Monday, November 7, 2011



Hi Tim, thank you so much for doing this interview with Great Minds.

Thanks so much for inviting me today, Kitty. I really appreciate it and can only say it is an honor to spend time with you and your readers.

We have been honored to have the opportunity to review your novel and there are some questions we'd like to ask you for our readers. My first question is, some of your stories have appeared in national magazines over twenty years ago. Can you tell us about a couple and what publications they were in?

Years ago, I owned a lakefront cottage. Unfortunately, one winter it was broken into and all my early computer files were taken. Fortunately, I have a mother who saved a few of the magazine issues with some of the more entertaining items. One piece I did was for “Child Life.” It was called “The Super Loop,” a fun article teaching children how to make an airplane out of straws and paper strips. Another was published in “The Single Parent.” That story “Dad, Grog, and Me” was told through the eyes of a boy who came home from school each day to have his father tell him his stuffed monster Grog had been running through the house all day, had lost some tools, had stolen a book, or had just been causing general mischief. After a while, the little boy started to believe that maybe his toy really was alive. Though fiction, I remember thinking it would have been just the sort of thing my father might have done had he thought of it. After all, this was the same man who stapled my clothes to the floor…with my seven-year-old self still in them.

It is said that your true passion is fiction writing, what genre would best describe your writing style?

My novels “The Santa Shop” and “Under-Heaven” are what I would call mainstream emotional. “Zachary Pill, The Dragon at Station End,” is a young adult (to adult) fantasy. My “Ancestor” books are pure horror. I’ve been told “Bones in the Tree” is female dating or chick lit. One of my latest stories, “The Pheesching Sector,” is straight science-fiction. My childhood was what some might kindly call a train wreck. My way of escaping that difficult period was to read, literally for hours each day. Even though I had a library just two blocks from my home, they had only so many books in each category, so I wound up reading books across every genre…which is probably why I feel comfortable crossing boundaries as a writer. Besides, for me all stories are about characters. When I’m writing, I’m seeing through my characters’ eyes, feeling what he or she feels. It doesn’t matter what circumstance (genre) you place people in, they’re still people and still have reactions similar to yours and mine. I’ve occasionally compared writing to acting…though if my neighbor Stephen King is any example, we writers might act better on the page than on screen.

(Note to Stephen: I still love your cameos. Your “Sons of Anarchy” appearance was wonderful.)

You have a book out called "The Santa Shop" which is perfect for this time of year, can you tell us more about that book and the thought process behind writing it?

I grew up just a few thousand feet from the Androscoggin River in Maine, which was an open sewer back then. It wasn’t a happy time for me. I don’t blame my parents; they did the best they could, given they both came from dysfunctional families and yet had somehow created six children in as many years. Unfortunately, they were not only saddled with raising all six of us on a very limited income, they also had to do it while disliking each other—a lot. So, when their domestic war zone became too heated (a daily occurrence), I used to slip away down the railroad tracks and sit on a bridge overhanging the river and watch filthy brown foamed water bob and splash over the falls. Those were sad times.

A bridge very much like that one became the center point for my “The Santa Shop” story. Though Skip Ralstat, the main character, only visits his bridge toward the end of the book, once there, he winds up experiencing the sheer weight of all my fifteen years of childhood hopelessness. It’s a scene that I think will stay with most readers long after the story ends. Beyond that pain-filled bridge scene, however, “The Santa Shop” was my attempt to explain what would happen if one of the many mysterious conspiracies we often hear about was actually bent toward goodness, toward helping people rather than hurting them. Skip Ralstat gets swept up into one of those good conspiracies.

The book we are reviewing is called "Under-Heaven" what was the reason for writing this story and how many of your book ideas do you get from your real life experiences?

For me, this story was first and foremost about family loyalty. I asked, how far would I go to protect the people I loved? Would I die for someone? And, if I did, would my loyalty end there or would it go on into the afterlife? In “Under-Heaven” a nine-year old boy, Nate, learns the meaning of family ties after he dies. He also discovers the helplessness of seeing his sister continue to live and suffer back here on Earth. Though “Under-Heaven” gave me a unique vantage point from which to explore just how much family means to me, I can’t say those characters were based on anyone I knew. Nate’s flashbacks, however, take place in my home state of Maine, so I was able to infuse them with a lot of downeast reality. I think, by the end of the novel, most readers, even those who have never been to the Northeast, will feel as if they have actually visited 1940s coastal Maine.

Have you ever given any thought to screen-writing, and if so what is the one book you've written that you'd like to see on the silver screen, besides "The Santa Shop, which I hear is being considered for movie production?

