It was an honor to be interviewed recently by Fiona Mcvie. She has conducted over a thousand author interviews, from writers all over the world, and I am proud to be counted among their number. Her questions were on point, incisive, and thought provoking, and it is a pleasure to share my answers with you in this blog post. Here you go!

Fiona: A little about yourself (i.e., your education, family life, etc.).

I received a public-school education, and a good one, in the little town of Sebastopol, CA., about an hour north of San Francisco. Aside from some specialized training to become a licensed Psychiatric Technician when I was very young, I did not attend college and went to work right after high school graduation. I’ve been married for forty-two years, have two married children who live in Portland, Oregon, two grandchildren, with another on the way. We live in Glen Ellen, CA about an hour north of SF.  It’s a house that my wife, and a friend and I built by hand in the early 1970’s, and it is located not far from Jack London’s Beauty Ranch.


Fiona: Tell us your latest news.

My new website, will be live any minute. I have a new Facebook fan page, and a new book, A Matter of Time, coming out within the month. I also have two new novels in the works. River of Steel has been described by some early readers as Huckleberry Finn for the rails – Colin Elgie, a great UK artist, is currently working on illustrations for it, in the style of Rockwell Kent. And Four in Stone, the first of what will be four novels chronicling my generation through the lives of four friends who meet in high school, is in final rewrite.

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

In junior high. I was a late reader and didn’t really learn how until the fifth grade when I lucked into the class of a teacher who loved storytelling, and who recognized that same love in me. He was from Texas, told great tales of his youth, and I hung on every word. Somehow, he used that to hook me on reading – I still consider it a miracle. A few years later he transferred up to the seventh grade at the same time I did. He taught a creative writing elective. I took it, and he hooked me again. His name was Dave Stockton. Every kid should be so lucky as to have such a teacher in their lives.

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

The summer of 1972. I was traveling across Canada, hitchhiking and hopping freights, and writing letters to my sweetheart – who would become my wife – back home. That was the first time I fully appreciated the power of the written word and its ability to bring us closer even though we may be thousands of miles apart. The challenge to capture my experiences and the thrill of sharing them still motivates me to this day.


Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

It was really a collection of travel pieces, expanded from that flurry of letters I wrote when on the road. While on this trip I first read Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, and discovered that I was unknowingly following some of the same roads he had taken, staying in some of the same places he had visited. To a twenty-year-old, newly intoxicated with the romance both of traveling and writing, it seemed like fate.


Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

I called it Traveler – seemed direct and to the point – not knowing when I picked the name that many years earlier Kerouac had released a story collection called Lonesome Traveler. Mine never saw the light of day as a book, though a few of the pieces made their way into my first published work, Road Stories.

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?

My strongest influences are the classic American writers of the last century. Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. And the generation that immediately followed them, Kerouac, Ken Kesey — and a little later, Stephen King. In my early efforts I tended to overwrite. Ask me what time it was, and I’d describe for you, in detail, how to build a watch. I swung hard the other direction when I reached middle-age, Hemingway’s best work serving as my north star. Now, rather than worrying about too many words or too few, I focus on finding the right ones. That is every writer’s challenge.

The genre question is a great one. My latest book, A Matter of Time, is speculative fiction, set a number of years after the period when I actually wrote it. Road Stories is a collection of travel pieces spanning four decades, and In All Things  is a slightly fictionalized biography covering my training year as a Psychiatric Technician at Sonoma State Hospital. Yet my friend and editor, Vince Zukowski, would describe them all as local color narrative, because place is so critical to character development in my work, and because the stories, whether fictional or not, are driven by dialogue and character interaction.

Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

My best writing is, at some level, always autobiographical. The craft of writing can take you a long way, and I don’t mean to minimize its importance. I have the greatest admiration for writers who consistently turn out well-crafted work in any genre, particularly those who are able to make a living at it. But speaking for myself, both as a reader and as a writer, I believe that great work has to come from the well of the writer’s experience.

Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?

Travel is great for writing! The shift of perspective that stems naturally from new surroundings heightens all the senses, and rather than being a distraction, I have always found that it helps me focus on the work. It is not that I don’t write at home. More like I don’t NOT write when traveling. Portions of the book I am currently working on, Four in Stone, were written in a windstorm in Monument Valley, along Hadrian’s wall in northern England, at the main branch of the New York City Public Library, on The Pacific Crest Trail, in a Nepali jungle, and overlooking the Potala Palace in Lhasa. The book isn’t about any of those places, yet each of them has helped me in its creation.


