I’m an equipment salesman who lives in Red Deer, Alberta with my wife Jane. I started writing back when I was a kid, and won a national essay contest when I was in junior high school. Years later, I parlayed my prolific “letters to the editor” talents into a freelance column that was published weekly in the Red Deer Advocate from 2004 to 2011. The end of that led me to dusting the cobwebs off of a plot that had rattled around in my head for years, and “Afghanistan” was the result.
I read and I write. I’ve been a passionate gearhead my whole life. We own a 1969 Dodge Dart race car that I put together largely on my own. We try to go racing several times a summer. My bio pic is me strapped in, testing the fit of a new set of belts. We also like to do road trips. Western Canada and the western states are a treasure trove of beautiful scenery.
1. What is your debut novel and what inspired its story?
My debut novel was “Afghanistan.” A lot of things inspired it, I guess. Tom Clancy’s novels, for sure. Another was an old, obscure piece that I read way back in the Cold War days. Apparently, something that gave the intelligence agencies fits was the idea that the Soviets could simply fly some big nukes into the West in the cargo holds of Aeroflot airliners, and have them go off on final approach. It was literally the stuff of nightmares.
I coupled that with what was becoming the Canadian experience in Afghanistan, and the political-social climate in post-Soviet Russia, and went from there.
I have to point out that a lot of what I’ve written, and will write in the future, is a bit of an homage to the military veterans I’ve known in my life. I knew a fair number of WWII vets growing up, but had no understanding of the sacrifices they had made, or some of their ongoing struggles related to their service. Having read a great deal about their experiences, and learned more about the post-war lives of many veterans, I try to honor that with what I write.
2. Do you write one specific genre or are you a multi genre author?
I’d have to say I’m pretty much a single-genre author. I think I can scribble a pretty good thriller, so I’ll stick with that. Now, that can evolve, too. Evolution being the key. I’m not sure anyone can simply transition from one genre to another (Well, supremely talented writers could, I guess.) I think that if it happens for anyone, it would be because something they wrote well happened to push the boundaries of their typical genre. Crossing over would then be an exercise in expanding upon what has already been written. Or, I could be totally full of crap on that idea.
3. Do you have any memorable quotations or ‘one-liners’ that you have written and love?
I’ve written a couple that I’m rather proud of. In “Montrose County”, the main character Sabrina Murdoch arrives in the titular location as somewhat damaged goods. She’s befriended by a local rancher with a similar life experience behind him. In the aftermath of all that happens, she remarks to her boyfriend that “I sometimes think he saved my life before he saved my life.” I think, in the context,that the line has a really nice ring to it.
In the just released “Buffalo At The Gates”, Mike Buffalo is talking about life on the reservation, and family issues. He describes his thorny, and currently re-married, older sister as being “between divorces.”
I’m also a big Bruce Springsteen fan. It took me three novels to find a way to use a line from “Jungleland”- “The poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be.”
I’ve known for a long time that the line has a place in a novel that I was going to write. I finally did just that.
4. Do you have a favourite character that you have penned to life and why is this your favourite character?
Tough call. I have three favorites. Marina Tverdovsky is a semi-tragic hero in “Afghanistan.” I say semi-tragic because she doesn’t die, but is instead tested in many ways. Her upbringing is a microcosm of the dysfunction that was Soviet Russia, and the aftermath of the demise of communism. Her marriage is marked by betrayal, and the government she serves betrays her and the Russian people on many levels. In spite of all that, she does the right things, but at a great cost. The totality of that cost is fully formed by a small segment in “Buffalo.”
I’m torn between Sabrina Murdoch and Mike Buffalo. Both are flawed heroes, in that their flaws are largely the scars of life. Sabrina is the more deeply damaged of the two, as she never trained for combat. That she is scarred as deeply as she is by the violence she had to engage in is partly because she’s a woman. I think that (based upon my modest research) woman in the military are more deeply affected by combat and actually killing enemy combatants than men are. Far more so in the infantry than, say, a pilot might be after strafing or dropping bombs. Sabrina’s healing mechanism should have been her immediate family, post-Iraq, but the failure of that is what sends her on the path of what becomes the main story.
