- GUEST AUTHOR -
Today, I interview a very interesting author. His responses are quite lengthy but worth reading.
Welcome, Eric ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I think that the first thing that really defines me is the importance of family. My mother was one of eight children from a Methodist midwestern family that hailed from Joplin, Missouri.
Even though my parents were divorced when I was very young, I would never say that I came from a broken home. My mother, younger brother and I lived with my mother’s parents on my grandfather’s (who I always called “Granddaddy”) Christmas tree farm in Wayland, Massachusetts USA
Granddaddy grew up on a farm in Missouri, so naturally it was in his blood and he brought it with him when he and the family transplanted to Massachusetts in the 1960’s. He was brilliant! He was part of the secret team that secretly developed radar that went into the bombers during World War II. After the war he became a pioneer of radio, and later bringing television to the midwest.
I idolized him and his accomplished. For a boy who did not have an active father around, he was the father that I loved and needed, and the role model to my own children that I aspire to be. Growing up I had no shortage of cousins to play with. Otherwise, I was a shy kid who loved to lose himself in books, especially books in the Fantasy/Sci-fi genres.
I have three children. My oldest son is twenty-seven. He is married and lives with his wife and two sons in Toronto, Ohio. He is a fireman and works very hard to provide for his family. My younger son is seventeen and is a senior in high school. He is now beginning to look at colleges and find part time work. He is an extremely bright kid with a very large heart. I also have a beautiful (I twelve year old daughter, who is always smiling, loves to sing, play softball, and is just a joy.
I currently reside in Worcester, Massachusetts.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
From a very young age I was introduced to books and reading by my mother. My mother read to my younger brother Alex and I virtually every night. Other than the usual Sesame Street books, and others that I can’t remember, I do recall that I was especially fond of the Berenstain Bears and Richard Scary books.
The summer of 1977 was a very big year for me. I had seen the original Star Wars with mother and my older half-brother. For a six-year-old, whose only prior experience in a movie theater was Disney’s The Apple Dumpling Gang with Tim Conway and Don Knotts in 1975, this movie was epic! It was beyond epic! I remember when Darth Vader’s ship passed the audience in the opening scene of the movie and the bass thundered in my little chest!
The other memorable event that occurred in my young, impressionable life was that the animated interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was released one Sunday evening at 7:00pm, and my mother allowed me to stay up and watch the entire movie. Once again, I was captivated by a tale from a tale immersed in fantasy.
Soon afterwards, my mother came home one day with a large book of the Hobbit that was illustrated with actual still pictures from the movie. This wasn’t just a short picture book. This was the actual “adult” book. My mother at first afraid that it was too advanced for me. But she read a chapter with me every day. I listened intently, not moving an inch. Uttering not one question-not one single word. I was lost in Tolkien’s world and the magic of his craftsmanship.
that point on, I have always been writing stories in one form or another. In junior high and high school, I had notebooks filled to capacity with names of people, ships, events, places, quotes, and actual scenes. It was always my plan to continue when I went away to college, but the box was lost by UPS in transit. I was heartbroken.
The writer in me has always been there. Whether it was with each paper I wrote while at college, every letter or email that I have written where I told a story. Over the years I have had dozens of potential stories formulating in my head. However, with the responsibilities of life I never had the time to dedicate myself to the task.
As a writer within the historical genre, I am influenced by Mike Shaara, David McCullough, Bill O’Reilly’s series of “Killing…” books, and the film director Ken Burns.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
Oh, Goodness! It seems that all I have been doing is research! I have been working on this project for the last five years. Because of the type of story, I am writing everything has to be precise and accurate. I have tried to “shoot from the hip” but I can’t do it. It causes me a lot of anxiety. Besides the information that I study gives me a defined picture or framework of the story that I am going to tell, breathe life into the characters that I am creating. I want these characters to be real for the reader because they were real people who lived in the past. My research informs me of true events, and some events weren’t pretty. Some of the events that I am writing about aren’t well known. One of the goals of my project is to educate.
My research does not always follow a linear route. Much of my skills in research were developed while researching the genealogy of my mother’s side of the family. I was able to trace my maternal grandmother’s side of the family to England in 1510. Three of my ancestors are actually characters in my book.
There isn’t a right or wrong way in writing. I just prefer to have a framework. Some of what have written you may only consider to be “scenes” of dialog and descriptions. I am a proud subscriber of Scrivener on my iPad. This tool has been essential in my work and gives me the ability to add information, organize it, move it around, paste and cite resources, and create those little blurbs that I referred to that are already linked within my Scrivener project where I need to find it.