Fiona: Who designed the covers?

I have mostly worked with independent designers, providing them with my concept for the cover, and sometimes with photos as a starting place. Then, I step back and let them do their thing.


Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

That depends on the novel. For the one I am just releasing as a free download, A Matter of Time, the message is that we need to pay attention. I wrote it not long after The Twin Towers came down, as a cautionary tale about the direction the USA might take if we continued to sacrifice freedom for security — as we were very ready to do then, and unfortunately are prepared to do again. It predicts an autocratic president who co-opts the judiciary and virtually takes over the press, all in the name of the national interest. I could not have imagined when I wrote it, sixteen years ago, how prescient it would turn out to be. So, the message is, no matter how bad we think things are, unless we stay vigilant they can always become worse.

Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?  

I recently finished reading The Flicker of Old Dreams, by Susan Henderson, and I was very taken with it. We have all had the experience of picking up a newly released novel, and recognizing it almost immediately as being of a type. I don’t mean to say that these aren’t good books, but we know when we have one in our hands that it is in the genre of the moment, whether or not that genre has a name. What I liked about Henderson’s work is that it did not feel familiar in that way. If anything, it felt timeless, harkening back to the sort of storytelling – classic themes, richly textured setting, depth of insights – that inspired me to be a writer in the first place.


Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?

John Steinbeck created a depth of character and sense of place that spoke to me like no other writer. Kerouac captured some of that, though in a different way, as did Harper Lee, though different again. But it was Steinbeck who made Monterey, the Salinas Valley, and the Dust Bowl come alive for me, and he peopled them with characters that I felt I actually knew.

Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.

Outside of family, who are the most important, I’m afraid I can’t name an entity. I have only just recently joined a writer’s group here in Glen Ellen. We get together every month or so, share a meal, write for an hour, then read what we’ve written. I find that process — of supporting other writers, and of being supported — very rewarding.  But outside of that, I have never attended retreats or belonged to associations, and I didn’t come out of a university writing program as so many good writers do. I have been blessed with good friends who have supported my writing efforts over the years, some of whom also happened to be good, honest editors. I cannot overstate the critical role they have played, and continue to play, in my development as a writer.

Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?

Yes, though one I am coming to a little later than expected. A bit like Roy Hobbs in The Natural, I stepped away from the game for a while – in my case about thirty years – but it was always on my mind. Fortunately, my career in business and local politics provided me with ample opportunities to write. I am part owner of Ceilume Smart Ceiling Tiles, and served two terms on our local school board. So, I was able to hone my craft in that way. I would also write about my travels, and some of those pieces ended up in Road Stories. But it is only recently that I have been able to devote more time to my writing career.

Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

I think that is probably always true. If you continue to grow as a writer, you can’t help but bring a different perspective every time you come back and look at something you’ve written. Print is a harsh taskmaster in that way. Once the ink is laid down, there it is! But that might be a good thing. Otherwise, wouldn’t we all be tempted to revise endlessly? Books can always be better, but at some point, we just have to let them go.

Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?

A Matter of Time covers the last twenty-four hours of a condemned man’s life on death row. It consists of twenty-four chapters, one per hour. Inspired by the Write A Novel In A Month movement – NaNoWriMo – which was just becoming popular then, I set out to do them one better and wrote the whole thing in a single twenty-four-hour period, one chapter per hour. I was younger then, and I am not sure I could physically do it today. But I remember vividly the thrill of giving myself over entirely to the project, body and soul. Stephen King talks about writers “falling through a hole in the page,” when they find the zone, or as musicians say, when they are in the pocket. I got to be there for an entire day, and even now, when I write, I can feel myself touch that place again. So, what did I learn? To recognize that special place writers can go, to value it, and to never take it for granted.


Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?

Mark Ruffalo could do a hell of a job with it. He has an everyman quality that the role would require, and can convey strength of character without acting “strong.”

Fiona: Any advice for other writers?

