SM: Today it gives me great pleasure to introduce author Cary Ashby to Sylvia Says. Cary (and no, his surname was never “Grant”) and I met online on one of those David Bowie forums. As we are both diehard Bowieheads, it only made sense that we’d start chatting about our hero, then one thing led to another and we discovered we were both working on novels. Cary was working on his debut novel while at the same time he maintained the very busy role of roving reporter.
Now, before we go any further, readers, being an Aussie I use Aussie spelling in all my blog posts, and being a Yank, Cary uses “U.S.” spelling (so no, you’re not seeing spelling mistakes). Okay, so I can finally welcome Cary. Therefore, without further ado: welcome to Sylvia Says, Cary. It’s such a pleasure to have you featuring on my blog today.
CA: I am quite honored you invited me to be interviewed. Thanks so much! This should be fun.
SM: Before we get into the interview, you may want to tell our readers a little about yourself (just leave out the “real” dirty laundry). LOL. But seriously, aside from the fact that you’re US-based, a reporter, and most importantly, a Bowiehead (like me), what else do you wish to share about yourself?
CA: For the past 16 or so years, I have been a newspaper reporter. I have always covered our local school districts and lately, my focus has been on doing features. Of course, I will write as many A&E (arts & entertainment) stories as my editors will let me. LOL. Since I did the “cops and courts” beat for 12-plus years it’s nice to chip away at and redeem the black parts of my soul. For some extra money, and I do mean a little bit, I also cover high school football and basketball games. In my spare time – and when the motivation hits me – I write op-eds* and reviews about various comic book projects and the related media on my Cary’s Comics Craze blog. So basically, I feel like I write, or should be writing, all the time. And that can be a double-edged sword.
[*Note by SM: meaning of “op-ed” – jargon speak for a newspaper page opposite the editorial page, devoted to personal comments, feature articles, etc.]
I grew up in the beautiful state of Virginia in a VERY small town called The Plains. I earned my B.A. in English with minors in secondary education and music at James Madison University. My plan was to be a band director and/or a high school English teacher. Life took some detours and here I am, where my late mother said I should have been as a back-up plan – working in journalism. Since September, I have returned to singing in the church choir and playing handbells, which has been great for my soul. I live in a lovely little city called Norwalk, Ohio, and it’s a wonderful place to call home.
SM: Life always seems to throw us detours, Cary, and here’s another one for you: I know of many reporters/journalists who have turned to writing books; so what was it that made you turn to novel writing?
CA: It really started with my writers group, which meets once a month. We read our works in progress to each other and get wonderfully constructive feedback.
I hadn’t done any fiction writing in years, so I started out just reading some of my nerdy blog posts. Having been a long-time mystery reader, I realized I always wanted to create my own P.I. or investigator. But it had to be original, not a knock-off of another character.
SM: And this brings us to Colt Maverick. What inspired you to invent this character? Tell us a bit about Colt. What is he all about?
CA: As I said, I wanted my character to be as original as possible. That’s tough when you’re writing mysteries. The name Colt Maverick came to me literally, when I was going to bed. It speaks to his somewhat rebellious nature and the name spoke to me, so suddenly I was ready to go! As an aside, many of my friends and readers say they absolutely love the name Colt Maverick. So if nothing else, I gave him a memorable first and last name.
I couldn’t just have Colt be a P.I., so I made him a retired pro football player who had been a Marine sniper. Colt is a bit full of himself; some of my readers have called him arrogant. Really, all this happened in just what was going to be an experimental scene, but I ended up loving this guy. He’s fun to write, and you just never know what he’s going to do or even say. But, as a P.I., he’s always going to end up pursuing justice for everyone involved. That’s why I started the hashtag on social media of #WhatWillColtDo or #WWCD for short.
SM: Well, he certainly sounds like an original character with an impressive background. Now, you released Colt’s debut novel not so long ago, so what’s coming up next for him?
