Author of the spy thriler DEVOLUTION and RAW THOUGHTS, a symbiotic fusion of poetic and photographic art
Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie. It has always been difficult for me to sit still for any length of time, except of course when I was in the pilot’s seat during my Air Force days. After I retired from the military I had to learn to get my fix in other ways—usually at the gym. I enjoy occasional running and weightlifting five to six times a week, but my real passion is playing racquetball. I started when I was in college and have been playing ever since. I am sponsored by Gearbox Sports and compete in USRA sanctioned tournaments throughout the year.
Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
Although I had always felt I possessed the ability to write, I never really tried until later in life. In 2014 I came up with an idea for a novel and began putting it into words. About 50 pages in, however, I was unhappy with how it was progressing and decided to set it aside for a while. To pass the time I elected to try my hand at poetry, and the first poem I wrote was titled ‘Stupid’. I was living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at the time and on that particular day I was fed up with some of the inconveniences I was experiencing. My intent was that it would be a funny poem, and it was for me and my colleagues there—we knew what it meant. Later on I would rewrite ‘Stupid’ and include it in my first book, RAW THOUGHTS.
What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
My latest book is titled DEVOLUTION, characterized as a psychological spy thriller and book one of a trilogy. I am now working on the second book, EVOLUTION. REVELATION will follow. Each title was chosen to capture the essence of 1) the plot, and 2) what goes on in the mind of the main character as the story unfolds. I wanted to create a story where the depth and complexity of the main character, Michael Dolan, were just as compelling and important as the plot. As spy thrillers go, this series has everything readers of the genre crave: action, suspense, cliffhangers and mystery. What makes the story so unique and that much more captivating, however, is Dolan's dark and labyrinthine psychological struggle as he navigates the challenges of his top-secret mission while confronting the demons of his past.
How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
It took about one year to write DEVOLUTION; however, if you count the four-year break I took after writing the first 50 pages, it was much longer than that. Once I picked it back up it went pretty fast. I wrote the next 250 pages between February and September of 2019, which equates to around 360 words per day.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Not really. I suppose that it might be considered strange that the majority of my poetry has been written on an iPhone, however. I’ve had to travel quite a bit in my daily work, and I would often use this time to work on my poetry.
Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
I think at this point in my life I’ve given up on succeeding with other forms of artistic expression. I’ve tried painting and drawing (fail), piano (fail), and even singing (I was in a choir in college—also a fail). An important lesson that took me many years to learn is that there are many things I like to do that I have no particular gift for doing, and a very narrow scope of things for which I have. This does not mean I’ve given up everything outside that scope, I simply adjusted my expectations in those areas and now spend more time doing things for which success comes naturally. These are my passions, and one is writing.
Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
The one poet who influenced me the most was Charles Bukowski. I didn’t even know who he was until I’d written quite a few poems. When I first dug into Love is a Dog from Hell and You Get so Alone, it was difficult for me to see his writing as poetry. It seemed more like short stories to me. But after a while, I began to understand and it opened an entire world of freedom and expression to my work.
On the prose side I would have to credit Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy. Both writers created incredibly enjoyable and successful spy thriller stories that are so difficult to put down—they are that good, and I aspire to that level of novelism.
What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
I am currently writing EVOLUTION, the sequel to my psychological spy thriller DEVOLUTION. I am also working on refining RAW THOUGHTS CODA, a not-so-sequel to RAW THOUGHTS. I am hesitant to call CODA a sequel per se, as I feel it is more of an elaboration, or maybe an extrapolation of the first book. In this sense, it is as if the first book is incomplete without the second, and vice-versa. This was not a mistake; the whole is meant to be greater than the sum of its two parts. I believe that once readers have experienced and contemplated both books they will understand and agree.
Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
When I wrote RAW THOUGHTS, I did so with the idea that the reader is everyone. My intent was to create something that could be appreciated by the majority with enough imagery and poetic complexity to satisfy the MFA-touting echelon. And although much of the book is largely accessible poetry, RAW THOUGHTS is not a poetry book. There are 40 black and white photographs in it as well. But it is not a book of photography either, nor some photo-poetic montage, and it is by no means a ‘collection’. There is an underlying philosophy to it that is explained in the foreword and in the epilogue, something that sets it apart from, well, just about everything else out there. Though I think almost anyone can enjoy the evocative and thought-inspiring nature of RAW THOUGHTS, or even just the poetry and photography for itself, it will be most appreciated by those who have endured or are currently working through emotionally difficult life situations.
DEVOLUTION, EVOLUTION and REVELATION will appeal to those who love the spy thriller and mystery genres. Those who prefer psychological thrillers will enjoy them as well, as the ongoing exploration of Michael Dolan’s dark and labyrinthine psyche adds as much to the reading experience as the tense action and cliffhangers peppered throughout.
What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
It is a cliché, but that doesn’t make it wrong: Keep writing. Like anything else in life, repetition catalyzes improvement. That's the first thing. Second, go back through your work as often as is realistically possible. Put yourself in your readers' shoes. You will almost always find ways to improve what you've written. Enlist the help of others in prereading your work—a second or third (or fourth!) set of eyes will catch things that you won't (pride of authorship is a trap!). Finally, don't force it. If you can't write it beautifully, correctly, or in a manner that is useful in some way, don't write it. The bottom line is, your poem or story must make the reader feel something. It must be evocative. If what you are writing doesn’t do this, take it in another direction and reassess.
How many books do you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I am usually reading two to three books at the same time, and I’ll take about a month or two to get through them. I get bored easily and will put one down to start another. I am currently working on The Gift of Anger by Arun Ghandi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi (who I had the chance to meet with recently). I am also reading The Spy Who Came in from The Cold by John le Carré.
What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important thing to be remembered by readers?
RAW THOUGHTS is much deeper than it appears on the surface. You have to read it, think about it, experience and absorb the book a while before you will truly understand what I mean by this. The same can be said for the upcoming sequel, RAW THOUGHTS CODA.
The DEVOLUTION trilogy books are not typical spy novels. They look and feel and read that way, on the surface, but fifty or sixty pages in the reader will realize there is something more there, tied to the strangely foreboding psychological struggle of the main character that he must deal with as he navigates the challenges of his deep-cover CIA missions. The depth, complexity, and atypical workings of Michael Dolan’s mind are just as compelling and important as the plot itself, adding a unique and interesting dimension to the reading experience without detracting from the pace of the story.
What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
There has been a trend toward digitization for a quite a while now. This trend has made it much easier for people to get their work out there, mainly via self-publishing and online journals and blogs. Anyone who has written a book can make it available on Kindle without having to wait for a publisher to accept it, or to invest thousands in self-publishing services. But this has also made things more difficult for those whose goal is to succeed in a writing career. The digital book market is flooded, and a great piece of writing can be lost if it is not marketed well. I think if an author is to succeed, he or she must work diligently with their publisher to actively and intelligently market their work in ways that gets it broadly noticed within the targeted demographics.
Thank you and good luck with your future endeavors.