I can remember trying to write a novel while in high school. It was an absurd adventure story about Vikings and warring Native Americans. Perhaps it was adolescent, but the process was fun. The written and spoken word was important from the start because I grew up in a house with an actual library that held actual books, and it was an Irish Catholic house full of songs, stories, and inevitable arguments. I put much of that experience into my hybrid memoir, "Confessions of a Shanty Irishman." Sales for that book jumped after a positive review by Gerry Nicosia in the San Francisco Chronicle.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Two very different sisters live in two very different worlds but share a similar tragedy of identity and a family-in-crisis. Jessica and Gerry Dean are both at war with their circumstances. Ultimately, a filmmaker brings their story to the screen, which includes love in a time of war. Though Jessica Dean dies young in a car crash, her story doesn't end in death. Gerry survives drug addiction and loss to find an unexpected redemption. The idea started with a real life tragedy affecting a close friend, but over many years, it grew into a work of fiction.
Who are your favorite writers?
There are so many. My late Uncle, Emmett, a journalist, insisted "All writers serve a purpose." I liked the authors who wrote "The Wizard of Oz" and "Tarzan of the Apes." When I got older, I discovered, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Thomas Pynchon, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, and Edith Wharton. And, of course, the Bard. None of us will ever be as good as Shakespeare. It is all in the character and the story that's told, though we now have many new approaches to fiction.
Why does anyone write?
Maybe the question is: why does anyone attempt art of any kind? There is no practical answer. One has a need to create out of nothing something that may communicate to others, and move them, perhaps. Will it stand the test of time? Very few books, plays, poems or songs remain fresh if they survive at all. T. S. Eliot said it best, that we have only "the work" and the "rest is not our business." Of course, there are commercial writers who write only to entertain and make money, and that is fine.I enjoy Steven King. I do believe all writers want to be read.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Entering that other world, for a moment, what actors call "being in the zone." What empty beach was Bob Dylan walking in his mind when he wrote "Tambourine Man"? It was also a fascinating experience to hear my work as audio books. My personal favorite is "These Precious Hours," a collection of connected stories about loss and recovery. The sensitive narration by Alex Hyde White brought a new expressive voice to the stories. As non fiction, "A Year and a Day" is a grief memoir written after the loss of my wife, and that audio book read by Kirk Winkler brings back striking memories of a sad time, but it should help others who are grieving. "Confessions of a Shanty Irishman" works well with Marlin May as the narrator.
Any advice to young writers?
I'm no expert, but unless one has a extraordinary genius, for every potential artist, there's a standard answer: learn your craft, find a voice, and then use it to express whatever vision is there. Read everything, and keep writing, even if there is no promise of money or readers. Navigating agents and publishers is a depressing bog, but ultimately, a writer has to write, an actor has to find someway to act, songwriters have to keep writing songs, and playwrights have to keep creating plays, even if many of them don't work. One day, they may find an audience.
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