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Penelope Przekop October 02, 2015

Chasing Love is Like Chasing Your Own Tail

I came across this on Facebook today. So true! I learned it the hard way, and then wrote a book about it ... Please Love Me

The good news is that with determination, we can learn and grow from all our relationships and experience. I sure did; I will never forget the boy that broke my heart while I was breaking his. I'm so thankful I went on to have such a wonderful, fantastic husband ... going on...

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6527212 February 28, 2015

What is Figurative Expressionism?

I don't need a movement; I just need to be myself.

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6527212 February 24, 2015

Deconstruction of a Southern Girl

I was taught through the church, and the Southern culture supporting it, that men are inherently superior to women. As if that wasn't enough, there was an underlying message that everyone was superior to me.

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6527212 February 28, 2012

The Artist

Vulnerable like that stark canvas, I am an odd sort of survivor Navigating a failed system, A world that may not hear my song, One where rules are king, And logic prevails, Oh, where is my kingdom, Where do I go to breathe, To feel it all, To swallow.

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6527212 June 24, 2011

Releasing Complexity: Claudia Furlani

"Through art , I synthesize, play, and let off all the complexity of my inner world."

I have a strong suspicion that my inner world is more complex than the average Joe's.  I began to suspect this around age six, when I was lamenting about the kid in our class who was rumoured to have a mother who jumped off a bridge (and eaten by alligators) while I was trying to stop my own mother from killing herself.  

By the time I was a teenager, my high speed turmoil and associated thought processes began to fuse with my innate outwardly sunny disposition to create a persona that most people couldn't quite compute ... causing all kinds of issues.  Once I finally realized this, I stopped expecting to be fully understood, and I started writing novels.

Now I understand myself better than I ever have.  Like my guest today, artist Claudia Furlani, I write and paint as a way to let off some of that complexity.  I didn't bolt out of bed one morning with the bright idea of doing this.  The need and desire to do it simply evolved as I grew up and stepped away from my afflicted mother into my own life. 

Recently a few folks have referred to me as a creative.  It sounds like some kind of Star Trek alien nation.  When I considered myself solely a writer, I never thought I'd be called a creative.  I wasn't even familiar with the word (used that way) until a couple of years ago.  Everyone has the capacity to be creative and to create, so what exactly is a creative? 

I researched the use of the term creative to describe a group of folks and didn't come up with too much.  Writer Jeff Goins ran a blog post about it in February.  He says:

"A creative is an artist. Not just a painter or musician or writer. A creative is someone who sees the world a little differently than others. A creative is an individual. He is unique, someone who doesn’t quite fit into any box. Some think of creatives as iconoclasts; others see them as rebels. Both terms would be quite apt. A creative is a thought leader. He influences people not necessarily through personality but through his innate gifts and talents.  A creative creates art — not to make a buck, but to make a difference. She writes to write, not to be noticed or to sell books. She sings to sing, for the pure joy of making music. And she paints to paint (and so on…).  A creative colors outside the lines… on purpose. In so doing, she shows the world a whole new picture they never would have otherwise seen. A creative breaks the rules, and as a result, sets a new standard to follow."

Is that what I do?  I don't like being put into categories, but being a creative doesn't seem too bad.  I still want to be my own category.  It's called being a Penelope, and there is no one else who can join me in it.  It's lonely sometimes but it's where I need to stay.  I'm driven to write and paint even if what I produce sucks.  It's a simultaneous trap and release.  An obsession that sets me free.  An escape that holds me down.  Freedom among the ruins. 

For me, the process of creating is like worship, therapy, vacation, work, and communication all swirled up into one.  When you're like me, you create because that's what makes life bearable on a deep personal level that transcends even love.  The people you love and who love you are supposed to be what makes life worth the effort, but I feed on something different.  Perhaps this makes me narcissistic or psychopathic.  Not sure.  Perhaps I just need art to keep me sane so that I can love others and accept their love.  Art makes love possible for me.

Oh, the mysteries of life.  I think too much.  I try not to, but it's difficult to shut down the machine.   Like Claudia, I'm introverted, observant, and very imaginative.  We are passionate.  I am still full of love that's trying to get out.  I grew up in an environment that was overwhelming.  Art defined as "imaginative skill as applied to representations of the natural world or figments of the imagination," has enabled me to bring my inner and outer worlds together in a way that best represents who I am.  Almost everything else seems frivolous.

Art lasts forever. 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPCTgyND_tw]

Have you always know you would be an artist? How has your artistic life evolved?

Since I can remember, I've always been involved with color, paint, drawing or painting. During college I worked on several things including advertising agencies in the area of computer graphics, an area that has always fascinated me, but my passion for art and sheer will to create freely guided my choices.

How would you best describe your personality, and how your art relays that to the world?

I am an introverted person, observant, and very imaginative. Through art , I synthesize, play, and let off all the complexity of my inner world.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Yes, there was a big "Ah-ha" and fortunately it's becoming a new project that is underway. It's about people their dreams and nightmares. I still can't give many details in this moment so as not to spoil the surprise.

You seem to enjoy both painting and graphic art. Do you have a favorite or do you enjoy both equally? Can you tell us a little bit about what each gives to you in terms of the ability to express yourself creatively?

I do not have a favorite. Painting is something very lonely, and graphic art process is the opposite. I usually go out to photograph people or places, depending on the subject that I want to express. I choose one language or another.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations (issues) in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Yes, I believe that has caused many, but today I do not worry about it. The creativity just helps me to cope and overcome the problems.

In what ways does art sooth or inspire you during difficult or challenging times?

The art helps, but you have to want to indulge yourself while you are creating, just so you move away from everything else. Your focus is just in your art. And at this moment all problems are dissolved

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Oh, many times, including the first years of my marriage.  I always worked during the night and never had a strict routine. With great patience and persistence, all problems have been worked out.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

Ideas come from everywhere, from all places and from all things that I see.  Also, all the people I talk to.  I like to observe everything and everyone. Without that involvement, the artist closes.

I am self-motivating. I enjoy working with ideas that challenge me.  At creation time, I try to enter the "flow" of the here and now and not worry about the results.

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

For an artist to stand out as a great talent, he really has to have talent. His work should stimulate and provoke curiosity. He might even do something that's been done before, for example, writing the lyrics of a song that speaks of "Love."  Something so common, yet his ability to create will differentiate it from others.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

I follow my intuition.  I think this is my only mantra. It's important to me because up until now has always worked very well.

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6527212 April 27, 2011

Obsessively Successful: Julianna Baggott

"Writing is part of the disease, but because it allows me to escape into another existence, it's part of the cure."

