What is your favorite color? Azure blue. The color of the water off the coast of Capri on a bright summer day. I’m particularly drawn to it in translucent forms: as copper based glazes on pottery (I love a particular Chinese blue glaze made in the Imperial workshops), blue glass of the right hue, or even those “Ice Blue” clear mints.
What is your favorite food? I’m a ridiculous foodie and wine guy (I blog about it here), to the level of being a certified sommelier and attending 27 course truffle diners. Yet, I also have a secret weakness for “comfort” food (particularly candies) like Skittles and Spicettes.
When and why did you begin writing? I’m a lifelong creator and explorer of worlds. As far back as first grade I remember spending most of the school day in one day dream or another. I had a huge notebook stuffed with drawings, story bits, and concepts for an elaborate Sci-Fi/Fantasy world I cobbled together from bits of Star Wars, Narnia, and Battlestar Galactica. By fourth or fifth grade not only was I loosing myself in every fantasy or Sci-Fi novel I could, but I was building Dungeons & Dragons castles and caverns on paper. Then from 1980 on the computer.
Since third grade I’ve read rather obsessively, so I was naturally interested in writing. I began fairly seriously in ninth grade. In high school, I won several national literary awards for my short stories and I was an editor and contributor to our high school literary magazine. In college, despite being a diehard science guy, I took creative writing classes (sometimes I was the only guy) and submitted stories to Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines (not that they ever bought any!). I co-wrote the
stories for many of my best selling video games. But video games aren’t as story driven as novels, so don’t judge these in the same light J.
What genre are you most comfortable writing? I mostly read speculative fiction (SciFi, supernatural horror, and Fantasy) and so the same would be true of my writing. I wouldn’t usually be drawn to a fully naturalistic story.
Who or what influenced your writing over the years? I get very inspired by my own sense of “cool.” This can mean cool scenes, cool characters, cool dynamics, cool symbolism, cool turns of phrase, whatever. As I read and watch media obsessively – and by obsessively I mean 200 novels a year and about four hours of long form film/tv a day, I don’t sleep much – I’m constantly looking for interesting moments and archetypes that can be reinvented and repurposed. Nothing is ever new in the world. I also read a tremendous amount of history and in both of my novels I used facts about the history and the historical places and times to guide the story. Sometimes it’s useful to have concrete possibilities like this to give you structure. The historical facts in Untimed do that. I’ll have a practical function in the plot they need to accomplish, then I’ll dig through books looking for something that is synergistic. Sometimes it goes the other way.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? The endless re-reading and careful editing is quite tedious (although I do a lot of it!). Sitting down to read the entire book again for the 50th time takes some serious will power. But overall, I’d say the hardest part was trying to balance my desire for prose minimalism with the need to “tell” the reader what they are supposed to know/feel. Ideally, one doesn’t tell them much of anything, but instead shows and implies. I love when a beat subtly betrays the emotions of a character, but at the same time, not all readers pick up on these niceties. My style is much closer to hard boiled early or mid twentieth century writers than it is to the type of melodramatic prose sometimes found in today’s YA hits (Twilight, here’s looking at you!).
How did you come up with the title? I wanted a single word title, and I wanted it to imply time travel, so I bounced words and phrases around in my head until I came up with UNTIMED. It seemed pretty good immediately.
Can you tell us about your main character? Charlie’s the kind of boy that no one notices. Hell, his own mother can’t remember his name. So when a mysterious clockwork man tries to kill him in modern day Philadelphia, and they tumble through a hole into 1725 London, Charlie realizes even the laws of time don’t take him seriously. Still, this isn’t all bad. Who needs school when you can learn about history first hand, like from Ben Franklin himself. And there’s this girl… Yvaine… another time traveler. All good. Except for the rules: boys only travel into the past and girls only into the future. And the baggage: Yvaine’s got a baby boy and more than her share of ex-boyfriends. Still, even if they screw up history — like accidentally let the founding father be killed — they can just time travel and fix it, right? But the future they return to is nothing like Charlie remembers. To set things right, he and his scrappy new girlfriend will have to race across the centuries, battling murderous machines from the future, jealous lovers, reluctant parents, and time itself.
Who designed the cover? The cover photo-illustration is by award winning fantasy artist Cliff Nielsen. I found him originally for my first novel, The Darkening Dream. Back then, I combed through the more recent books in my 10,000 novel collection and put aside ones with covers I liked. Going through those I found like eight (including the new edition of Narnia!) with covers by Cliff. But it was really the Map of Time cover that totally sold me. I had to have him do mine. So I called.
