Wednesday, November 03, 2010
I try not to put too much of myself into any of my characters. However, I am notorious for stealing character traits, quirks, stories and other assorted odds and ends from family members, friends and colleagues. I file conversations, thoughts, mannerisms and anything else that can conceivably remain in my long-term memory about people I know and meet. I give everyone fair warning – if you spend any time at all hanging out with me, you just may become part of my next novel in some fashion...
I know what you mean. I even have a T-shirt that says, Careful or you'll end up in my novel. It gets lots of chuckles. What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
OK, so I was a national journalist in the Washington, DC, bureau of Knight-Ridder Newspapers (later sold to McClatchy). My wife was five months pregnant with our first child, and I had this sinking feeling that I’d never have the chance to do anything crazy again once I’d become a father. I had four weeks of vacation saved up. So I bought a touring bicycle and set off across the United States without training beforehand. I nearly blew out both knees in the process, but still managed to make it from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific with three days to spare. During that trip, I decided to change careers, and approached a junior U.S. senator from Indiana for a job when I returned because I thought I could help him become a presidential contender. I became then-Sen. Dan Quayle’s press secretary several months later, and his communications director at the White House when he became the Vice President. And, yes, my wife forgave me long ago. I did call her each night from the road.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
Becoming a writer is a process – a very painful one initially. You don’t really discover that you’re a writer until you’ve actually become one. I wrote my first novel soon after I’d taken my first job as a reporter for a newspaper in South Carolina. I was quite diligent about it. I wrote a few pages every evening on an electric typewriter. I just had the one copy. When I’d finished, I showed it to my wife and a couple of friends. They made some suggestions. I then proceeded to re-write the novel based on their comments – again, on the electric typewriter. When I’d finished the second draft, I re-read it. The novel was truly horrible, and made almost no sense whatsoever. I’ve never shown it to anyone. It now sits, unread and unloved, in a trunk in our basement. My second novel was infinitely better, and later published. That second novel is one of the best I’ve ever written, and I’m still proud of it after all these years. But I could not have written that second novel and been published without that truly awful, agonizing, poorly written first novel that never saw the light of day.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I enjoy fiction with a great character-driven story, and non-fiction about science, politics, history and world events. I recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s BLINK (it took me awhile to get around to it) and THE ALCHEMIST. I’m currently reading BONHOEFFER by Eric Metaxes, SHACKLED WARRIOR by the Jerusalem Post’s deputy managing editor, Caroline Glick, FOOD RULES by Michael Pollan, and A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING by Bill Bryson.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
No one has ever accused me of being sane. In fact, most people ask me when I sleep. I always have several writing projects under way. Right now, for instance, I’m still “fine-tuning” the first novel in a Christian fantasy trilogy that I’ve been working on for years (and which I refuse to give to my agent). It’s my attempt to write definitively (in a fantasy setting) about the historic conflict between magic and religion on earth. I have three YA novels finished and in various stages of re-drafting (which I also refuse to give to my agent). I’m currently in the middle of the second book in the Principalities and Powers series – OIL – that I’ve promised to finish by year’s end. And, then, of course, I have my day job….
How do you choose your characters’ names?
I choose them after quite a bit of research. I believe that names are important, so I do research on each name to make sure that they reflect the character’s history, ethnicity, heritage and traits. People remember character names. Two of my favorites in the novel PEACE – Kim Grace and You Moon – are names that readers have told me they remember long after they’ve finished the novel.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I am most proud of being a father to Josh, Elizabeth and Daniel Nesbit. They are card-carrying members of the “relentless, positive storm” family, and huge forces for good in the world even now as they are becoming adults. Josh, for instance, started his own global public health non-profit while he was still just an undergraduate at Stanford, and had already coordinated an emergency text-message effort in Haiti after the earthquake that eventually processed 100,000 emergency messages for the International Red Cross before he’d turned 24. Elizabeth, currently interviewing for medical schools in the U.S. while she finishes her undergraduate studies at Rice, developed a method for engineering a medical “lab in a backpack” that is being tested by physicians and health-care providers in more than a dozen countries in Africa and elsewhere and for which she was named one of the Clinton Global Initiative’s students-of- the-year for a global health project. Daniel, in his first year at Carnegie Mellon, isn’t far behind. He helped organize Loudoun County (the fastest growing county in the United States) for now-President Obama while he was just 17, and is about to launch a new mobile phone text-message alert system for mothers in Malawi, Africa, next month. In his spare time, he also created a highly unique fundraising concept for Kiva and micro-finance sites on Facebook that revolves around school-based communities of interest.