When I was in college, I was obsessed with writing schedules of what classes I would take each semester during each year of my education.  I can't explain it, but it gave me bizarre pleasure and satisfaction to write it down over and over and over again.  I couldn't stop.  It was a harmless obsession and compulsion.

Others weren't so harmless. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).

It took quite a few years, but I finally accepted that I'm likely borderline obsessive compulsive. Now I know when it's happening and when it's getting out of control; I monitor myself and channel my obsessive nature in positive directions.  Doing so has enabled me to flip a weakness into a strength.  It's driven me to accomplish quite a bit.

My guest today, critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott, has published 16 books over the last ten years.  She writes under the pen names Bridget Asher and N. E. Bode. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) runs in Julianna's family.  She views writing as part of both the disease and the cure. 

I can relate. 

Over the years, I've learned that I must have something to obsess about.  It can change day to day, hour to hour, but I need a vice to grip. It's sort of an underlying thought process that provides a baseline on which to support the rest of my mental world.  It may seem odd, but if I don't have something specific to feed my obsessive nature, my mind finds something.  If the thing it happens to settle on is negative, my world starts to implode.  Everything falls out of balance. 

The primary thing that seems to keep my racing brain occupied enough to keep me out of trouble is art, whether it's writing or painting.  Creativity never ends.  It never stops feeding my ravenous, racing mind that craves baseline occupation.

Maybe I shouldn't admit to this issue; but it is what it is.  I've come to embrace the way I am because I know that it's enabled me to achieve many of my creative and professional goals.  I don't know what full fledged OCD sufferers feel like or how close or far I am from their world.  Unlike Julianna, I will stand by an idling vehicle.  In fact, I've come dangerously close to being hit by cars.

I'm lucky I have observant folks in my family who watch out for me.  They know that my issue is one of being too much inside my head to remember to put kitchen utensils away in their proper places, wipe door handles, or pay attention to how much money I'm spending on any given day.  I have more important things to think about ...  I forget to eat.  I tend to be messy.  Just last week, I got caught in slamming subway doors because I wasn't listening to the loud voice that was saying, "The doors are now closing!"  Being me can be quite the challenge. 

With all that said, I no longer care.  Of course, I don't want to get slammed in doors or hit by cars.  I work on that.  I try to pay attention to the little things.  However, I've come to terms with who I am and how my mind works.  I wouldn't want to be any other way, thank you very much.  I'll find my own cure: I no longer need the one I thought I needed once upon a time.

Like Julianna, many creative folks are lucky in that we have the ability to mine our disease and discover a cure within.  This blogger, author, artist, professional, mother, wife, nutcase, etc. is finding a way to make it work.  It's not always easy, but it's worth the effort.

Many creative folks struggle for years to achieve some sort of success.  Your work was first published when you were relatively young.  How did that mold your writing goals?

I published my first short story at twenty-two and sold my first novel before I turned thirty. Still, young for this game. What I love about writing is that you get better as a function of living, surviving. Of course, there is also dedication to craft. You have to be devout to get better. I knew I wanted to be a writer young and was deeply invested at an early age. I had some talent, lots of hours, but it took a while before I could actually have things to say. Hopefully my work is more insightful now.

Was there someone in particular who inspired you to love books and/or take an interest in writing?

My parents dragged me to countless plays as a kid. By ten, I'd seen more plays than movies. Just the way it was for me. And that had a huge impact on my writing life, early on.

Where do most of your creative ideas come from?

THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED is filled with events that happened to my own family. It starts where we now live in Florida. The narrator, Heidi takes her 8-year-old son and 16-year-old niece to the family's home in Provence, to renovate it after a fire. We lived in Provence as a family--with our four kids and my niece in tow--for a month. The injured swallow, the robbery, the warthogs, snails, vineyards, archaeological dig, the paper lanterns on Bastille Day--all of it came from our own experiences.

With regard to your new novel, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

There were so many. I knew the first half of the novel and where they were headed--the small village of Puyloubier--but I had no idea what was going to happen there. One of the characters had a huge secret--so secret that I didn't even know about it. When that was revealed, it fit. It was an ah-ha moment--in that sometimes you must follow your characters and truly let them live their lives beyond you, as creator. An important lesson to relearn and relearn.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? How so?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder runs in my family, on my mother's side. We don't bare-hand doorknobs, eat sushi, stand near idling cars, etc.  The strange brain patterns of obsessions and compulsions play into my work.  I'm also compulsive about writing, which means I spend a lot of time at the page. Writing is part of the disease, but because it allows me to escape into another existence, it's part of the cure. The 8-year-old in THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED has a mild case of OCD. My first time writing about an OCD character. He gets better.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Mostly there's an upside. I get away with a messy house, making comments that are non sequiturs, dressing mismatched, not brushing my hair, etc.  Sometimes people regard me as a giraffe--like the normal rules just don't apply. Kinda sad, but, "What can you do? She's so creative!"

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your writing goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role the discipline and organization play in reaching creative goals?

I believe, deeply, in really seeing the world around you, seeing people as real people with as many needs, wants, desires as I have. This way, if you don't see people as cliches, you won't write them as cliches. Also, practice plotting, muse when you're going through your daily life. I call this "writing while not writing." It's crucial.

You've written under different names, and have also written various types of fiction. Why did you chose not to use your real name, and what are your favorite types of writing projects?

To be allowed to be prolific, contractually.

To build audiences for certain kinds of work.

I often think about the difference between writers who seem to attack it from a business perspective (i.e., James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, etc.), versus those who seem to be simply driven from a deep need to write regardless of business concerns (i.e., J.D. Salinger, Pat Conroy, etc.). How would you describe the differences between these types of writers? Where do you fit in?

I see myself as an artist with some projects and an entertainer with others. But only I can see the difference. When writing art, entertainment happens, and vice versa. This is my job, too. It's an industry. I believe it's my job to try to understand it.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

I try to be kind--honest and kind. I believe in empathy. I think these things should be important to everyone.

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6527212 April 08, 2011

Water Diviner: Michael Seif

"I know that the camera long ago acted as a shield between me and the outside world."

If creative folks need an outlet to carry on, are we attempting to hide behind or step forth? I'm driven to write and paint to express what I can't otherwise seem to relay.

Does that mean something is wrong with me? 


Or could it mean I have something to express that goes beyond what the average person needs to relay?  Perhaps I'm uniquely wired, and without the right outlet, my inter workings will implode in a jumbled up mess of despair, frustration, and loneliness. 