CA: I have been working on a follow-up story for not quite a year. There have been several stops, starts and do-overs. The writing hasn’t been nearly as “easy” as the original. It’s been tough going and honestly, Colt and I are just off a couple-month “break.” But I’ve found something I can stick my teeth into – and it gets Colt into a mess at the same time. That’s where he shines. Colt is investigating a security breach related to the murder of an attorney. What’s been fun is bringing back supporting characters from my first novel. That’s challenging at the same time because, as my writers group told me early in this draft, I can’t assume everyone read the first book.
SM: Well, I can relate to that with my Mia Ferrari series. I believe there is a fine balance between not telling too much about the characters, but enough so that if a reader comes in at say, novel number three, they can still relate to the main protagonist and to the regular characters. This is not easy to do.
The same goes for continuity. Recently, I read the third book in a mystery series (written by a well known author) and a character this author had appearing in novel one ended up with a totally different name in novel three. This put me off as a reader, and it isn’t the first time I’ve come across inconsistencies in the novels of bestselling authors. If I may be so bold as to suggest a method I use for consistency: I keep a file of white cards for each character, which come out of the file every time I start a new novel—this way I’m reminded of the little things that I may no longer remember from two novels ago.
CA: That’s a great idea. I may steal that tip from you. Continuity is tough; I can’t imagine what you face with your Mia Ferrari books. I actually have a Colt Maverick sourcebook of sorts. I started a notebook devoted to the world of my novel, which details everything from who is related to whom to what they drink. It’s been helpful.
SM: That’s a great idea, Cary. I think all authors have their own methods so they can remember and ins and outs of their characters. I could go on about this topic as it would be interesting to see what other authors out there do to remember all the details when they’re giving life to their characters, but now we’re running out of time; therefore, before we conclude I have a couple of quick questions: 1. Do you have a release date for the next Colt Maverick novel? 2. Is there anything you’d like to tell potential readers out there?
CA: No release date on the sequel. Or even a tentative completion date. Not even close! I really am taking it slowly, mainly due to finding time with my work as a professional writer, but most importantly, so I can do it well. Lately I have taken to writing during my lunch break. SO many people who have read my novel have an immediate question when they see me: How is the next one coming? It’s incredibly exciting to know people want to read more about Colt, and honestly see my debut novel as the first in a series. Guess I must have done something right! Hahahaha.
To any potential readers, it’s a blessing that you support authors, especially independent ones like Sylvia and me. Also, once you do read someone’s book, please post a review or send the author an email and/or direct message on social media and let him or her know what you think. Give us shoutouts! Constructive feedback is very helpful. Personally, there’s also nothing better than knowing you enjoy what I wrote. I have taken to heart the constructive criticism on my first book; that’s only going to help push me to make the next one even better.
SM: Well, thank you so very much for taking the time to feature on Sylvia Says today. I really enjoyed learning about Colt Maverick and I look forward to reading about his adventures.
Cary, I wish you all the best with the Colt novels, and please make sure you cut me into the deal when those film options come knocking at your door. Did I tell you I’m really good with continuity? LOL.
CA: Good try, Sylvia! Hahahahaha. It has been a pleasure to be on Sylvia Says; thank you!
For more information on Cary Ashby and where you can purchase Colt Maverick’s first mystery please CLICK here.
Yes! The man from NYC is back for more on Sylvia Says. This is a first for me, hosting a great author twice on my blog. So read on, and I hope you enjoy the interview.
SM: Steven, it's great to have you back on my blog and ready to tell readers about your latest release The Ishi Affair.
SJG: It's great to be back, Sylvia. I'm thrilled to be the only author you've hosted twice on the blog.
SM: What can I say? It's that charm of yours... And the fact I love guys from NYC (blushing). But let's get you talking about your latest novel. This is book 5 of your David Grossman series. Does the new book tell a continuing story?
