Today, I interview another top author from the USA with some very interesting responses to my questions.
Welcome, Alan ...
1.TELL US A LITTLE
ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I grew up on a small farm
in Canon City, Colorado. I got interested in books in the second or third
grade. Through the library’s summer reading program, I read all the Wizard of
Oz and Lone Ranger novels. A strange mix to be sure.
But I found one of my genres a few years later when The Twilight Zone appeared on TV. I was
so intrigued by the imagination of that show. And I became an absolute sucker
for twist endings.
And in high school, I
was so swept up by Rowan & Martin’s
Laugh-In on TV that I knew I would be writing humor in some form.
I wrote a lot of science
fiction short stories during my junior high school years. And I started writing
humorous essays in high school. In college, I wrote both in the creative
writing classes that I took. But I never combined the two genres until I wrote Damaged Beyond All Recognition.
2.WHEN AND HOW DID YOU
BECOME A WRITER?
I think the first time I got paid for writing something was
in college. I got a part-time job with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s public information
office. I wrote national press releases about the work that the agency was
3.WHAT TYPE OF
PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST
SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I tried outlining Damaged
Beyond All Recognition, and that proved to be disastrous. The plan was 18 pages long, single-spaced. I showed it
to a friend, and he assessed that it was
“too Hollywood.” I thought about that and
concluded that he was right.
About that time, I saw a quote from author E.L. Doctorow.
He said “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far
as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” And suddenly, it
all made sense. I rewrote book’s beginning and told the reader how the book
would end. And then I wrote the ending. But I had no idea how to connect it all
together. So, every night was an adventure for me. What’s going to happen next
in the story? It kept me writing until I got to the end.
4.WHAT DO YOU ENJOY
MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
It’s coming up with a unique story. Something from deep within
my imagination that makes the reader ask, “How the hell did he come up with
that?” To me, that ensures that the story will remain with people forever.
5.WHAT IS THE HARDEST
THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Trusting yourself. You must have confidence in your
abilities. That what you’re doing will be appreciated by most of the people who
run across your novel and read it. And that’s difficult because writers work in
6.WHAT WERE YOU IN A
PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
Good question. I hope I was a musician, someone wrote
meaningful lyrics for songs. Lyrics are poems
set to music.
7.WHAT IS YOUR
GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
It’s undoubtedly Damaged
Beyond All Recognition. I knew I was onto something special after I started
writing it. That it would capture the feel of a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
8.WHAT ARE YOU WORKING
ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m working on the sequel. It’s going to be titled Damaged And No Longer Under Warranty. All
the main characters from the first novel will be in this one, and that makes writing it so much easier. But I’m trying to write the book so
that it can stand alone and make sense to
the readers who haven’t read the first one.
9.WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Music is my biggest inspiration. I’m always listening to
music when I write. In fact, I tend to cue up songs that relate to the scenes
I’m working on. Kind of a soundtrack that helps set the mood I’m trying to
10.WHAT GENRE DO YOU
It’s a blend of science fiction, romance, and humor. I
originally intended to just write humorous science fiction, but the romance part just seeped into things.
11.DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS
FOR NEW WRITERS?
It’s a cliché, but you can’t
be a writer if you don’t write. Write at least one sentence each day. Sure, it
will take some time to finish a novel at that rate, but eventually, you will complete it.
I think “writer” is a mislabel if you’re a fiction writer.
You should be a storyteller first and foremost. Your job isn’t to include all
the words you can find in a thesaurus. Don’t write two-page descriptions of
sunrises and sunsets. Be direct and straightforward. As Elmore Leonard said,
you should leave all the parts that readers skip over.
And, if you don’t love your story, you’ll probably never
finish your book. And even if you do, your readers won’t like it, either. They
can tell if you’re all into what you’ve written.
12.DO YOU SUFFER FROM
No. I usually spend the day thinking about the scenes I’m
going to write that night. I think about them while responding to email, while
I’m at the gym, while I’m at the store. Don’t wait to do the rough planning
when you sit down to write. You’ll tend to struggle if you do.
I think it’s especially important to plan your scenes throughout
the day or evening depending on your writing schedule.
13.DO YOU HAVE A
PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
Yes, I’ve been a night owl all my life. All the jobs I had required
long days. Working past midnight is nothing new. Now, I sit down to write at
about 10:30 p.m., and I write until about 2 a.m. Sometimes I’ll go longer if I
feel like I’m on a roll. I do it just about every day, seven days per week.
14.DO YOU HAVE A
FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
I sit on my couch and type on my laptop using a computer stand.
I think I do that because I spent more than 40 years at a desk, writing for the
other guy. I don’t want my writing to resemble work in any way. It’s much too enjoyable.