That could be it.

Late, I have come to a parched land
doubting my gift, if gift I have,
the inspiration of water
spilt, swallowed in the sand.

To hear once more water trickle,
to stand in a stretch of silence
the divining pen twisting in the hand:
sign of depths alluvial.

From Dannie Abse's The Water Diviner

Sometimes I want to explode into some kind of bizarre animal state. I long to strip off my clothes, jump in a lake, and swim like a fish until my skin shrivels up. I want to wildly race off a cliff down into a giant pool of weightless water, and struggle until I drown in a flurry of rich life. I want to be alive in a way that doesn't seem easily accessible for me.  I want to feel the wind against my skin during that zooming fall, and feel the pain of my body slapping that cold sheet of water.

Do other people need that?  Do you?

Are these peculiar desires the very thing I'm hiding from, or what I'm trying to push forth?  I've come to the conclusion that the best I can do is try to understand myself.  If I can define who I am and how I feel, then maybe I can look over and see much more than just your interesting face glancing my way.  Maybe I can break through the mystery and feel another human being as deeply as I feel myself.  And maybe you'll find and feel me, and that will be enough of a fall for both of us.

Am I too self centered?  Probably. Sometimes I think that if I were a better person, I would spend all my time feeding the poor and figuring out how to achieve world peace.  I might be the woman my mother wanted me to be, and spend all my energy sharing God's word.  But I am not that woman.  Although I'm quite willing to engage in some of those activities, my place is with words, colors, sentences, and shapes.  I am somewhere in that churning mix.  That's where I am best when all else fails.  That's where I feel at home in my own skin. In other places, I'm a fish out of water.  I get by, but I'm always dreaming of the next chance I'll have to suck in a deep satisfying gulp.

My guest today, photographer Michael Seif, photographs nudes in water. Like fish, they swim beneath the water's surface in various formations.  The images he captures demonstrate that life is a flowing, sensual experience that somehow goes beyond flesh and blood, hiding, stepping forth, world peace, and self-centeredness.  He aims to capture the basic core of life we all share, especially when swimming in waters we call our very own. 

I recently met Michael at an art opening in New York.  His long-time commitment to this creative idea was inspiring.  He told me a story about how taking a gross anatomy course in graduate school influenced his thinking about the essence of life, and how it animates the inanimate body.  His thoughts on this led him to the concept of visualizing how our bodies move in water.  How that ebb and flow can demonstrate the spirit that is apart from the body.

My goal is to find that place in my life where I'm swirling, floating, moving naked and comfortable in my own skin.  It is there that I will discover the kernel that makes me tick.  I feel myself moving closer.  My feet are in the water.  Similar creatures are circling.  There it is!  A flick against my ankle, a brush against the toe.  My skin is tingling.  I think I'm nearly there.

What's your story? How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist? Was the journey on a straight or twisted path? Are you surprised by your success?

I've always enjoyed doing creative things - making silver and gold jewelry, writing fiction, woodworking, and photography. Over almost 50 years, I've gradually dropped the other things, but photography has remained as my creative drug of choice. In the 1960s I photographed on the streets and in the subways of NYC. Since then, I've photographed trips to Mexico, Europe, India, my daughter, my grandchildren, and for the past eight years, I have been working on photographing the human figure in nature.

I photograph for two main reasons. One is to save the past, to have something to remember in the future. The other is to see better. Photography makes me get up early when the light is best, makes me do things that might be uncomfortable so I can see what I would otherwise miss.  It causes me to look harder and more carefully at the world around me.

It was only about 10 years ago that people started referring to me as an artist, something I found hard to accept because I didn't think of myself that way. And it was a series of fortuitous events that led me to have even the modest success I have today--my work being accepted in juried shows throughout the country, some sales, and praise by those whose opinions I respect. So, yes, I am surprised by what success I have been able to achieve.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

There were actually two ah-ha moments:

First, was in 1969 when I took a class with Lisette Model, a photographer of world renown, at the New School in NY. In a tough critique in front of the class, she dismissed my photographs as derivative of just about every other photographer, until she saw pictures of a friend's feet I had taken with just a desk lamp as illumination. "Flesh," she said. "You should be doing flesh." So I hired models, set up a no-seam in my Manhattan apartment and tried photographing nudes. But when I looked at the work of other photographers, I saw my work wasn't doing anything new, so I went off in other directions.

The second ah-ha was more than 30 years later, when I went for a swim in a Maine granite quarry, where everyone swam nude. The site was deep in evergreen woods, the weathered granite quarry walls were lichen covered, the people of every age swimming and sunning, all led me to say - wow, what beautiful photographs there are here! Through a few interested people I met in Maine, I was able to obtain models and work on these photographs for over eight years now.

Many artist focus on one particular subject or style. How important is this for career development? Have you ever grown tired of photographing the same types of things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

I photograph lots of subjects because I simply enjoy making photographs and I like how photography helps me see better--travel, friends, family, flowers, landscapes. But my photography of the human figure is something that has drawn me in over the years, and which I feel I am doing better and better over time. This time has been necessary to allow me to move from what other photographers have done to doing something original. This takes time, and I will keep doing it because it is so rewarding to me personally.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I know that the camera long ago acted as a shield between me and the "outside world." I could see what was going on, but was occupied. I only had to interact if I felt comfortable doing so. Now I'm a bit more outgoing and sociable, and the camera helps me connect with people. Through my photography I have met wonderful people and have made many new friends.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

In fact, just the opposite has happened to me. I always photographed for myself--it was something I just enjoyed doing. During the 60s and 70s, my wife put up with a lot as I transformed the bathroom into a dark room on Sundays.  Yet she was always encouraging.  For more than 40 years I have been accumulating boxes of tri-X negatives and color slides and film--with no idea of what I would do with them. When digital printers became available, I scanned some of those old photos and printed them, and decided to try selling some at a local town fair. A representative of the town art center asked if I was a local artist (I told her I was local but not sure of the "artist" part) and she kindly found a venue for me with my first solo show at the town bank.

I received other encouragement by being juried into group shows, and one juror, a curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts kindly spent an hour with me critiquing my work and encouraging me to continue. Because I had little formal art training, that kind of support was crucial to me being able to feel a sense of validation, and to grow as an artist. A gallery owner in Maine was encouraging, too, and provided me with a show of my 1960s black and white photographs of New York City. She was instrumental in enabling me to find models for my most recent work, and has been nothing but encouraging.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

When I began my series of nudes in the outdoors, one woman agreed to model for me. She swam in the quarry as I photographed from a ledge, and suddenly she made a quick turn. I asked her to do that again. (It turns out she had been on her high school synchronized swimming team.) Her body and the wave she made as she turned became almost one, and I gradually realized that the motion of the water implied that the figure was moving, and this led to a way of showing the human being as not just sculpture, as so many photographs have done, but as a living, moving creature of nature. I quickly acquired more models who were themselves creative and saw that I considered my work with them as a joint effort and were eager to help me make innovative and beautiful photographs.

