Do you remember the first novel you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I was in third grade. One night I couldn’t sleep, so, like many eight and nine year olds do, I got up and found my mother to tell her I couldn’t sleep. I was probably looking to stay up and watch TV with her, but it was after my bedtime on a school night, so that wasn’t going to happen.
My mother is a huge reader. She’s one of those people who goes on vacation with two suitcases: one for clothes and one for books. She had taken the Evelyn Wood speed reading course when she was in nursing school, and generally reads most novels in a couple of hours. The result is that she has a huge library.
So instead of letting me sit up and watch TV with her, she told me that I should read to help myself fall asleep. She took me over to one of her bookshelves and helped me pick out a book to read. There were probably close to two hundred paperbacks on this shelf.
Jump back to when I was six. The movie Jaws came out that summer. I remember the older kids in the neighborhood talking about the whole summer. So a couple years later, I’m going through the books on this bookshelf, and I find the Peter Benchley novel of Jaws. Naturally, I picked that one to read.
I read a little bit every night, eventually finishing it (and oddly enough, it didn’t give me nightmares). I discovered that I loved reading, especially at night when I was lying in bed. When I finished one book, I would search through my mother’s library and find another one. I discovered a lot of authors from my mother, including Tolkien, Clarke, King, and Straub.
After that day, I hardly ever went to bed without a book until I was older.
But the other thing it did was spark my interest in creating my own stories. When I was eleven or twelve, I tried to write my own version of The Hobbit. I spent more time drawing a cover using crayons than I did writing, but I did write a few pages. I wrote a lot of science fiction when I was younger. Ray Bradbury was a big influence on that, especially his short story “A Sound of Thunder.” I still love that story.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read a lot of different genres. My favorite author is still Stephen King. I’ll read just about anything he writes at least once. I read other horror authors too, though I tend to like books that are more about the fear than the gore. Sometimes the nature of the story makes that unavoidable, but I don’t want to read about how some guy’s intestines slither out of the slice in his belly. I want to read about how he feels as his intestines fall out on the floor.
Sci-fi used to be my favorite genre. Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke especially. The problem I have with most sci-fi these days is that it’s too much about the technology and not about the story. Good sci-fi should be about the people. The environment is window dressing. So these days I’m reluctant to pick up a sci-fi book unless someone recommends it to me. My own sci-fi writing is like that. I like to tell stories about people. Crashing them on an alien planet is just a way of setting the scene. My sci-fi stories are rarely about spaceships and aliens, even if they look like it at first glance.
I’ve always been into Fantasy, ever since I read The Hobbit. I remember trying to read Lord of the Rings when I was in fourth grade. I just couldn’t get past the second chapter. But then I read the Chronicles of Narnia, and the Earthsea series, then reread The Hobbit. The next time I picked up Lord of the Rings, I was able to finish it. Growing up, I always had a fantasy novel or series on my reading list. I lost interest in the genre for a while, but the movie versions of the Naria books and Lord of the Rings got me back into it.
I read a lot of thrillers too. I love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. I’ve read all of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books, and enjoyed every one of them. I like some of James Patterson’s work. To me, a good thriller is like good sci-fi. It’s not about what craziness the characters get into so much as it is about how they go about solving the problem. Gun fights and car chases are to the thriller genre what spaceships and aliens are to sci-fi: window dressing to set the stage for your characters to be heroes.
Who are your favorite authors?
Stephen King tops the list. I mostly like his early stuff (I think The Shining was the first of his books that I read). His later stuff is good, but it doesn’t grab me like his early works. So, yeah, I guess I like drunk King better than sober King. Sorry Steve.
Ray Bradbury has been one of my favorites since I was a kid. Like King, I enjoy his short stories and novels alike. One of the things I enjoy about him is that he is cross genre. He’s mostly seen as a sci-fi writer, but Something Wicked This Way Comes is very much horror.
