Pennwriters is the statewide writers’ association in Pennsylvania. I’ll be presenting three sessions at their annual writers’ conference later this month. As part of their promotion for the conference, they conduct a Q&A with their presenters. Here is the one that I did.
- What do you think is special about the genre you write in?
I write in a variety of genres, although most frequently, in non-fiction history. The thing that I find most interesting about this genre is that the stories I tell are true, and if I find the right one, they are just as interesting as fiction.
- What do you find to be the most difficult part of writing? Did you ever encounter a serious roadblock and how did you overcome it?
The most difficult part of writing is dealing with mean-spirited criticism. I’ve been a professional writer since 1988. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin, but that kind of criticism still bothers me for days.
As for serious roadblock, I busted through one earlier this year. I had a novel idea that I had been working at on and off for years, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I had outlined the book, written a few chapters, and even done research. Something was missing that I couldn’t put my finger on. I kept starting and getting nowhere. In January, I decided to make one change with my main character, and that broke the logjam. I had ideas pouring out of my imagination. One book has now become three, and I am using almost nothing from my earlier efforts.
This particular book is also coming together in a very disjointed way. I am writing scenes from all over the book rather than the typical beginning-to-end process. This has probably kept me from getting stuck on the project again.
- What’s individual or unique about your writing space? Do you have a memento or good luck charm on your desk?
My office is my space and filled with things that make me comfortable. On my walls, I have old movie posters, a triceratops head, historical photos, historical newspapers, family pictures, and even a piece of comic-book art. One my shelves (which cover two walls), I have books – lots of books, of course – but I also have fossils, interesting rocks, robots made from scrap metal, Lego creations my son made, and the California Raisins. If I’m really stressed, I have a tank of fake jellyfish that look real. I turn that on and watch them swim around to destress.
- What has been the most satisfying or significant project of your literary career?
It’s a tie between two projects. The first would be a biography I wrote about a WWII veteran I met. This man has a fascinating life story. I tell people he has led a “Forrest Gump life” where he has participated in historical events or met famous people almost accidentally.
The other project is a book a couple years back called The Last to Fall. It’s a true story about a virtually unknown 1922 event in Gettysburg that helped saved the Marine Corps. When the book was released, the local chapter of the Marine Corps League started an effort to put up a waymarker near the site where a plane crashed during the event killing two Marines. This Memorial Day weekend, that waymarker will be dedicated with hundreds of Marines attending the ceremony. It’s very satisfying to see the two Marines who died in the crash finally get remembers.
- What is your favorite tip or advice for writers?
Don’t sit around waiting to hear back about an article or book you sent out. Get started on the next project. Keep writing.
- If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?
A motorboat, gasoline, and a satellite phone. That way, I wouldn’t be stranded for long.
- If you had a time machine, where and when would you be right now?
That’s a hard one. Doctor Who has been around for 50 years exploring that topic, although he winds up in London more often than not. I think the first stop I would make would be to Nazareth to meet Jesus Christ. Then, I think I’d like to visit the Old West. Finally, I’d visit the Jurassic period because I’d love to see real dinosaurs.