At first, I was concerned that I would run out of ideas, but after eight years that is not a major worry anymore. The models and I look to nature (schools of fish, swimming seals), to dance, and to art for inspiration. We talk about what we want to do. And then they get into the water and they organize themselves, and they try variations, and they keep working as I take hundreds of photographs. Finally, I look at the photographs on the computer and am thrilled if I see three or four out of each 100 that are ones I am eager to print.

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

I think that the truly gifted have, in fact, received a gift that provides an inborn potential to create new art, and perhaps even new forms of art. But, whether highly talented or truly gifted, the ability to keep working is what sets apart the creative artists from those that "dabble."

In a photographic critique class that I took in Boston, most of us in the class were middle-aged or beyond. The (younger) instructor commended us for doing art while working, raising children, volunteering in civic organizations, and doing all the other things that encompass a busy life. The instructor found that among his younger students in other classes, there were some who were dedicated to their art, but most who loved the idea of being artists (loved the coffees with friends, the talk, the paint-smeared clothing) but were less eager to do the hard, often lonely work of actually doing art. He referred to them as poseurs.

I really believe that while talent is important, lots of hard work is often what separates an artist from his or her peers.

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6527212 March 11, 2011

Astronomical Odds: Douglas Preston

"I know some writers who like to talk about it more than they do it, who've been writing a book for ten years."

If you've been following my blog, you know that I've been writing novels for over twenty years.  I've also been working full time, among other things that tend to suck up time.  One thing I can say for myself is that I've been consistent and dedicated.  Over the years, I've fought diligently to find time to write. 

And I have won that battle.

When I began painting three years ago, I viewed it as a crazy experiment.  With that said, I had a powerful urge for it.  All I wanted to do at that time was experience the feeling of sliding a brush dabbed in gooey paint across white canvas.  I wanted to know what that would feel like because I had so vividly experienced it in my mind.  It was similar to the desire for food, water, sex ... deep,  urgent, and animalistic.  I never believed I had the ability to create visual art despite my sometimes alarmingly active imagination.  I grew up assuming that every mind contained the same dynamic world that exists in mine.  That everyone could envision the detail, color, and complexity that I create and see in my head. 

I came to realize that's not the case. 

Just when I was beginning to think that I had pieced together the puzzle of who I am, I picked up that paint brush and bam! I realized I had only been focusing on one area of a puzzle that is much larger and more complex.  I'm still trying to understand and define my creative place in the world, but after twenty years of writing and only three years of painting, I realize that it's not exactly what I thought it was.

I don't know how many years my guest, bestselling author Douglas Preston, has been writing.  What I do know is that he's written over twenty successful books. 

In his interview, Douglas shares how he got his big start.  He was working at the American Museum of Natural History when he got a call from Lincoln Child, an editor at St. Martin's Press, asking if he'd be interested in writing a book. 

Twenty-five books later ... the rest is history.

What are the odds of that happening, you ask?  They're likely astronomical.  However, something similar happened to me.  When I was working at Johnson & Johnson, an editor from McGraw-Hill called to ask if I'd ever thought of writing a book.  The result was my first book, Six Sigma for Business Excellence.

So the immature, emotional child in me asks with a pout on my face, "How does Douglas now have twenty-five books published and I have only two?" 

The adult visionary in me replies, "Who cares?  Things happen for a reason."  I'm content with my journey, no matter how hard fought it may be.  My philosophy is that if I keep moving down my own personal road, I'll eventually reach my destination.  I don't care how many years it takes.  It is what it is.  I am who I am.  I don't need to be Douglas Preston, or any other fantastic author out there.  I'd only fail where they succeeded. 

I have failed where they succeeded.

After just three years of painting, this month my work is being shown in an international art show in New York City curated by Monkdogz Urban Art, one of the top contemporary art galleries in the world.  I've been told that the odds of that happening are beyond astronomical. 

My third book, Centerpieces, will be launched this summer. 

What's your writing story?

I had been writing a column in the magazine Natural History, published by the Museum, where I worked. An editor from St. Martin's Press named Lincoln Child, who had been reading my pieces, called me up and asked if I wanted to write a history of the Museum. I said yes -- and that became my first book, Dinosaurs in the Attic. After the book was published, I gave Linc a tour of the Museum -- at midnight. I showed him all the best places in the Museum to which I had access--the dinosaur bone storage room, the collection of 30,000 rats in jars of alcohol, the whale eyeball collection, the preserved mastodon stomach with its last meal inside, and a lot of other unusual things. We ended up in the Hall of Late Dinosaurs around 2:00 a.m., with only the emergency lights on, the great black skeletons looming in the darkness around us--and Linc turned to me and said: "Doug, this is the scariest damn building in the world. Let's write a thriller set in here." And that was the birth of Relic, and of our partnership.

Was there someone in particular who inspired you to love books and/or take an interest in writing?

There are certain teachers and librarians who encouraged me -- most particularly the late Darcy O'Brien, who was a professor at Pomona College where I went to school. He was writing his novel, A Way of Life, Like Any Other, when I took a creative writing class from him, and he shared with us the drafts of his novel. It was an extraordinary experience. His novel was rejected by 26 publishers and finally published--and then it won the prestigious Hemingway Award! So he was both a great teacher and a lesson in the perversity of the publishing business.

Where do most of your creative ideas come from?

They come from every direction -- from personal experience to articles in magazines, news stories, factoids on the web, and most of all from my extensive world travels. The key is always being open to a new idea, because we are surrounded by a sea of brilliant ideas, if only we can open our eyes and see them.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

I was doing research on potter's fields when I came across a strange factoid: that in New York City, sometimes limbs amputated in hospitals are not treated as medical waste, but are placed in a small coffin and buried on Hart Island, New York City's enormous potters field. I called up Linc and in twenty minutes we had worked out the basic plot to Gideon's Sword.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? How so?

Both. It may have made me difficult to deal with at times, but I find the writer's life to be ideal, for me, if a bit lonely, and I have no regrets.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Sometimes people don't respect a writer's working time. I've been interrupted by people in the middle of the day for various trivial things -- people who, for example, would never call me in the middle of the day if I were a corporate lawyer or an auto mechanic. But that's rare. My family has always been very supportive. They get it.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your writing goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role discipline and organization play in reaching creative goals?

