When did you first discover your love for writing? Is there any particular book that made you want to become a writer?
When I was a teenager, my brother-in-law forced me to read Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, and after that I went looking for fantasy titles. It would be impossible to describe all of the books that I fell in love with, but certainly some of the standouts would be works by Ursula K. Le Guin, Stephen R. Donaldson, Carlos Castenada, and Frank Herbert. Later I picked up on Orson Scott Card and a host of newer writers. So at 16 I caught the reading bug, and by the time that I was seventeen I literally had a hard time finding new works of fantasy and science fiction to read . . . so I began to make up my own. My first novel that I began to write was called A WIZARD IN HALF-LIGHT, and it was a story about a young man who goes to a school for wizards. . . .
What’s your favourite book?
A few months ago, I read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and absolutely loved it. One of my favorites in decades. I was also a huge fan of THE HUNGER GAMES, and of ENDER’S GAME.
What was your favourite book as a child?
As a child . . . probably my favorite book was SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON.
Where do you get your story ideas?
Oh, those are everywhere. Once you become used to looking for them, they crop up all the time. Sometimes they come just by hearing two words juxtaposed in an interesting way. For example, I once thought I heard a passerby say, “I just got a postcard from nirvana.” I suspect that she really said something else, but I wondered, “What would be on a postcard from nirvana?” and it led to an idea for a novel For me, I very often come up with titles that lead to a book. Of course, those are just working titles, and the real title changes.
I have to tell you, though, that sometimes I get ideas from indigestion. Literally, when I eat pepperoni, I don’t sleep well afterward and thus have weird dreams. When I wrote my first novel, ON MY WAY TO PARADISE, I was sick with a fever and kept having very strange dreams. One particular dream, after eating some pizza, really propelled me entirely into the novel. In this case, I dreamt that I was flying a hovercraft over an alien landscape when a giant preying-mantis-like alien sprung from some bushes and threw a perfectly round stone ball, the size of a bowling ball, at me. I dodged to the side enough so that it missed me, but it hit the poor clod behind me. That dream got me wondering “What’s my character doing on this alien planet? What’s going to happen there?” and that got me writing an entire novel.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
This is from Robert Heinlein: Apply butt to chair and write!
Seriously, no amount of training or single idea is of any worth until you sit down and begin to do it.
Where do you usually write?
Right here, in my office, sitting in my big leather recliner. I put my laptop on my pad and write.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
Yes, there are several reasons why you might feel blocked. Typically it occurs when that old lizard part of your brain believes that there really won’t be a reward for writing. So you have to remove that block. I have a son who is studying neuro-linguistic programming, and he can help you figure out how to get past writer’s block in that case.
But other times, writer’s block simply comes because you can’t see your way through the story. You haven’t plotted the tale out in enough detail.
And there are some other biological problems, like brain fog, that might keep you from writing. That brain fog might come from not getting enough vitamin D, or might come from inflammation of the lining of the brain due to allergies.
But the honest truth is that if you’re excited about writing a book and you plan it well enough, you typically won’t run into any blocks, and for people who’ve never had one, you’re tempted not to believe that they happen.
If there was one writer (alive or deceased) that you would love to meet, who would it be?
William Shakespeare, definitely, followed by the poet Robert Frost.
What’s your favourite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
I love fantasy, and that’s long been my favorite, but secretly I read thrillers for fun. I also read a lot of young adult and middle-grade novels.
What made you check out self-publishing?
Well, I’ve been publishing with major publishers since the 1980’s, but I recognize that there are some books that I’ve wanted to write that just didn’t fit with my publisher’s interests. So I’ve self-published a few. For instance, I wrote a historical religious novel a five years ago that did quite well, winning awards and selling very well. Then I began putting out some of my books on writing, and those have done remarkably well.
Are there any self-publishing tips that you’d like to share? What rules of craft or promotion do you live by?
I believe that your book should be the best that you can make it in the time that you’ve got. Quality always sells.
As far as promotion goes, I believe that you’ve got to have a package that promotes you at every turn. It should have a great title, and a great cover illo. You need to have powerful quotes from reviewers and from celebrities. You should try to win awards so that you can put them on the cover. Your back copy and interior copy should all reflect well on you. In short, everything that you write–including the first line of your story on through to the last line–is really an advertisement for your skill as a writer, so you should make good use of it.
After that, there are things that you can do, such as throwing blog tours or buying advertising space, that can help. But it starts with a powerful book.
Can you really make a decent living as a writer?
Absolutely. Now it is easier than ever. Between traditional publishing and self-publishing, there are whole new avenues to success, and I know many writers who pull down six- and seven-figure incomes. Sure, it’s hard to get started. You’ve got to be smart and self-motivated, but it’s a field that can be terribly rewarding.
Tolkien made me want to be a writer too. I couldn’t believe the amount of detail he put into his fictional world. I was just a kid, when I first read him, but I started making maps of fictional cities, and architectural plans for their most significant buildings. I wrote a 2000 year history, as part of the planning process for my first, never-to-be-published novel. In University, I studied history and literature, and developed a deep love of historical fiction. There are stories no one knows in history. I want to tell them.
Nice to see a mention of ENDER’S GAME. Great book! The advice from Robert Heinlein is perfect, and the best kind of advice there is for writers. Sit down and write. Something I should be doing right now actually!
Those are lovely covers you have. Both On My Way to Paradise and the Millionaires books are really striking.
Great post, I really identified with the indigestion fuelled side of things. I don’t often put them in books but what is known in our house as ‘cheese dreams’ often spark some idea or line of thought that will feature in a book. I also get the haven’t thought it through style blockages. Usually about a third into the way of every book I write, I have to wait for a few weeks while my subconscious works out what happens next. I try to work on several projects at once for that reason.
David! Awesome to see you here at KOBO!! …about time we saw your face on a fantastic publishing platform.
For anyone who would like kicking advice on writing, may I humbly suggest you check out David’s http://mystorydoctor.com/
Incredible tips and info.