Robert Heinlein is another classic author I love. I think a lot of my sci-fi writing is influenced by Heinlein and Bradbury.
Lee Child and Tom Clancy are both fun to read, though in many ways they’re complete opposites. Child’s books are easy-reading, fast-paced thrillers, but Clancy gets bogged down in the minutia. Yet he makes that minutia interesting, so you still want to read it.
There are a ton of others I love to read. It’s hard to pick just a few favorites.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I’ll use whatever. I mostly use my iPad, but I have a Kindle and I have just as many books on both. I don’t own a Nook, but only because I’ve never had the need for it. I’ve never made a conscious choice not to use one. Same with the others. I don’t have anything against any device that makes it more convenient for someone to read.
I am slightly OCD, so if I have a series or an author on one device, I tend to buy all that series or author on the same device. For example, all my Lee Child books are on iBooks. Most of my Stephen King books are on Kindle.
It does lead to confusion on occasion. For example, I own Jurassic Park on both iBooks and Kindle. And paperback.
What’s the story behind your latest book?
Dark Ties started out with something that popped into my head while I was rereading Stephen King’s The Dark Half. In The Dark Half, an author’s pseudonym comes to life and terrorizes him. The author’s pseudonym takes on the characteristics of the main character from his novels, essentially bringing the killer to life. There is a psychic bond between the author and his alter-ego. It got me to thinking, “What if the chicken came first? What if instead of the made up character coming to life, the killer was always real. And the author wrote a book about the killer, but didn’t know he was real?” Which led to asking the question “How did they get linked?”
In my original first draft, there was an evil spirit that linked the author and the killer, but about halfway through the book, I decided to take a different approach. There was a really great scene where Ken and Sara are going for a walk in the woods and the spirit is following them. Ironically, it was the first scene I wrote in the first draft that really got me thinking the plot was going to work, and it ended up getting cut. The new explanation works better, I think, although the evil spirit is still wandering around looking for a story…
What are you working on next?
I have several projects in the works, but the one I’m focusing on most is a fantasy novel about two friends who grew up in an isolated society and find themselves marooned in a strange land full of people and creatures that they believed only existed in fairy tales. I have ideas for several stories in that world, so this should be the first book in a series.
Another project I’m working on is a book about a freelance space-cargo hauler who crash-lands on a remote planet. While trying to repair his ship, he gets mixed up with the local law enforcement. And of course, a girl.
How do you get inspired to write?
I’m always ready to write. The trick is shutting out the rest of the world so I can focus on it.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I have hundreds of ideas for books and short stories. Just with the list I have now, I’ll never run out of ideas, even if I live to be 150 years old.
As far as writer’s block on a particular project, I just keep writing. I can always write something, even if it’s just pointless conversation between two characters. Usually, after a page or two of meandering nonsense, I’ll figure out what it is I’m trying to do. Then I edit out the nonsense.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
I’ve always been a story teller. I enjoy making people laugh or think. When I was younger, I loved sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories. Being a writer feeds that beast.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
My favorite hobby right now is cave diving. Strap on some scuba gear and go swimming through a hole in the ground. There’s nothing quite like it. Unfortunately, there are no good caves in Ohio, so I don’t get to go as often as I would like.
What I can do in Ohio is fly. I’ve been a pilot for over twenty years, a flight instructor for ten. It’s not as relaxing as diving in a cave, but it has its own therapeutic effects.
I try to keep in shape by running several times a week. When you’re job is sitting at a desk, it’s a good idea to make time for physical activity. Running helps me destress too, so it’s all good. The funny thing is that up until a few years ago, I hated running. Once I ran my first 5K though, I was hooked.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Just write. You get better with practice, so the more practice you can get, the better your writing will get. Start with short stories, even if you never publish them. Hand them around to your friends and family for feedback. Figure out who’s honest and who’s just trying to be nice. Thank the nice people, but listen to the honest ones.