Write for yourself first. Of course, that is true for journaling, but I think it also applies to your other creative writing efforts. Said another way, would you write it if you knew in advance that you would never get paid for it, and that no one but you would ever read it? If the answer is yes, then you are fulfilling a genuine need within yourself. That can be very powerful, and it means there is a good chance that what you have created will speak to that same need in others. Start there, then find an honest editor who understands what you are trying to do, and listen to them. You need an outside perspective, even if you don’t always agree with it.

Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?

 Thank you. Sharing my work with you is one of the great pleasures of my life.


Fiona: What book are you reading now?

The Lost Boy by Thomas Wolfe, and Varnia by Charles Frazier. Extraordinary use of language in both, sentences you can read again and again, just for the pure pleasure of doing it.


Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I trace some of my love of trains and of adventure to that book, and was thrilled to be able to read it to my grandson, Cooper, recently.


Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?

I love movies, will watch favorites repeatedly, and the good ones make me do plenty of both. I can’t watch To Kill a Mockingbird without chocking up when Atticus leaves the courtroom after the trial, and Scout and Jem come to appreciate for the first time how deeply their father is respected. And it is impossible not to laugh when watching Gene Wilder in The Producers.


Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?

Herman Melville. Sam Clements or Charles Dickens would be more entertaining, Abraham Lincoln more awe-inspiring. However, I think Melville may be the purest writer we have ever produced. Though his early work was popular, and he was successful and famous as The Man Who Lived with Natives, he kept striving for something deeper, eventually writing Moby Dick. It would only sell a few hundred copies during his lifetime, but it is now recognized as one of the greatest novels ever created. That’s a man I’d like to chat with, preferably in a quiet corner of the Spouter-Inn in New Bedford. We’d share a few glasses of rum, filled to the Cape Horn measure, of course, and I would probably ask him some of the very same questions you are asking me.


Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?

My wife and I try to get to New York City at least once a year to take in as many shows as we can. There is nothing like live-theatre for storytelling. It is so immersive and the relationship with the actors so intimate. And I’m a runner – a slow one. Some of my best writing work actually gets done while I’m running the mountain trails in and around Glen Ellen. I have also recently taken up throwing discus at the master’s level. I threw in high school, enjoyed it, and when I picked up a disc again, I was delighted to discover that I hadn’t forgotten how. The flight of a well-thrown discus and the feel of a well-crafted sentence feed my soul. A good discus throw requires balance and the seamless integration of a great many small but integral elements. Overemphasize or ignore any of them, and the discus will fall short or fly out of bounds. Almost exactly the same thing can be said for writing a good sentence.


Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

Currently, Game of Thornes is a show we don’t want to miss. When the news gets overwhelming, which it can easily do these days, my wife and I will re-watch The West Wing (the government we should have), and Newsroom (the news network we should have). Aaron Sorkin is one of the best writers working today, and we are lucky to have him. Not a year goes by without us re-watching The Lord of The Rings movies,  The Grapes of WrathField of DreamsThe Magnificent SevenIt’s A Wonderful LifeLA ConfidentialRio BravoElmer GantryInherit The WindThe Great Escape . . . it is a long list – much longer than I’ve written here – but a good one.


Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?

Mexican, green, American folk. There is nothing quite like a good chimichanga, preferably paired with a nice, cold Corona. The shades of green, throughout the seasons along the running trails here in Sonoma County, are endlessly fascinating and infinitely varied. When it comes to music, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young have always been favorites. I think it is probably true for all of us that the music of our youth, or current music that traces its roots back to it, always speaks to us in a special way.


Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?

I would try to find some other means of connection and expression, some other way to share that part of myself that is embodied in what I write. It is the intimacy of that sharing that I would miss the most.


Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?

Saying “Goodbye” certainly. It would be a gift to be able to do that. And saying “Thank You.” Lives can be hard, some lives unbearably so. I feel lucky, every day, that mine has been so good. And yeah, I’d try to get down another well-formed sentence or two.


Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?

Don’t want a head stone. But there is a hillside, in the regional park here in Glen Ellen, where I’d like to have a bench. It overlooks Jack London’s Beauty Ranch up on Sonoma Mountain, above the old State Hospital grounds where I first started out, where I so often run with my friends, and where for 50 years I have lived with my wife and family on the edge of the village that is our home. I like to think of people sitting on that bench, taking in all that beauty. It is almost as if I’d be sharing it with them, just like a good story.


Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?

Thanks for asking, and for the great questions!

Folks can keep track of what I’m up to at

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