Writing is like exercise or playing the violin: you have to do it every day. You have to carve out uninterrupted time. And then you have to have the discipline to stay at your desk and write, write, write. I know some writers who like to talk about it more than they do it, who've been writing a book for ten years. Sorry, unless you're writing Ulysses I don't buy it. Discipline is huge. Even after twenty five books, I find myself looking for every excuse not to write.

You're written both as a solo author, and as part of a team. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of both scenarios?

Writing with a partner has a lot of advantages. You have someone to brainstorm with, bounce ideas off, not to mention a partner who shares your triumphs and tragedy. Writing is a lonely business. The downside is that you share credit for a piece of work. But for me, that's not at all a problem. Linc is the best writing partner anyone could ask for.

You've also written both fiction and nonfiction. How do you see creativity playing a role in nonfiction?

Creativity plays a huge role in nonfiction. Real life is messy, formless, sprawling, and mostly boring. The key with nonfiction is to extract the story from this formless mass, to boil it down to its key elements, to order it so the reader can follow it--and on top of that, to be absolutely accurate both in fact and in spirit. This to me is more difficult than fiction and it takes a great creativity.

What's next for Douglas Preston?

I'm working with Linc on a new Gideon novel, Gideon's Corpse. We're having a wonderful time writing this book.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Compassion. The word says it all.

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6527212 January 11, 2011

Incendiary: Chris Cleave

" ... literature is my tool of persuasion."

The term incendiary has a lot to do with bombs, as does Chris Cleave's latest novel, INCENDIARY (launched today by Simon & Schuster).  Incendiary also means "tending to inflame the senses," and "a person who stirs up strife, sedition, etc.; an agitator." 

I spent last year writing a novel which I dedicated to my mother.  After reading several pages, she shut it down.  She refuses to read it. It agitated her, stirred up strife, and inflamed her senses in such a way that she couldn't bear to continue ... not even for her daughter.  

A big part of my wanting to write the novel (DUST) was to persuade my mother to open up and finally see my perspective regarding who I am, who we are together, and what we are missing.  In the best way I know how, I committed myself to expressing my opinions about the deepest and most serious issues in our adult relationship.  I knew that those opinions and emotions reflect various universal truths that go beyond one mother and her daughter, thus providing the basis for a great novel.

It wasn't an easy story to write.

Yes, a part of me is devastated that she won't read the book.  That pain has already been neatly packaged and tucked away by all those efficient coping mechanisms I worked so hard to create and perfect beginning the day I emerged into my mother's stressful life.  Meanwhile, the manuscript sits in my computer now, a lonely file, waiting to be discovered by someone who will not only read it, but who will also appreciate its intrinsic literary and entertainment value.

Hearing this strife-filled, family drama, sob story, you might ask, "Did you say entertainment?" 

Absolutely!  Like all my novels, DUST not only serves as an enlightening, persuasive work of art, it also aims to absorb, enthrall, engross, captivate, and even provide a little comic relief.  In the end, I seek to entertain.  In the words of my guest today, author Chris Cleave, "Although my work has a strong persuasive element, I aim to write novels that are joyful and interesting things, rather than political tracts." 

After all, isn't that what truth in literature is all about?  Regardless of our views, ideologies, religions, politics, etc, our shared humanity is what enables us to understand and ultimately navigate through the perplexing landscape surrounding us ... wherever that may be.  Each of us is absorbing, enthralling, captivating, and even comical.  We are all part of a universal story.

My 22-year-old daughter pointed out, "If your mother was actually capable of reading and understanding the book, you'd never have written it." 

As a creative individual, I've come to terms with who I am.  I'm a person who can write a book like DUST, a book I believe in despite my own mother wanting to bomb it.  It relays something important to the world; it contains truth.  In a weird sort of way, my amazing mother gave me that gift.

I'll not stop hoping that someday she'll read and understand my words.  Until then, I'll continue to accept the support and peace of mind I gain from the wonderful guests on Aberration Nation.  When I read the inspiring words of folks like Chris Cleave, Marya Hornbacher, Antwone Fisher, Darin Strauss, Tom Grimes and all the others, I am renewed.  I carry on, believing that someday I will also be heard.

What's your writing story? Tell us how LITTLE BEE became such a success. Beyond being a fantastic novel, were there any specific pivotal events or situations that helped fuel its success?

I started writing when I was a kid – I drew satirical cartoons about our schoolteachers to make my friends laugh. I wrote a few novels that weren’t much good, and then in 2003 I quit my job, just before our first child was born, so that I could try to write full-time. I’ve had two novels published since then – INCENDIARY in 2005 and LITTLE BEE in 2008 – but I’ve written two or three more that were a bit too weird to publish. INCENDIARY has just been re-released by my publishers, which I’m delighted about because I think it’s my best work and I think people will enjoy it. I’m currently nearly finished on what I’m sure will be my third published novel.

Beyond the work itself, there are several factors that made LITTLE BEE a success.
  • First, I think the American reading public should take a lot of credit for taking the book to their hearts – it is after all quite a political and a challenging novel at times - not what one might typically expect to be a bestseller. So, more power to them.
  • Second, booksellers were very important in launching the book. We didn’t have much of an advertising campaign, so it was the kind support of the independent booksellers and the public librarians that brought the book to people’s attention.
  • Third, I was lucky to get a lot of support from Borders, who put the book front-of-house pretty early on.
  • Fourth, I worked my ass off touring the book and trying to give an interview to everyone who wanted one, big or small.
  • Fifth, I worked hard online to tell people about the book.
Also, and most importantly, I had an incredible agent, a terrific editor, and a courageous publisher. That’s not always the case when a book is published, and that’s why there were better books than mine published this year that didn’t do as well as mine.

You have said, "I see my job as providing new information in an entertaining way." That vision is certainly apparent in LITTLE BEE. I've always wanted to write novels that not only entertain but also bring something new to the table for the reader, whether emotionally or intellectually. For me, entertainment alone just isn't enough when I consider how to spend my time, and how to explore, dissect, and/or share my world. Why is it important for you to write novels that surpass being merely entertaining?

I’m from London and I like the UK, but I think it’s fair to say that we don’t have much of a democracy. We have two houses of parliament: the smaller (the Commons) is elected by the public from a set of candidates appointed by the established political parties, and the other - the larger in terms of the number of members - is simply filled with political appointees and hereditary law-makers (the Lords). There are no primaries, no fixed term limits, and no written constitution to protect the political process from the rapacious interests of media and banking tycoons. The main parties are centrist, establishmentarian and weak, and the civil service runs rings around them.

