What can you tell us about Squint?
Well, the first thing you should know is the original name for it was "The Call of James." Why, you ask? It's simple: the book follows the life of a gang member called James, and the trouble he gets into over the course of a week. It starts with a phone call and ends with a catastrophe, so "The Call of James" just made sense. Except I couldn't help but imagine all the angry letters I'd get from people who would purchase the book expecting it to be somehow inspirational. So I went with my favorite story of the bunch: Squint. I really enjoyed writing this set of stories, and I hope you enjoy reading them!
Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
The majority of my ideas come from reading other books. I love to read, so when I’m getting into a book and trying to predict the direction it’s going to go I’m constantly surprised with the writer’s ability to trip me up. Usually, it’s a satisfying experience. But those times when I don’t like the ending or something else along the way, my mind instantly conjures up ways it could have turned out. If the idea is strong enough and I think it has potential, I’ll jot it down and flesh it out as a full-fledged story later on.
What do you think makes a good story?
My original answer was going to be “giant monsters,” but it occurs to me that not every story I’ve enjoyed has a giant monster in it. So… let me dig a little deeper.
The stories I like have to be pretty simple, without being weighed down with a bunch of needless distractions or chatter. Ideally, they should have a minimum amount of characters, good dialogue, a ticking clock of some sort and have a satisfying end. And by “satisfying end” I mean justice. I’m a sucker for justice, in all its forms. I want the bad guy to get what’s coming to him, and if he happens to lose a toe or a little blood along the way? Well, so be it. Sucks to be a bad guy.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
As I kid, I would’ve answered “flying” without a moment’s hesitation. But as a responsible adult who who grew up watching “The Greatest American Hero” and now understands that the sky is filled with bugs? I’m going to have to pass on the whole flying bit.
These days I’d go with invisibility. Again, I’m an introvert. As much as I like people one-on-one, I’d be just as happy if no one said anything to me all day. Being invisible would make this happen. (Except for those crazy people who talk to themselves all the time… those guys would drive me nuts…)
What does your writing process look like?
I begin with three primary components: Setting, Characters and Chronology. First I try to determine Where it’s happening, Who’s doing What and in what order. Once I have a basic idea outlined, I’ll try to flesh it out with specific scenes, snippets of dialogue and jot down a list of keywords to fit the story - thematic phrases, descriptive adjectives and the primary emotions I want to evoke in the reader. The more work and effort I put into the beginning of the story, the more satisfying the ending will be.
What authors have inspired you to write?
Peter David, one of the Marvel Comics writers for The Incredible Hulk back in the 90’s, is a virtuoso when it comes to interesting characters and dialogue that pops off the page. Matthew Reilly rewrote the rules of pulse-pounding action-adventure with Ice Station (then escalated the intensity with Area 7, Scarecrow and Scarecrow Returns). Finally, Alfred Hitchcock is the master of suspense, and taught me how short stories can be legitimate, thoroughly enjoyable forms of entertainment. I also really enjoy most of Jeremy Robinson's stuff. His plots are amazing, his characters are fun and memorable and I always have a good time reading his stuff!
What are you reading now?
This week I discovered a flash fiction author, Chuck Grossart, and the guy is amazing. He’s able to write a compact, character-driven story that delivers genuine thrills (or chills, if you’re reading his horror stuff). Thoroughly impressed.
I’m also reading Richard Matheson’s classic collection, The Incredible Shrinking Man. Just like Bradbury and Hitchcock, Matheson had a large impact on my style of writing and the pace and delivery I aim for.
The easiest way to answer that question is to stalk me on Goodreads, though.
How did you come up with the title for Snapdragon?
My wife and I serve as dorm parents at an international school, and one day one of our kids was making Snickerdoodle cookies. She commented how much she loved the word, and I told her my favorite word was “Snapdragon,” partially because of its sound but primarily because of the imagery it elicits when you say the word aloud.
Seriously. Say it for me. Out loud.
Whether you scream it or whisper it, the word reverberates in your head. Snapdragon. I love it. So I wrote a story to go with it.
Do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?
I don’t dream as much as I used to, but I still get about 3-5 memorable ones a year. When I was a child I used to have a recurring dream where an alligator would crawl into my room and start to eat me from the feet up. I’d always wake up in a feverish sweat just as he got to my head.
To this day I have a long-standing hatred of alligators, and have taken great care to learn how to survive an attack should I ever be in that position again. And I will beat the living SNOT out of that thing! Stoopid alligator….
What writing tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
First and foremost would be Evernote. I was late to the Evernote party, but now that I’m on board I use it every single day. When it comes to collecting and sifting through ideas for short stories (or novels, movies, etc.), it is indispensable. (And FREE!)
