I'm proofreading the galleys for my story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD. I can't believe how long it's taking me to do this. The book is 250 pages long and contains twelve stories. I practically have them memorized by now, but I'm still finding phrases that need fine-tuning. Apart from that, the book is finished and will be published in January, 2016.
My other big project is a novel called THE VERMILLION SEA. It's a book about a sixteen-year-old French art student, Noel, who was plucked out of school and sent along as a draftsman for one of the most important astronomical expeditions of the day. The year was 1769. Eighteen expeditions fanned out around the globe. Astronomers needed to answer the biggest scientific questions of the day. How far is the earth from the sun? What is the earth's diameter? My little guy, Noel, went over to Baja California. As you might imagine, he left Paris in hopes of winning fame and fortune. Would he survive the trip? Would he return with his illusions intact? Stay tuned.
Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite authors are Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Margot Livesey, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Frederick Busch, Stuart Dybek, Alexander Hemon, Thomas Hardy, Ann Tyler, and an Irish writer who is just a bang-up short story writer, Billy O'Callaghan. Of course, I am leaving out many, many wonderful writers, but these are the names that popped into my mind. Each day when I've finished writing, I spend half an hour doing a close study of a story or novel chapter. I try to learn how other writers have solved problems I'm facing, chief of which is how to make a fictional reality as real as the world we live in.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Ideas about what's going to happen in my book often come to me when I'm in that state of suspended animation between the dream-world and being fully awake. I make coffee and rush to my computer. I love writing or else I wouldn't do it.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I could say that I'm almost never writing. It might be more accurate to say that if I'm not writing, then I'm thinking about writing. When I'm not actually at my computer, you can find me backstroking in the pool at the Tempe YMCA or walking around the Desert Botanical Garden with binoculars. One thing I'd love to be good at is bird identification; however, at the moment, I am a piss poor birder.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I'm friends with a lot of writers on Facebook and Twitter. Whenever I meet someone new in the virtual world, I download a copy of his or her book. I've discovered many fine writers this way.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I wrote my first story in fourth grade, and it was published in the Redwood City Tribune. I found it recently in a newspaper archive, and I was horrified at how bad it was. The story had no plot. That's something I've had to learn the hard way--how to make things happen in a story. When my novel, MONTPELIER TOMORROW, was published last year, I was afraid that readers would find it boring and plotless. Instead, one reader called it, "difficult to read, but impossible to put down." By difficult to read, she didn't mean I used big words. She meant the book was emotionally difficult. Since then, many readers have told me the book is a page-turner.
What is your writing process?
I write using a program called Scrivener. It allows me to make a tentative outline and then move scenes around. If I haven't quite found the voice of a story, I'll often go back to pen and pencil. The tactile pleasures of writing on a yellow legal pad help me enter the emotional territory of a story.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I remember reading SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON when I was quite young. I suppose that's one reason I love the novel I'm working on now, THE VERMILLION SEA. My little Noel is going on a grand adventure. He will find himself marooned and have to use all his ingenuity to get himself back to Paris. Stories about shipwrecked captives were common when I was a child. The question I ask myself is, Could I survive in such circumstances?
How do you approach cover design?
Luckily, I've had help with cover design. For MONTPELIER TOMORROW, the BookDesigners came through for me. With THE RUG BAZAAR I was able to get original cover art from Nicole Oquendo. I always try to think about what will look good at thumbnail size.
What do you read for pleasure?
I'm not sure if you call it pleasure, but I have a stack of books on my file cabinet. Some are books written by friends, and I would like to do them the courtesy of writing a review. Others come from the library, and those have a due date. I refer to this pile as the "guilt pile." In truth, after writing all day, my eyes are pretty tired. I mostly read on weekends.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use an old, black-and-white Kindle. That's synced to my computer, and sometimes, I'll read on my computer, too. Mostly, I like to take my Kindle out to my backyard, prop my feet up on a hassock, and sink into another reality.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Personal contacts have been more effective than anything. I find that sending out an email to my contact list can be a pretty effective way of jogging people into taking a look at my latest book.
Describe your desk
Oh, gosh! My desk. Right now it's buried under paper. My desk drawer is a mess. I have three glasses of moldy iced tea on the windowsill. My back is turned, but this afternoon I will try to clean it off so I won't be embarrassed if you ask me that question again.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Redwood City, California. Every day after school I came home and put on my roller skates. In the summer I spent half a day in the pool at the Rec Center. I was an only child and learned to occupy myself with various creative projects, such as making "peep show" boxes or doing watercolors. My father was a longshoreman and also a great storyteller, or bullshitter, as the case may be. Observing his antics made me a quiet taker of "mental notes." Also, it gave me an appreciation for the number of ways we can fool ourselves about our real intentions.
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