Hi Gary. Please tell us little about yourself.
I’m fairly boring. My son just went off to college and now my wife and I sit in bed, with our individual lap-tops, posting rude comments on each other’s Facebook pages and giggling.
The most excitement we get is when we go out to watch my son’s friend’s band play (Shadowplay http://www.shadowplayrocknroll.com/ ) – I wanted to try to work a plug in for them because they let me use their music in my trailers). They spent a good part of last summer sleeping on our floor and eating our food, so we figured we should repay them for that service by buying their CD’s going to shows, etc. My wife and I will be at a show, surrounded by 18-20 year olds who are all screaming and jumping up and down and ‘slam-dancing’ and I’ll just be trying not to break a hip.
I know you write fantasy; perhaps you’d you give us some insight into Land of Nod, The Artifact in a few sentences.
The basic story is about a 14 year old boy whose father (who was a brilliant physicist) has disappeared and been presumed dead. Jeff finds a strange ‘portal’ in his father’s office and begins to suspect that his father passed through the portal to whatever is on the other side. Jeff himself passes through and finds he is in an alternate world. The trilogy revolves around the search for his father, but a
LOT happens during that search.
How did you come to write this particular book?
I’ve always had an interest in fantasy, adventure, escapism. In a way (and I can’t say too much or I’ll give away some things that will be revealed in later books) the story itself is an allegory for writing and reading and the way we can enter other worlds when we pick up a good book. This may sound a bit cheesy, but the basic premise – the mechanics of how he comes to find that other world - actually came to me in a dream. I woke up thinking: “That’s it! That’s how I can anchor this adventure story that’s been bouncing around my brain.” I started writing the next day.
If you have a favourite character in your novel, why that particular one?
There’s a character named Dave who is a foul, loudmouthed lout and he will say just about anything that pops into his mind. I absolutely LOVE him because he can say and do the things that polite society won’t allow us to do. He only gets limited time in the first book, but I will be able to do much more with him in the second book.
Where and when is this novel set and why did you make these specific choices?
It’s set in a nameless alternate universe. I wanted it to be in an alternate universe because that gives me the freedom to do whatever I want to create interesting creatures, characters and situations. It’s nameless because of a specific technique of mine. Whenever I read a science fiction or fantasy book, I’m always distracted when I read made-up words: “We need to be on the road to Zesphar soon so we can present the tangoodies to the Philliparians.” Every time I hit a word like that in a story, it takes me out of that world and reminds me it’s all made-up. Sure it’s made-up, but the reader doesn’t need to be reminded of that. Of course a real alien world would have very odd words, but I take some license in avoiding overusing them. I really want it to feel as real as possible and, while there are amazing creatures and situations, I always strive to make characters, interactions and the basics activities feel as real and natural as possible. I believe that’s key to providing an intense experience for the reader because then it doesn’t just feel like a story . . . it feels like it’s really happening.
Where can people buy your book?
It’s currently only available in eBook format, but it’s available at most major outlets and in nearly all formats. There are links on my main page ( http://www.landofnodtrilogy.com/ ) to most of the outlets carrying it.
What qualities does a writer need to be successful?
I think it varies greatly. Not only will every writer have different interests, talents and abilities, but I think nearly everyone has a different idea of ‘success’. But one thing nearly every writer needs is a bit of a thick skin. Normally people interact with friends, and there are certain things friends won’t say. Once your book is out there, people who don’t know you personally will be reading it and commenting about it without the niceties that we’re used to in face-to-face interaction. I’ve been very fortunate in that my book seems to have been received very well, but when 100 people say it’s great and 1 says eh, it wasn’t anything special, that 1 comment is going to be the one that sticks in the author’s head. “Not special?!?! What’s he mean ‘not special’? My mom always told me I was very special.”
What’s your working method?
I have absolutely terrible working habits. I’ve got extreme ADD (in fact I based the first chapter on the idea that Jeff, also has extreme ADD and the reader sees him going crazy from boredom and frustration – that is relieved when he travels to the new world. So I’ll write a little bit . . . and then get something to eat . . . then write a little bit . . . and check on the score of the game . . . then write a little bit . . . and throw a loaf of bread at my wife (I’m not sure exactly how it started, but throwing bread at one another has sort of become a little tradition with us). Fortunately, with ADD comes something called ‘hyper-focus’. So when I get in the right zone, everything else tunes out and I become completely immersed in my work. The trick is to get as much done when I’m in that zone. I think my ADD also gives me the kind of creativity I need to write the kind of stories I do.
What’s the single biggest mistake made by beginner writers?
That’s a complicated one. I think there are SO many things that can go right and wrong along the way that it’s hard to think of any uniquely important ones. It’s a long, slow learning process, and, while you can learn from listening to the sage advice of elders, I think most of it has to be done by trial and error. With that context in mind, one common mistake is expecting too much too soon. I’m afraid many beginning writers never become (finishing writers?) because they didn’t stick it out beyond the frustrating first steps.
To what extent are grammar and spelling important in writing?
Neither of those are strong areas for me, but I do think they’re important. Most readers (either consumers or publishers ) won’t go beyond the first paragraph if the spelling and grammar are poor. It provides the appearance that the writer isn’t very competent and/or didn’t spend much time . . . and who wants to read something written by someone like that?
