Welcome to my blog, George. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
Well, in the most important sense I write all of me into my characters. By that I mean that I invest emotion and passion and pain and sorrow and fear and faith that I know very well. I believe this is what makes any fiction believable, and (when it’s done well) more true than non-fiction. In the less important sense, which would be investing personal characteristics into individual characters, I do that much less frequently than I did when I started out. I think it's a good way to learn the art, to learn how to write with vulnerability, but it is ultimately very limiting. Not to mention that it tends toward the narcissistic.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
The quirkiest thing I ever did with my writing was probably in the Trophy Chase Trilogy, where I entered the mind of my sea monster, the Firefish, and told those scenes from its perspective. That worked very well, I believe, because many people have told me that the Firefish is their favorite character.
Sounds interesting. When did you first discover you were a writer?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write, going all the way back to a story I wrote and illustrated in first or second grade. But that just means I knew I could write. I suppose I knew I was a writer when I won first prize for the fourth consecutive time in my college’s literary magazine. It was a blind competition, meaning submissions were judged without names attached. The staff was getting very tired of my poems winning every semester, and I knew it. So the fourth time out, I submitted a short story instead, my first since an English class assignment in high school. And I won again. At that point I knew not only that I could write, but that I should. And that I wanted to.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I read historical chronicles almost exclusively. I love David McCollough and Stephen Ambrose. There are a whole lot of really good historical narratives out there right now, and I revel in them. I think it’s the attractiveness of the narrative, which pulls together the realistic grit and ambiguity and the odd details that I’d never have imagined. It pulls me into those time periods, the way people thought, the motives and travails of ordinary people in extraordinary times. I think it’s helped me write with a better feel for the time and place of my books (though Nearing Vast is entirely fictional).
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
Outside of the four books that take place in Nearing Vast (Blaggard’s Moon and the Trophy Chase Trilogy), I’ve written right around a dozen unpublished books. Two I would classify as devotional, the rest are novels. There is only one other that has a fantastic or fantasy bent, and it takes place in current times. The rest are adventures, typically fish-out-of-water stories. I consider them practice. They won’t see the light of day, unless I rewrite them from the ground up--an exercise that would take as long as writing a new one from scratch. Which why they likely won’t see the light of day. The devotional ones? Maybe. Someday.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I don’t. It is kept for me, to the extend possible, by my family and the God I serve (however imperfectly).
How do you choose your characters’ names?
I don’t know. They come to me. It’s mostly feel. Sometimes they just roll out and I never look back. Smith Delaney, Conch Imbry, Packer Throme, and Panna Seline all fall into that category. They felt right, and said the right things to me. Then others I work on. I have changed a few characters names in the late stages of editing (I am very thankful for “Search and Replace”!) But a good name, for me, sounds like you’ve heard it before, or conjures up connotations that you can’t quite figure out consciously. Some of them you can puzzle out if you try. Stave Deroy, the beefy Royal Dragoon who helps Panna and then befriends Packer Throme in books two and three of the trilogy, is a name that essentially means “protect the king,” if you think about it. Well, alternatively, it could mean “keep the king away.” Both have application. But typically no one studies these things hard enough to unlock them. They just feel right. Some are easy, like Talon. Others not so much; they were just suggestive sounds I enjoyed saying. Like the Drammune commander Fen Abakka Mux, whose name I actually walked around the house repeating, I liked the sound of it so much.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I suppose it’s winning the Emmy, which I did for writing a documentary in 1986. It was a good program, and while the production values haven’t held up, the story and its themes have. It chronicled the way black American athletes paved the way for civil rights by gaining fame and glory on the athletic field. It was one of the only paths actually open to African Americans to achieve, going back all the way to the slave ships. But it was a hard road to glory.
What was it called?
“A Hard Road to Glory.” I worked with Arthur Ashe, who co-wrote, and since I was the producer I also got to work with Lou Rawls and James Earl Jones, who narrated. I met and interviewed Muhammed Ali, Howard Cosell, and many others.
Quite a distinguished group of men. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A dog. A family dog that sleeps a lot. Not very intimidating, unless there’s some serious threat to house and home, then it could be roused to ferocious, even vicious confrontation. But one that far prefers a nap by the fireplace.
What is your favorite food?
