I consider myself a writer and teller of adventure stories for younger audiences. In the following Q&A you will learn about the books and authors that inspired me. They did for me what I hope to do for you.
What are your 5 favorite books, and why?
My favorite books remain those I read while growing up. To be sure, I have read many fine books since those formative years, but the growing up ones have left the greatest lasting impressions and the most indelible marks. Here they are:
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
A young boy leaves home on a sailing ship full of pirates to find treasure on a remote island. This is the ultimate childhood fantasy. The characters are so memorable.
The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
A whole new world unlike any created before, or since. Unique characters abound, and they're dealing with dramatic and dangerous circumstances - elves, dwarfs, humans, hobbits – all working together to overcome them.
The entire collection of Louis L’Amour western novels, especially the Sackett Series
I am a huge fan of this man’s books. I have every one of them in my collection. His is an unparalleled story teller, like an old cowboy who’d seen it all, sitting around a campfire in the middle of the Wild West, reminiscing about his life.
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
From the title, it would seem easy to call this a Sci Fi book, but it is much more than that. Of course, when I was growing up there was a lot of UFO hysteria and folks were just starting to go into outer space, which was the coolest thing a kid could imagine back then. But what he did – something that was totally different – was inject personality and feelings into the inhabitants of Mars. They were regular people, normal families, with all of the issues and problems we deal with here on Earth. So when people from Earth start to colonize their planet, things really heated up – just like they would if Martians started to land here.
Dune, by Frank Hebert
I mean...sandworms! Holy smokes, that’s so cool. Like Tolkien, Hebert creates something completely new, only it’s a whole new universe. The possibilities are endless, and the reader knows it. That’s why you can’t put the book down. It’s epic. Talk about social clashes and struggles. It doesn’t take much to draw parallels between our own issues and the ones that come to a head on the planet Dune. Of course, as a young boy reading this for the first of many times, I didn’t exactly make those social parallels at the time, but I was sure hooked by all the cool characters: Bene Gesserits, the Navigators, Baron Harkonnen. Wow.
Who are your 5 favorite authors, and why?
My favorite authors are the ones who wrote my favorite books, of course. However, for the sake of variety, to mix things up, I will choose 5 others. You will note the lack of conventional literary sophistication reflected in my choices – both the ones below, and the ones in the favorite books section above. Well, maybe with the exception of Hemingway. Honorable mentions go to Shel Silverstein and Louis Sachar.
His writing is so strong. He, more than any other, assaulted all five of my senses - especially smell and feel – and he did it with so few words. I was in that room with the dying bull fighter, on that little boat with that old fisherman.
I read all of his books, at least the ones meant for children – some of them many times. My favorite was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but James and the Giant Peach was great too. It was really cool how he developed nasty adult characters to cause the young protagonists all kinds of problems. His character development of the absurd and weird Willy Wonka was a tour de force.
It’s all about imagination, again. Like C.S. Lewis and others from way back then, his writing style was very formal, but it didn’t keep 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea from making me yearn to be a young Captain Nemo – a nicer, saner one.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
The characters - Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Injun Joe and yes, even Becky Thatcher – were so cool to a young kid. Those adventures, with the kids on their own against the elements and the bad guys, were pure “I wish I was him” fantasy. Remember, there is a reason I’m an adventure writer and this guy’s writing is one of those reasons. I can’t wait to read his new autobiography.
I’ve always been a sucker for jungle adventures, and they don’t come much better than Jungle Book. That's why I also read most of Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan series. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Avery McShane’s adventures happen in the jungle too.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Treasure Island, hands down. A close second was Robert Louis Stevenson’s other classic, Kidnapped.
Who is your favorite hero in a book?
Paul Atreides, from Dune (also known as Paul Maud’Dib).
“Muad'Dib is wise in the ways of the desert. Muad'Dib creates his own water. Muad'Dib hides from the sun and travels in the cool night. Muad'Dib is fruitful and multiplies over the land. Muad'Dib we call 'instructor-of-boys.' That is a powerful base on which to build your life, Paul Muad'Dib, who is Usul among us.”
Need I say more?
Who is your favorite villain in a book?
Long John Silver, of course. He made Treasure Island click. Likable and murderous, at the same time - I liked him, then I didn’t, then I thought maybe he’d come around, and then he didn’t. I thought Saruman (from the Lord of the Rings) was heinous too. What a traitor to the cause of good.
If you could be a character from a book who would you be?