SJG: Each of the five novels in my David Grossman Series is an independent story. But the books do share a main protagonist, hence the series. For sure, readers who enjoy all the books will appreciate the larger arc of David’s colorful life. The first three novels--Grand View, Forty Years Later, and The Deadline— are told in the first person, so they share the intimate tone of a single narrator. Grossman’s Castle and The Ishi Affair are told in the third-person, so various characters share center-stage with David—though his brash and comic voice is sometimes loudest.
SM: So what compelled you to write this latest novel?
SJG: I’ve always had a deep fear and loathing of bullies. When I was still quite young, I learned that my mother’s family—and other Jews of the Ukraine—had suffered the casual taunts of Jew-haters and, even more, the murderous pogroms that often exterminated entire Jewish villages. My father’s boyhood was spent in Nazi Germany. Most of his extended family was able to leave before Kristallnacht. The ones who stayed behind were killed.
When I was 17, I first learned about Ishi and how his tribe, along with many other Native American tribes, were hunted down and murdered by whites for fun and profit—and that these heinous actions were often sponsored by government fiat. I learned early on that genocide was the most loathsome human expression imaginable. I knew, at 17, I would write about Ishi.
SM: Genocide is indeed one of the most loathsome human expressions imaginable. Nowadays I'd have to say I put it right up there with terrorist acts. But back to Ishi--Was there a real "Ishi" or an ancient person who you based Ishi on?
SJG: Yes, in fact Ishi is quite famous, and the last five years of his life (1911–1916) are well documented. I did quite a bit of research to learn about the Yahi, whose Stone Age customs, traditions, and technology were still being practiced in the early 20th century.
SM: What made you mesh the Stone Age era component into the modern-day story you wrote? And why did you decide on the Stone Age era in the first place?
SJG: I loved the idea that Ishi was born into a Stone Age culture while much of the rest of our nation was becoming highly industrialized. A couple days after Ishi was “discovered,” he was transported by railroad to bustling San Francisco, where he saw large sailing ships and even an airplane. This image has always fascinated me, and I knew early on that I would not write a Clan of the Cave Bear-type story. You see, I wasn’t as interested in the Old Ways of the Yahi as I was in the clash of cultures, Stone Age and Modern.
SM: How does Ishi become a catalyst for David Grossman to face certain issues in his modern life?
SJG: Human nature, for better or worse, seems to be a constant. For thousands of years, going back to the Stone Age, people have labored, fought, loved … much as they do today. Conversely, modern humans—for all their advanced knowledge and technology—are capable of expressing the most primitive, savage impulses.
SM: Oh yes. I have to agree with you there, my friend. Since mankind has walked erect, breaking away from the apes, nothing much has changed by way of their nature.
SJG: And insofar as both are human, David Grossman and Ishi are not so different in terms of their basic needs. By comparing Stone Age and Modern characters, we see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
SM: An excellent point. As for The Ishi Affair, although a work of fiction, how much did you draw from true historical facts to write this story?
SJG: Almost everything I wrote about the historical Ishi is based on well-known research. I altered only one or two minor details to accommodate the needs of my narrative. Readers should remember that we are not that far removed from Ishi’s time. Interesting note: the esteemed sci-fi writer, Ursula K. Le Guin, who is still alive and well, is the daughter of early 20th-century anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and his second wife, Theodora Kroeber, both of whom play roles in my novel. And, just for the record: Le Guin’s middle initial K stands for Kroeber.
SM: This sounds like a fascinating story indeed. And before we go, is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
SJG: I first learned about Ishi when I was 17 and working on an archaeological dig in northern California. That summer, after the dig, I began to write a novel about Ishi and the Yahi. Even then I knew I would combine the story of the Stone Age tribe into a contemporary tale. But I lacked maturity. I needed an adult voice to tell this story. It took me 46 years to get it right.
SM: Thank you, Steven, for doing this interview. Without your agreeing to be my guest today I would never have learned about Ishi and his ancestry. The Ishi Affair is definitely on my reading list now.
SJG: Thank you, Sylvia, for hosting me on your blog post; and the next one (and it's on my bucket list) is to do a face to face interview with you in the land Down Under.
