Interview with Gil Keough

What is your writing process?
My mind is always filled with ideas. I think it is a by-product of being ADHD. A lot of stories that I think of, quite literally, are built around dreams that I've had. If I have a particularly interesting, or strange, dream, I try to write down the details very soon after I wake up. Other times it is just a name I come across that sparks my creativity. Once, I was in one of my favorite Mediterranean restaurants. I tried a salad called "shirazi." I thought it was such a unique name that I started thinking about a story and, suddenly, a Science Fiction story started to germinate revolving around an alien infiltrator...want to guess her name?

Haven's Brave began like that. A friend told me that her granddaughter was born. When I asked the child's name she said it was "Samara." I was so taken by the name that I decided to write her a story where she would be the main character. I thought it would be cool that Samara would, when she got older, be able to read a fairytale adventure with her name in it. It took several years of planning, and toying with concepts, but once I began writing, it took only about four months to bang it out.

I've never been the kind of writer that just sits in front of a laptop and waits for inspiration. I find inspiration everywhere. When I see, or read, or hear something that I find has potential I file it mentally, and then, take time while I'm driving or doing monotonous chores to turn the ideas over in my head until I have sufficient structure and foundation to begin writing. Another difference is that I try to write exactly as I want the story to be read. I know that a lot of writers do a first, second, and third draft. That is not my process. I see each story like a movie in my head, each chapter comes to me in scenes - then, I do my best to write out the scenes as descriptively as possible.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I had a rough childhood growing up in Astoria, Queens in New York. I would try to escape my troubles by watching cartoons and old Godzilla movies. Lots of Looney Toons, and animated Superhero shows too. I watched a lot of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and other sci-fi kind of shows as well. I hadn't really discovered comic books, yet. But, when I was around 11 years old, my father abandoned my family. My mother, myself, and two brothers moved to the Dominican Republic. It was December and we had just been dismissed, for winter break, from school. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Sansone, gave me a gift wrapped in nice paper. She told me that she hoped everything would go well where I was moving and then said "This is a gift from me to you. Please, open it when you get to where you are going." Naturally, for an 11 year old "open it when you get to where you are going." meant as soon as I got home. I remember ripping off the paper and opening the package expecting to find toys of some kind. Instead, there were two books inside, "War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells, and "Around the World in Eighty Days" by Jules Verne.

I can't tell you how disappointed I was. I actually remember saying out loud "Books? What kind of gift is books?" My mother was smart enough to pack those books in our luggage. For the next four and a half years I lived in a country where there was no English literature. I read those books faithfully every year I was there. I still have copies of both stories in my library of over 700 books. Those two stories not only opened up the world to me, but they took me to places I could never have gone on my own. With Phileas Fogg and his valet, Passepartout, I was able to circumnavigate the entire globe on an amazing adventure that made me forget my troubles and how bad life had been. H.G. Wells showed me how vast the cosmos and a person's imagination could be.

Those two stories formed the foundation of my creative mind and fed my desire for knowledge, which led me to become a collector of all kinds of books and stories. And then, I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs and Stan Lee. The characters written by these gentlemen were filled with chivalry, honor, courage and heroism. What my abusive and absent father failed to teach me about being a real man, I learned from characters like Tarzan, John Carter the Warlord of Mars, the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Justice League. My grandfather, too, taught me similar things.

I believe that what we read has a profound effect on a lot of our decisions and on our character, for good or for bad. Interestingly, when I moved back to the States from DR I opted to drop out of High School, even though, I was an avid student and loved school. What can I say, I had issues. That year I read 52 books, mostly Sci-Fi novels. It was the year I first discovered E.R. Burroughs. That's one 192 page book a week for a whole year or roughly 10,000 pages of material - and yes I still have every single one of them. Those first two books made such an impact on my life that they made me want to write amazing tales that would inspire others as their stories inspired me.