This is cheating, because the novelization came after the movies, but I would be Indiana Jones. I haven’t even read the books, but I know from the movies that he’s who I’d want to be. I know for a fact that if I had it to do all over again, I’d have been an archaeologist and I would have explored for things in remote places where adventures were bound to happen. Most of the protagonists in my books have qualities similar to Indiana Jones - the young version anyway.
If you could recommend just one book for everyone to read what would it be?
That is a tough one. If just one, for people of any age, I would have to go with The Lord of the Rings.
What book do you wish you had written?
That’s easy - The Martian Chronicles. If I had written it, I would be one of the most talented fiction writers of all time. Ray Bradbury could develop a character or scene with so few words. His economy was astounding. His imagination was unbounded.
Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer?
It was my wonderful, unusual life growing up as a Third Culture Kid in South America, and my ongoing desire to share how it was with others, especially young people.
What inspired you to write your latest book?
It was my second biggest influence in deciding to become a writer – namely, to do my little part to fight prejudice in the world. Of course, education is the best way to fight it. Everyone knows that, at least I hope they do. But I’m not talking just about the book reading kind of education – which is great – but the kind people get from real life experiences, especially those gained from traveling and living in other countries. I actually spend a lot of time blogging about this issue. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
What's the best thing you've ever written?
I love the Avery McShane series, but I think that Paleopeople is the best thing I’ve written, from a literary point of view. It is a different kettle of fish, and it took me two years to complete. We’ll soon see if the public agrees with my assessment.
When did you start writing?
About three years ago.
If someone wanted to be a writer what would be your number one tip for them?
It may sound trite, but write about what you know, what you feel. The passion must be there. If it is a struggle to write fiction, you’re writing the wrong thing. I can see where non-fiction – with all its research – can be a struggle, but with fiction there should be few constraints. It should flow.
Here’s how I write. I start with the idea. The idea isn’t even a plot yet. With Avery McShane, I had no idea where the story would end up, so I just started writing. I took my own experiences and adventures, and then, somewhere along the way, I started to embellish them. That’s when thing got cool and, usually, dangerous. Childhood friends morphed into characters, old places I visited became scenes. It was easy.
I look at writing the same way I look at oil painting, which I sometimes do. You start with a blank canvas. The first thing you do is prepare the canvas with white gesso, which is like a primer. The blank canvas is the idea I mentioned earlier. The gesso is the first pass with all of the words. For me this means practically vomiting out the whole story as fast as you can. The key is to be able to write “The End” at, well, the end – and as soon as possible. Now the gesso is on. The psychological value of having a finished product is crucial, at least to my fragile psyche. Now you get to go back and paint in all the colors. You can take your time – get it right. Maybe you don’t like something, just paint over it until it works. Your friends, peers and editors will help you get to where you want. Before you know it, “Ta-Da!” - you’re done.
Is there any particular routine involved in your writing process?
I am a morning person. I am in the office at 5 or so every morning. I drink a lot of coffee that I buy at the same place. I turn on the laptop, go to Safari, click on Pandora and start my Classic Jazz Station, which mostly plays my favorites from John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk. Then I bring up CNN International, read the headlines. Next, I go to Fox Sports and do the same thing – always spending most of my time in the soccer section. Done with that, I check my Hotmail. I always keep it clean of junk and delete what I don’t need. The rest I file in the proper folders. I’m almost religious about that. Then it’s on to Facebook for a few minutes. By 6 I’m ready to write. Of course, being ready to write and actually writing, are two completely different things.
If I have difficulty writing, I will pick up one of my favorite books - usually from the same genre I am writing – and read for a bit. This isn’t to get ideas so much as to “limber up”, like stretching before a soccer game. It works. By noon, or soon after, I’m done writing for the day – unless a really cool idea pops into my head. When that happens, it’s back to the office overlooking the marina. Which brings up another important point - I almost never write at home, though I have an office there too. The office at the marina is set up just like I like it. No distractions. I can’t say the same for the one at home.
Do you have any abandoned stories in you ‘bottom drawer’ that you would like to revisit?
Oh yeah, tons. I am amazed what I’ve started in the few short years since I started writing. The titles will always be changed by the publishers, but here are some of them as they stand now: The Pirates of Xingu, Paleopeople, Achilles Wept, The Thief of Shadow. I also scribble down poems every now and then, especially when I can't get going on any of manuscripts in the 'bottom drawer'. I'll leave you with a couple of the shorter ones.
What the grain of sand has seen,
Passing by upon the wind.
Is it God's evolving dream?
Or simply nature's whim?
Does the creator wonder,
How and when he came to be?
Does the creator wonder,
If he too came from the sea?