1. If you could work with any author who would it be?
I would love to work with Rosanne Dingli, an Australian author of mystery novels. Unlike most mystery writers, her novels are far from the usual whodunit stories. They provide interesting characters with depth and personality, some ordinary and some extraordinary, a mix of people one would find in the real world. Her books are meticulously researched so that in reading her mysteries the reader is not only on the edge with suspense, but learns fascinating facts and stories about art and history. I selfishly would like to work with her so that I can learn how she does it. Besides all that, she is an honest, forthcoming, genuinely nice person, characteristics not common in talented artists.
2. Who is your favourite author and is your writing style similar to theirs?
It is impossible for me to pick a favorite author, Nick. I love so many. But if you insist that I pick one, it would be Marylynn Robinson, author of “Housekeeping,” “Home” and others. Her style is deeply philosophical, allegorical, descriptive and full of fascinating characters and detail. No, her style is not at all like mine. For whatever reason, none of my favorite authors write like I do, and I must keep reminding myself that I have my own style, and I can’t copy someone else’s no matter how much I would like to.
3. What’s your favorite part of a book?
The middle. I’m never sure about the beginning, and I’m always sad to have it end. If I don’t care for the book, I never read to the end. I can usually tell in the first 50 pages or so if I like the book, and if I don’t, I stop reading and don’t finish it. I read a lot, and I don’t finish half the books I start. If I finished it, I liked it. Therefore, I don’t write many critical reviews, since I don’t feel it is fair to review a book that I didn’t finish.
4. When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?
I haven’t done that yet, but I resolve to do it in the future. I think it would be an interesting exercise and might be interesting to the reader. I’m still learning this writing craft, and I hope I never stop learning.
5. How have your personal experiences affected your writing?
More than anything else. How could an author’s personal experiences not affect his writing? How I view the world is molded by my experiences, and my writing reflects how I view the world. Even if a writer creates purely fictional characters, the writer’s experience affects what that character does and says, even if what he does is contrary to what the writer would do under the circumstances of the story. Further, I think most writers, though not all, create characters that have some characteristics of people they know. I do.
6. What genre of books do you like to read? Do you limit yourself to only the genre that you write yourself?
I write mostly memoir and literary fiction. Probably more than 50% of what I read is memoir and fiction. However, the rest is outside of those genres. I read quite a bit of historical fiction. I read some fantasy, a little romance, a little erotic and quite a bit of non-fiction, including how-to and political. I found Bill Clinton’s autobiography fascinating.
7. Were you always good at writing?
I think so, but I never wrote fiction until about eight years ago. I did well in composition classes in school and I always preferred essay tests, rather than objective tests, such as multiple choice or true and false. I received a lot of complements from clients and colleagues about my professional writing, and many of my articles were accepted for publication in legal journals during my legal career. Having said that, I have learned an enormous amount about writing in recent years from mentors, teachers, other writers and from reading good literature. I like to think that my writing has improved significantly.
8. How do you get started with writing a story (as in, how do you start developing the story, how do you get inspired for it)
I have never been stuck for ideas. In every day life basic story lines just pop into my head, or once in a while someone else tells me a story, and I change it around in my head and start writing. For example, I wrote a short story about a German soldier who returns to France where he was stationed during World War Two to make amends to a young girl he accidentally shot during the war. I got the idea from a story a man told me when I visited the island of Groix off the Brittany coast. I changed and enhanced the story in my head and then sat down and wrote it in a single sitting. I did some minor edits, and that was it. That was one that came easily. I struggle and agonize over most of my stories before they are finished.
9. What advice would you give to people who “run out of creativity” when writing?
Do writing practice. Sit down and start writing on any topic that comes to mind, or Google “writing prompts” and pick one to write about. You may never use anything you write, but, in my experience, eventually, you will get an idea that does result in a story or book.
10. What is the most important lack in your life?
A human companion/partner. Writing is a solitary endeavor, and it would be nice to have someone available whenever I wanted to interact with another human being. Unfortunately, even with a partner, it can’t always work out the way you what it to.