Since I believe in the potential of the political process to make life better for people, but faced with the reality that one’s vote counts for very little in the UK, I’ve decided that the best way for me to be politically active is to work on changing public opinion about political issues such as terrorism and immigration, using persuasion rather than violence. Literature is my tool of persuasion, and happily I enjoy the work too. I aim to make books that are joyful and interesting things, rather than political tracts.

Was there someone in particular who inspired you to love books and/or take an interest in writing?

Yes, my incredible mother.

Where do most of your creative ideas come from?

I don’t know. I’m sorry. I just sit quietly and think about things, and ideas come into my mind. I know that’s an unsatisfactory answer and I’m sorry – but I just don’t know how my head works.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

I’m working on a book about athletes at the moment, and the relationship society has with them. The big moment for me was when I was starting the research, and I went to watch some high-level cycle racing. I saw a huge crash, in a criterium race in the rain, and I watched all these young men picking themselves up, bleeding profusely, and getting back on their bikes if they could. And it was freezing, and no one was getting paid much, and people were riding with broken bones. I finally understood the everyday suffering these people go through just so that one or two of them can prevail and the rest of us can get a nice patriotic feeling once every four years when we watch them race in the Olympics. It made me feel a bit sick.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? How so?

The work I do is creative, in the sense that I’m producing something out of nothing, and when that is channeled into a project that is going well, I get on a terrific high because it feels like magic. That in itself is a problem, because it means that I neglect everything else. And when the work is going badly, or I can’t get other people to like my work and I end up in a vortex of re-writing, I have this quite terrifying abandonment of everything else in my life as I struggle to make the work right, because I do believe in my stories and I am fiercely determined to make them work.

I love being a writer but I don’t find it an easy job. You’re working with strong forces, and strong people, and you can’t always be the master of them. That’s true in a lot of jobs, but few of those jobs are so solitary. I think that’s the crux of it – there’s no one to quietly tell you: enough.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I have some wonderful people in my life – my wife and children, my family and friends. People are very kind to me on the whole, and I think they make allowances for the fact that I am sometimes preoccupied or reclusive. I just try to do my best, and I think people appreciate that’s all I can do. And most days, I think I’m pretty entertaining company. I hardly ever have problems with people.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your writing goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role discipline and organization play in reaching creative goals?

My default setting is to work all the time, so really my biggest creative challenge is not discipline or organization, but finding a way to switch off sometimes. That’s easier said than done.
  • First because (as in any worthwhile job) it’s exciting and it keeps you awake.
  • Second because you can’t really plan your time.
You might deliver a book after a year of very intense work, and be planning a month off to recuperate, but the publisher doesn’t love the book and you need to get back to work immediately, and on an even tighter deadline this time. Combine that with newspaper deadlines and family commitments, and you can see that the greatest challenge to your creativity is the very real prospect of burning out. I’m sure the creative challenge is the same for all writers – you need to find a way to sit down at your keyboard remembering that it is fun to be there.

What's next for Chris Cleave?

Deliver the new novel. Take a month off. Do things real men do, like shop for power tools and sledge across Alaska, eating the huskies if necessary.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

What a great question. I toyed with some glorious mottos that made me sound tenacious, brave and dashing, but in truth I suppose my motto is the same as any parent’s: “Try not to die or go mad until after your kids have left home and settled down.” I would rather my wonderful children remembered me as a good parent than a good writer, so my aim in life is to provide for them and have fun with them. Actually that’s a pretty good rule to live by, because it puts everything else in perspective.

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6527212 November 12, 2010

Climbing the Mountain: Justin Bua

"I wanted this my whole life, but when I got it I realized there is so much more."

Yesterday I mentioned to a friend that I just keep doing what I feel driven to do, assuming that someday it will all make sense.  What-could-she-possibly-know Miley Cyrus tells us it's the climb that counts most.  We're all scaling some sort of mountain, at times desperately clinging to sharp stinging rocks.  Living in the moment gets tough when the pain digs in.  

Growing up many of us were told to reach for the stars, focus on the end goal, never give up.  All great advice; however, they often failed to mention that the mountain actually never ends and that those stars just keep getting higher. Perhaps they couldn't bear to slam us with that reality as we gazed up at them with shining eyes full of hope. 

My oldest daughter's boyfriend's best friend was found dead this week.  He was 28 years old.  Sorry to bring up such a sad thought, but folks are dying all around. I'm sure you can name a few.  One of my closest childhood friends died at 18.  I still dream about her several times a year.  I wonder what mountains these two young people aimed to climb.  Had they even identified their peaks yet?  Had they perhaps seen them looming in the distance? Knowing they lost their chance could make us all feel like folding up due to sadness.  We could choose to stop and simply cling to what and who we have.  It makes me want to lay down flat, close my eyes, and focus on the sound of my 11-year-old laughing, the smell of dinner, and the hum of my computer. 

It's perplexing.  I know I can't be happy on flat ground.  I need something to climb towards, yet knowing that the climb, once started, may never end, is exhausting.  My guest today, artist Justin Bua talks about how in his most recent "ah-ha" moment, he realized he was spinning in a moment he's always dream of -- he was at the mountain peak -- or so he thought momentarily.  When the dust settled, he found himself in another "ah-ha" moment.  He saw that the mountain never ends.  

Justin suggests that we be true to ourselves and just keep going.  I often wonder why Salmon swim upstream to mate.  It's so hard.  Why would they do that?  Perhaps for the same reason that I keep climbing and climbing and climbing.  At least they know what their reward is.  What is mine?  What is Justin's?  And will it be enough to justify the hard work, the sacrifice, the longing?

I think it will be.  I have to believe that.  I believe it for the 18 year old girl who lost her life in a car accident in 1984, and for the 28 year old man who was found alone in his apartment last week.  Both were extraordinary individuals.  I climb for them.  I sense that Justin climbs for those he paints, those whom he dubs the underground icons of our time, the under-appreciated souls similar to those Van Gogh painted on days that scorched his soul and hunger ate away at the belly he eventually shot.  Somehow I think all the climbing upstream has to do with love.  With respect to the creative climb, perhaps it's the way people like us express some kind of specialized, never-ending, mountainous emotion that seems to fester in standard avenues of expression.  

