Books... BOOKS

Behind the Story

Behind the Story Cover Image
August 15, 2023

Born to Write

When I reflect on my life, I feel fairly certain that I've tried my hand at more things than most people. As a kid, I remember my mother telling me that I was flighty, that I should take the time to focus on doing something well. “Jack of all trades, master of none,” she would often say to me, although I don't think I ever understood what that meant exactly. She assured me, however, that I had potential, I only needed to apply myself. But I grew up back in the '50s, in the rural farm country of central Ohio, an ideal setting for pursuing a Tom Sawyer lifestyle. My focus was primarily on adventure and trying new things.

I’ve always been a daydreamer. In my reveries, I was able to conjure up wild scenarios where anything was possible. This attribute remains with me today, continuing to motivate me to attempt things that I think are worth doing—a philosophy that has usually served me well over the years

This trait is what drove me to write my first novel, A Wolf’s Tale: Memoir of a Man Named Wolf. The book began as my own non-fictional memoir, but I eventually decided to fictionalize the events to give myself more freedom in telling the stories that generally defined my life. I think of it as elaboration, a concatenation of somewhat related events. Perhaps it was actually an allegory of my actual life - all in the interest of entertainment.

I’ve always loved to tell stories. Even as a child, I would make up stories to entertain my siblings, neighbors, and cousins. I frequently came up with elaborate ideas for having fun, like starting a zoo, treasure hunts in the nearby woods, or floating down Blacklick Creek on a log pretending we were explorers. When I grew older, I used the stories of my life as a means of driving home a particular point when delivering a lecture on leadership during my career in the high-tech industry.

I really love writing stories. After my first book was published, the ideas for more stories just kept pouring out of my brain. In the early morning hours, as I laid in my bed in a half-dream state, I would typically come up with plot lines and individual scenes. The rest of the day would be spent capturing all the ideas on my computer while they were still fresh.

I self-published my first five novels, but then I connected with an indie publisher, DocUmeant Publishing, just as I was finishing the sixth. I discovered that what I didn’t know about publishing and marketing was a lot. My publisher helped me though the process and I became a better writer for it.

In keeping with my ‘flighty’ personality, and as I'm sure many of you know, the genre of my novels has been all over the map. Following my fictional memoir, I wrote two science fiction tales, an award-winning historical fiction novel, a paranormal murder mystery, and an award-winning modern western/native-American fantasy.

Of course, I realize that this practice of genre hopping is not an ideal business or marketing strategy, a habit that makes it very difficult to accurately identify my target readers. Limiting myself to one genre, however, just doesn't work for me. I will confess that science fiction and fantasy are my favorite categories for reading and writing. And regardless of which one of my books you read, you’ll find those influences in every story.

Deciding What to Write

When I started preparing to write The Five Watches: An Accident of Time, I began with the decision that it was time to do something within the realm of science fiction. Now, I love reading space operas and science fantasy, but I don’t consider those sub-genres to be within my bailiwick as a writer. The two science fiction books I wrote a few years ago involved parallel worlds, which I still find quite fascinating, but the persistent urge to do something with time travel kept me awake at night.

I’ve read many time travel novels, including H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Frankly, I’ve been disappointed with some of these time travel books because so many of them are essentially romance novels or relatively stereotypical going-back-in-time-to-change fill-in-the-blank, which every serious time traveler knows is impossible due to the consistency paradox. Of course, most these are very well written and popular sellers, and I'm not criticizing them.

But I wanted to come up with something different, something appealing yet provocative. I mean, I know everybody likes those other typical, more common plot lines, including the quintessential romance novels, but I couldn’t see the point of me rewriting stories like: This is How You Lose the Time War, or Kindred, or The Time Traveler’s Wife, or Outlander (all excellent books, or course).

I believe time travel is an inherently interesting sub-genre. Some people refer to these books as speculative fiction. The challenge is to devise a story which uses that intrinsic allure effectively. I came up with the idea of focusing the novel on four days of one man’s life in the year 2019, although the events in my story stretch over 700 years. I wanted the present-day characters in my story to be just ordinary, everyday people who, when confronted with extraordinary events, stepped up to the challenge and achieved extraordinary things. I also devised the concept of a 'future of the future' in an effort to avoid the consistency paradoxes. Beginning with that premise, I let my imagination take over.

Well, okay, there was another thing that I wanted to address. The tension and turmoil in today’s society, coupled with humankind’s inherent propensity to destroy itself, along with the world we all live in, are things that I often think about. Most authors of fiction write novels that reflect their experiences, attitudes, and concerns, and I’m no exception.

I was determined to avoid making a big political statement, but I did want to weave a social commentary into the story by styling it as a precautionary tale illustrating what we, as human beings, are libel to do to ourselves if something doesn’t change—you know, the apocalyptic-dystopian stuff that many science fiction novels portray. I also wanted to emphasize our ability to achieve amazing things when we put our minds to it.

The “accident of time” in my story provides humanity with one last chance to change the future of the future rather then trying to change the past to alter our present. As is the case with all my books, I like to end with a ray of hope that we will eventually figure out how to get along with each other. Hopefully readers will decide that now is a good time to begin making changes.

Writing into the Sunset

I know - it's supposed to be "riding into the sunset" but I wanted to use this picture of Paula and my grandchildren, Ella and Alexander, on a sunset hayride at our ranch in California a few years back. You can't really see me in this picture, but I'm pulling the old hay wagon with my restored 1955 Ford Model 600 tractor (which, just so you know, is really cool). 

I also wanted to tell you that, when you buy a book, it's not like buying a pair of jeans or a sack of flour or anything else. When you read a book, whether you realize it or not, you are engaging in a unique bond with the author through the story contained within. An author creates a story in an effort to connect with the reader in a manner which is more personal than you might suspect. The story and the characters are typically a reflection of the author's experiences and personality - of how they see the world. And they are want to share this with you - the reader.

All the writers I know have one thing in common. More than money or fame or anything else, they want people to read their books. This is why we write. When someone reads your story, that's the 'big thing', the payoff for all the effort and expense that goes into creating the book. When somebody tells me that they read one of my books and that they enjoyed it, that's what makes me want to keep writing - off into the sunset.

Thank you all.