SM: Dear Steven... I'll hold you to that! Bye for now.
NOTE TO READERS: Dear readers, please note that being an Aussie I use Australian spelling in my blog posts, but I don't alter the spelling of the guest's responses, which in this case are written in American spelling. Thank you and until next time!
For those of you old enough to remember 1980s English post-punk group, Adam and the Ants, you’re in the wrong blog post. Today, I’m thrilled to have as a guest English scientist and sci-fi author extraordinaire, Ant Ryan. AND he’s got a thing about Spanish caves! So read on ...
SM: Welcome to Sylvia Says, Ant. It’s great to have you as a guest on my blog. From one animal and coffee lover to another, you’ve already captured my heart (just don’t tell the wife!). And I see you have cats and rabbits—I hope the cats are not staying up late at night swapping rabbit stew recipes.
AR: Thanks for the kind invite and nice to be “here”. Ha, yes, I need a lot of coffee to keep up with the cats and rabbits. Rabbit stew! I’d better not mention the 5ft fish tank then.
SM: True, forget about the fish. We don’t want to give the kitty cats any ideas. I see you’re from NW England. The only thing I know about this area is the Beatles Museum in Liverpool, which I visited in 1985 (giving away my age here). What’s it like to live in your part of the world?
AR: Actually, we’re just a few miles across the river from Liverpool. I was at that museum, too, in ’85 – I turn 40 this year ;-/ There are lots of great museums, art galleries, superb architecture, many restaurants, bars and cafes fit for writing in. This area has really improved since the 1980’s, when there were still World War II damaged buildings. Now, though still relatively small, it is vibrant, cosmopolitan, friendly and quite a pretty city. Plus several great football (soccer) teams are nearby. I really do love living near Liverpool. We have national parks within a short driving distance, also the Welsh coast and mountains, as well as Manchester and Chester cities nearby. You can even take a ferry to Dublin, Belfast, and the Isle of Man. I sound like a tourist guide on commission ;)
SM: Well, if I ever revisit your part of the world I expect a full tour, and I’ll buy you all the coffee you want! But tell me, being a scientist who tries to solve physics problems, I thought I’d ask you if you’ve come up with a way to travel through a wormhole into another galaxy or even a parallel universe. I’m forever trying to locate my idol, David Bowie; and I’m sure he’s somewhere in our universe. What do you think?
AR: I think that the overall universe is infinite in size as opposed to the observable universe, so in many theories, Bowie could indeed be performing still, or dressed as a Goblin King, but we could never meet that version. Sadly missed and on my favourite lists on iTunes by the way. I loved how his music made the Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes TV series more atmospheric; wish they had done a third called Starman.
SM: I have to confess I never saw the TV series, but when I watched the film “Martian” and they played Starman in one scene, I bawled my eyes out—just don’t tell anyone. And on that note, down to business: Just so we know a bit more about you, you’re a scientist, but you also write sci-fi short stories. Is that right? First of all, what kind of scientist are you, and what kind of work do you do as a scientist?
AR: I work in a chemistry lab pressing buttons, nothing too exciting. If I say "top secret" that might make it about 0.0001% more interesting ;)
Yes, short stories are what I’m getting into. I thought at first this was because I couldn’t write anything longer, but I actually think that it is what I prefer myself. Twitter has taught me to be concise (not that I am being here), but I value people’s time. There’s a fine balance between getting enough detail in to be able to tell your story well enough and superfluous text, and I hope this is something I will improve at.
SM: And what inspired you to write? As you probably know by now (unless you’re enjoying the fame of JKRowling or Stephen King) writing is very much a labour of love unless one is discovered. So please expand on why you started to write and how the creative mood strikes you.
AR: Great question. I think it was from writing theoretical physics papers. Friends had made the transition from science books into fiction, so I researched it and now I’m getting there I guess. I like the idea of leaving the real world with something that can outlive our lifetimes. It’s nice to create imaginary worlds and characters, and the process is becoming addictive. Creativity seems to strike randomly, so it’s useful to note these thoughts down as and when they do arrive.