I’d also like to say that I am not inflexible. I could be on a long drive, or on a walk in the woods, or wake from a dream and I am inspired by something that would be great. The first thing that I would do (even at 3:21am) I would take my iPad, whip out my Scrivener and take some notes and flesh out the idea. Essentially, it is like one of my old notebooks from long ago.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Although my preferred genre is fiction, I could just as easily write non-fiction. I thoroughly enjoy the expression of thought to paper. I went to college at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio. I graduated with an Interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in English, Speech and Theater. I had to develop a very large toolkit to accommodate the variety of subject matter.
I had to wear my Director’s hat when I needed to write a thirty-page analysis of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. I had to wear my literary hat when composing my papers for my English classes. I also needed to use my research and writing skills when I wrote and prepared my speeches.
In each and every case, it requires work and discipline. But I enjoy expressing myself. Admittedly, I am a bit of an introvert. However, if I were to be sitting in a group and begin telling a story, or if I were to get up in front of a large group of people, I come out of my shell. My Speech and Theater experience helped me with that. It also taught me how to project my voice in a room.
Writing allows me to express myself to the reader at a very intimate level. If I am able to transport the reader to another point in time in the life of another person, I have achieved my goal. I want the reader to experience the characters, live the story, and walk away having learned or experienced something.
Since I now write full time, I enjoy how that I have a lot of freedom to my day. I am divorced, and I love to visit with my kids. Unless I have been sick, I have not missed a game, or a concert, an event. I like how that when I am needed my ex-wife can call me up and ask me for help with transportation, which enables me to see my kids more and feel more involved in their lives. It grants me the freedom to take off when I need to travel to a new locale that I am researching or track down information that I can’t otherwise find online or in a book.
Some days you just need a day off, or you need to mix your day up due to appointments and other commitments.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
With all having been said above, writing is like training to become a Jedi. It takes the deepest commitment and tremendous use of time management. Think about it! You are essentially composing (figuratively) the longest “paper” of your life. If you went to college, back then you were enrolled in other classes. You had tests and papers for them as well. You also had campus life activities, or possibly a job. You also had a life to live. All of those things could still be said today.
In a nutshell, time management can be your friend, and it can be your enemy. If you can’t a system down, you are done for. I think the the better way that I can describe it is that you need to find the best level of balance in your life. One of the problems that I would have is that I didn’t know when to stop for the day. I was finding myself getting sick often, and it was because I was eating right, and I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I always made time for my kids, but I wasn’t so good (don’t worry I showered) at self-care.
Writing is not just word craft. It is a discipline. Many writers find their discipline faltering, I have those days too, and this easily leads to procrastination. There is nothing wrong with taking time off, but don’t let it become like not going to the gym. I have been guilty of that. As I mentioned, it is like a Jedi’s training: Commit to do something. Look over what you have done. Look at your outline if you have one. Look at your notes. I participate in several forums over several social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And I have a few close individuals with whom I share my progress. The point is to keep your head in the game!
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I have worn many hats. I always wanted to be a teacher. But I couldn’t find a job. I became a software trainer, which I did for many years. I was then affected by the Dotcom crash and I was not able to keep a job. I’d find a job, and then be laid off four months later. This happened multiple times. I sold satellite TV. I was a debt collector. I absolutely hated this, but it was a paycheck.
Then in 2004 I joined a Fortune 500 company that sold technology (Information Technology) to companies. This long position that I ever held at a single job. I enjoyed the job, I enjoyed my colleagues and customers, and I made good money. But it was sales. And the difficult thing with sales is that you really can’t predict with any real certainty what your paycheck is going to be. After the economic crash in 2008, my take home from my earnings went from nearly $70,000 the first year to $54,000 the following year.
One circumstance after another, I was divorced, burnt out, in recovery from depression and at a crossroad. Do I throw myself back out in the lion’s den, setting myself up for failure, or do I take charge and move forward with my dream to become a writer. In the immortal words of Master Yoda: “Do or do not…” I chose to “do not”. And I certainly was not going to “try”. I was committing myself to this.
7. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I am writing a series of historical novels that tell the true story of the little known 17th Century Indian war that took place fully from 1675-1677. Also known as the King Philip's War, this conflict has the distinction as having the worst loss of life per capita in American history. This was the golden age of the frontier. By the end of the short and bloody war, Indian and colonist populations were decimated. Twenty-five New England towns were razed in fire to the ground. And the boundary of the English presence that once reached as far West as the Connecticut had been pushed back as far East as nearly back to the coast. Many wanted to return back to England, ending the fledgling colonies.