I don't know the answer.  I wish I did.  All I know is that today I don't care how jagged, rough, steep, or slick my mountain is.  I'm grateful to have one to call my own, and I will cling to it for as long as my arms can hold on to love, art, words, joy, and pain.  It means I'm alive.  My job is to move as high as I can until the end.  On the way, I'll breath deeply and try to smile.  I'll look to you, and I'll know I've found my true path.  As long as we can see each other, we'll be fine.

What's your story (in a nutshell)?  How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist?  Was the journey on a straight or twisted path?  Are you surprised by your success?

I’ve been surrounded by art my whole life.  My grampa was a letterer, a graphic designer, and a painter.  He did the original letterings for Felix the Cat as well as Prince Valiant and many more comics.  He was amazing!  Also, I remember back in kindergarten I had an amazing art teacher.  She made me do books on my life and that was the beginning of a whole new world!  I had characters who would make rainbows from rainbow machines and all types of insanely creative people in my books.

I studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in Cali.  That experience was amazing and it helped lead me to a successful career not only as an artist, but as a professor of drawing at the University of Southern California.  You know every day I strive to get better. I am a teacher but I am also a student and I try to grow all the time.  Michelangelo was 81 when he said that he was just beginning to learn how to draw… You never arrive and if you really feel that it’s over, it drives you to grow and explore new levels.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Perhaps a show I just had at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  It was amazing.  Everyone came out from Mr. Wiggles to Mix Master Mike to Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers.  It was an “ah-ha” moment because it was so out of body that it was as if I was looking down on myself saying both “ah-ha"-- I get it … My work is justifiable because they are hanging in a Museum -- and at the same time I felt like “ah-ha” -- that doesn’t make you great or terrible, it makes you fortunate.  I wanted this my whole life, but when I got it I realized there is so much more.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist and why?

Expression.  The artists that I like are mostly emotional painters.  Artists like Van Gogh, Kathe Kollwitz , Daumier , and Goya all paint emotionally.  They also paint the underclass and the common people.  This is what I really relate to and who I love to paint. 

Many artist focus on one particular subject or style.  How important is this for career development?  Have you ever grown tired of painting the same types of things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

I’ve never grown tired of painting the same types of things.  I’m from the hip hop era, so the characters I paint are kind of the iconographic heroes of my time. Whether it's the DJs or the MCs, they are the underground icons of our generation. The artists throughout history have always painted the heroes, painting popes and kings.  I paint DJs and b-boys, those are the people I really emulate, who I look up to.  I’m currently working on my next book entitled, "Legends of Hip Hop", which pays homage to the great heroes of our time.

I was a little burned out on painting characters playing pianos so I taking a hiatus from that but not to worry, I’ll be painting characters playing piano in the next year or ten years… or twenty. 

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Both ...

During difficult or challenging times in your life, does painting sooth or inspire you?  Is it therapeutic in any way?

I write to soothe myself, but I also balance myself with painting!   It is my yoga.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Yes, my high school teacher who didn’t let me enter an art contest.  I don’t want to mention any names because I don’t believe in throwing anyone under the bus—Mr. Stember!!!

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals?  If so, can you tell us about it.  Where do most of your ideas come from?

I work very traditionally.  I do a thumbnail, develop a full and realized drawing then I do a value key and then a color key and then the painting.  This process is interesting because half way through the painting I usually want to redo the whole thing!  I’m my own worst critic!

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers?  So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

The advice I’d give to any young artist just starting out or trying to get started is, just put your art out there to the world and you will shine.  Whether or not the world embraces you as an artist or not isn't the point.  You should paint because you have to and that's the way it is, and that’s how you’ll stand out as truly gifted.  It is a competitive world, but as long as you keep it real and don’t trick yourself into thinking that you’ve arrived then you’ll be good.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Just be true. Its like KRS-One says: what does it mean to be underground, you have to be real to be underground. I think that people can smell bullsh*t from a mile away. So don't copy, don't bullsh*t, be you, and work hard. Be blue collar about it, put in the hours. The harder you work, the luckier you get, right?

I respect people who try to create awareness for art and the art movement.  Also, just be yourself!  Respect and love because that’s real hip-hop.  Woooooord!

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6527212 October 22, 2010

Choosing Battles: John Gilstrap

" ... I have family and acquaintances who ostentatiously never read my books ..."

My latest novel, Dust, is dedicated to my mother. If you follow me on Facebook, you know that she has refused to finish reading the manuscript after having read just 26 pages.  Although she holds the opinion that those pages are beautifully written, and that the story is a page turner, it's just "too hard" for her to continue.  She can't seem to digest the truth in it, and the thought-provoking questions it poses about  religion, death, parenting of adult children, prejudice, and love.

She begged me not to publish it, to set it aside, to essentially bury it.  This is a form of censorship.

 The best literature is not only entertaining, it's also a window into the realities of life, which can make some folks uncomfortable. Although unofficial, I can  now count Dust among the following books, all of which have been victims of censorship:

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain)
As I Lay Dying (Faulkner)
Catch 22 (Heller)
Catcher in the Rye (Salinger)
Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury)
From Here to Eternity (Joyce)
Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck)
Dust (Przekop) ???

Each of these novels caused some level of discomfort simply by incorporating truth, whether it was a word, scenario, or thought-provoking question.  I dream that my writing may some day reach the level of these great literary works. Burying what I believe to be my best effort yet isn't going to get me there.  I just wish my mother could muster the strength and love to digest it.    

My guest today, New York Times bestselling author John Gilstrap says he also has relatives who haven't read his novels.  Is it just me, or is this downright bizarre?  If one of my relatives wrote a book, especially one that made it to the hallowed New York Times list, I'd be the first to read it. 

Perhaps these folks are simply not into reading.  My mother's a reader; she loves fiction. In her case, my novel is "painful" because it hits too close to home. In addition, it's "appalling" because she doesn't believe it fully supports her religious views.  Interestingly, when I set out the write the novel, I vowed that, once and for all, I was not going to let my mother's unyielding opinions influence my craft. I was not going to censor myself.  

John, a habitual observer of people, funnels this keen ability into numerous aspects of his life, and straight into his thrilling fiction.  One of the cool aspects of writing fiction is that all those motivations we as writers recognize or imagine come to life. Day to day, we don't often know if we're right about why someone said this or that, why they took a certain action, or chose not to.  In fiction, we can mold all those tiny or gigantic motivations into something cohesive.  When we get it right, truth glues it all together.

Great literature can expand who we are, as well as our ability to understand humanity.  As I move forward, my mother seems to be shrinking.  I wish I could somehow pull her along, but I'm feeling defeated. John says there's no shame in declaring defeat. He suggests that people should choose their battles.