15.WHAT IS YOUR
GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
I think it’s coming up with a storyline or a character that
no one has ever put on paper. To add layers to the story that make it whole.
That’s the best feeling.
16.WHO IS YOUR
FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I feel like I have a kinship with Kurt Vonnegut. He had
such an unusual way of telling a story. His characters would seem normal at first, but then you would discover
that they were just askew. He knew how to keep his books from disintegrating
into a cartoon.
I loved how he would, in the middle of a chapter, drive off
onto a dirt road to tell an entertaining substory. That’s what we all do when
we are telling a long story to someone
across the table at a coffee shop. We interrupt ourselves to explain some
underlying story. I loved the way he would use
breaks to indicate changes in locale and story. If there’s one thing I hate,
it’s reading a story that details how a character moves from one place to
another without any significant event occurring during the process.
But most of all, he wanted us to realize what it really
meant to be caring human beings. He really wanted the world to come together
and live in peace.
17.WHAT’S THE GREATEST
COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
Damaged Beyond All
has only been out for a few months, but I’ve already had three readers tell me
the book is now among their very favorites. How special is that? As writers, we
want to touch the lives of others. And people remember their favorite things
until they die.
18.WHAT WAS THE WORST
COMMENT FROM A READER?
I don’t think I’ve heard anything that disappoints me. All
authors know that some people will detest your book no matter what. I know that
if a reader has a rigid, unwavering view of God, he or she won’t like this book
one bit. Yet, I think the book has a strong
spiritual feel, and that will be amplified even more in the sequel. And humor
is elusive. What’s funny to me may not be funny
to others. All you can do is follow your instincts and hope that a lot of
people will identify with your novel.
SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Yes, very definitely. A lot of things in the book came from
something I experienced or something I heard or saw on a particular day. TV,
radio, and the Internet are great idea
For example, I stumbled across the story of Tsutomu
Yamaguchi on the net. He had survived two nuclear blasts in Japan despite the
fact that he was near ground zero in
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There’s a lot of improbable things happen in the book,
and this seemed like something that I needed to weave into it. But how? At the
time, I was developing a character who is bioengineer that rivals Steve Job
when it comes to technological inventions. And then it struck me—if I named my
character Tsutomu Yamaguchi, I could tell the original Tsutomu’s fascinating
story about survival.
20.OTHER THAN WRITING,
WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I have a passion for music. I love all kinds, and I have
more than 27,000 songs on my iPod. I’ve been asked what song I pick from all of
them if I could only keep one. For me, it would be “Tuesday Afternoon” by the
Moody Blues followed by “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” by Simon and Garfunkel as a
close second. There may be nothing perfect in this world, but those two songs come
as close as anything I’ve heard.
I’m very partial to my local sports teams. I love the
Colorado Buffaloes and the Denver Broncos when it comes to football. And I’m a
big fan of two baseball teams--the Colorado Rockies and the New York Yankees.
I also love the Colorado mountains. There’s nothing like
spending a weekend among the tall peaks.
21.DID YOU HAVE YOUR
BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
No, but I had a lot of people who were good at catching
errors read the novel. It’s pretty clean, but error-free books are far and few
I probably have a lot more “perfect days” than I used to when
I was working full time for someone else. After I retired, it takes a while to
realize that now I could do whatever I wanted (money permitting) whenever I
wanted. Isn’t that a definition of a perfect day?
23.IF YOU WERE STUCK ON
A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
I suppose this is where I pick some beautiful young actress like Jennifer Lawrence to spend the rest of
time with me. But, I don’t know whether she and I are soulmates, and I couldn’t
take the chance that we aren’t.
I’ve known two women who were soulmates. We never ran out
of things to laugh and talk about. And that would be far more important than
any physical attraction. So, I guess I would say that I would pick the third
female soulmate I meet—if, in fact, I ever do.
24.WHAT WOULD YOU SAY
IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
I can’t think of anything that would be more of a waste of
time than talking to any world leader. During my days as a newspaperman, I realized
their best interests always surpass our best interests. If anything happens
that benefits the masses, it’s usually a by-product of something that helps
them more. Color me jaded when it comes to politics.
25.WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS
FOR THE FUTURE?
I plan to keep writing novels and short stories. Damaged Beyond All Recognition is the
first book in the Infinity’s Trinity series. I have at least three more books
planned in that series.
26.WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS
ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS?
I don’t know if they sell books, but I think they separate
you from the self-published author who just tosses his or her book on Amazon
and waits for the royalty checks that never seem to come. I think a book
trailer tells potential readers that you’re invested in your own book, that you’re
willing to go the extra mile to promote it.