Both Native and English were just as guilty of savage atrocities toward each other alike. The European identity was changing. A line was being drawn between what it meant to be European and not. This distinction and prejudice between cultures will last for centuries, and will be the root to many wars,
8. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I have tried various genres, but they have always ended in false starts. At the moment, I have chosen to write historical fiction. This decision came from my love of history. The decision also came from my love in genealogy. I grew up in Wayland, Massachusetts. In the adjacent town of Sudbury, the last major native victory against the English colonists during the King Philip’s war on April 21, 1676 occurred. Also known as the “Little Big Horn of the East”, I was enthralled with stories the accounts that I had heard of the battle. Then I learned that I had family that I fought in that battle!
I find that I truly enjoy researching my subject matter. I enjoy learning about my characters that lived in a time from our past that shaped our society today. I enjoy the idea of breathing life into real-life people and transport the reader to a real world and allow them to experience events that they may have read about in their history books, read in the media, watched on the small or big screen. But, I also want to dispel any myths and inform the reader of any little kno. wn facts.
Other writers who choose to write in the genre will create a completely fictional story that takes place within a certain time period. This is a gray area because isn’t that the point of setting the scene of a story?
9. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
As I have already mentioned, there is no right or wrong way to write. Just as a writer must discover their own voice, their own style, they also must develop their own methodology. If perchance you decide to decide to delve into the genre of the historical novel, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Do your very best to learn about the time period. What technology existed at the time? What kind of clothes they wear? Were there certain words that we speak today that weren’t used then? Was there an equivalent? Would the reader be able to understand the way the way the spoke? As the author, do you want to make the artistic decision to keep the language basic so that the average reader may easily understand the dialog.
An author needs to capture their audience and keep them engrossed. If the storytelling is not believable because the events are not factually true, or at least plausible, the reader will move on to the next book.
A prime example is the book The Killer Angels: A Novel of The Civil War by Michael Shaara. The successful movie Gettysburg is based upon this book. This book was so well researched, the characters, to me at least, were so well written and believable, I was not by the number of story arcs and how often they switched at all.
I also mentioned that it is important to write with a plan. Many writers like to write by the hip. For them the story flows from them naturally. For me, I am not able to do that. I become overwhelmed with the big picture. Anxiety kicks in, then comes procrastination, then comes the dreaded writer’s block.
Theater was one of my majors in college. When memorizing and rehearsing a play, including tough ones like Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream, apart from the play being broken up into Acts and Scenes as written, the script was further divided into blocks. These smaller blocks helped to make it easier for us to focus on key points and sure that we hit our marks on the stage. We would also often practice scenes out of order. Eventually, by dress rehearsal, we would stitch the parts together for the performance.
In the same way, don’t be afraid to write out of order. You may be suddenly inspired by a place, or person you see in a store that meets the description of a character that you have been trying to write into a scene. At least write it down. You can always stitch it in later.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Of course, I do! I wouldn’t be human if I did not. It always happens when I look at the big picture of the project. For example, at this moment I am at a crossroad where I a m debating on whether I should increase the scope of my story to include The Pequot War, which took place forty years before my topic. I wonder if I were to only make references to the prior conflict would it potentially hurt overall story.
But, J.R.R Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings was able to set up a conflict that occurred thousands of years ago without going into too much detail.
The best thing that I do is just walk away from it, whether it be for the rest of the rest of the day, or through the weekend. I have developed the discipline to always come back and do SOMETHING. It could be more genealogy, reading more source material, which would later become actual scenes in the book(s). Look at my notes in Scrivener.
Go outside. Go for a walk. Go to the movies. Go bowling. Go to the bookstore. This is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy perusing through the magazine racks and bookshelves with the music playing in the background. Go for a drive. With a long drive, my mind seems to go into autopilot and sometimes ideas for the story pops into my head.
Don’t isolate yourself. Have a life. Make time for self-care and friends and family.
11. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I typically work in blocks of two or three hours at at time. I’ll get up early in the morning and read with the morning news in the background. I’ll then come back a few hours later. If I am studying new source material, I am devoting more time to reading, and transcribing notes into Scrivener. I will soon be at the point where I will be dedicating my efforts one hundred percent to writing. My writing schedule is flexible, but I prefer to have my allotted time completed by early afternoon, so that I can have the rest of the day to myself.
12. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Of course! One of the things that I have had to deal with my life is that I have experienced a lot of loss in my life. In many ways this loss held me back for many years. I was depressed, I was in a dark place, isolated, filled with anxiety.
