- Guest Author -
Here is my interview with a former Marine, actor and now award-winning author.
Welcome, Ken ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
My writing is an off-shoot of 40 plus years as a professional Film and TV actor. I degreed in Drama while attending Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas on a full football schlorship (American). Didn't utilize the drama training until I was around 32. I was too busy with my cattle/horse ranch and drilling oil wells in Texas. An agent in Dallas asked if I would represent her agency for a Dairy Queen commercial because she didn't have an experienced rider in her agency, plus she thought I had a 'good look'. LOL.
Turns out, I got the part and introduced the Belt Buster hamburger for Dairy Queen. I just thought, 'They're gonna pay me this kind of money to sit on a horse and eat a hamburger...what the hell. That was some 44 years ago, a slew of commercials and a rasher of movies and TV shows. Who knew?
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
Like most actors, I started tinkering around writing screen and teleplays back in the '80s. Wrote and directed a movie, “Rockabilly Baby”, in 2008 and a buddy I knew from the Marine Corps (John Eastman) called me one day in 2011, from Pennsylvania and said, “Hey, Kenny, I wrote a novel.” I answered, “Hell, good for you John.” He asked, “Can you guys turn it into a screenplay?” I said, “Sure, send it down.” He sent a 350,000 word novel... Well, long story short, my writing partner, Buck Stienke, and I adapted it to a 125 page screenplay in about 10 weeks (fall of 2011). When we finished, we looked at each other and said, “Hell, we can write a novel.”
Three months later we finished our first novel, “Black Eagle Force: Eye of the Storm.” Buck and I had both been in the military, he graduated from the Air Force Academy and flew fighter jets and I had been in the Marine Corps so it was logical we would write military/action stories. Our first novel won Best Adult Fiction at the first Book Festival we attended. Son of a gun.
We finished our second novel, “Black Eagle Force: Sacred Mountain”, and decided to write a historical fiction western based on a screenplay I had written back in the '80s for our third. It became “The Nations” featuring the first black Deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi, Bass Reeves. It won the Laramie Award for Best Classic Western of 2014.
That was five years and fifteen novels ago...almost one and a half million words. Who knew?
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I'm strictly a 'pantser'. My acting style is 'Organic', so it was natural my writing style would be also. I will have a general story line, meaning I know where I'm starting and where I'm going to end up...but have no idea in hell how I'm going to get there when I start. I create my characters with full backstories, and then get the hell out of their way and let them tell the story. Sometimes they surprise even me...Wow, didn't see that coming.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I suppose I like the creative freedom. I was teaching a writing workshop last weekend and one guy, an attorney by trade, asked where I got my story ideas. I laughed and said, “Everywhere.” I constantly observe and research.
In the process of researching Bass Reeves 32 year career as a Federal officer, I ran across an interesting character...Deputy US Marshal F.M. Miller. The only female Deputy US Marshal in the Indian Nations and nobody had written about her. That's like turning a twelve year old kid loose in a candy store. The single newspaper article about her from 1891 didn't even give her name...just her initials, F.M. So, I used a little literary license and named her, Fiona Mae Miller. The Fort Smith Elevator, in its November 6, 1891, issue described “Mrs. Miller…as a dashing brunette of charming manners…” The same article described her as “…an expert shot and a superb horsewoman, and brave to the verge of recklessness.”
That was like pouring gasoline on a fire. I added her to the fifth book in The Nations series, “Bass and the Lady”. Book six is sort of a 'spin off' with Fiona Mae Miller having her own story in “Lady Law”. My WIP is the next novel in the series, “Blue Water Woman” and who knows from there.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The Edit. Writing is a piece of cake, except for sometimes finding enough time to write what your muse lays on you. But, I'd rather be whipped with a wet rope than to edit, but it has to be done. I find the best way is I get a beta reader, we link up with Skype and go through the manuscript line by line outloud. It sounds right or it doesn't.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
If you mean the one I just lived...I was an actor which I have found to be an enormous asset. My acting training and experience allows me to create each character with their own voice. And when I edit, I play each character exactaly as I do when I record audio books.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Aside from winning several awards, I think just the fact of discovering I could write at the age of 69 and then writing...so far...fifteen novels.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Novel number 16, “Blue Water Woman”. Fiona Miller is drawn into the mystical world of the Native American's belief in shapeshifting.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Finishing a novel and seeing it become a best seller.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Military/Action/Techno, Historical Fiction Western and SyFy.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Write, write, write.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
What's Writer's Block?
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I find my creativity is most active in the mornings. I edit or record audio books in the afternoon.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Not really. I guess I prefer my computer in my office in my home. It also serves as my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Finishing the edit in my WIP.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Edgar Rice Burroughs. Here's my favorite quote from him: "I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly." - Edgar Rice Burroughs
Just tell the damn story. There is no right or wrong...just interesting and less interesting.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
“I feel like I can talk to your characters.”
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
“Poorly written, artless literary work.” – That book also won the Laramie award for Best Action Western – 2013. Can't please everyone.
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Just general experience and the fact my mother taught me to be a voracious reader...I still am.
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Teaching. I've taught acting, writing and VO (voice over) for almost 20 years.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Had the first one professionally edited...not worth the conflict. I prefer beta readers...people who read for entertainment.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Getting a phone call or email saying one of my novels is #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
If he were anyone, I would say Edgar Rice Burroughs.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Get your heads out of your asses.
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Keep writing. I won't live long enough to write all the stories I have bouncing around in my head.
26. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS?
Not sure yet. I've done several and so far I can't tell the difference.
27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I usually pattern one of the characters after me...you get to figure out which.
28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
No. My dad always told me, “Once a quitter...always a quitter.”
30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
I don't write manuscripts...I write stories. My favorite is always the one I'm currently working on.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
When your fan base continually ask, “When is the next one due out?”
32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
Wow, I was entertained.
33. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
Been there, done that. I started writing screen/teleplays. Prefer novels.
34. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
I usually do my cover before I write the book. It either looks right or it doesn't. I trust my instincts. It has to jump at me.
35. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
To have one of my stories made into a best selling movie and not be changed.
36. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
Marketing is the hard part. You have to devote at least twenty percent of your time to marketing.
37. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
In a sense. My partner and I figured that if we could produce a movie, we could publish books. We publish our own and for numerous other authors through our company, Timber Creek Press.
38. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
He does what he says.
39. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
40. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
“The Ka” by Mary Deal. Yes, loved it.
41. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
42. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
I don't think anything makes you happy. In my opinion, a person is just about as happy as they decide to be.
43. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Clancy's comment: Thanks, Ken. Great answers. Loved your answer to question 24!