Secondly, Scrivener is the writing software that streamlines the novel creation process from concept to execution. Writing would be much, much more difficult without Scrivener in my life. Very affordable, flexible and powerful. Go get it now!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’m pretty sure it was when I was around 8 or 9 years old. I had watched a movie in the late 70’s or early 80’s called C.H.O.M.P.S., about a bionic dog. I don’t remember much about it, but I was enthralled with the idea of a cyborg pet. So I wrote a short story called “B.O.N.E.S.” (Don’t ask me what the acronym stood for… I have no clue.) I think I even drew a diagram of the guy. I also think it was awesome.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I’m currently writing in mad bursts of creativity twice a year: NaNoWriMo every November and Camp NaNoWriMo again in April. The time in-between is spent editing, polishing and revising (which, to be honest, I find almost as much fun as writing). Because I work as a Dorm Parent and teach Creative Writing at a high school during the day, my actual writing hours are pretty limited. Last year I was able to cram in 1-2 hours when all the kids go to school and another 30-40 minute slot at night.
Ideally, I’d love to have a schedule that would allow me to work until 2-3am every night, sleep in until mid-morning and then have a normal*, productive day. (*And by “normal” I mean “socially acceptable”.)
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
You mean, aside from reading? Hmm…. (strokes hairy chin…) I’d say listen to music or take naps. Or listen to music while I take a nap. Oh yeah… that’s good stuff. Over the years I’ve morphed from a borderline extrovert to a mid-level introvert, so I find I’d prefer to do things that are quiet and solitary. Love my wife, love my kids and love people… I just never quite hit my quota of alone time.
What does your family think of your writing?
I think my Mom’s pretty thrilled that I’m actually writing and using my English Education degree (as a teacher as well as a writer). She’s accustomed to reading more… inspirational… stories, so I don’t expect her to be a fan of my crime-riddled, slightly twisted tales.
My wife loves it, and is a huge supporter. I think my son is pretty impressed too. (At least, that’s what I tell myself…)
Have you ever gotten into a bar fight?
Ah… no. But that’s probably because I’ve never been to a bar.
Do you have any scars? What are they from?
I have two that come to mind. Nope, make that three.
I have an “L” shaped scar on my left hand from when I accidentally stabbed myself with scissors one day. Cutting through a zip tie, the scissors went in and out in a split-second, and I instantly knew something was wrong. Turns out I almost severed my tendon. Hand surgery reconnected it, but I scarred over too quickly and now my pointy finger is frozen at a perpetual 55° angle. The upside? I can still type.
My second scar is on my left side, just below my ribs. I had a boil that was about to burst, and the muscles around it were dense and the pain was excruciating. The off-hours clinic sliced me open, sucked out the puss, packed me with gauze and sent me home. True story.
Lastly, I was playing with my brothers when I was about 5 years old and I fell down in my driveway. As I rolled over to get up, my older brother Eric tried to jump over me. Unfortunately, the metal roller skates he had on weighed him down, and he sliced a neat 2” gash across my forehead. Did it hurt? As far as I remember. But you know what else I remember? I got a box of Cookie Crisp cereal out of the deal. And it was delicious.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven't been before?
Universal Studios in Singapore.
Why? Because when I went to Universal Studios in Orlando many years ago, it was awesome. Beat the pants off of Disneyworld, that’s for sure. But why Singapore? Mainly because I currently live in Indonesia, and it’s the closest location. Aside from that, I don’t really want to go anywhere. Ever. I’m quite content to stay right where I am and read a good book. I’m kinda simple like that.
What book do you wish you could have written?
The only one that comes to mind is Jeremy Robinson’s “The Didymus Contingency.” Even though the title was a bit off-putting, the story was unique and original, and I enjoyed the progression of faith for the characters.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I’m currently sorting through my short story ideas to figure out which ones I want to tackle next, and in what order. I organize them based on theme, number of characters, setting, etc. and then determine the “Passion Factor.” Whichever story I’m most excited to tell? That’s the next one I’ll write.
What genre are your books?
Primarily crime, but I’m also a fan of creature features and science fiction
Do you have any suggestions for wannabe writers?
I suppose the first nugget of wisdom I’d like to impart is to fan the flame of your passion. You have the desire to write, so don’t give up so easily when the euphoric feeling of creating wears off and the hard work of becoming a bonafide writer settles in.
Ideas are easy. Writing is easy (for the most part). What separates those who would like to write “some day” and serious writers is really quite simple: Writers write. And rewrite. And rewrite. And then they rewrite again. They don’t stop rewriting and polishing and publishing and marketing their work until it’s done. (And it typically takes a loving third party to make the call.)
Secondly, there’s going to be a lot of writing advice out there, and much of it will be overwhelming or contradictory. Don’t freak out. Absorb what you can, process it and let the ones that resonate with you rise to the top. You – and you alone – know exactly what kind of writer you are or want to become. Learn from others but carve your own path. Embrace your inner Frankenstein and lumber forward, taking one stiff baby step at a time.
Finally, if you want to be a serious, professional writer you simply must read. There’s no excuse for a writer who doesn’t read regularly. To improve your skills you have to familiarize yourself with the work and how other professionals have done it. Conversely, don’t waste your time slogging through someone’s work that you hate. Life is short. Reading junk that will cloud your writing judgement is pointless. Read what makes you feel alive, afraid and amazed, and do it often.
Do you have some handy links to help readers better stalk you and your work?
Why, yes. Yes, I do...
Currently Reading: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/30504247?shelf=currently-reading
Amazon Author Page: http://goo.gl/ClP6Lv