Five, huh? Well okay then! First of all is Treasure Island, which I read as a little kid with a flashlight under the covers, and learned all about cliffhangers and how characters don't have to be perfect to be interesting and even attractive.
Second, one of the Tarzan books - I don't know which one; I read it as an very early teen - in which Tarzan and his French Foreign Legion friend are riding in a small plane over the jungle. The engine begins to sputter, so T goes forward to see what's happening. I don't remember exactly what he found, but here comes the part that made me want to be a writer: Tarzan walks calmly back through the bucking, whining machine. The French foil asks, "What's happening? The plane is going down!" and Tarzan responds, cool as ice, "You just answered your own question." If a line like that doesn't make you want to be a writer, you have no soul.
Third, The Fall of Constantinople, 1453, by Steven Runciman. This book is straight history the way Châteauneuf-du-Pape is straight wine. In a book of less than 300 pages, Runciman introduces all the major players with all their imperfections, shows their conflicts and the reasons behind them, tosses in the empire's long history, the history of the Turks, the disaster of the Fourth Crusade, the complex reasons that the city was failing, the reason that Mehmet II was desperate to take it, the final climax, and a soliloquy at the end that would make a motorcycle repairman weep.
Fourth, Jerusalem by my favorite HF author, Cecelia Holland. The fall of the Knights Templar was never handled so well, and the character, Rannulf Fitzwilliam, is unforgettable in all his uncompromising imperfections and final triumph.
Fifth - gosh. Well. Just now it has to be The Moon Reflected Fire by Doug Anderson. Amazing, uncompromising, unblinking poetry of the highest order.
What do you read for pleasure?
I don't sort books into 'work' and 'pleasure.' Working IS my pleasure, or I wouldn't write. So nothing makes me happier than picking up, say, "Talking Trojan" by Hilary Mackie, or "Subliminal" by Leonard Mlodinow. A light, perky piece of fiction? Never.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I own both a Kindle and an Ipad Mini with the Kindle app on it, but rarely remember to use them. There are books on both devices that I seriously mean to read, but I just never remember to pick them up and use them. I seem to be an unrepentant real-book person.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in rural Oregon, third (of four) child of a shipyard machinist and a housewife who quit school in 8th grade because her mother moved so much that she just finally gave up on study. It was, in many ways, an ideal childhood, especially for a writer. Hours of total freedom: be home by sunset, and always stay within hearing of Mom's whistle. Those were the rules. I read under the covers and up in the willow tree. Explored woods and fields. And when I got a bike for Christmas - a raggedly, very-used one, but totally functional - it was like being handed the keys to the Kingdom.
How did this influence my writing? Freedom to think for myself, to listen and never forget to judge, to always ask why (never aloud, but still), to finally learn to accept other people without fear, however they were, and try to figure them out not superficially, but deeply. And all of this was done in silence.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I am a sucker for a flawed character - one whose flaws are not of his making, but who never tries to palm off responsibility on others. Akhaides, the protagonist of my series Peryton - I always say - knows who he is, knows what he did, knows that nothing going on around him has anything to do with him. But he is wrong. And when he learns how wrong he is, he must decide what to do about it, with no regard for his own personal well-being.
My new guy, Aias (Ajax) of the Trojan War, is somewhat the same. His life is complicated by his birth, and there's nothing he can do about that except be who he is, do what needs to be done, and, like Akhaides, never never never feel sorry for himself. So, far more than a really big guy who was the only Greek in Troy who never asked a god for help, he is a compromised character who must sort out his own life with no help from outside.
After Aias is done, the next guy will be either St. George or Samson, two more with more than the usual complications in their lives, and decisions to make to accommodate or surrender to them.
If there is a theme to my writing, and my characters, it can be expressed in the words of Yehuda Bauer: "Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander."
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I was motivated to go ahead and do it myself for three reasons: writers I know who successfully found agents and publishers have suffered endless frustrations; several agents said they like my writing very much but don't like Akhaides, and do I have anything else? But if you don't like him, you won't like Aias either, so no thanks; I hired a very professional editor to work with me, who turns down 90% of the writers who want to hire him, but he worked hard to convince me to hire him, and he is one of my biggest fans - a man who has edited dozens of best sellers. Oh, and a fourth reason: I am tired of fiddling around waiting for other people. I am feeling fate closing in - at some distance now, but still - and don't want to waste any more time courting people I don't much respect.
What do your fans mean to you?
OMG, fans! I never ever thought anyone except a few friends would bother to read and say they like what I do. To have total strangers thrilled and delighted by what I do, and write to tell me so, is the greatest imaginable charge. And it's not just a good ego-feeder - although that, of course, is a factor - but it also confirms that I really am doing the right thing. That support and endorsement is unspeakably powerful.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
When not writing I work as a volunteer CASA (court-appointed special advocate for abused/neglected children); drive cancer patients for the American Cancer Society; drive abandoned dogs from pounds to rescues - I am not/not/not a sentimental person, but am utterly helpless around sad dogs; care for 13 acres of Texas and my four horses; boss around my own dogs; watch over my neighbors benignly; and do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day.
What is your writing process?
My writing process works, in a way, from back to front. That is, I know how a story will end and have sometimes written that as a rough draft, then take it from the beginning to get there. So I never, like many writers, get started on a story and then it runs out of gas. I always know where its going, although there will be twists and turns on that path that surprise - and delight - me very much.
How do you approach cover design?
I design my own covers; would never trust anyone else that job. I think of the cover as that first look face-to-face, and perhaps that first handshake that tells you volumes about a person. My Peryton covers (I did most of the photography, too) are as straightforward as Akhaides is: "Here I am. Make of that what you will."
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