If I could tell, Mrs. Sansone one thing, it would be - Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for seeing what a broken little boy truly needed and giving him the greatest gift a boy could ever get - books!
How do you approach cover design?
Well, among other things, over the years I taught myself graphic design. Rather than trust a designer to "interpret" my vision of what a cover to one my stories "should" look like and giving me their version, I can visualize it myself and come up with several of my own covers that I can then test on multiple friends, family and colleagues.

Of course, the fact that I don't have to pay someone to create covers, also allows me unlimited alterations at no cost. And so, I can correct and perfect my covers immediately without having to wait days or even weeks before seeing the next version.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
1. The Bible by The Almighty Creator, Jehovah - it is, by far, the grandest story every told. And because it inspires me to be a better man.
2. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne - it gave me my first tour of the world.
3. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells - this showed me the fascinating, and frightening, possibilities of alien life.
4. Tarzan of the Apes by E.R. Burroughs -The first of my "52." I learned much from the noble character of Lord John Clayton, the Earl of Greystoke
5. The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey - because Ms. McCaffery gave wings to my imagination. I put Ms. McCaffery on the same level, by my estimation, with E.R. Burroughs as one of the very best Sci-Fi writers of all time.
What do you read for pleasure?
Literally, EVERYTHING! But, I do have an incurable addiction to comic books - I've got about 4,000 of them, Marvel and DC plus a lot of independent stuff. And I also own about 700 books on every subject from "How To..." to quantum mechanics, boat building to bird watching, classical art, Shakespeare to Poe, and of course, science fiction from the legendary classics to contemporary.

I get lost when I go into my studio. It's like walking into the coolest comic book/library/toy museum. So, I'm never board. One of my friends walked into my studio once and immediately called his brother back in Chicago and told him, with child-like glee "Bro, you've got to see this...it's like walking into Atomic Comics back home!" Mission accomplished!
What are you working on next?
I have two novels I'm working on, both are Sci-Fi. The first one, is a time traveler's chronicle-the first of three. The manuscript has been completed and needs editing. The other is one of those "dream pieces" I spoke about earlier. I had a crazy dream and over a couple of weeks I created a whole story around it. Alternate dimensions and Native Americans...nothing but fun there! I'm about six chapters in and already know exactly which direction I'm going with it I just have to sit down and take the time to bang it out. I'll keep everyone posted on release dates.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I own a Mobile Entertainment Company that provides DJ/Lighting/Photo Booth services to all kinds of events. We do everything from weddings to corporate events big and small. The largest event I've ever done has been 10,000 people for the American Cancer Society - an event called the Relay for Live. The was also the longest I've every played - a total of 13.5 hours consecutively. My clients include ALMAC Pharmaceutical Packaging, Herbalife, and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, to name a few.

I love the energy that comes from people who are in a good mood and love to dance. As "The Dancing DJ!" I don't hang out behind my equipment very much. I spend the bulk of my time out in the crowd dancing with them and enjoying the moment. I also do a lot of kids events which are among the most fun. Kids are great people who have fun with no restraints or concerns. They sing and dance like no one is watching. I absolutely love it! And since I love it I never work a day in my life!
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
When I was in elementary school we were given an assignment in "creative writing." I remember writing a piece where I was narrating as one kid who was pretending to be on an adventure in space, while the other kid kept interrupting and pointing out that none of it was real. I wish I still had it. I can remember the opening couple of lines of dialog.

Kid #1: "Space...the final frontier..." (I had no idea what a frontier was, but, they said it in Star Trek, so, it had to be part of space.)
Kid #2: "You're in the living room..."
Kid #1: "Shut up! - These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise..."
Kid #2: "Its just a cardboard box..."
Kid#1: "Please, be quite. Our five year mission..."
Kid #2: "But, you're only ten...I don't think you can start a mission when you're just ten. Can you?"

