As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I had a great sixth-grade teacher, who taught us using different modalities beyond mere reading, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic. He knew students learned in different ways, and I loved it. I knew I wanted to become a teacher.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Again, a teacher opened the door. Until I had Vicki Falb Wilkerson as an English teacher my junior and senior years in high school, I had no affinity towards writing. Not only did she bring out any innate literary talent that I may have possessed at the time, but she also taught me to think critically. In the back of my mind, I walked away from high school imagining I could write successful stories at some point in my future.
What inspired the idea for your book?
Since I try to engage teen readers with American history, the motivation of some of my books came from issues I saw students wrestle with during my teaching career. Students growing up without a parent in their lives has inspired several books, including my newest release, Hobbadehoy Rising. It deals with a street orphan in the hard knocks Five Points area of Lower Manhattan in 1854. As I delved into the research, I realized how divided the nation was at that time, similar to the divisive political climate of today. That became a secondary inspiration and a significant energizer of the book’s plot.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Sometimes a book’s title is obvious to its author from the beginning. However, it’s been my experience that usually the title emerges from the evolving story. For my latest novel, I had several working titles until I settled on Hobbedahoy Rising approximately two-thirds through the writing of my manuscript. “Hobbadehoy” was mid-nineteenth century Manhattan slang for a young male who was considered too old to be labeled a boy, but too young and inexperienced to be viewed as a man—an older teen in the awkward transition towards manhood. Pencil, the protagonist in the book, grows significantly in numerous ways in less than a full year’s time, making Hobbadehoy Rising an apt title for my book.
How long did it take you to write this book?
I work slowly, allowing research to set the plot, so it took me a little over a year to write Hobbadehoy Rising.
How much research did you need to do for your book?
One of the reasons this book progressed slower than others I’ve written is I delved into over ninety resources (print and online). Most of my books usually have two to three dozen sources. However, as I bounced from 1850’s Manhattan to rural Ohio and Cleveland of the same era, many sources became necessary to establish an accurate setting in each locale where the protagonist, Pencil, finds himself.
What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?
During the first couple years in which I wrote historical fiction, writer’s block meant what it means to most people—not being able to get ideas formulated and transferred to paper (or screen). However, as I’ve become more experienced, writer’s block has become significantly less intimidating. I’ve found during a period of writer’s block more research becomes the best way to overcome it. Continual emersion into the era of my book lessens episodes of writer’s block.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?
When I first started writing fiction after I retired, an established author wisely counseled me after reading an excerpt from my initial manuscript—Show, don’t tell. It’s one of the most basic admonitions for a new writer but oh so important. As a writer, think of yourself as a guide on a journey and not a lecturer. Allow your characters’ actions and dialogue to tell the story while avoiding author narration wherever it’s not needed. Stephen King’s On Writing and the classic The Elements of Style by Strunk and White are great resources for beginning writers
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
Hobbadehoy Rising is my fifth novel of historical fiction. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be American Brush-Off, the story of legal German aliens and German Americans sent to a southern Texas internment camp during World War II. It’s a story of which only a scant portion of Americans are aware. Everyone is aware of the 100,000 Japanese Americans interned during the war, but there were Germans and Italians interned as well. Of German descent, I didn’t even know about it until after I retired and read an article in a magazine, which led to reading a non-fiction book on the topic, which led to a had to write it moment. I’ve never been more focused on a manuscript than I was for American Brush-Off.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
With our daughters grown adults, my wife and I live a quiet life out in the country
with our two cats and two dogs. I enjoy playing the home handyman at times while dabbling in nature walks and occasional travel. I’ve started to have an inclination to do some oil painting, but that hasn’t gained traction as of yet.