That’s actually a tough one. But, if I had to choose, I would be a Peregrine Falcon. Besides the fact that it is, hands down, one of the most majestic animals on the planet, it is also the animal that inspired me to become a writer. MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN had a profound effect on me when I read the YA novel as a teenager. The falcon, I would argue, is the most important “character” in that novel. It is certainly what inspired me. I still imagine what it would be like to be a tethered falcon serving a master, and occasionally soar high in search of prey.
What is your favorite food?
Well, it used to be French fries from McDonald’s! But I haven’t been able to afford a luxury like fries for many, many years now. So, now, I’m quite content with a nice Indian dish with curry sauce, Thai food with extraordinarily hot spices, or authentic Tex-Mex that’s still smoking as it arrives at your table.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
The greatest single roadblock is fear. Every writer experiences it. You’re sitting at your desk, trying to write, and this uncontrollable, wildly irrational and totally unreasonable panic sweeps through you that what you’re attempting to write makes no sense at all and will be ridiculed when it sees the light of day. So you don’t write. You just stare at the blank computer screen. I have discovered, though long practice, that there is only one way to overcome this. You write – no matter what. You put one word after another, even if you are quite convinced at the time that the words make no sense. Later, you go back and re-write (or erase). But, in the beginning, you must create something, anything, no matter what the demons are telling you off to the side. There is no other way to get past that blank computer screen. You just write.
Tell us about the featured book.
When I first began the research for PEACE – which is a fictional account of what might happen the day after Israel decides attack Iran’s nuclear facilities – I wasn’t entirely sure the novel would make any sense. But as I got into the research about the underlying military, economic and religious conflicts surrounding Israel, PEACE almost began to write itself. Now, as the book is hitting the marketplace, it amazes me that some of the things that I wrote about in the novel – like the youngest son of North Korea’s Dear Leader rising to power, the discovery of a secret uranium enrichment facility in Iran or the decision by Iran’s theocracy to attack opposition leaders there – have already begun to happen.
Please give us the first page of the book.
Sure. Here it is:
The car horn startled Majid Sanjani. Lost in thought as he walked to his next class at Tehran University, he didn’t realize he’d drifted toward the center of the crowded street. Glancing over one shoulder, he stepped to the curb quickly and felt the hot engine exhaust as a black Mercedes sped past.
Majid peered inside the car briefly and saw five people—two in the front and three in the back. He was sure the person in the middle of the back seat, pinned between two large men, was his psych professor, his friend.
Without thinking, Majid pulled his cell phone from his pocket, held it up, and captured the speeding black car on video. He had the odd feeling that it might be the last time he would see his friend.
The two of them had talked for months—in private, away from prying eyes and curious ears—about the current government in Iran.
They shared a common goal and philosophy, one that neither of them discussed much in public. They often drank coffee together until the early morning hours, just talking about the opposition movement and its leaders.
In his own way, Majid’s psych professor was one of those leaders. He occasionally spoke in public forums about the government he considered illegitimate. He knew that placed him at great risk, but it was a risk he said he was willing to take.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
They can find me several ways. First, is the website for the series:
I’m also on Twitter:
You can reach me through the publisher, Summerside Press:
My agent is Don Jacobson, who has a great new blog called Book Talk!
And, last but certainly not least, there is the talented, creative and hard-working publicist we all know and love, Jeane Wynn!
Yes, I wrote a Summerside book, and Jeane is my publicist on that.
Thank you, Jeff, for the interesting interview.
Readers, Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book. New information: Please tell us where you live, at least the state or territory. I’m trying to get a good idea of where the people live who leave comments on my blog. (Comments containing links may be subject to removal by blog owner.)
Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.
The only notification you’ll receive is the winner post on this blog. So be sure to check back a week from Saturday to see if you won. You will have 6 weeks from the posting of the winners to claim your book.
If you’re reading this on Feedblitz, Facebook, or Amazon, please come to the blog to leave your comment. Here’s a link.