It went on like that until Kid #1 socks Kid #2 for ruining his pretend space adventure. I don't know if it was funny, but my fifth grade teacher thought it was clever. Sometimes, I wish I could send my grown up mind into my ten year old body and rewrite that first story. I'll bet I could have wowed them!
Describe your desk?
My desk is filled with things that make me smile. As I've mentioned, my office is, basically, a comic/toy store. So, my surroundings are filled with all kinds of things that are NOT conducive to focusing on a screen and writing. Even now, as I think of it, I'm smiling because I can see all of the Ben 10 action figures, the whole Scooby Doo crew, and an unbelievable assortment of molded plastic and stuffed items staring back at me and drawing me into the cartoon world. Pinky and the Brain, Tom & Jerry, and a whole wall of Justice League and Batman paraphernalia. It is really a kids dream. I didn't have that much as a kid, trust me, I've made up for it...in spades! The cool thing is that, even though they can be a distraction, they also fire my imagination. It works for me!
What's the story behind your latest book?
Well, this question is an interesting one. Sometimes you start working on an idea and then it takes on a life of its own and turns into something totally different than you thought it would be. As I mentioned previously, The Tale of Haven's Brave started out as just a story that my friend could read to her granddaughter, Samara. However, over time, the story started to change direction and I had a thought - maybe this could be something everyone could read.

I had originally decided to create a fairytale kind of story with characters that Samara would recognize, when she grew older, as members of her family. Then I started thinking about my own childhood and how tough I had it. I thought of how my brothers and I were bullied when we were young and I started wondering if, maybe, I should try to incorporate some lessons into the story that could help Samara if she ever came across this in her life. So, I did some research and found that even though there was a lot of material out there, some of it, from my perspective, would only make the "kid me" feel awkward discussing the subject matter. And a lot of the material about overcoming some of the bad things that happen to us is just too graphic and harsh to let a younger reader get into. Then, I started coming across the statistics of kids and adults who had, unfortunately, met modern day "monsters" and suddenly I realized who I could model the villains in my story after. But the full story had not coalesce in my mind yet. Over the next couple of years I meditated a lot on my life and the lives of many of the people I've met along the way. Our stories all seemed to have a commonality and that was that when we were experiencing things as kids we all seemed to lack a source or guide that could give us clear direction on where to get help. It is a sad reality that thousands of people live in silence with suffering, many of them kids, that don't have the language or the training to be able to tell someone what they are going through, and thus don't know how to ask for help with these things. It was when I came to this realization that I understood that the true purpose of Haven's Brave had to be about more than just telling a good story. Yes, the story had to be gripping, exciting, and filled with unique characters, but the primary intent of the story had to be to teach something of value to anyone who reads it, young or old.

Of course, when you set yourself to a task like this it makes the writing more difficult. It becomes hard to create the story when every aspect of it has to serve both the purpose of entertaining and the secondary intention of teaching something of value. So, instead of making up situations for a fictional story, I decided to write what I knew was real and true and then fill in the gaps with fictional characters based on real people and their experiences in fictional recreations of actual events. Nearly every character in the book is based on a real person. Including the monsters.

When a person reads the tale of Haven's Brave they aren't just reading a "made-up story" written purely for entertainment purposes. They are really reading a fictional depiction of actual, real life, accounts. The tale is told in such a way that the average reader will just be able to enjoy it as pure escapism. However, if a reader is struggling with trauma, low self esteem, or depression that is a by-product of dealing with what has been done to them by real life “monsters” they will find Haven's Brave to be an empowering tale full of lessons and principles they can apply in the real world.

I think every writer hopes that, one day, they will create an unforgettable land like Oz, Middle Earth, Narnia, or Pern that will entertain and fire the imagination of millions. I don't know if the land of Haven will be remember by millions of adoring fans, which would be nice, but, if even one person can find something in the pages of this story that will help them breathe easier or chose a better path, I would consider it well worth all of the effort.
Published 2015-03-18.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Tale of Haven's Brave
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 101,530. Language: English. Published: March 5, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action
The Tale of Haven’s Brave is a wonderfully written story that has all of the key essentials that every great fairy tale should have-a unique and original land, rich characters, and a captivating plot. A story for all ages.