A Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke
When did you decide you liked to write?
In the 10th grade, I wrote a short story about a cowboy named Joe who ended up as lunch for a vindictive mountain lion. I put a lot of time and thought into creating a suspenseful plot, and thoroughly enjoyed the process. My English teacher had read excerpts of the tale as I developed it, which was fortunate; because he lost the final product, but gave me an A anyway, based on his interim reviews. From the moment I started writing about Joe and his nemesis, I knew I wanted to write.
How did you develop your writing skills?
I wrote a good number of stories in high school, and a few in college at the Air Force Academy; but I don’t recall doing a lot of creative writing there. Then, as an operational fighter pilot, there weren’t many opportunities for writing, and most of what I did was on the technical side. In grad school (Aerospace Engineering) the focus was 100% on the technical side, as it was thereafter, when I became a test pilot and wrote numerous test plans and reports on the aircraft I tested. Technical writing is, in fact, an art form—one that instills good rudimentary writing skills like how to be concise, factual, objective, and unemotional, and how to use active voice, which contributes immeasurably to the readability of any type of writing. Next, as a flight and academic instructor at the Air Force Test Pilot School, I actually taught technical writing (teaching things is the best way to learn anything) and frequently imparted the gem-of-wisdom that, “You can be the greatest test pilot in the world, but if you can’t tell people, concisely and clearly, what you learned in the test, you wasted your time.”
When I decided to try historical fiction, I knew my technical writing experience provided an excellent core capability, but I also realized it would have to be enhanced in a special way if I was going to make people love, cry, laugh, and hate. So I started paying attention to how the novelists I liked said things and inserted feelings and emotions into their stories, made readers care about or despise their characters. I then applied what I’d learned to developing my own style; and you, the reader, will now judge how well I succeeded.
What is your writing regimen?
Well, first I must say that I’ve never had the luxury of being able to write full time. My entire literary “career” has been a catch-as-catch-can experience, accomplished whenever I could steal moments from my day jobs of being an aerospace consultant and running a cattle ranch. Such required (requires) a great deal of discipline, but I’m blessed with a fair amount of that, so I try to rise early in the morning and get in three or four hours of writing before the work day begins. However, most of my plot and scene formation come at the end of the day, when my left brain spins down, and my right brain spins up. I stimulate this transformation, by sitting in the hot tub with a beer and absorbing the glory of the Rocky Mountain around me. Then, in the morning, I edit the previous day’s work, and put flesh on the bones of the previous night’s plot formation. The editing process never ends.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I find it exhilarating to formulate a good scene, or find the right words to express a feeling in a manner that stirs my own emotions.
How do you put a story together?
I’m sure there are as many techniques for this as there are writers. In my limited literary experience, I develop a general plot and backdrop for the story, then research every inch, nook, and cranny of supporting material. I then profile all of my main characters—physical characteristics, personalities, quirks, skeletons-in-the-closet, ambitions, fears, etc.—so I know how make to them act in the situations they’ll encounter in the story. Next, I outline the basic events of each chapter; and last, I develop the scenes and add the words. See previous statement on the eternal nature of editing..
Do you plan an entire story before you start?
No. I plan the basic flow of things, per the chapter plots described above, but I frequently change things, or insert what I hope are clever, engaging, intriguing, or heart-gripping twists.
Do you become engaged with your characters and the plot?
Absolutely. I loved and despised my various characters in Dangerous Dreams and felt the same emotions I hoped to evoke in my readers. Even now, I think of Emily Colman and her courage, innocence, and vulnerability nearly every day.
Do you plan to write more novels?
I do, indeed. When I originally conceived Dangerous Dreams as a young adult novel, I envisioned a series of stories (28, to be exact), each built around a momentous event, or series of events, in American history, that would take Emily’s family (including her younger brother) from 1587 to the present. Time and the Almighty will determine how far I get, but I plan to begin the next novel in 2016.