But in the shadow of loss, I was able to overcome. I was able to enter recovery and find a source of strength from my faith.
I can imagine how much the English relied upon their faith to get them through a very dark period. In these little frontier towns, the fear of an attack from the dark in the middle of the night was very real.
The English were guilty of many violent travesties as well. Philip and his allies were now hunted. And every non-European, whether they were allied with Philip or not were racially considered to be the enemy.
13. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I am an avid reader. As much as I have been filling my head with all of my research, I need to feed my mind. I enjoy reading fiction and non-fiction. I like to read a wide range of topics and genres. I can read up to three to six books a month. I enjoy connecting with other authors. I feel that it is very important to network with your peers. Other authors can be a vital source for information and inspiration.
I enjoy going to the movies. I enjoy all animated features and cartoons. In particular, I enjoy Japanese animation, or Anime. Some of it is brilliant! I enjoy music. I enjoy Boston Sports. I enjoy the performing arts. I enjoy museums. I enjoy wandering through antique stores and art galleries. I enjoy exploring historical landmarks and old battlefields. I enjoy hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
I love my friends and family. My career path has afforded me the ability to be present as much as I can in my children’s lives. I would not give that up for any treasure.
14. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
My Granddaddy. While I was going through my personal challenges and struggles, my grandfather was very advanced in age. He was in his nineties. My aunt and I mutually decided that in his weakened condition to not tell him, and to always be positive with him on the phone. In order to protect him I had to distance myself from him; and I know that it hurt him. I would love to make up for the time that we lost.
15. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
First and foremost, I wish to be the best Father and Grandfather that I can be. I have made mistakes in my past life. I am not the same person, and I wish to make amends. Plus, I wish to be an example for my kids, and for the people who cross my path.
Secondly, I wish to continue to write. There are plenty of historical stories out there. I may decide to not write in the “based on a true story” style. But I want to challenge myself. I like the idea of writing a series.
16. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
I have never consciously had the idea of quitting. I have become frustrated, or I allowed life to get in the way. I advised above to make sure that you have a life, don’t allow it to become an excuse. They say that it takes three weeks to build a habit. If you allow yourself to lose your mojo, you will lose your flow. There have also been times where I have had to just walkway for a day or two, but that is all. Don’t allow procrastination to become your enemy.
17. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
What I want my readers to come away with is more than just enjoying a story. I don’t just want the readers to be educated. My desire is that they come away having had an experience. With my current project, I do not wish to convince the reader of a particular bias. The war was a very real conflict. Both sides were devastated. Both sides were guilty of terrible travesties. Both cultures were forever changed. The reader should come away from the story understanding some of the complexities that started the war.
18. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
Yes. I would very much so. I think that the story has a very strong social message. I’m sure that Hollywood could create some very exciting battle scenes. But, if I do my job correctly, the audience would focus more on the story and the characters, and the fighting is just action that pushes the story along. I once again refer to the movie Gettysburg. One giant conflict. Many characters. Many overlapping story arcs. The audience become invested in the characters. There is some fighting intermixed within the story arcs. But it is not until the climax of the movie that the grand scale and significance the conflict is realized.
I haven’t written a screenplay, but I have written one-act plays when I was in college. When I was a teen, I would also write short scenes.
19. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Christian. Father. Grandfather. Brother. Loyalty
20. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
I am a mental health advocate. It upsets me that even in this day and age of supposed tolerance, the stigma of mental illness continues to be a problem. Governments may have enacted laws for protection, and initiated programs for social awareness. But sadly, individuals with mental illness are not treated fairly. This prejudice can affect their ability to find work, find housing, succeed in obtaining services, and even enjoy healthy relationships.
It upsets me how people can just stand back and ignore the elephant in the room. According to a recent study, 1 out of 4 Americans have some form of mental illness. I view that the public needs to open their eyes to those who are struggling and hurting. Ignoring the elephant in close spaces does not make it go away.
21. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
Star Wars - Thrawn: Treason
I am a fan of Timothy Zahn. I like his books because he also likes to write from a different point of view. This book is the third book of a trilogy written from the perspective of the Imperial Navy, not the heroes that the readers would naturally root for. The protagonist is the mysterious and brilliant Grand Admiral Thrawn, a member from a race beyond the known boundaries of the Galaxy. A favorite of the Emperor, he is not trusted by the echelon of the fleet, but his tactics and results can’t be denied. Zahn’s story has elements of sci-fi and mystery. I love how Thrawn’s character has a of Sherlock of Holmes’s genius.
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Eric. Finally, it happened. You offer some wise advice. Good luck.