How much do you revise your MS before sending it off?
I have trouble stopping. No matter how many times I read and revise something, I always go back and find things I don’t like that can be improved. At some point you’ve got to just say: “Okay, it may not be perfect, but it’s time.”
As a writer of fantasy, to what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?
There are just sooo many books out there that writers need to be able to give readers . . . and agents and publishers . . . an idea of what the book is about as quickly as possible. And while most books can’t be easily categorized into any one genre, that sort of categorization at least provides some information.
Imagine trying to sell a publisher on Moby Dick: “Well it’s the story of a hunt for a white whale.”, “Okay, I’m interested.” “And it examines the relationship between God and man and nature and our place in the universe. . . ” *Eyelids drooping* “And it’s got a lot of action and violence.”, “NOW I’m interested.”
The trick is to just get someone interested enough to invest the time to really get to know what the author is doing. Genre helps that process.
Many authors see marketing as a bind. What's your opinion on this, and how do you deal with it?
I absolutely HATE marketing and have no talent for it, but I do what I have to do. The best book in the world will just sit collecting dust if the author isn’t willing to spend time telling people to read it. I feel uncomfortable pushing my book and probably don’t do it nearly as often as I should or could.
How do you know where to begin a given story?
For a good story, particularly one in fantasy or science fiction, I think an author needs to spend time thinking about what happens before and after the most interesting thing and then decide what sections of that they want to reveal.
Land of Nod, The Artifact, I very specifically wanted to start in our world. At the beginning of the story, I wanted the reader to share similar knowledge with Jeff and then come along with him on the journey – as a co-traveler. For that reason, I chose a third-person limited narration. I didn’t want Jeff to narrate because then he would (presumably) be telling the story from some point in the future and would know more than the reader. And if I had used an omniscient perspective, the reader would know more than Jeff.
What sort of displacement activities keep you from writing?
Hmmm, I think, to be fair, I’m the one who keeps me from writing. I love motorcycles and cars. I enjoy reading about gadgets and technology. I enjoy reading and watching movies. I have a koi pond and I like to just sit and watch them make fishy lip faces. Those are the kind of things I do when I should be writing. Of course I could always say: “No, I should be writing.” . . . but when I don’t, the blame lies with me and not the activity.
. . . sometimes just staring at a wall seems more fun than writing.
What support, if any, do you receive from family and friends, or a writing group?
Not much. I’m pretty pig-headed and have very specific ideas of what I want to accomplish. I have asked other people to read and give me comments and those comments have provided useful insights, but I don’t rely heavily on that sort of feedback. It’s one of those things that I probably should do more than I do.
Do you think presentation of the MS is as important as agents and publishers suggest?
If a man points a gun at you and asks you to dance like a chicken and sing ‘It’s Raining Men”, that request suddenly becomes more important than it would be without the gun. Whether agents and publishers are justified in asking for a nice presentation is less important than the fact that you won’t get anywhere if you don’t dance to their tune.
In an ideal world, agents and publishers would look beyond the superficial . . . but this is far from an ideal world.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
I spend roughly a year. I think it’s important to spend some minimum time on it – even if the first draft is done fairly quickly. As time passes, the author can see things differently and notice things he or she didn’t notice before. A person’s brain can play tricks on them and an idea that sounded good at one time (maybe because of a specific event or experience at that time) may lose its point once removed from that event. And since the reader likely didn’t experience that event, maybe it should be axed.
Who or what inspires you?
Hmmm, I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about that specifically. I’d say just the simple idea of escapism. I write because I want to escape into another world and I’d like to be able to share that experience with others.
If there’s a single aspect of writing you find really frustrating, what is it?
I don’t think anything with writing frustrates me (marketing would be a whole different story). There are times when things just don’t come to me, but I don’t dwell on those. I just put it aside and go do something else.
Is there a particular feature of writing that you really enjoy?
Not to sound like a crazed B movie villain . . . but I enjoy the POWER of being able to do whatever I want within the world I’ve created.
Do you believe writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?
I think there are definitely elements of both required and the ratio will vary. In my case, I’m more of a natural writer. When I hear someone talking about what writers need to do, I generally either think: “Of course, that’s common sense.” or “Maybe for you, but not for me, Jack.”, so I’m not a great pupil (did I mention my pig-headedness in a previous question?)
What are you writing now?
I’m currently about ¾ of the way through the first draft of the second book in the trilogy: Land of Nod, The Prophet. That one is going to be fun. I’ve always been a sucker for second acts.
Do you have a website or blog readers can visit?
My main page is http://www.landofnodtrilogy.com/ I also have pages on Facebook and Goodreads and those are great because they allow me to really interact with people, but there are links to those on my main page.
Given unlimited resources, where would you do your writing?
I found a really cool website (and I can’t remember the name) but it’s a real-estate page that sells nothing but Islands. You’d be amazed how many Islands there are for sale out there. I’d also want something on the mainland so I could interact with people and not get to the point that I was conversing with furniture, but it would be great to retreat to the
Island to really get things done.
Where do you actually write?
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but on my laptop - sometimes in the family room, sometimes in bed - and usually with the TV tuned to a game or the Discovery Channel.