Given that, I’d have to say maybe I lean towards Mike Buffalo being my favorite. Now, those who’ve read “Buffalo At The Gates” might find cause to disagree. But, Mike is the most fully formed character I’ve written, as he appears in three novels. His upbringing was marked by family strife, but he rose above that, and helped his family rise above it as well. He struggles to fit in in the military, but eventually does. He’s affected by the fact that, as a special forces operator, he’s killed many men. But, he regards those actions as something that needed to be done, so that others could live the lives that he’s actively helped them live.
5. Are there any close friends/ family who have proven to be a pillar of support to you in your writing?
I have a sister-in-law who is my beta reader.
6. What are you currently working on?
I’m working on the first draft of “The Harvest.” It’s set in Iowa and the Middle East.
7. What has been your greatest challenge as an author thus far and how are you dealing/have dealt with it?
Actually setting about the task of writing a book. The plots are easy, actually. It’s creating the people and the actual events that are hard. I don’t want to get bogged down in too much technical esoterica, but I like the idea of complete plausibility, so I can get a little sidetracked by authenticity. At the same time, that authenticity is sometimes what is necessary to get the readers to suspend their disbelief.
Now, for me “authenticity” involves motivations and character traits, but it also involves things like geography. I’m a map geek, so Google Earth has been helpful in some regards. My wife and I actually drove through Montrose County before the book was even an idea, but the basic plot outline called out for a place like Naturita, Colorado.
8. How do you deal with criticism and how has it helped you as a writer?
Criticism’s easy. Not everyone is going to like your stuff. Some people love chili. Some hate it. Some folks debase their pizza with pineapple. Most don’t. Some folks’ll like what I write, and some won’t. Now, if a critic is finding fault with the actual quality of the writing, that’s good to know. That can help you hone your skills. But, if someone criticizes your books because they just don’t like them, they just don’t like your books. Maybe they put pineapple on their pizza, or drink their beer warm.
9. How has social media helped in promoting and marketing your books?
Not at all. I’m not a social media kind of person. I don’t do Twitter or Facebook. I’m trying to be a little more active on Goodreads, but social media’s not something I do. I might try and create a Facebook page in the next few months. Some people claim it’s key to selling books if you’re an indie author.
10. When writing your novel which aspect of the writing process do you find to be the most challenging?
Dialog. I struggle with dialog.
11. How do you measure success as a writer/ author?
I’d love to say sales, but I doubt I’ll ever sell in numbers to make a big financial impact on our life. For now, I measure it in “customer satisfaction.” All three of my books have generated great comments and reviews on Goodreads and the Amazon website, so that’s my basic goal for now. When people say they loved your book, that means it had some kind of impact on how they think or how they feel. I’d call that a success. I like to think that certain events that I’ve written; certain things that I’ve forced my characters to endure, have caused the readers to cheer them on as they turn the page, or to wipe away a tear at the pain my characters would certainly feel if they were real people.
12. What short term and/or long term goals have you set?
I’ve set a goal for “Buffalo.” I’d like to double the sales of “Montrose County.” Long term? I’ve created a handful of peripheral characters in each book. A couple of them might evolve into fully formed characters in a novel. That’s what’s happening already with “The Harvest.” We’ll see from there.
13. Do you have any upcoming book releases or events?
Not right now. I am going to try and schedule a book signing at my local public library.
14. What are your favourite book(s) and/or author(s)?
Oh boy. Stephen King, although I’m not the fan I used to be. Tom Clancy, Stephen Baldacci, Michael Connelly, Larry McMurtry, Joseph Wambaugh. I’ve enjoyed Harlan Coben and Jonathan Kellerman as of late, as well.
I have come to believe that “Lonesome Dove” is simply the greatest novel I’ve ever read.
15. What advice will you give to other Indie Authors or those who are thinking of writing and publishing?
Just write. Write it and publish it. Don’t be afraid to generate a list of every single literary agent you can find and email every one of them. There are lots of people writing books. Lots of them are crap. Lots aren’t. It may be entirely possible that your writing is crap. But…it may also happen that some agent out there loves exactly the kind of crap you’re writing, and has the ear of a publisher that does as well. If your sample hits the right in-box, then great. At the same time, there are a lot of really good writers out there, and agents who know good writing and what sells. You’ll never find that agent if you don’t try.
Plus, there’s Amazon, and Smashwords, and others. Don’t be afraid to write and get a cover made and upload it and see if someone loves it. You have nothing to lose by doing so. You miss 100% of the chances you don’t take.
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