Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
Born in east Texas, I grew up in San Diego, CA until graduation from UCSD in biology. A short stab at an acting career led to performing as a teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language) and then to teaching literature analysis at adult schools, mostly to eager immigrant students. After reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, years of journal writing translated into what would become Bougainvillea Blues. I earned an M.A. in English from CSULA in 2007 for a novella version. I now live in the sprawl of Los Angeles with my wife and an enormous pepper tree.
I have published one book though I started a few others when I thought I couldn’t finish the first one. Two of the other books I started are now coalescing into a third. (See below.) I used to be ashamed to say it took me twenty years to finish it, but I realize now that some people write a few complete books before they get the hang of it. I just kept writing the same book over and over: starting in different places. telling the story from different viewpoints, and adding scenes and characters. I love what I heard about Steinbeck when he was already famous for Of Mice and Men. He had finished his next novel, L’Affaire Lettuceberg and knew it would sell based on his reputation, but decided to destroy it because it wasn’t up to his standards. The next book? The Grapes of Wrath.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
Bougainvillea Blues is autobiographical and initially inspired by my relationship with my mother when I was growing up. In the first novella version she is the central character. By the time she died, about ten years after I had started writing it, I was more reconciled to the part she played in my confusing and abusive childhood, so the 12-year-old son in the first version became the narrator of the second. I like to say that one third of the book definitely happened, one third definitely did not happen, and one third might have happened, but I don’t remember. Also, after finishing the book, I now realize how much I was influenced by 60’s rock and roll, even though I had only few albums and never played in a band because I was playing violin in various orchestras during junior high and high school. I had forgotten how much I listened to the radio.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I have written in restaurants or in my parked car. I often write in doctor waiting rooms (when I have an appointment, that is). I would say what might be unusual is my attitude toward writing, not my habits.
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do believe that anyone can be overwhelmed by the inner voices that say you don’t belong or you’re not good enough or that your lasting writing was pretty good but you’ll never write anything good again. Some may call that writer’s block. I call that giving in to the inner critic that everyone has, whatever the art or the enterprise. The only way I know to counteract that feeling is to write, talk to someone who loves me (it may take a few “someones”), and then write some more.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
I began writing fiction on the flyleaf of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones while on vacation with my wife in Idyllwild, CA. I tried the first writing exercise in that book lying in a hammock in the yard between the motel’s bungalows. When I became an English teacher and because I was trusted by my school administration, I got to choose most of the books in my classes and often picked The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. They represent the clarity and organization emotional punch I want to emulate. I enjoyed them all the more because Chopin’s novel was panned for its content by other well-known contemporary novelists of the early twentieth century and Steinbeck always seems to be disrespected because his books are easier to understand and more popular than Faulkner’s.
What are you working on now?
As I mentioned above, when I couldn’t finish Bougainvillea Blues, I began two other books: a memoir called The Confessions of a White Father, about my wife’s and my experience raising adopted our African-American son, and a novel called Joy After Death, in which a couple struggle to survive the death of their only son. In Joy had written over 20 chapters. About halfway through I had them deal with their grief is by adopting a boy who is African American. After a recent writer’s conference the ideas for those two books have morphed into a story that begins with a childless couple adopting an African-American boy. The working title is Ezra and His White People.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I am new at promoting. At first I thought all I had to do was write the book. (See #3 under “advice for new authors.”) I’m hoping Pretty-Hot.com will be one of the best methods. I started my marketing by having book signings in the Los Angeles area, not far from where I live, plus one in Reno, NV and another in Ramona, CA. Then I worked with a transitional coach, Pat Pattison, who has lots of experience in marketing (see ten percent rule below in “advice for new authors). Through a friend I met Christiana Miller, the queen of Indie book promotions, who told me about this newsletter. The ad I have in Pretty-Hot.com is for my first online promotion of the Kindle Version of my book, which is discounted from $4.99 to $1.99, March 25-31, 2015.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
1) Find other authors who are supportive, not competitive, and who write regularly.
2) Write no matter what, thirty (fifteen?) min a day when feeling dry.
3) Once you’ve written a book, apply my marketing friend’s ten percent rule: be willing to spend at least 10% of the time you spent writing the book promoting it. It could mean getting an agent and a publishing deal or could mean going Indie like I have so far, though I’m still sending out query letters to agents. Not promoting your book is an insult to your art.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Julia Cameron (of The Artist’s Way) said that most artists (writers) feel that if they had time they could get their work done but have no time to write because of their jobs, children, other family members, and friends taking up their time. No, she says, you can always find time, even if only fifteen minutes here and there. What writers (artists) need is emotional support, those people who can help you see the lies you tell yourself that keep you from writing, like I don’t have enough time or I’m not good enough.
What are you reading now?
The Moving Target by Ross MacDonalds, one of the greatest detective story writers. I admire his wonderfully concise and original descriptions of people and places.
What’s next for you as a writer?
I have just discovered the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and never knew writer’s conferences could be this supportive. So, in addition to finishing my next book, I plan on spending as much time as I can with the likes of them. I recommend them whether you’re trying your hand at a young adult book as I am or doing writing for an older audience.
What is your favorite book of all time?
The Grapes of Wrath
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