What was the hardest part about writing this book? With Untimed, the hardest parts had to do with the time travel. First of all, I had to come up with a unique new system that allowed multiple visits to the same time period, but wasn’t too overpowered. If your characters are too powerful, there is no jeopardy. So I had to invent all the restrictions and deal with the issues of paradox (and I think I have a crafty new solution there). Then I had to figure out how to make returning to the SAME action actually interesting for the reader. That was even harder.
Will you write others in this same genre? For sure, I’m already at work on the sequel.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? I wanted to show people that the past didn’t have to be boring, and that while situations and society changes, people stay the same. I also wanted to illustrate that while people in the past are just as human, things really have improved in many ways. By having Charlie, who as a contemporary kid is our representative, experience different times first hand, it’s easy to contrast them.
How much of the book is realistic? Everything but the time travel and the Tick-Tocks is as realistic as I could make it. I did a tremendous amount of research on all my periods and if anything, I understate the zany and shocking quality they probably would have had on a modern.
How important do you think villains are in a story? As a writer, I adore villains and I think Untimed has some pretty good ones. Donnie, as the human villain, is clearly more realistic. He’s a nasty bastard, very self centered and temperamental, but at the same time I wanted to make him likeable, or at least charismatic. Guys like him would have been charming – some of the time. But the Tick-Tocks are cool tool in their more archetypal way. Rapier is like a kind of Boogie-man. He’s always in the wrong place at the right time (for him!).
What are your goals as a writer? I want to tell commercial and fun tales that have some depth to them. This means balancing character and traditional drama (not melodrama) with cool scenarios and rapid pacing. Fundamentally, I want to entertain.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? I do travel a lot, and I incorporate bits and pieces of this into my books. For example, I went to school in Philadelphia and go back there every year. I’ve been to the tea house in Shanghai where Charlie’s dad is hanging out. I’ve spent time in London and France. But I don’t always pick particular locations from my life. All sorts of factors lead me to them. For example, Ben Franklin’s print shop was in St. Barts church in the 1723-25 time frame, so that’s where I put it. I will always use real facts if I can. Newport Prison was pretty much as described back then. Worse really.
What books have most influenced your life? A Game of Thrones, Hyperion, Carrion Comfort, Dune, The Anubis Gates, A Fire Upon the Deep, Consider Phlebas, The City and the Stars, Time Enough for Love, Great Sky River, Wizard and Glass, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Wyvern, Assassin’s Apprentice, A Horse and His Boy, The Silmarillion, and many more.
Who is your favorite author and why? A have a lot. But Tim Powers is a favorite for his ability to bring to life the fey in a grounded yet truly otherworldly way. Stephen King is another (not all his books but many) for his uncannily ability to characterize people in just a sentence or two and his unerring ear for dialogue. Dan Simmons for the massive scope of his world building and command of pathos. George R. R. Martin for his mastery at making his gigantic cast of characters feel developed and above all, human.
Can we expect any more books from you in the future? Yep. Right now, I’m writing two more and adapting Untimed into a screenplay.
Are there any new authors that have sparked your interest and why? Wool, by High Howey was a totally unknown (to me) book that I recently read and really really enjoyed. if you like Science Fiction, post apocalyptic worlds, or just plain old good novels. Read this. In some ways it’s a throwback, in some ways very modern, Woolis a contained (in both the literary and literal way) post apocalyptic tale in the mould of Larry Niven or A Canticle for Leibowitz. Technically this is an ARC story, about an isolated world built to survive a destroyed environment. It’s very emotionally driven and tense.
What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out? There are tons of good books on writing. Ones by Stephen King and Sol Stein are at the top of my list. As to a literal tool, I can’t recommend more highly Scrivener, the writer’s word processor. It won’t do any actual writing for you, but it sure will save you a lot of struggle and frustration when you do get those creative juices flowing.
Do you have any advice for writers? The simplest and the most time consuming advice is to read. Read everything you can. In your genre, in other genres, non-fiction. Everything. Of course if you’re one of those people who just never reads but somehow has the burning desire to be a writer… perhaps you should think again. Next, take your craft seriously. Read books on writing and editing, on plot and structure. Editing, and I mean professional editing, is really very important. A surprising number of published books aren’t even well edited. They’re overwritten and redundant, like this sentence. Patience. It takes a long time to improve and you’ll end up doing a lot of waiting on both yourself and others.
What do you do to unwind and relax? I’m a ridiculous foodie and wine guy (I blog about it here), to the level of being a certified sommelier and attending 27 course truffle diners. Yet, I also have a secret weakness for “comfort” food (particularly candies) like Skittles and Spicettes.
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Genre – YA / Time Travel & Romance
Rating – PG
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