Monday, August 16, 2010



How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

My friend Roger Hileman (and later co-author on Hammon Falls) wrote a screenplay called Rainbow several years ago. I thought the story was interesting, but then went on to my own projects. A few years later when I read Louise Erdrich’s The Master Butchers Singing Club, I was reminded of Roger’s screenplay and realized what a cool novel it would make. So I contacted him and asked if I could write a novelized version of it. He responded with an enthusiastic yes, but asked if we could collaborate. So we did.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I’m a professional member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), and that’s the field in which I’ve published the majority of my short stories. However, I find myself moving away from speculative fiction and rarely write it anymore. My first love is literary and historical fiction, although mysteries are a guilty pleasure (which I don’t actually feel guilty about ).

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc.come from?

Being born. Seriously, I’ve always loved books—so much so that not only have I worked in a university library for the past 32 years, but I collect antiquarian books in my spare time. (I’m trying to get at least one book from every year since the beginning of printing. At one point I had every year since 1577, and a number of nonconsecutive years older than that, including my pride and joy, a Latin book on oratory printed in 1474. Hard times forced me to sell the best part of my collection, but I still have every year since 1690, plus a few older.)

How long have you been writing?

The dinosaurs have died out since I started writing.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?

I’m primarily a short story writer, although I have greatly enjoyed writing our novel Hammon Falls. I also write music, but other than the occasional wedding song for friends, most of my compositions have been for my own amusement.

What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?

It’s how we learn to know ourselves, “ourselves” being the entire community of humanity.

How does your book relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?

I’m a spiritual person only in an intellectual sense. I’m fascinated by the study of all religions, philosophies, psychologies, and spiritual pursuits, but as for personal beliefs, I just haven’t found anything that seems even remotely plausible. But sometimes the search itself provides the meaning.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

Well, just first to finish the damn thing. I have a bad habit of starting novels but then losing interest. So simply putting that final period to Hammon Falls was a victory in itself. Finding a great publisher for it was a nice bonus. The most important goal, though, was to pay homage to Roger’s ancestors, whose lives inspired the characters and storylines in our novel.

Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?

Roger was the primary research guy on this. However, I used the names of my friends and student employees at the library for some of the minor characters. That was great fun for me and for them (and hey, they got a free, signed copy of the book out of the deal).

What are some of the references that you used while researching this book?

See previous answer—although working in a university library as I do, I did make many forays into our Archives for information about local history.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

Free-form preciseness, I hope, or perhaps controlled anarchy. I write without an outline, having in mind only a beginning, ending, and theme when I start to write. In the first draft I let the characters indulge themselves and take over the writing for me (and I’m sure my fellow writers can relate to this), but then I go back and rein them in, making sure everything is consistent, from plot to setting to the actual prose itself, and every little detail in between. In other words, once my characters have had their fun, I put their lives into literary order. And I’m an obsessive reviser. Nothing is ever, ever, ever, good enough. (Ask Deb—she was very patient with me even as I made changes even after ATTMP accepted Hammon Falls.)

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

The time it took—over a year, plus another year and a half of revising. But, unlike my short stories, where writer’s block is too frequently an unwelcome visitor, I never once bogged down with Hammon Falls.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Everything, especially working with Roger and learning his family history. I also came to know and like (most of) the characters, as if they were real people. Roger’s creation Aubrey is the kind of person I would love to know in real life, and my own character Lewis is quite appealing, too.

Are there vocabulary words or concepts in your book that may be new to readers? Define some of those.

Not really. Hammon Falls has a somewhat unusual structure, in that it doesn’t unfold in a linear, chronological way, but so far no one has had any trouble following it.

Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.

One of the characters in the book is a middle-aged African American gentleman in 1912 Iowa (the character Lewis, mentioned two answers ago). He’s a secondary character, but he steals the show whenever he’s “on stage.”

Are there misconceptions that people have about your book? If so, explain.

That it’s self-published. Man, I hate that! I don’t begrudge any writer who wants to go that route, but I will not pay to publish my work. Not ever.

What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that isn't so?

Well, not subject or genre so much as setting. Go to either coast and say the word “Iowa.” Note what kind of amusing (read that: infuriating) stereotypes they give you.

What is the most important thing that people DON'T know about your subject/genre, that they need to know?