In any event, book trailers are a lot of fun if they’re
done properly. I wrote the script for the
one that was created for Damaged Beyond
All Recognition, and I had markusvoice
from Fiverr put it together. Not only is he a top-notch video producer, but he
had the perfect, James Earl Jones-type voice that I was seeking.
I’m proud of the result, and I’ve had many people tell me
it’s the best book trailer they’ve ever seen. You can find it on YouTube if
you’re interested in seeing it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joQpn2Kc07I).
27.DO YOU SEE YOURSELF
IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Oh, yes. Paul Tomenko is me. He reacts the way I react to things. I’m a fairly calm individual, and I don’t tend to get ruffled easily. I’m
a thinker, and I mull situations before making decisions. If someone throws a
fastball at my head, I’ll just dust himself off and dig in for the next pitch. I
experience setbacks, but I don’t quit. I’m loyal to a fault, and I love people until they quit loving me.
28.DOES THE PUBLISHING
INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Here’s a question that I could spend thousands upon
thousands of words to answer. First, here’s the summary answer: yes and no.
When I was younger, literary agents and traditional
publishers ruled the book publishing industry. But Amazon allowed the
downtrodden author community an avenue to have their books seen by at least
Damaged Beyond All
was rejected by 131 literary agents. About two-thirds of the agents didn’t
think it even deserved an email stating that it had been formally rejected.
I think that’s awfully rude. Are you telling me you can’t afford to pay a
college intern a minimum wage to send out rejections? If the answer is yes,
then why the hell would I want your cheap-ass organization to represent me?
I did get some comments from a few agents, and for that I’m
grateful. The consensus was that Barnes & Noble doesn’t have a science
fiction-romance-humor aisle. So, because no one could really figure out who
would buy the book, they moved on to something else. That’s their prerogative.
In fact, if I were in their shoes, I probably would have done the same thing.
They’re not in business to take on experiments.
I’m happy to be an independent author. My artist, Cindy
Swanson, developed an outstanding cover that I believe captured the “feel” of
the book. I wanted something non-traditional, something that said, “Hey, this
book is quirky as hell.”
Every word in the book is all mine, as I intended, and not
what a demanding literary agent or book company editor thought it should be. That’s
really worth a lot.
But, before I leave the topic of the book publishing
industry, I have a million-dollar idea for Amazon. Create a quality
certification to help readers find some of the great
self-published novels. The author would pay a fee of, let’s say, $250 to have a
qualified reviewer judge the quality of the book. The reviewer would fill out a
questionnaire after reading it that certifies the basic elements of a novel meet standards—plot, characters, clarity,
and so forth. Books that qualify would receive a seal of approval and a mention
of it in a wide-distribution Amazon newsletter. Yes, I know $250 is a lot of
money for a lot of people. And I’m aware of the problems with such a system,
but I think the pluses can outweigh the minuses. The stark reality of
self-publishing is this: If you don’t put a penny of money into your self-published
book, your book’s sales rank probably will have more than one comma in it.
29.DID YOU EVER THINK
No, never. My problem before I published my first book in
2012 was STARTING. I wish I had made creative writing my top priority in the
30.WHAT WAS YOUR
FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
Undoubtedly it was Damaged
Beyond All Recognition. Yes, Damaged
Right Out Of The Box was fun to write, but it posed less of a challenge. I
was writing my memoirs—true stories that
needed organization and presentation. The novel, by contrast, was a blank
computer screen that required my imagination to run wild. And there is no
better feeling than coming up with a plot wrinkle that seems like genius at 2 o’clock in the morning.
31.HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
We put way too much emphasis on book sales. Twitter must
have one-hundred thousand bios that contain the phrase “best-selling author.” Trust
me—your Amazon sales rank will betray you when a potential reader goes to your
site. My novel has bounced in and out of Amazon’s best seller list in humorous
science fiction. That means it’s been among the top one hundred of that subcategory.
But I’m not calling it a best seller unless it sticks in that category for much
longer than a day or two.
It’s fun to see your book ahead of something written by
Vonnegut or Douglas Adams at a particular moment in time because you sold a few
more books than they did in any given hour. But then things go dry for the next
few days, and you slide off . Hahaha.
I define writing success in two ways. First, are you
satisfied with it? When I finished Damaged
Beyond All Recognition, I knew I had a quality book. In fact, I worry that
I may never write a novel as good as this one. It is all that I wanted it to
be. But the main driver is reader
reaction. How strong is the love for your
book? Have you touched somebody in the way that you wanted? If so, it’s a
success. Don’t fret about book ranking validation. It’s not your fault that
millions of people don’t know it’s there and how good it is.