Barbecue. I mean really good, southern barbecue. Texas brisket, St. Louis ribs. I could go on and on.
Yum! What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
I think it was learning to give my manuscripts the last 10%. The final polish, the turn of phrase, the memorable image, that last little bit that makes it magic, that makes it sing. Often it’s leaving the obvious unstated. I think pretty much anyone can write a story without that. I wrote way too many of them, and quit on them too soon. The first time I really polished one, I got it published.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Don’t be an author, be a writer. Learn to write really well, and don’t try to get something published until it’s among the best things you’ve ever read, much less written. If your highest goal isn’t to write magical, earth-shattering, soul-moving fiction, get out. Too many people want to be authors, because they like to imagine that as their identity. And too many authors aren’t writers, they’re published because publishers need fodder for their markets. Forget all that. Book signings are actually exercises in humility. Few have ever heard of you, and you end up feeling like a peddler pushing your own concoction of medicine water. If you’re a writer, and a good one, and your stuff is worth reading, God knows. If He wants it published, someone will find your manuscript in a trash can and hunt you down. If He doesn’t want you published, no amount of grim determination on your part will get you out there. Just write. And pray.
Tell us about the featured book?
Blaggard’s Moon is about confronting evil. The primary evil is in the form of piracy, which is rather more of a current topic than I had planned, given the news recently. The primary confronter of this evil is a young marine named Damrick Fellows, whose solution, when the government won’t act, is the obvious solution that occurs naturally to good, strong men everywhere. He takes up arms and fights them himself. And he does it with great success. But apparently simple choices often have unexpected consequences, and complications ensue when Damrick discovers that the love of his life, the beautiful Jenta Stillmithers, has become a fixture on the arm of a the most notorious, richest, and most powerful pirate of them all, Carnsford Bloodstone “Conch” Imbry.
Uniquely, I think, especially for Christian literature, the story is told primarily from the point of view of the pirates. The tale of Damrick and Jenta is recalled through the memories of Smith Delaney, an uncomplicated pirate left to die for the crime of showing mercy. It is through his vivid recall of the tale, as it was told after hours beneath the decks of his pirate ship, that the great battle between good men and the pirates of the world plays out. That story gets intertwined with his own, and its resolution will have a strong influence on the outcome of Delaney’s rather serious predicament.
Please give us the first page of the book.
“On a Post. In a pond.”
Delaney said the words aloud, not because anyone could hear him but because the words needed saying. He wished his small declaration could create a bit of sympathy from a crewmate, or a native, or even one of the cutthroats who had left him here. But he was alone.
It wasn’t the post to which he’d been abandoned that troubled him, though it was troubling enough. The post was worn and unsteady, about eight inches across at the top where his behind was perched, and it jutted eight feet or so up from the still water below him. His shins hugged its
pocked and ragged sides; his feet were knotted at the ankles behind him for balance. Delaney was a sailor, and this was not much different than dock posts in port where he’d sat many times to take his lunch. He was young enough not to be troubled with a little pain in the backside, old
enough to have felt his share of it. No, the post wasn’t the problem.
The pond from which the post jutted was not terribly troublesome either. It was a lagoon, really, less than a hundred yards across, no more than fifty yards to shore in any direction. He could swim that distance easily. He peered down through the water, past its smooth, still surface, and eyed the silver-green flash of scales, lit bright by the noonday sun.
The piranha, now, they were somewhat vexing.
“Nasty little fishies,” he said aloud. They were a particularly grumpy strain of the meat-eating little monsters. They were so grumpy that he wasn’t even sure they were piranha. Each one was about the size of a blue-gill, not much bigger than Delaney’s hand, and each boasted an impressive set of teeth. But where piranha were flat side to side, these were flat top to bottom. And while piranha had small mouths and a few sharp teeth, these had wide mouths, all the way around their heads, and their teeth were triangular and interlocked, like little bear traps. They could use them, too, as he’d just witnessed. That had been a gruesome show, put on by the pirate captain just moments ago. Now the irritable little critters were swimming around his post like angry bees. Wanting more.
But even the piranha were not the worst of his troubles.
Intriguing. How can readers find you on the Internet?
They can visit http://www.nearingvast.com/
Thank you, George, for spending this time with us.
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