SM: As novelists we always reflect something within ourselves through the characters we create. What do you feel you reflect most about yourself that is revealed through your characters?
AR: The big questions about the Universe – is there life out there – our obsession with (many different) gods – pushing boundaries of possibility and technologies, and humanity’s fantastic achievements versus our easily avoidable mistakes that we can’t seem to stop making.
SM: Yes, I can relate to that—the mistakes humanity keeps on making. But I won’t digress now, otherwise this blog post will turn into a long novel :) So please tell us a little about Celestial Spheres.
AR: Tri-gods sum it up. An extra-terrestrial binary star system with humans, and humanoids who exploit them; these “higher” beings have one of three god-like abilities – ultimate power, infinite knowledge or can travel freely in space-time. There are also lower humans, more zombie-like. Wars have occurred between the species and the finely balanced symbiotic status quo has been threatened before. It follows the story of a Potent (powerful humanoid) wanting to gain the other two abilities and explore the Universe, but society’s rulers don’t like this sort of ambition.
SM: Very interesting; and if I had to choose one ability I’d go for travelling freely in space-time. This could come in very useful. I also think this kind of story would make a good premise for a sci-fi film. So what are you working on at present, if anything?
AR: I’m finishing Celestial Spheres part 3; drafting part 4; and plotting part 5 (the final part). I’m also drafting/editing a standalone short entitled “Liver Pool”, which is sci-fi/fantasy, plus I’m plotting a fantasy short.
SM: Well, it sounds like you’re a busy bee then. You know, on writing, I feel it’s not always easy to tell the world what we think and feel through our stories; however, I feel blessed we can do this, even if it makes us feel vulnerable at times. I know some readers may not take away anything from our work, while others will go on to criticise and bring us down; but despite this, I believe that if we can touch just one heart or one soul with the stories we write, then we’ve done a good job. What do you think?
AR: Great way of looking at it. I think negativity is better than nothing, as it means one’s work has been read, plus we can learn from constructive criticism. The scientist side of me likes numbers, however, so the more reads and reviews we get the more accurate and precise the average view is. There will always be love and hate for most things. But note to self – grow a thicker skin now! ;)
SM: Well said. We can’t please everybody nor can we avoid those who love to ‘heckle’ us in a destructive rather than constructive way. But at least we got off our arses and did something useful. And as they say in Hollywood: "Everyone’s a critic." So let them criticise away! I think as authors we start off with fear of what others will think or write about us, but we know we’ve become veterans when we "don’t give a load of dingoes kidneys" what others think (the latter part of this sentence was borrowed from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). LOL.
Anyway, it was great having you on Sylvia Says, Ant. But before we go, what’s with the "caves in Spain" thingy?
AR: Sadly, I lost close family in the last few years, so I wanted to spend a small inheritance on something nice that I could enjoy in the future, and as a reminder of them. I named the cave after my loved ones “Casa Therene Robles”. The place is in the middle of a working town in a desert, so it’s great because a cave naturally stays warm in winter and cool in the very hot summer! 1.5L of wine is €1.10, and it is "muy bien".
SM: Actually, I’m going to correct your Spanish if you don’t mind :) and say "muy bueno" (meaning the wine is very good, which I’m sure this is what you meant to say). Yes, I know I’m a smartarse, but I still love you, my friend.
Thank you for clarifying the cave mystery, and thank you for being my guest today. I wish you all the best for the future, and I’ll be looking for that invite to your cave house in Spain!
AR: Likewise, and thanks very much for having me! The invite’s on its way :)
For more information about Ant Ryan, please click HERE
It actually sounds like the name of a song David Bowie would write, but no; this isn't a song, and the writer is not David Bowie--but he is a funky little demon! Read on to get into AJ Beamish's mind. I guarantee it can be a scary place! And no, AJ's not one of those frigging clowns that are running around the world right now scaring young and old.