32.WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD
I wanted to write a book that would make readers laugh,
cry, and think. I think most people who have read Damaged Beyond All Recognition would say that it does those three
things. If that’s how most readers react to it, then I say “mission
33.WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A
When I was finishing my
novel, my girlfriend at the time thought that Damaged Beyond All Recognition would make a great movie. I have
doubts about that. I think it lacks the action that people demand nowadays. If
you expect them to sit through a science fiction movie, you better be blowing
up things and having aliens trying to take over your world.
Sirens of Titan by Vonnegut is a wonderful
science fiction book, yet nobody has figured out how to bring it to the screen,
be it small or large. Every few years, we hear that someone is going to tackle
the project. And it never happens.
34.HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
If I were to base that answer on Damaged Beyond All Recognition, I would say about fifteen minutes. As
I mentioned earlier, Cindy Swanson did the cover. I had no idea what to put on
the cover because the novel is hard to define. People say you need an elevator
speech that adequately describes what the book is about. If anybody has one
after reading it, please send it to me.
But I digress. I called Cindy one evening as I was
finishing the book, and I told her I had no damn idea what we should put on the
cover. So we talked about the concepts in the book, and then we typed those things in Google search to see what images
came up for each element. And then Cindy’s mind went into overdrive. A
collection of books represented God’s library. The eternal love triangle provided
a geometric design as well as the three interlocking hearts. The star field
depicted the vastness of the Universe. The twisting of the books indicated
infinity. The DNA symbol indicated the storyline’s
Cindy said, “Well, let me play with it tonight and see what
I come up with.”
It’s probably what Van Gogh said before he painted one of
his masterpieces. In the morning, the finished product was in my email box. I
still can’t believe she pulled it off in a few hours.
35.WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
I really think I’m
living it right now. I can’t think of
anything I’d rather be doing that writing
the books that I’m working on right now. Sure, getting more readers is always a
goal—if you have one hundred readers, you want one thousand readers, then one
36.WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
I have said that it’s probably easier to write a bestseller than
it is to convince the masses that it should be a bestseller. Marketing for a
self-published author is like pushing the rock uphill an inch at a time. If you
stop putting a shoulder behind it, the rock
will waste no time in rolling to the bottom.
37.ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
Yes, all of them are,
and I suspect that will continue to be the case. I plan to write a mock
self-help book that I might shop to
literary agents. It just depends.
You mean besides nails
that bend when I hit them with a hammer? Or when I try to open something
packaged in plastic? Or when Microsoft Windows keeps filling my computer’s
memory until the machine crashes?
Yeah, I get ticked off
by the “little things.” Don’t know why, but I think it’s because I’m fairly calm about everything else.
On the larger scale, I
get extremely pissed when someone I trust
lies to me. And I get doubly pissed when they refuse to admit they lied even
though it’s obvious that they have. That
has killed some close relationships in my life. I have booted a bunch of people
out of my life for doing it. The ridiculous thing is that those relationships
could still be salvaged if people would finally come clean and admit they lied.
That’s it. You can patch things up in life, but you can’t do it if there’s
still no honesty.
40.WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
I recently read Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore. It’s
the sequel to A Dirty Job. I
certainly would recommend it to folks who love fantasy and humor.
41.WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
I hope there’s love,
writing, and music wherever I’m going.
42.WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
Ah, that’s a tough
question when you’re twenty and an easy
question when you’re sixty-seven.
Some of my friends keep
asking, “Where’s the woman in your life?” And I say, “I finally figured out
that I don’t want one after all.”
I spent most of my
adult life in marriages. The first one lasted twenty years, the second fifteen.
I had several relationships after the second divorce, and they didn’t work out.
Don’t get me wrong—the women were all great people. But we didn’t mesh in a way
that would sustain something long-lasting.
I then tried online
dating, but I started to realize that I had become too selfish to have a
meaningful relationship. When the date across from me talked about herself, I
had images jump into my mind. Making trips across the country to visit all her
children. Pushing the computer away to
walk her dog when she was away. Agreeing to watching
the Food Channel or a reality show instead of the Denver Broncos or a science
fiction movie. Turning down the music at one o’clock in the morning while I’m writing
so someone else can sleep.
Now, before I’m
condemned for being a jerk, let me say this: For decades I did all these things
and more for my partners. And I did them cheerfully. But I also sacrificed things like embarking on a creative writing
career because other things came first. Writing
just isn’t going to take a backseat to anybody at this point in my life.
I guess all I can say
about being happier is that I hope my mind is the last thing to go. I want to
keep writing to the very end, and I hope that I can finish the Infinity’s
Trinity series and a bunch of books after that.
43.ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
I really hope that the people who read this interview take
the time to at least check out Damaged
Beyond All Recognition. I encourage folks to go its Amazon page, click on
the Look Inside feature, and read the first four chapters that are available.
If the novel doesn’t interest you after that, peace. As an author, that’s all I
can expect from potential readers.