1.Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
I collect small unattractive animals, yeast cultures, and crocuses.
I did the first flight tests for Boeing’s 2707.
I’m the only person in Colorado who knows how to use a slide rule.
I’m the only person in Colorado who knows all the words to the state song (“I love you, Colorado, you’re the greatest state of all-l-l, I love you in the Winter, Summer, Spring and in the F-F-F-Fall…”)
My Chinese mother-in-law’s response the first time she met me: “He’s not quite white, is he?” (他不是很白)
I’ve been married four times. I don’t have any children–as far as I know.
I never wear plaid.
2. Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
My first recorded bit of writing dates back to 2nd grade, where I was forced (emphasis on forced) to come up with a poem. Desperate, I turned to my mother and sister for assistance, and the result:
The pterodactyl’s name was Sam
Because he liked to eat roast leg of lamb
A very sad fact
Strange but true
The only food around was Blue Goon
So Sam continue on his quest
In spite of hunger, want and thirst… (fragment lost)
…was a smash. Too bad I didn’t write it. (Well, I think I contributed the part about Sam liking lamb. That was about it.)
3. What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
“Careless”. One possible tagline: “Careless is about how careless we are when searching for true love. And how careless we are when we finally find it.”
Accounts of May/December unions are typically written from the (young) woman’s perspective. Careless looks at the experience from the man’s point of view. The novel is based, in part, on the author’s experience; on that of a dozen interviewees (men and women); and from my research on the love lives of such celebrities as Gene Kelly, Kate Winslett, Jerry Seinfeld, Melanie Griffith, Don Johnson, and Will and Ariel Durant.
4. How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
I started the book–and wrote the first 3 chapters–in 1988. Then I shoved it in a desk drawer, where I occasionally visited it. I finally took it out of the drawer and started writing in earnest about 5 years ago. I’ve written all sorts of short stories but never a book. So I treated each chapter as a short story. If you flip through Careless, you’ll notice that chapters are only 4 or 5 pages long. That’s my inner short story editor at work.
I write slowly and carefully, like I’m building a wall, brick by brick. If I can generate a single page of usable copy in a day, I’m a happy camper.
5. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I usually wear chiffon when I’m writing–it’s classy yet comfortable at the same time.
I usually write late at night, when it’s quiet. When I encounter a knot in my prose, an obstacle, I take a chocolate break or I play some piano, and that seems to put me back in the groove.
6. Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
Mostly writing. I’m a so-so painter, a terrible potter (my mother is a professional), a barely adequate photographer (my sister, cousin, and best friend are all award-winning shutterbugs); and a danger when I’m using an acetylene torch in my metal casting class.
7. Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
So many writers, so little time. A few of the highlights: Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, E.B. White, James Thurber, Frank Sullivan (humor and “casuals”); Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury (SF); Saul Steinberg, Richard Stine, William Steig (New Yorker cover artists and illustrators); history (too many to list. A few faves: Joseph Ellis, David McCullough, Gore Vidal, Jack Rakove).
Transformative books: Herzog (Saul Bellow), Lolita (Nabokov), Lincoln (Vidal), The Ugly American (Eugene Burdick), The Elements of Style (EBW), Pluck and Luck (Benchley), Let Your Mind Alone! (Thurber), Words and Women (Miller/Swift), Act 1 (Moss Hart), I Could Never Be So Lucky Again (Jimmy Doolittle), How to Talk Dirty and Influence People (Lenny Bruce).
8. What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
Oh god–don’t call authors “wordsmiths”! It sounds like we’re pounding an anvil all day. Most of the people I know who proudly claim to be wordsmiths are lousy writers.
New and cooking? A sequel to Careless–naturally dubbed Reckless. (Is there a Hopeless in the future?) A science fiction novel about an interstellar diplomat. And…maybe a TV pilot set in Hollywood in 1948.
9. Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
I do. Not that readers are perched on my shoulder. But I do think about their sensibilities vs, mine. If I’m reaching them. If my prose is crystal clear. If I’m having the desired impact.
As far as Careless is concerned, I suspect that men in their 50s and older, and women in their twenties, will be the likely audiences for the book.
10. Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
William Strunk put it best:
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
11. What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
Write what you know, sound like yourself (in short, develop your own voice), and never borrow, always steal. Adds James Michener: “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”
12. How many books do you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
Hmm. I’m usually reading three books at once–history, politics, science, and Hollywood memoirs and biographies. The latter are a guilty pleasure. For example, I’m reading The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson; The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War; and Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History.
Favorite literary genre: memoir.
13. What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
In other words, why should anyone read my book? Good question! I try to recreate a time and place and put the reader is this realm. To see, to smell, to be awash in it, to capture how it feels to the characters in the book.
One of the toughest scenes to write was the first time Nathaniel and Sarah kiss. How do you capture all the variables, the feelings, the physicality of it? And how do you grapple with the meaning of love?
That’s what Careless attempts to do. Careless is a novel about the nature and nurture of true love.
14. What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
A big question. Having worked for newspapers, magazines, book publishers and digital media, I’ve discovered the answer: content is king. If you’ve got good content–whether it’s sports reporting or do-it-yourself auto repair advice–you’ll get readers. The publications world needs to be reminded of this every five years or so. It’s not about platforms. OK–maybe it is. If your book or investigative feature is going to appear in a print magazine and on your smartphone, you very definitely need to know what the platform (e.g., the iPhone, the printing press) can do. But having done that, it still boils down to compelling reporting, razor sharp writing, accurate editing, and superior production values.