I choose to push forward with my writing; I believe it's a battle I can win.  As for pleasing my mother, I'm trying to quit.

What's your writing story? How long did it take to establish yourself as an author? Was the journey on a straight or twisted path? Are you surprised by your success?

My path is as twisted and meandering as any career could be. I started out in college wanting to be a journalist, but after a couple of years at a trade journal--that was the best I could do with a History degree--I realized it wasn't for me. It wasn't until I followed an entirely different path--safety engineering and 15 years in the fire and rescue service--that I finally found my way back to writing.

As for establishing myself as a writer, I'm not entirely sure that I've done that yet, even after seven published books and an eighth and ninth scheduled for the next two years.

I think that any artist who doesn't confess to some level of surprise to any commercial success is being disingenuous. This is a very capricious business. Like any other business, though, luck resides at the intersection of talent and hard work.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

My current focus is in creating my new series character, Jonathan Grave, a freelance hostage rescue specialist. The ah-ha moment, such as it was, came while researching my nonfiction book Six Minutes to Freedom, which introduced me to the world of covert operators. I met many fine people who do unspeakably heroic things while rarely getting credit outside of their closed community. Dealing with them, and with the operations they perform on foreign soil, I got the idea of creating a character who would show the same dedication to hostage rescue outside of the military environment. I'm thrilled to report that the two Jonathan Grave novels, No Mercy and Hostage Zero, are both doing very well.

For you, is writing more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a writer and why?

I think writing is defined by equal parts of both. I can create merely by thinking. We all do that every time we have a dream or play a what-if game in our heads. It's the expression of those thoughts that allows a writer (or any artist, for that matter) to share the experience with others. My need to write is fueled by my desire to entertain people by introducing them to the vivid figments of my imagination.

I don't believe in writer's block. I view the situation like priming a pump. If you just keep pumping, the water will eventually start to run. Do you ever run out of things to say, or do you experience an endless river? What are your thoughts on this?

I don't think I believe in writer's block either. That said, creativity frequently stops flowing for me, albeit temporarily. Usually, it has something to do with losing my way in a story. The only way to get through those rough times, though, is to sit down and muscle my way through.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Creativity has posed far more solutions for me than problems. As a habitual observer of people my whole life, I feel that I understand motivations and reactions better than most, and that ability (whether its actual or merely imagined) has always given me confidence in my interactions with people. It's a skill that served me equally well in the fire service, the corporate world, and in the creative communities that I inhabit in the real world, and the ones that I create in my head.

During difficult or challenging times in your life, does writing sooth or inspire you? Is it therapeutic in any way?

To tell the absolute truth, I've never used writing as therapy--at least not directly. I don't keep a journal, and never have. In troubling times, I find writing to be a burden that can pull me away from what seem like more important matters. For me, the act of writing, when it's going well delivers the rush that I would imagine a concert pianist while practicing alone. It brings a great sense of satisfaction to know that your skills are improving all the time, and as days turn into years, you begin to take solace in the fact that maybe--just maybe--you're beginning to understand what you're doing.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Artistic success easily destabilizes fragile relationships--even more so if the success is both critical and financial. I think that most people on the sidelines of such success believe that artists who "make it"--however you want to define that--do so more because of luck than talent, and there's a tendency to discount the years of work and perseverance that allowed the luck to occur. I've lost track of the people who have told me over the years that they would write a book, too, if only they had the time. As if it's that easy.

In my own life, I have family and acquaintances who ostentatiously never read my books, or who go out of their way to say something dismissive or cutting in the presence of others. I think it's a defense mechanism, akin to dismissing a friend's weight loss, or diminishing a terrific grade point average by making fun of the course load or the school at which it was earned.

As for how to cope, I smile as appropriate and then take them off the guest list for my very cool book launch parties.

Successful writers often focus on the same genre. Have you ever grown tired of working on similar types of projects, and if so, how have you dealt with that?

This is actually a tough question because I write thrillers, and that is hardly a confining genre. That said, at this point in life, the only stories I want to tell are exciting ones. I like imagining people in jeopardy and and pretending that they have to fight their way to safety. Thus, I haven't had anything negative to deal with there.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your writing goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role discipline and organization play in reaching creative goals?

As a professional writer--defined for the purpose of this question as one who has signed a contract to deliver two books in two years--writing goals are met exclusively through discipline, professionalism and perseverance. If I waited for my characters to speak to me, or any of the other BS motivations I hear at conferences, I would never get a single word onto the page. The trick is to write as often as you can, and to never miss a deadline. In my own case, I know that for every book, I will be a much slower writer for the first hundred pages than I will be for the last three hundred. It's just the way my process works, and I plan accordingly.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

I tell writers groups all the time that no one can thrust defeat on another party; that defeat can only be declared by the one who has given up. I don't believe in failure, and I don't believe in most forms of victim hood. If I don't succeed, it's because I screwed something up, and it's my job to fix whatever I broke and then try again. There's no shame in declaring defeat--I stopped attempting home repair projects years ago when I realized that I didn't want to do the work that would teach me the skills--but we should call it what it really is: quitting. People need to pick their battles accordingly.

That's a long mantra, I suppose, but it's important to me because it makes my world make sense. It gives me the confidence and the courage to keep hammering away at a business where success is judged largely by how well you perform this time. That's how we judge all professionals.

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6527212 June 22, 2009

Pieces of Penelope (1980, 14 years old)

My Diary

Pages of love and tears,
Special tidbits picked up through the years,
From girl to women,
From daughter to mother,
The pages may tear and fade,
But the hopes and fears will live forever.


... Sometimes I feel sad, sometimes glad, to be me. Am I the only one with problems? I cry out for someone to solve them. I'm proud to be me, but sometimes I wish I was different ... I realize now that I'm just one of the little grains of salt in the world.


The End

The end is here, now, after so long,
Your love is gone, transferred,
Where did I go wrong?
The end is sad, frightening, hard to bear,
The end has begun,
How long will it last?
Will it last till the end?
When the end is over and love goes on,
Where will you be?
Will you be near?
I'll always be here, at the end.


... They'll never know how I feel. I'll never let them know! My mind is searching, scanning but never finding the answers. I guess this is the final path. The path through darkness into light. Is that the light there? No, just a shimmer of hope. The light will come someday. I'll be happy then. Someday ...



What are words?
Words are means of expression,
Then where are the right words?
The words to say, "I love you?"
What is "I love you?"
"I love you" are the words that mean there are no words ... for me.

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