• What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
Well, aside from buying my books, I’d say by email. Yes, I have my personal email address on my Crow Tree website. In fact, I’ve had the same email address for nearly twenty years, so I am becoming an expert on spam, scams, and other internet blither. But I still cherish the occasional honest email that seeps through.
If someone doesn’t need immediate interaction, but wants to keep up on book releases, writing advice, and short works postings, the Crow Tree website mailing list, or the Crow Tree Twitter account, are the best.
• What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?
Reading fiction is well known to increase empathy. It puts you into someone else’s life for a while, and even though that person is imaginary, the feelings they have are real. (Marianne Moore deifned poetry as “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.”) So it broadens your life, graces you with feelings you may never have had otherwise, helps you understand the confusing sentiments everyone endures, and breaks through the walls of ego, freeing you join the larger world of humanity. (I cover this in greater depth on the Crow Tree blog.)
• What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
As I explain in my Crow Tree post, “No Regrets,” I purposely avoided an academic career so I could experience the varied aspects of life in the so-called “real world.” (Of course, it ‘s all equally real, but some of it is quite narrowly defined.) I have been a professional motorcycle mechanic, a desk jockey in a big corporation and again at a major university, and a high-level salesman in the photo equipment field, alternating between stints as a counter monkey and stretches as webmaster, online sales manager, and network admin; I have owned a tiny fashion design company, where I was chief designer, product manager, and online sales boss, with software robots doing much of the sales work; I’ve been a freelance writer grinding out hundreds of articles per year for a pittance; I have edited and published or co-published two online ‘zines covering different aspects of sustainable urban development; and I have worked as a day laborer for a high-end landscape architect, digging holes and hoisting boulders. They’ve all introduced me to vivid characters whom I would never have met otherwise, some of whom have become friends and lovers. You can’t write fiction without knowing something about what life is like for your fellow humans.
• Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
The answer right now is “Both.” My two current novels and the novel-in-progress share characters and themes, but each can be read by itself or as part of a series, as suits the reader.
• What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the world-building within your book?
Decades of living in Los Angeles, and exploring nearly every part of the city, usually on foot, often with a camera in hand. The current stories are focused on the downtown warehouse district, East Hollywood and Echo Park, and the barren ranges of the LA River, but my settings also include the Hancock Park mansion district, the grimier reaches of Sunland and Tujunga, and the Sierra foothills outside of town. The vastly different characteristics of LA’s disparate neighborhoods and the people who choose to live in them anchor the tensions of my plots.
• How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I prefer print books, but provide my tales in any format anyone could want. I’ve read 1500-page novels in French on my phone, I’ve read books on tablets, and of course I’ve read thousands upon thousands of pages on mashed trees, All have their good and bad points. As long as you’re reading, you’re living more. It’s all good. Print books will outlast ebooks, though; the commercial constraints of digital technology mean that formats go out of date rather quickly. But I’ve read century-old first editions with ease. You open the book, and the story is there.
As for commercial vs. independent publishing, I think both have produced gems as well as crap. There’s a lot of self-indulgence in self-publishing, but I’ve read, or tried to read, trade books that were deader than the trees they were printed on. I think the self-publishing is starting to gain respect, and in ten years will be fully accepted. There will still be a lot of blither produced, but the community of critics will have figured out that they will be missing good stuff if they keep turning up their noses at the independent press.
• Have you ever based characters on real people?
Yes, but I’ve found that those are less-successful characters than the ones that grew of themselves out of the story and scenes. A case in point is Sheela Cottone, whom I made up for a splash of color in The Dust Will Answer, and who took over the story (much improving it), and figures in the next two books.
• Do you put yourself in your books/characters at all?
No. Used to, long ago, but I have made sure those manuscripts disappeared. You write fiction to explore character relationships (and setting can be a character, as it is in my books and, say, Wendell Berry’s); you don’t use it to advertise yourself.
• If someone is brand new to your work, what book do you think they should start with?
Family Ties is intricate yet accessible, with twenty-one named characters, a good bit of comic relief, a busy plot that is not hard to follow, and rich, resonant interplay among the personages.
• Are there any nuggets of wisdom you can impart to aspiring writers?
Treat it like a job: write five or six days a week, even if it’s for no more than an hour. And make sure you find a trained or at least experienced editor who does not love you, to help curb your self-indulgences.
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