Do you base your characters on real people?
Sure! To some degree or another. That includes characters that I’ve watched in movies or on TV, read about in books, seen in stage productions—experienced in some way that made them real to me. Frankly, that’s the only way I can explain some of the villains I’ve created.
Cats play an important role in the Needed Killing Series and in Song of Narne. Are your feline characters based on real cats you have owned?
First, no one “owns” a cat. The adage dogs have owners, cats have staff is correct.
I have been on staff for a number of cats in the forty-plus years my wife and I have been married. Some of the cats that have shared our living space have inspired physical descriptions of cats in my books and some have loaned their personalities to feline characters.
Now that you and your wife have moved to Florida, will your detective in NKS relocate to the Sunshine State?
There’s no doubt that Crawford will be moving to Florida sooner or later. Not to take anything away from Shelbyville, Alabama, but Florida is chock-full of things that need writing about. But before he leaves, there are Shelbyville stories that need telling as well.
You say that Hawk is “muse and model” for The Black in NKS. Is he also muse and model for the Narne series?
Model? No. Muse? I think so. He’s a little disappointed that there isn’t a character that’s clearly modeled after him, but he still gets in my lap and tries to help me write.
The first iteration of The Screaming Sword lay dormant for a couple of decades. What prompted you to pull out the manuscript and revise it?
While I didn’t do any writing on the manuscript during that time, I did transfer and convert the electronic files as I migrated to different computer operating systems and word processing programs. In retrospect, the only conceivable reason for having gone to all that trouble is that I was planning on resurrecting the novel at some point. I just wasn’t consciously aware of it.
After we’d published the first two books in the Needed Killing Series, a good friend asked if I could send in ebook format that old fantasy he’d read decades ago. I could. I did. And the rest, as they say, is history.
How old is Kenrad?
He was around ten years old when his mother was killed. The rest of the story begins seven years later so he is sixteen to seventeen years old. There are no driver’s licenses or age restrictions on alcohol consumption in Narne, so ages don’t matter that much.
Where do you get the made-up names in Song of Narne?
Some I make up; some come from my wife’s fertile imagination. Some are unusual names we notice in film credits, books, newspaper articles, etc. Some are anagrams. Some characters name themselves. Making up names isn’t an easy task for me so I’m happy for all the help I can get.
Can you give us examples of anagrammatic names in Song?
Aelenor (Eleanor), Dref (Fred), and Mosa (Amos).
Is it important to read the Needed Killing Series books in order?
No. Though there is character development as the series progresses, I have tried to ensure that a reader can start anywhere in the series and understand what’s happening with the plot and the people.
Is it important to read the Song of Narne books in order?
I think so. That said, if you like to read books in reverse order, have at.
Some of the villains in Song of Narne are truly despicable. Is it hard to write about such characters?
Frighteningly enough, I haven’t had any problem coming up with vile characters or writing about them. I’m not sure what that says about me and my subconscious. I console myself with the fact that I have read a lot of books that included appalling villains in their cast of characters. Maybe that’s where mine are coming from.
What tools do you use to write your books? Yellow legal pad and pen? MS Word?
I’ll make notes of ideas, phrases, themes, whatever on any piece of paper that’s handy. To actually write I use Scrivener, a software program designed for creative writing. It’s an incredibly powerful program and I’m probably not using a tenth of its features. The ones I am using I would not want to give up. In my opinion, Word is no better a creative writing tool than a pencil.
When I say that Scrivener is designed for creative writing, I do not mean that it proposes plot twists, suggests character motivation, or offers alternate story endings. I mean it provides ways and means for organizing and accessing the elements that make up a story. It allows the author to concentrate on the creative aspects of storywriting rather than the administrative aspects.
What is the most difficult thing about being a writer?
Discipline. Forcing myself to sit down and write.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Looking back at something I’ve written and being impressed.
Your wife was a professional editor before she retired. Does she edit your books?
Of course! Do I look stupid? (Don’t answer that.) She is instrumental in my writing. I don’t know if I could write without her. And if I tried, it wouldn’t be as good.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Where do I get them? Some just pop up into my consciousness all by themselves. Others get dredged into the light of day when I’m trying to figure out how to get a character into or out of trouble. Others come out of brainstorming sessions I have with my wife. And still others are hers entirely.
Do you think technology has inhibited creativity or had an otherwise negative effect on the creative process?
Personally, I find technology enabling. Creative writing software (e.g., Scrivener, Storyist) makes writing and publishing a novel easier than it was with pen and ink. On the other hand, I can see how a blank screen could be more intimidating than an empty piece of paper—all that computer power just waiting for you to type something.
Do you work on the fantasy series and the mysteries simultaneously?
I’ve done a little of that—planning what’s going to happen in the next murder mystery while clearing up the details in my fantasy. I think the processes complement each other—skills developed in one carry over to the other. For instance, how I handle clues in the mysteries makes it easier for me to keep some secrets in the fantasy—things that will make more sense to the reader later on in the series.
How difficult is it to write in different genres at the same time?
It’s too early for me to tell. Not only have I changed genres, I’ve changed software programs too! So I’ve had to move the mysteries into Scrivener while trying to write Song of Narne with it. Once everything is in the same program it will be easier to switch between the series and I’ll have a better handle on how it actually works.
Do you know everything that’s going to occur in a book or a series before you start?
Absolutely not. I have a general idea where we’re going, what’s going to happen, and when–but the final result is dependent on my characters. Sometimes they refuse to do what I’d planned; sometimes they do things that I’d never considered their doing; sometimes minor characters take on greater significance or new ones appear uninvited. I have a general storyline in mind and know what I think is going to happen but I don’t always get my way.
How many books are going to be in the two series?
As many as our imaginations can come up with.
Do you have a fixed writing routine?
I generally write every evening from five to seven. Since I retired, it’s not the most convenient time to be writing but it’s a carryover from the days when I would come home from work and write before supper. I also try to write at other times during the day, so that two-hour window is the minimum.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
One, stop aspiring and start writing. Two, write down any and all ideas that pop into your head right away. Do not assume you’ll remember an idea, no matter how brilliant it is.
Here are a few more tried-and-true suggestions: Read, read, read. Write about what you know. Use spellcheck (if you have made-up words, add them to the dictionary). Most important, write. Don’t wait for inspiration or the right moment or an encouraging word from your muse. Sit yourself down and write, whether on paper or computer. Write.