How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?
The sheer scope of this story was a bit intimidating. It’s the first of a trilogy and each subsequent installment begins exactly where the previous one ended, almost as though they were all one book. Thus I had to map out all three of them even as I was writing the first one so everything would connect and add up.
There are also a lot of characters, and the overriding goal of gaining more rights for kids in this country is so huge that I have been working nonstop since June of 2012 to complete the series, while also helping get the current book edited and ready for publication. My advice to other writers might be, “think smaller” in terms of plot. Ha! While my book has distinct fantasy elements and is, at heart, a fable, it is set in the real world of today and the issues it depicts and decries are very real and very destructive. Thus it was a delicate balancing act to make the story play out in a believable fashion. Hopefully, I succeeded!
Have you ever considered anyone as a mentor?
I had two amazing English teachers in high school and three in college who really inspired me and encouraged my writing. They spent lots of time helping me shape my ideas and thoughts and express them in ways that others could read and enjoy. Plus, the high school teachers had such a positive, nurturing influence on me that I wanted to go into teaching as well as writing so I could perhaps touch the lives of kids the way they had touched mine.
On the non-education side, Father Greg Boyle, who runs Homeboy Industries is a friend and mentor and a personal hero of mine. I’ve learned an extraordinary amount about humility, decency, compassion, and unbending resolve from this remarkable man.
What’s your greatest strength as a writer?
Some writers have outstanding descriptive abilities or poetic ways to turn a phrase. I’m not one of those. Ha! My greatest strength, based on reader responses to my work, is in creating characters readers like and can relate to, no matter how fantastical the plot might be. My second book, A Matter of Time, involved time travel and an intricate plot with supernatural elements, but readers said it all worked on the strength of the characters and how well I created their inner lies and emotions.
I’ve been getting the same response to Children of the Knight, which pleases me. The books I loved most growing up weren’t necessarily those with the fanciest prose, but rather those wherein I got emotionally caught up with the characters, could relate to those characters, and truly cared what befell those characters. That kind of emotional attachment to fictional people is what I strive for in my writing, and it seems I am succeeding.
What movie do you love to watch?
I think my all-time favorite movie (it’s at least in my top 3 or 4) is an obscure little film called “They Might Be Giants,” starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward. I never tire of this film because, even as a kid and even though the characters were middle-aged, I could relate to the story and the message. I supposed it’s because the theme of the movie is that sometimes what we dream is better and more palatable than real life and it’s okay to live in those dreams if the real world becomes too much to bear. I think that’s why I love writing because I can live with my characters and situations and create a world I’d like to live in rather than have to deal with the real world I already have.
What are you most passionate about? What gets you fired up?
That’s easy – the future. Unlike most people who live in the past or the present, my mind tends to always look ahead to what’s coming, and that’s why I’m so passionate in working with kids and teens because they are the future. This country should be getting better, not worse, and that would be happening if as a country and a people we put the needs of the children ahead of our own wants.
We talk the talk about how our kids are so important, but that level of importance for most people comes to a screeching halt when it interferes with what we personally want to do. Not need to do, want to do. That’s called selfishness and that’s why I’m so passionate about rights for young people under the age of eighteen. As of now, they essentially have none.
Are you a city slicker or a country lover?
I grew up in cities and have lived in them my whole life so I guess I’m addicted to the “convenience factor” of having everything close by. But I love being out in the country and I love reading books set in the country or on farms or small, out of the way places. So I guess at heart, I am and should have been a country boy. Ha!
How do you feel about self-publishing?
My first two books were self-published through two different companies. I enjoyed the experience, but also found it difficult because I don’t really have anyone who will read and edit my stuff for errors or typos or just continuity problems, and thus mistakes found their way into the final products. Also, the marketing was all on me because there was no company that would benefit financially from marketing it themselves.
In addition, there is always some expense involved in self-publishing, but if you can promote yourself and get sufficient traction for your book, all the royalties go to you so that’s the biggest plus. If Harmony Ink passes on the sequels to Children of the Knight, for better or for worse I’ll be back in the self-pub biz! Oh, well . . .
