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Tell us about how and why you started writing - it all began with non-fiction, books about spies …
Actually, I started writing long, long before that. Throughout the ‘70s and ’80s, I wrote several terrible novels no one will ever see. When I went to grad school in 1983, I began to get published in scholarly journals with literary analysis, book reviews, and essays which led to a long association with Salem Press. They published the MasterPlots books, Magill’s Book Reviews, all sorts of encyclopedias. I can’t remember all the topics I wrote about.
Then, throughout the ‘90s, I was a pretty decent poet, published in all manner of print and online periodicals. It wasn’t until 2001 or so when the spy books began to jell when I wanted to write something longer than an article or poem.
Were you inspired by any non-fiction writers or events?
Hmm, a toughey. I recall starting the spy books because I had been reading books on specific TV shows but realized nobody had explored the genre of TV spies as a whole. So I saw an opportunity no one else had.
Some of my scenes in the Beta-Earth books were inspired by other authors. There’s one fight scene in Blood of Balnakin greatly inspired by a similar scene in From Russia With Love. The opening scene of my A Throne for an Alien was inspired, in structure alone, by a passage in Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. That’s something other authors might like to think about. The scene opens with a grand overhead view, then begins to narrow in scope, then ultimately focuses on one character in one location. “Cinematic,” one teacher once described the technique to me.
As I explain in my first blog post here at BookLikes, the structure for the narrators of the entire Beta-Earth Chronicles was inspired by the print edition of The Beatles Anthology. All oral histories where the points of view alternate between members of a rock group or whatever were on my mind as well.
I can’t remember all the research I did and all the tidbits I pulled from my reading. For example, as I was setting my story on a world dominated by women, I thought it a good idea to read up on the Amazons. I got a few details from that research.
Were you happy with how your first books were received?
Ah, no, at least in terms of sales. The spy books, especially Spy Television, were very well received by reviewers, spy experts, fans, TV insiders, and other writers who wrote similar books. I got invited to appear on a number of radio shows, appeared several times at the International Spy Museum, and gave presentations at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. Several intriguing side-projects came my way that were interesting but never bore fruit due to the sad deaths of two potential collaborators.
At the same time, I realized the three spy books from Praeger Publishers weren’t going to get a huge response in terms of my pocketbook. That was because the press prices their books so high. They expect their main readership is libraries who can pay the big hardcover bucks. I didn’t take that too hard after I heard a seminar where we were taught to consider non-fiction books as “calling cards” that should lead to other, more lucrative efforts. This lead to my wife concluding that I’m “the man known by many, paid by few.”
This also led to my The Encyclopedia of TV Spies published by BearManor Media, a book priced for the general reader. It remains my ongoing best-seller.
I’m still waiting for The Blind Alien and the other Beta-Earth books to get a real foothold and break-out in a more than glutted market.
Do you plan on writing more non-fiction? If not, why not?
Actually, yes. I have a thumb-drive full of all the audio interviews I did when I co-hosted online radio’s “Dave White Presents.” I used to interview celebrities from Jacki De Shannon to Ed Asner to Patty Duke to Walter Koenig to June Lockhart to Ron Dante to Ben E. King to Dave Mason to John Mayall . . . What I am hunting is usable software that I can use to convert audio interviews into text. When that happens, I expect a series of interview collections to result.
What inspired you to change genres? Science fiction seems as far away from non-fiction as you can possibly get!
I can recall several influences, like not wanting to do more meticulous research, but, most importantly, the stories just came to me. I’ve often said the characters created themselves.
At first, I didn’t intend to write anything down thinking I had no gift for writing fiction. But I changed my mind. I do that a lot.
Throw in the fact that I finally got sick of spies. Tired of reading about them, writing about them, all that. I like to do different things.
How did you find this new genre when you started your first sci-fi book? Was it easier, more difficult? More or less creative? More or less of a challenge?
I’ve been reading all sorts of genres all my life, including sci-fi. I will say writing fiction was, for me, a much greater challenge than the non-fiction books (and many articles as well.) Writing non-fiction books like I did was mostly to compile information, synthesize it, and organize it. Fiction is entirely mine. Much, much more challenging.
Do you read a lot of sci-fi and who is an inspiration (if you have one)?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been reading sci-fi along with spy thrillers and all the literature you’d expect a Ph.D. in American literature would have read. I would say I was absolutely blown away by Frank Herbert’s Dune books, but I wouldn’t call him an inspiration. I’d be scared to even try to emulate what he did. Or Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. All the classics.
But, to be honest, I can’t think of any authors or books remotely like mine. Frankly, I think that’s a good thing if you value originality and the unexpected.
There are now six books in the Beta-Earth Chronicles series. Are you working on book seven? How many will there be?
Yes, I’m presently working on book 7. At one time, I thought the first four books would be all there was as that was the vision I had in my head. Well, I must admit I left book 4 with a huge cliff-hanger at the end. I’m not sure what kicked book 5, The Third Earth, into gear. I guess I felt I wasn’t done with those characters yet.
Book 6, Return to Alpha, started when an editor tossed me a few starting points. He thought I should write a Romeo and Juliet story, set up a new Adam and Eve on our future earth, and I went from there with an entirely new cast of characters. Again, I thought that one would be the end.
Then, just a month or so ago, a friend told me I needed to start writing again. I don’t think she thought I’d carry on with the Beta-Earth stories, but a story started to develop anyway. I’m often astonished at where my strange ideas come from.
The Beta-Earth Chronicles series
Do you think authors need to plan a series ahead of time, maybe even when they start writing the first book?
I wouldn’t dare give authors such advice knowing we all have different wells to draw from and different roads to travel. I would say it worked for me to have the first four books mapped out in my mind so I knew, in general, where things were going to go. Lots of changes and revisions, revisions, and revisions happened along the way, but the framework was there.
What are your plans as a writer? How far ahead do you think and plan?
As I said, I hope I can get the software for the audio interview books to open that floodgate. I have to admit, I’m pretty much tapped out for the Beta-Earth books. Book 7 is going to be a long, drawn out process as I have no idea where it’s going. I know where it should go, but I don’t have the story to take us from the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest to the ultimate bridges connecting up all the earths in the multi-verse. Not yet.
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