11. Why a fiction book? You are well known as a “non-fiction” writer—what caused you to decide to write fiction?
I have always wanted to write a novel. My first efforts at narrative writing were short fiction, but when I expressed the desire to write a novel six years ago, my writing mentor told me I wasn’t ready to write a novel and suggested memoir. I took her advice and learned a lot by writing three memoirs. My mentor was right. I needed the experience of writing book length narrative non-fiction before I was ready to write a novel. You have to get comfortable with the water before you can swim.
12. You are in Walmart looking at books—you see your new book on the shelf—what do you think?
I would be shocked, but pleased that more people would be exposed to my work. Writing is in part a means of communicating with people. I write, not to make money, but to tell my stories to people. It is a need I have, and I think in some ways a basic human need. We are hardwired to love to hear and tell stories.
13. You are on a plane, and someone asks if you are Boyd Lemon and raves about your new book—how do you handle it?
I have had that happen at a gathering, but not on a plane. I don’t think I would respond any differently on a plane. I simply would thank them, and tell them that the most rewarding thing to me about putting my writing out there is for people to learn or get something from it, and I feel very rewarded that you [the person who has complemented my writing] got something out of it. I would thank them profusely for telling me what they felt about my writing. And for the rest of the trip I would glow.
14. You have the #1 bestseller in America—what would be your first thought?
I don’t believe it. Then I would feel blessed beyond words. After that, I would be petrified that I could never top that. Elizabeth Gilbert expressed it well after having sold ten million copies of “Eat, Pray, Love. She said she was scared to death because she had to write; that is what she does. What else could she do? But how could she top “Eat, Pray, Love?” I hope she has come to terms with her fear.
15. Are you at ease when interviewing? Do you find interviews generally exciting or boring?
I find them very interesting, and I am at ease. Maybe I just like to talk about myself. I don’t know, and I am not offended by or unable to answer any question, unless it is a rude personal attack.
16. Are you a man with strong convictions and do those convictions shine through when you write a novel?
I have some strong personal convictions, but, at the same time, I realize that we as human beings don’t know much. In fact, I believe that what we sense as reality is not real. We don’t know the answers to the important questions, but what we sense is all we have to go on. So I feel humble about my existence in this world.
17. What puts you off when reading a book? Bad grammar? Awful editing? Slow stories?
All of those things, although if well written, I am sometimes not put off by slow stories. I love “Ana Karenina,” for example, and nothing happens in that book for the first 50 pages.
18. Is paradise self-made or can it be found? Is writing your paradise?
First, I don’t believe in paradise for humans. No human life is paradise. Life is hard. To the extent that we can create a little bit of paradise or paradise that comes and goes, we must create it. It is self-made. We cannot find it. Nobody else can give it to us. Nobody can make us happy. We can make ourselves relatively happy by how we use our minds. Nothing external can bring us paradise or make us happy. It is all within. I have known homeless people who are happier than someone who appears to have everything. We can create our own bit of paradise by lower expectations of others and ourselves, being grateful for what we have, noticing the beauty in the world and giving what we can to improve the lives of others. In the end, we must accept that there is no paradise on earth. I wouldn’t say that writing is my paradise, but it is my passion and my gift.
19. You’re out on a date with a woman and she tells you that she hates reading—does that end the date or do you just consider that to be her loss?
Neither. I would not judge her or try not to, and I would look for something else about her to connect with.
20. You enter “The Twilight Zone” and find yourself in a world without books or reading. Is your first reaction to explore this new place or to leave in disgust at the illiteracy of this new world?
Explore. I love reading and writing, but there is so much beauty in the world, more than enough to fill a lifetime. And, by the way, some of the most interesting people are illiterate.
21. Why do you think reading has become such a rarity in the U.S.A? Do you blame video games and modern pop music for its decline?
I don’t blame anything. We in the United States have a plethora of riches with which to entertain and educate us. Reading is only one, and not all people take to it. If we had fewer choices to take up our time, more people would read more. But would a world with fewer choices be better? Not necessarily.
22. Do you agree that writers have to be salesmen in the Indie world?
If they want to sell their writing, yes. But that is true of any endeavor in which you want other people involved. Unless we are hermits, we are always selling ourselves to some extent, and some are better at it than others. I am not so good at it.