1.Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
How about a few things…
I can be brought to tears by a great piece of prose, a line from a poem, or the lyric of a song.
I am an enormous Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
I make a pretty good pot of chili and a better than average omelet.
I’m continually trying to produce the perfect Old Fashioned.
I’m a coffee geek. Not pretentious, just a geek. French press, moka pot, or espresso. Ethiopian, Guatemalan, or Costa Rican. See…geek.
2. Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
My very first real piece of writing that I can remember was a handmade book. It was second grade. Our teacher encouraged us to write a story, illustrate it, and then make a physical book out of paper mache. The Cyclops was an under-the-sea adventure. I was fascinated as a kid by the Jacques Cousteau programs on television. His ocean adventures were magnificent. I wanted to be him. For years afterward, I considered going to school for oceanography. How did a kid from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania become enamored with the sea? I don’t have the answer to that. Needless to say, I did not become an oceanographer. I found through journalism, writing, and even music, I could be experience a little bit of all kinds of professions, jobs, adventurers. My deep-sea days never happened.
3. What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
The Consequence of Stars came out of a longing to understand my artistic heart and what it means to find your place in the world. I have never been the kind of person who was driven by money or success in the traditional sense. Instead, I was fueled by a passion to find something deeper. I didn’t always know what that was. But after self-reflection, and the untimely death of my sister, I came to realize that what I had always been seeking was my metaphorical home. I was a wanderer in many ways, and still I was searching. What makes this memoir-in-essays more than just about me, some navel-gazing exercise, is the simple realization that all of us are searching, all of us are looking for our home, whatever that may be. The book is a mix of memoir and travel about the concept of home.
4. How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
In many ways, it took a lifetime. This book has taken decades to come to fruition—all those experiences, journeys, and highs and lows. But the work of getting it down on paper took about a year. I try to write every day. I try to remain disciplined and continue to write as along as the words are coming. When it starts to become work, when I begin to struggle, when the flow is off, I stop. Word count? I don’t really pay attention that, necessarily. But if I had to count it would be between 700-1200 words a day. They may always be words that will remain, but they are there in the first blush. Overall, though, I tend to write fast. It’s the second, third, and fourth drafts that go slowly.
5. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Not unusual, per se, I wouldn’t think. But a few years ago, I constructed a small shed on my property. It’s an 8x10 space with a window. I put in a floor, barn wood on the walls, and painted the ceiling. I have this magnificent watercolor of Dylan Thomas’ boathouse in Wales, where he wrote. I used is as a guide and studied the sheds and small spaces great writers have worked in—George Bernard Shaw’s hut, Thoreau’s cabin, adventure writer Alastair Humphreys’ shed. Now I have my own. Simple. Modest. Just right. I like being there in the early morning.
6. Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
I have played guitar and piano for years. Although not as much now as I used to. I still write songs, although mostly for my own pleasure. I have written a couple for my wife and I’m proud of them. A few years ago, one of my songs was a finalist in a songwriting contest. I wrote a book about the experience. October Song is not only about a song competition, but more about a journey and about when we, and if we, should ever give up on our dreams. It’s also about how we age, love, and what it means to have artistic aspirations.
7. Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
How much time do we have? I’ve been asked this questions many times and it is a tough one to answer. There are writers who have influenced my themes, but not necessarily my writing. There are artists that have inspired me, but not influenced. What I mean by that is that their work is monumentally impactful to me, but I’m not trying to write like them. In fact, that worries me sometimes. I don’t want another writer’s style to seep into mine. It can inform my writing, yes, but I write the way I write. I want it to be me and me alone. That said, there are some books that I have forever returned to—Kerouac’s On the Road, Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces, Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Most recently I love Patti Smith’s M Train, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s essays on the seasons, Daniel Gumbiner’s The Boatbuilder, and Rachel Cusk’s Transit along with the other books in the trilogy. But, ask me the same questions tomorrow and I’m likely to have a different answer.
8. What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
I have a finished manuscript, a memoir of a season of walking my dog. Sounds simple, right? But it’s more than about dog walks. The book is about a season of awakening. I made a pact with my dog, Sam, to walk on a regular basis in my neighborhood and in the woods near my home as a way to re-assess, re-discover where I was in the world. Sam is my shaman, if you will. I hope to start shopping it next year. (Adelaide? Interested?) I have The Consequence of Stars to concentrate on now. That’s my focus. I’m also writing a novel, but it is early in the going. We’ll see what happens.
9. Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
I have. But in the end, I write what I write. I don’t write to an audience. I write for me and I hope people will see themselves, their lives, in my writing, that my words are in some way relevant to their lives. I do know that I have a pretty solid readership of women. I’ve been asked to come discuss my books at book clubs and they are nearly always all women. But isn’t that the case anyway? Women read more.
10. Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
Write. It’s a craft, a discipline. Don’t wait for inspiration. It’s futile. Go to work. Make time. You have the time. You do. Saying you don’t is an excuse. There is no secret. Start typing. And also—read. A lot.
11. What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Best advice in life—be authentic. Best advice in writing—be authentic.
12. How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I’m always reading. Sometimes 3-4 books at a time. Literary memoir or fiction books are my go-to. But I also enjoy nonfiction about travel or expeditions. It’s the wanderlust, I believe. Annually, I probably read twelve or more. I’m currently reading the final book in Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, Simon Van Booy’s The Sadness of Beautiful Things, and re-reading Justin Torres’ We the Animals.
13. What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
Any writer who says he doesn’t read reviews is a liar. How much you take them to heart, good or bad, is another question. For me, the most telling review I ever received was one simple sentence: “A writer with an enormous sense of humanity.” I am proud of that. I hope I can always live up to it.
Themes in my work? Fathers and sons. Family. Self-discovery.
14. What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
It’s been democratized and at the same time it is the Wild West. New publishers of all shapes and sizes have emerged, giving writers more opportunity to get their work out there. But the distribution model is a tough one. I love bookstores, but many publishers will tell you they do little to sell books written by the not-so-well-known writer. Amazon, for some, is the devil. But yet, the number of people who buy books there is growing all the time. It some ways, this is the golden age of publishing. In other ways it is the beginning of the end. Some of the greatest books of the past two centuries would not be published today by any of the big five publishers or any traditional publisher. In fact, many of them would have to find their place in the self-publishing space. Big publishers are no longer risk takers, in my estimation. They can’t afford to be. But the cries a few years ago that publishing is dead, that books are dead, were and are ridiculous.
15. What is your opinion about your publisher – Adelaide Books?
Adelaide believes in my work enough to put it out in the world. I am humbled and grateful.