This afternoon, I was interviewed in a podcast by Alison Nissen, president of the Florida Writers Association. She sent me a few questions in advance that she was thinking about asking, but ended up throwing a few curveballs, too. Questions I wasn’t expecting. It was a lot of fun. She’s a great interviewer. I don’t remember all of the questions, and I don’t have the podcast recording yet. But she said it would be on the FWA website soon. I’ll post it here when I get it. You can click on the FWA logo above and it’ll take you to the podcast page on their website.
1. What was the first piece you ever published?
In 1993 my wife and I spent three weeks in Budapest, Hungary. We had to take the subway a couple of times. When we got back to the States, I wrote a short article about the Budapest subway and sent it to a magazine, and they published it.
2. Who is your target audience?
Depends on what I’m writing. I freelance for a couple military magazines and several parenting magazines, plus a few religious publications. A common theme in all my nonfiction writing is personal relationships and how we treat people, whether in marriage, the family, a business, or the military. My first book came out in February of this year, and the target audience was married couples and those who help couples.
3. What advice would you give writers to help develop stronger characters?
Make them interesting. Make them strong and weak at the same time. Give them some positive traits, but one or two flaws. Make them complex, because nobody is all good, and nobody is all bad.
4. What’s on your refrigerator?
Magnets, Pictures, Things made by grandkids, Shakespeare quotes about love, Beagle, Route 66 stuff, Inspirational sayings & quotations, Prague, Plumber, dog kennel, A/C repairman, Pictures of family, car and motorcycle made of beads, Half-Marathon 13.1 magnet, the university where my wife works
5. What’s your favorite food?
6. Tell me about your pet?
We have a Beagle named Sophie. Great dog. We’re not hunters, but she is! Lizards, frogs, rats, rabbits, squirrels, one armadillo, and scared away a coyote. She doesn’t understand turtles, though.
7. What genre do you like to read?
Mostly nonfiction: biographies, relationships, histories, business and leadership, religion, racism, and psychology. When I read fiction, it’s usually something that reads like true stories. I like John Grisham and Charles Dickens. Two of my favorite stories are Dumas’s the Count of Monte Cristo and Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
8. How does this impact what you write?
I tend to write nonfiction about people’s lives and relationships, their pursuit of happiness and meaning, either through personal fulfillment in a relationship or their faith or their career.
9. You’ve dabbled in writing much of your life. What made you want to write full-time?
I’ve been a public speaker most of my adult life, which often included a lot of writing. I started writing freelance articles on the side, and experienced some success. So, when I was about to get out of the Army, I started thinking about writing full-time, but I didn’t want my nonfiction writing to be boring. I wanted it to be fresh; I wanted it to have some life. So, I started reading about the techniques fiction writers use to make their stuff grab the reader’s attention, and I thought, “Hey, I can use some of those same techniques when writing nonfiction.” So that’s what I’m doing, and I love it.
10. If you were to write fiction, what would it be about?
I’ve made up stories my whole life. My sister and I used to write plays when we were kids. When my sons were little, I would tell them stories. In fact, one son and I met last month, and we’re planning a series of novels for school-aged children based on some of the stories I told him when he was in the first grade. I also have four adult novels outlined. But I have to finish four or five nonfiction projects that are at the top of the list, and then I’ll focus on the fiction. I’m thinking of making every November my fiction-writing month, and the rest of the year my non-fiction. What do you think?
11. What about poetry?
I like poetry. I love rhyme and cadence and meaning. I’ve published one poem, and participated in several poetry reading events. I used to write poems for special occasions and family events. But being a consistently good poet is hard work. So, I tend to do it just for fun or special events, and occasionally something really good comes.
12. Ok . . . so what is your favorite movie?
Well the top three in order are, the 2002 Count of Monte Cristo, the musical Les Miserable, and Shawshank Redemption. And recently, I have to put the Greatest Showman on that list.
13. How has your writing changed over the past five or ten years?
My nonfiction writing used to be all information, but no style. It was artless. Good content, but the nonfiction wasn’t creative. So, I read 27 books on craft during the last five years I was in the Army. Then I decided to do the MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Tampa. After that, I joined two local writing groups, and started attending writing conferences. The result is that my writing is deeper. It has style and aesthetics that I simply didn’t know about before. And though I definitely have a lot of room for further improvement, the quality is more consistent now, whereas it used to be sometimes good, sometimes so-so, and sometimes pretty bad.
14. What are you working on right now?
In February I finished a book on marriage. Now I’m writing a book about my military experience in Iraq back in 2007, the people I interacted with, and some of the things we faced together. My plan is to have it completed by May 1.
15. How do you help others develop their writing?
This is an interesting development that I never expected when I started trying to improve my own writing. After completing the MFA at the University of Tampa, I was visiting my wife at Southeastern University, where she teaches, and her boss asked if I would help start a Creative Writing degree program at the university. So, I did, and it was a lot of fun. One of the projects we implemented was an annual writers conference, and people who attended started asking me to speak at their organizations, teaching on effective writing, either for business, or fiction, or whatever. Now, I have people asking for help with their writing on a personal basis. Right now, I’m editing and encouraging three or four authors with their projects, still speaking at writers conferences occasionally, and still doing the conference for the university.