My job is to tell a story. People can think/believe/know anything they want. I’m more interested in moving them emotionally than intellectually. In other words, I don’t want to try to make them know anything. I want make them feel. There are no difficult concepts in Hammon Falls, but if we teach readers anything, we hope it’s knowledge gained through an accumulation of small emotional scenes.

What inspires you?

I never know until it happens, but anything is fair game. I’ve even written two short stories solely around short Latin phrases I thought were cool. BTW, one of these, “By This Sign”—original title “Ad Te Omnis Caro Veniet” (unto thee all flesh shall come)—will be published in the upcoming ATTM anthology. The other, “Ne Cadant In Obscurum” (lest they fall into darkness) will be out anytime now in the British anthology PostScripts 22/23: The Company He Keeps.

How did you get to be where you are in your life today?

Serendipity and survival.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

Oddly enough, it was two authors I can barely stand to read anymore. Like most young writers, I tried to emulate the big name authors. Hence, in my fantasy phase, one might have noticed a (badly done) Tolkienesque flavor to my writing, especially the dialogue. I also liked Vonnegut’s “bounce around” style in novels like Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five. As I matured, I tried to move away from stylistic imitation to perceptual imitation. Now, if I could just once, in some tiny way, capture just a fraction of Shakespeare’s insights into human nature, I would be ecstatic. So, after all these centuries, it’s back to the master for me. I haven’t come close yet (who has?), but it’s a worthy goal, eh? (Of course, I wouldn’t mind having J.K. Rowling’s bank account, either!)

What did you find most useful in learning to write?

Writing workshops.

What was least useful or most destructive?

Writing workshops.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?

Both. I write fiction part-time, but my real-life job involves writing training manuals and policies, etc. (And for this fiction writer, that’s like dying and going to hell!)

What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

I’ve been a clerk in both grocery and convenience stores, a security guard—from which I got exactly one short story—and, several times, a fiction editor for various small magazines. Throughout it all, I’ve worked in the University of Northern Iowa Library, where my title is Library Associate. (And no, I’m not a librarian. Contrary to popular perception, not everyone who works in a library is a librarian. In fact, in academic libraries like mine, it’s fair to say that most are not.)

For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book, where should they start?

The old-school guy inside me would say, naturally, the library. But the Internet works, as long as the sources are reputable. There are also the county hall of records, museums, diaries and, perhaps best of all, conversations with older people who lived during that era. Those memories are priceless, and deserve to be preserved!

How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

Ebooks are the way or the future, but as an antiquarian book collector, I will never lose my love of the printed book. Conventional publishing is great, but difficult to achieve. POD has proved to be a very pleasant surprise to me.

What do you think is the future of reading/writing?

Same as it’s always been, only in different venues.

What process did you go through to get your book published?

We spent better than a year looking for an agent, without luck. Happily, I came upon ATTMP, and it has been a wonderful experience.

What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

Read it, and find out. ;)

How do you find or make time to write?

As the Nike ad says, Just do it. Lose the excuses for not writing, and write.

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.

Both. As I explained before, intuition first, then logic. I start with a premise, know the ending, give the characters a lot of latitude in the middle, then revise, revise, revise! Did I mention revise? Free-wheeling is great and gives the piece a spontaneous, unexpected feel, but that’s not enough. If you have any hope of making it stand out, then revising is essential. If you do it right, you can make it controlled and spontaneous.

What are some ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?

This is a learning process, and I’m still on the low end of the curve. We’ve used newspaper articles, radio interviews, our website, and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc., to market. But we’re still learning the ropes. Hopefully we’ll get better at this. As for adding or detracting to my writing, honestly, marketing is a pain in the ass. But it has to be done—and if it has to be done, then it might as well be done right.

What is your role in the writing community?

I write. I submit my work. I sometimes edit. I offer critiques if asked for.

What do you like to read in your free time?

I’m interested in virtually everything except internal combustion engines, so I read about virtually everything except internal combustion engines.

What projects are you working on at the present?

Well, I just finished editing a book for Deb & Phil, and I’m about to begin an oral history project with a professor at the university where we both work. That will be fun.

What do your plans for future projects include?

I desperately want to write another novel, but I haven’t found the right subject yet. Perhaps a mystery set in early nineteenth-century America (because that is my weakest area of history, and a novel would force me to research it).

And my favorite for dealing with popular authors who've already done a lot of interviews: What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.

Question: Where can I buy your book?

Answer: ATTMP website,,,,, and probably others. It’s out there. Avoid the rush and get your copy now.

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