocolate. The latter two are very much journey type stories, wherein our heroes (and heroines) have to survive peril while in search of something lost or not yet found; those types of stories still call to me.
How much of yourself do you put into your books?
A lot. While not every character is me, they all are facets of me. As Lawrence Block once said: “They act as I would act if I happened to be them.”
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
My first novel, Relative Karma, was based on something I did—something of which I was not very proud. I wondered what life would have been like had things not turned out as they had. That “what if” question became the novel, and some of that exploration carried over into Relative Sanity.
How realistic are your books?
Some more so than others, but what makes them real for me is the emotional element. Regardless of subject matter, if I can create real emotion for the reader, then (hopefully) the books ring true.
What books have influenced your life the most?
I think every book I read influences me in one way or another. Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing is a continual source of inspiration. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series was a great influence in terms of the sheer power of epic storytelling, and how a story can stay with the writer over a great many years.
Have any new writers grasped your interest recently?
The writer I have most recently discovered (although not a new writer) is Patrick Rothfuss. I think he may well be a genius, but it’s tough to say why. His writing is so good—so damned seamless—that it is impossible to point to any one thing as proof of his excellence. You just have to read him for yourself.
Who are your books mostly dedicated to?
To my amazing (and longsuffering) wife Charla. There is neither room here nor words in my vocabulary to describe how I feel about her.
Is it true that anyone can be a writer?
I do think anyone can be a writer, but I am not sure anyone can be a great writer. There are many things that can be learned and polished, but there are other inexplicable qualities that one either has or not.
Did any of your books get rejected by publishers?
At one time or another, all of them. Repeatedly.
Which of your books took you the most time to write?
A Fractured Conjuring, by far. The idea (really it was more of a vague feeling) swam around in my brain for the better part of a year before I ever put down a word. Then I dipped my toe in (false start after false start), got maybe 6,000 words down, and let it sit for at least another year. During this time, the “feeling” I had for this book would not leave me alone. When I finally got back to it, it was another year or so before I found the end. Three years may not seem like a long time, but it is a very long time for me. Most of my books take less than a year.
Have you received any awards for your literary works?
My novel A Fractured Conjuring has received two awards: 2015 Solstice List, and 2016 Maxy awards, both for Best Horror Novel of the Year.
How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”?
Music is very important to my writing, but for me it has to be ambient music—no words and nothing catchy. I like dark soundtracks, and artists like Liquid Mind and Brian Eno. Composer Alexandre Desplat is also a favorite. I am always excited when I stumble on some musical piece or other that borders on depressing, as my mind seems to respond best to that type of thing. It also guarantees my wife and kids will give my office a wide berth.
Do you blog?
I do, but not as often as I would like. The one constant blog I do is an ongoing series called Scribblers on Celluloid, in which I review movies about writers and/or the writing life. I plan to eventually collect these reviews into book form. I hope there some nuggets of wisdom for other writers in these blogs; if not, at least I get to watch a lot of movies and call it writing.