Instead of the lengthy author bio which attempts to capture a man and his pencil, I will answer seven questions at length to help you get to know me.
When did you first experience the spark to write?
There were a couple sparks. First, my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Shepherd, asked us to write ten sentences using our vocabulary words. I gather the words struck me as interesting because I very clearly remember the moment I raised my hand and asked, “Can we write more than ten sentences?” Weird kid.
My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Crites, fostered a love of creative writing. Oh gosh I did come up with some silly stories. But probably the moment the spark ignited something that has fueled the rest of my life, occurred in high school. I believe I was a sophomore. My writing/English teacher at the time, Mrs. Earl, assigned a descriptive essay. I remember, much as I do now, musing on the subject for quite some time. I decided to describe my Grandpa sitting on the edge of a pond, quiet and still at the beginning. Then I describe the catch of a fish, and then everything returns to quiet and serene. I began, and ended, the story with the same sentence: “He waits.” Incidentally, that sentence also opens and closes my novel, The Presidents Gather. It was the first thing I had ever written that I read with the same joy that I had written. It felt like I was reading someone else’s work and I didn’t know what happened next.
Those two instances together formed a spark that carries me every day.
How do you write? Do you need to be inspired or does it come naturally?
I hate to answer a question thusly but: It depends. I once walked out of a movie because I was inspired to write. It was either the grand vistas of the film (Godzilla, 2003 or 2004) or the dialogue, but I was enchanted and could feel sentences coming together in my head. Even though I was enjoying the movie, I left.
Most of the time, I am writing under some kind of ridiculous deadline, so I don’t necessarily wait for inspiration- I cause it. I like to listen to old country music, and Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and a few ballads from Tom T Hall can really set the mood to write. And I completed my novel, The Presidents Gather, by repeating the Dolly Parton album, Blue Smoke over and over- very loudly. There is something about those songs- and something about Dolly’s voice, that makes the creativity flow.
The movie “JAWS” has some serious creative sparks within it, as does a lot of the old Christmas specials. With JAWS I think it is the spectacular writing in the screenplay, and perhaps with the Christmas Specials it is the memory of pure joy that creates the spark.
But most of the time, I am under a deadline and I sit down at my computer, place my fingers on the keyboard, and wait for a strange short sentence to conjure up in my head. And then I’m off and running.
I used to tell people that feeling like ‘writing’ was like the work the astronauts performed in Appollo 13 to get the ship lined up properly. All those different engines bursting air at different moments to straighten and adjust the aircraft. That’s what it was like. But it took me thirteen years to complete The Presidents Gather ‘waiting’ for the ship to line up. So I don’t think of it that way anymore. The words are in there… the ideas are in there… you just have to go get them.
What do you read when you are not writing?
Right! Writers need to read! Andy Rooney once wrote, “Those that don’t have time to read should not take the time to write.” I agree with him. But my reading is in spurts. Of course, I read a great deal of presidential history. Right now my favorite author is Erik Larson, and I am happy I found him late so there are a lot of books to catch up with. Candice Millard is a genius, and thankfully her newest book on Winston Churchill is on my table right now. I love old writers like John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway, too. And I have an old volume of Tennyson’s Poems my Grandma Great gave me in 1988 which I love. And this sounds like I have to say it, but the Bible is still the most charged book I have ever read to spark a lot of thoughts, creative ideas, and goals.
What is the worst thing about writing?
The ease of the delete button. Honestly, there is nothing I hate more than the delete button. A writer should never delete anything. Sometimes a sentence may not make sense ‘here’ but it works perfectly ‘here.’ So there you go. Don’t delete, just keep everything and rearrange it. Writing doesn’t happen in a straight line.
What is the best thing about writing?
What are you working on now?
Well, I have a very loyal group of readers who are patiently waiting for me to finish The Presidents Gather, so I am diligently working on that sequel. And John Kennedy turns 100 years old on May 29. I will be releasing a series of essays on his life and presidency in June. After that, there is (believe it or not) a segment of Lincoln’s life which has been unexplored, so I intend to do that.
Gosh, all for 2017?
Possibly. Quite honestly, it’s difficult to finish a book if I am not getting excited about the next one. That might be a strange way to look at it, but it keeps me writing forward. Winter is always prime writing time for me. My brain tends to continually turn over, so if I am not thinking about writing something, I am usually annoying the living daylights out of my wife. So… play it, Dolly.