“The Santa Shop” sat at Hallmark Studios for two years but ultimately never quite made it onto the screen. My agent really felt we were on the cusp, but the A-list actor he had been counting on to accept the primary role passed. So far no one else with enough clout has stepped up to accept the part. A screenwriter is currently working with that story now, though, and he has a pretty good track record, so my fingers are crossed.

Because it involves more action than the first story, I think the second book in the Santa Conspiracy series “The Red Gloves” would make a better movie. It is just as emotional but because the main character is a police detective, the story has a lot more action. Though I would love to see “Under-Heaven” on the big screen, I fear it would require too many special effects to make it affordable. Of course, if a studio wanted to spend a hundred million on it, I could be convinced.

I recently looked at the screenplay for Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” just to see how the writer pulled it off. Ultimately, I don’t think I’d have the patience to learn a new presentation right now. Better to leave the script work to the many very talented writers already plugged into Hollywood.

Congratulations by the way! You also do a lot of speaking engagements at schools and other gatherings. What has been your favorite engagement and what was the question you have been asked along the way that has been the most memorable?

I think my most enjoyable experience so far was at the Saco Middle School in Maine. There, a focus group of young readers reviewed “Zachary Pill, The Dragon at Station End.” I was able to ask questions about the book and learn how they perceived the various facets of the story. It was amazing to see how many of my scenes they got, but it was also eye-opening to see how many they misunderstood. Ultimately, those students gave the book a B rating. The final version of that novel clarified the confusing scenes for them and took all of their comments into consideration, so I believe it’s now at A level.

I think my favorite question so far was from a little girl no higher than my kneecaps. She wanted to know if she could ever become a novel writer even though she was a bad speller. I could have talked about the beauty of editors and spellcheck programs, but ultimately I picked four picture books from the shelf behind me and asked her how long it would take her to read those books. She said about a month. I handed her the four books and said, “If you read this many books every month…by the time you’re an adult, you’ll be one of the best writers in your whole city.” She had those same four books in her hand when I left the classroom half an hour later.

What have you got going right now as far as writing and when can we expect your next book to be available?

Wow, that’s a loaded question. Like most writers, I have way more projects planned and brewing than I could likely get to in a lifetime, so I will limit the response to the next few nearly complete projects. “The Red Gloves” which is the second novel in the Santa Conspiracy series will be available in late-2011. “Heroes With Fangs” is a children’s book based on my YA Zachary Pill series. That will be available in Spring of 2012.

Tell us about your family, how do they feel about your writing?

I have to admit that I have been very fortunate. My wife is nothing short of an angel on Earth and my three children are amazing. My oldest, a daughter, just graduated college and has started on a preschool teaching career path. My middle son is in college and doing very well. My youngest son has often joked he is going to star in the first “Zachary Pill” movie and that he will also be designing the first “Zachary Pill” video game. They have all been supportive of my writing career.

It seems that your choice of writing spans quite a few genres looking over your work, what would be your favorite genre to read?

Though, as mentioned, I have read and continue to read in many genres (the result of having so many writher friends and acquaintances), my favorite genre will always be fantasy. From the day I read “The Hobbit,” my heart has been with all things fantasy and magic. I think what I like most about fantasy is that there are no limits, not for the readers and not for the writer. If you can imagine it and fit it into a workable plot, the readers will love you for it. Though I’ve had my challenges as a writer, imagination has never been a problem.

Lastly, do you have any advice you'd like to share with other aspiring authors?

I saw a news documentary recently about sports and music child prodigies. The narrator was making a case that the older children in every class have the best chance of becoming leaders in those fields—not because of natural abilities, but because they have the most mature bodies and minds in their classes, therefore at an early age they likely do well enough to become teacher/coach favorites. Ultimately, these oldest children get more training and practice time than any of the other kids. But here was the most important point for me: each of the most successful musicians and athletes studied had amassed over 10,000 hours of practice time. The point of the entire documentary was to say that anyone with 10,000 hours of practice can be a prodigy at anything. I believe this is true, so my point is that writers write…all the time, every spare minute. If you don’t have your 10,000 hours of writing, rewriting, and editing experience, you need to get to work. Sure, some writers get lucky, write the perfect story at the perfect time, but the rest of us…well, we had to put in our 10,000 hours.

Thank you so much Tim for being a guest for Great Minds Literary Community. I hope to have the pleasure of interviewing you again in the near future! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving & Christmas Holiday!

Thank you for allowing me to join you here. I had a great time, and I wish you and your readers the best of holidays as well.


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