After getting my doctorate from UCLA, I taught for 23 years at Fort Hays (KS) State University. At the end of that time I had burned out, so I left teaching. I worked first for a newspaper, then an advertising agency, and then a public relations firm. Having by that time become an expert on career change, I spent 15 years in the career management field. When I retired in 2003, I moved to Thailand and spent most of my time writing. I returned to the U.S. in 2009 with five book manuscripts, which I’ve been publishing one a year since then. The first was Sweet Betsy from Pike, a historical novel of the gold rush based on the ballad of the same name; next came The Robin Hood Chronicles, a half-serious attempt to re-create in fiction the reality that may underlie the legend; then Adolf Hitler in Oz, a comic fantasy satire; and most recently Huckleberry Finn Grows Up, a sequel to Mark Twain’s classic. Still to come in Rabbi Yeshua, a fictional biography of the man Christians call Jesus.
What inspires you to write?
I’ve wanted to write ever since my mother taught me how to read, before I entered Kindergarten. And I’ve written one thing or another all my life. When I was a university professor most of my writing was scholarly publications, but I always thought of myself as a novelist. Over the years I published some science-fiction short stories, a children’s book, a translation of a Flemish novel, and some poetry. What motivates me is curiosity and the desire to try to get other people to see things as I see them. I saw the ballad “Sweet Betsy from Pike” as the story of a young woman outgrowing a romantic boyfriend who was no help in a crisis and becoming a strong individual. Alfred Schweitzer wrote about the quest for the historical Jesus; curiosity led me on a quest for the historical Robin Hood. I believe strongly both that goodness and love will eventually triumph over evil and hate and that even the most evil persons became that way because of their life experiences and can therefore be redeemed; I wrote Adolf Hitler in Oz to try to persuade people to see things my way Curiosity led me to speculate what Huck Finn would be like as he grew up. And curiosity led me to follow Schweitzer on the quest for the historical Jesus, wanting to persuade people to accept my vision of what his human side was like (leaving the issue of his divine side out of the picture completely).
Tell us about your writing process.
I have in my mind a general idea of where I want to go, though often as I start I have no idea what the ending will be like. Usually the ending comes to me as a write; if it doesn’t, I keep on writing until it does. I like the way stories develop organically if you let them tell themselves and do not try to force them. I usually have several projects going on at the same time; when I run out of ideas on one of them, I turn to another. I do not make an outline on paper, but I have one in my head. I used a typewriter until 1982, when going to work for the public relations firm forced me to use a computer (a Tandy). I do not like Microsoft Word; I used to write entirely in WordPerfect until I discovered OpenOffice.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Once I have started a character moving, I let him pretty much do what he wants to do and say what he wants to say.
What advice would you give other writers?
When you are starting out, you will have favorite writers and will want to write like them. Keep doing that until you discover that you are uncomfortable because it doesn’t seem natural to you. That is the sign that you are beginning to discover your own style — not only style of writing, but style of plotting, style of characterization, style of looking at the world. When you are there, keep going no matter what anybody else tells you to do. Writing teachers — I’ve been one — try to teach you how to write like them. Critics and reviewers likewise take themselves as the model of how writing should be done. You don’t want to write like them; you want to write like you.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I wrote a lot of query letters to publishers, and none of them wanted even to look at the manuscripts. When you are old, as I am, you get impatient. I figured that if I was ever going to get myself out there I would have to publish the books myself. What I learned was that most of the companies set up to let you self-publish are not in business to sell books; they are in business to sell services to writers. I am still trying to find one that I feel wholly comfortable with. Trial and error is expensive, but I don’t know a better way to go.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Right now the e-book is big; its cheap, and it doesn’t take up much shelf space. But I’ve lived long enough to be wary of fads. Remember when everybody had to have a CB radio in his car? My bet is that the e-book will become obsolete when something new comes along, and I have no idea what that something will be.
What genres do you write?
Most of my books are historical novels.
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print