I date my first interest in writing, or at least in storytelling, back to age nine. As a birthday present for my father, I concocted a carton book called The Adventures of Marvin and Randy, with us on a pirate ship traveling the ocean. At age 13, I joined the Journalism department and became News Editor of the Wee Panther Paper, DeWitt Middle School’s Xeroxed newspaper.
However, I quickly realized making up stories intrigued me more than did reporting on them. At an early age, ideas would pop into my brain. One of the earliest stories I wrote was an assignment for English class. We had make up a couple-paragraph story, and I would’ve had a 4.0 on the assignment had I not written three pages instead of three paragraphs.
How long does it take you to write a book?
My first novel, Driving Crazy, only took around five weeks to write, but I had no job nor wife at that point. The one I am presently creating, Trac Brothers, is apparently nine months old already, but only writing for a few hours on weekends has considerably delayed production.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Unfortunately, my day job (Payroll Specialist for a series of charter schools) is very demanding, and I wed my sweetheart a year ago May, so my free time is quite limited. When I write, I prefer to have a several-hour block of time available, to get into the flow of the story. Weekends tend to be my best time, so I get up early on Saturday / Sunday, drink my coffee, and go down into my “man cave” for the day. I prefer my old desktop computer on a desk facing the wall, window blinds closed, so I can focus on my next story.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
While many writers I know can write with, and even prefer, a lot of noise, I have to have complete silence when I write. I lock myself in the basement (so to speak), no TV, no radio, and get into my story’s world.
In addition, I find I have to write the entire story in my head, from beginning to end, before I can commit it to paper. If I try to write the story before it’s completed in my brain, often times I become stuck before reaching the end. Once the idea percolates around my noggin for a few days, I am ready to fire up the computer.
How do your books get published?
Driving Crazy was initially self-published. In 2010, my writing group, Writing at the Ledges, used a book manufacturer in Grand Rapids, MI called Color House Graphics to print our anthology, Small Towns: A Map in Words. They did a quality job at a reasonable price, so I decided Driving Crazy would go that same route. I also created the eBook version using Smashwords.
In 2014, at the suggestion of an author friend, I submitted my completed novel to Tate Publishing, and they accepted it. Driving Crazy is slated for nation-wide release on June 16, 2015.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I have a strong “what if” type of mind. I constantly find myself examining the events after they occurred, and thinking, “That was okay, but what if this had happened instead?” Before I know it, I’m writing a story in my head. I have missed the endings of so many movies due to something that happened on screen triggering my “what if” brain, and off I go on my own adventure.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I should preface this question – Until recently, I’ve been strictly a short story writer. The ADOS in me (Attention Deficit – Oooh Shiny!) wouldn’t allow me to stick to an idea long enough to turn it into a novel. Driving Crazy, in fact, began life as a long (13000+ word) short story written in 2001. In 2010, at age 42, I expanded it and turned it into a 63000-word novel.
As far as non-novels, if we don’t count the cartoon book for my dad or that story from my grade-school days, I would say I wrote my first short story around 1984. At age 18, I would often stay up until 4:00am writing on my Atari 400 home computer. (Google what the Atari 400 looks like, and you’ll be impressed I was able to type on that small membrane keyboard!)
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Though I enjoy reading when I’m not writing, I tend to have the same ADOS when it comes to my entertainment. I have at least a dozen books with bookmarks in them. Other than that, I try to spend as much time as possible with my new wife and stepdaughter, as well as family and friends. I watch a small amount of TV, and play entirely too much Candy Crush on my tablet.
What does your family think of your writing?
My wife adores that I’m a writer. In fact, we met in our favorite bookstore (EVERYbody Reads, in Lansing, MI) when I was doing a book signing event. I even proposed to her in that same bookstore. Wendy’s an avid reader, so I always try to create stories that she enjoys.
The rest of my family, Mom, brothers and sisters, etc, all think it’s cool that I’m a published author. They come out to my events from time to time and enjoy listening to my readings.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I find it surprising how complicated it can be to create an entire world – believable characters, interesting dialog, entertaining situations – all while keeping a solid narrative throughout the story. Driving Crazy (and most of my short stories) flowed easily from my mind to my fingertips, but with Trac Brothers, I found I had to write out the entire plot before I could start creating the story. Since I found I’m not an outline guy, I wrote a 6-page synopsis, along with a character list and a location summary. It’s not fun to get 30,000 words into a story and think, “Now where was I going with this?”
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
So far, Driving Crazy is my only novel. However, long after I’ve written other novels, I highly suspect it will still be my favorite. The characters are so much fun and the story is near to my heart. I still laugh out loud reading some of the scenes!
If we also count short stories, Driving Crazy will be a close second to The Morning After, a story about a man who wakes up on his front lawn sans trousers, and has to retrace the previous night’s events to locate them.
Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
The main suggestion I always give writers is to join a writer’s group. Having a like-minded group of people with which to share my writing really helped me to evolve. While you can give stuff to friends who will say, “Oh yeah, it’s good,” having people look at your work with a critical eye and offer constructive criticism is the only way you can grow as a writer. Find a group in person or online, and if you can’t find one, create your own!
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Every so often, I’ll get an email or Facebook post. Most people are generally positive, telling me how hard they laughed at a certain scene or enjoyed the book as a whole. However, whenever I see the realtor who sold Wendy and me our house, he always looks at my wife and says, “After all the things he did in this book, I can’t believe you married him! Have you read this? Oh my goodness!” I can’t seem to convince him that while Driving Crazy’s Jay Naylor is loosely based on me, it is a work of fiction. So when he says this to us, we just look at each other and chuckle.
Do you like to create books for adults?
My primary audience is adults, and I do prefer writing for that age group. While I don’t have much swearing or “adult situations’ in my stories, I like not having to think too much about how I write my stories.
What do you think makes a good story?
A good story has to have interesting and believable characters. While I prefer a plot that is at least plausible, I find I can suspend disbelief easily enough as long as the characters stay true to themselves. Writers should never “force” a character to do something that is opposite to their nature or just utterly stupid. (To this day, if someone mentions the movie Jeepers Creepers to me, I get angry at the idiotic things the two main characters do throughout this movie. No one would ever do what these people do! After a while, I found myself rooting for the serial killer.)
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
As a young boy, I wanted to be a baseball player, specifically a pitcher. However, my talent (and my height) didn’t make that dream a reality. I also had aspirations of being the next Charles Schultz, as I spent much of my youth writing hundreds of comic strips called The Weirdos, staring Hic and Bunyan. Since I wasn’t a very good artist (despite having a painter and commercial artist as a father), I slowly started writing stories. And here we are!