- GUEST AUTHOR -
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 doing.
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 a vacuum.
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 capture.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
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 WRITER’S BLOCK?
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 Recognition 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.
19. WRITERS ARE 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 sources.
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 between.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
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 some readers.
Damaged Beyond All Recognition 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 OF QUITTING?
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 1970s.
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 THEY FEEL?
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 accomplished.”
33. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
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.
The 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 problem.
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 million readers.
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.
38. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Honest, loyal, committed, nonjudgmental, resilient.
39. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
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.
Clancy's comment: Many thanks, Alan. I do like your answer to question 28. Good luck with your book sales. Keep writing.