Do you know your neighbors?
Actually I do, at least the long-termers. Oddly enough, I had just moved into my first house and had been living there for maybe two-three months when we had a huge earthquake out here that killed power, damaged water lines, damaged most of the houses on my cul de sac and otherwise wreaked major havoc for us all.
That was my first real introduction to my neighbors since we all needed to pull together to assist each other with whatever our needs might be. I recommend getting to know your neighbors, but I don’t recommend having a big earthquake to facilitate that knowledge. Ha!
What is your favorite quality about yourself?
I’d say it’s my ability to be understanding of everyone and by extension accepting of everyone. That’s why I was successful as a teacher because I didn’t expect the kids to be anything other than who they were.
Same with the incarcerated kids. I accept them, don’t judge them, just listen and do my best to understand where they came from and how they’ve gotten to this point in their lives. If people are disrespectful then we have a problem because that’s a behavioral choice, but I find with most people, kids included, if I’m respectful of them, they are of me.
What’s your least favorite quality about yourself?
I’m woefully unorganized and don’t multi-task well, except when it comes to reading books. Ha! I can be reading two or three books at a time in different venues or situations (i.e. listening to one in the car, reading one at the gym, reading another at home before bed.) But my house is always unorganized and when I’m writing I tend to let other things slide too much. Very bad boy, I know. LOL
What is your favorite color?
Red. Always has been. At a very young age, I convinced my mother to put red everything in my bedroom – carpet, bedcover, you name it. I don’t know why I was drawn to that color, but it has been a constant my whole life and has never wavered.
What social issues interest you the most?
The incarceration and adultification of kids. No surprise there since that’s a large part of my life’s work and my writing. A country that teaches its children to be violent and anti-social, that gets them drug addicted, that forces them to grow up in dangerous, poverty-stricken neighborhoods, that actually makes them mentally ill by all of the above and then wants to pretend they’re adults when they commit crimes so it can throw them into prison for life is a disgraceful country!
And we are a disgrace. We incarcerate more kids than any country in the world. We say they should be treated as adults when they do something wrong but not when they do something right. This is egregiously hypocritical since it’s our adult-created society that taught them the criminal behaviors in the first place. Shameful!
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why?
“There are two races of men in this world, but only these two—the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man.” – Viktor Frankl
I love this quote because it’s exactly how I think. Being decent or indecent to each other is a choice we make. Virtually everything else is a function of how we’re born – race, gender, sexual orientation, eye color, hair color, height, etc. But how we treat others is always a choice. Even if we’ve been taught the wrong behaviors as children, we can unlearn those behaviors and become decent human beings. What the kids call “haters” are indecent people who choose to be that way, and I choose to be the opposite.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
I’d say I’m most proud of being someone of honor and integrity and have modeled these qualities in my teaching, volunteer work, and in my personal life. People know they can count on me if the need arises. Kids know they can talk with me about anything and I won’t denigrate or judge them. I don’t even know any more how many young people have told me that I’m an unusual person, that they never met somebody like me. That’s sad that they’ve never known someone with what I would consider easy to adopt and essential qualities, but I’m proud they see me as someone they can trust and count on.
What do you hope people will take away from your writing? How will your words make them feel?
As a child growing up I was hearing impaired which contributed to my being shy and introverted, and I didn’t have a huge number of friends. Books gave me somewhere to go, places I knew I’d never be able to go in real life, and they sparked my bountiful imagination. Sometimes they made me laugh and sometimes cry, but well-written books always got me caught up with the characters and situations. I love the idea of touching someone else’s heart and mind through my writing the same way my heart and mind were so often touched, and even influenced or inspired, as a kid growing up.
I like to celebrate the better qualities in human beings, rather than the lowest ignoble instincts that seem to be the staple of so much of our “entertainment” today. I’d like readers to feel good about themselves as human beings by experiencing in my stories the greatness we humans can aspire to, rather than the baseness we so often bow down to. I hope I’ve achieved that goal with Children of the Knight and will continue to achieve it with the two sequels and in my future work.
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Genre – Edgy Young Adult
Rating – PG13