SM: Welcome to Sylvia Says, AJ. It’s great to have you as a guest on this blog. I see you’re originally from one of my favourite cities—NYC. So what are you doing in Georgia now, and why do you want to move to the land down under?
AJ: I was born in NYC to a couple of Scousers from Liverpool. So I grew up in England and NYC, probably why I have a better grasp of the English language than most Americans (*cough*TrumpSupporters*cough*). Funny thing, when we first moved to Georgia, I really wanted to move to Australia. Might have had something to do with smoking pot while watching the Paul Hogan show... Can't remember.
Alas, my wife loves her comfort zone too much and she has family here. She also hits harder than Bruce Lee. So we ended up in Southern Hell. At the time, I just wanted to get out of NYC. I thought it was because I hated it there. Now I realise I've always had severe social anxieties; I get very anxious in crowded settings. I miss NYC, but it's too expensive for working class folk now. That's a little disappointing.
SM: I see none of your facebook friends are David Bowie fans except for me. Do you think they were replaced by extraterrestrials, but still look like their human selves? Except for Author Nicole Chardenet of course; we all know she’s an extraterrestrial chick through and through!
AJ: I have Facebook friends? *looking genuinely surprised* Most of them are young-adult gamers, or they were until I started pissing them off. They're great folk, solid gaming friends with whom I've developed great personal relationships over the years. Alas, I need more writer friends on my Facebook. Writers are far more contemplative, especially regarding important social issues older generations are more concerned about. My gamer friends suffer from the vestiges and arrogance of youth, as I did at their age. Facebook is where you go to realise you have very little in common with the people you actually know--or--the people you know can't find a middle ground with you. For the most part, Facebook is a place for acquaintances, not friends. At least, that's been my experience.
SM: Another thing I noticed is that you have a dog looking at a computer on your Facebook feature pic (see below). This explains many things.... LOL. Care to comment on this and tell us who is really writing your novel?
AJ: That's Stanley. He's an only child and needs a friend, and thus is a spoiled brat. We've always had two dogs, but we lost 3 in row a few years back within a 4-year period (one to cancer, one to a rare genetic blood disease, and one to old age) and have been reluctant to adopt more (please always adopt, people!) Besides my wife, he's my best friend. Rain or shine, Stanley never leaves my side. When friends and family abandon me, he is there.
My wife says 'he's just like you', and he is. I've learned more about myself through Stanley than all my life experiences put together. He has all my fears, mania, and anxieties. He hates going outside, doesn't trust anyone, but my wife and me. When depression gets the best of me, he's sulking right next to me. When the mania hits, he's destroying his multitude of toys while I frantically pace. He looks out the window and growls at the world he has no control over. I sit on the internet and growl at the world I have no control over. We both binge-watched the entirety of "Outrageous Fortune" on Netflix like 3 times... He's a total freak, just like me.
I am most definitely writing my novel, but I'm pretty sure Stanley takes over my Facebook and Twitter feeds late at night. Oh, I should copyright that one before Trump does!
SM: Okay, enough humour. Aussies like messing about with people and taking the piss out of them (in a nice way, of course). Now, tell me about the premise of your novel, which seems to be a long labour of love.
AJ: Marley Wright is close to my heart. The bugger's been tormenting me a long time. Though I fear the story may have fermented too long. He's a simple kid, from a broken family, who gets these powers and starts seeing tiny demons all around him. The demons guide him in strange ways. He develops these precognitive magical powers through the demons and rather than doing the whole Peter Parker responsibility thing, Marley goes off on a wild tangent, gets lost, gets hunted, finds purpose, and tries to start doing what he believes he was meant to do. But is it too late by then? I'd allude more to what that purpose is, but it's a major plot twist that doesn't come about till late in the second novel.
It's a ballad, a trilogy with a couple of short stories thrown in for good measure. The ballad is a journey of discovery and the search for something to believe in. The first novel is about the loss of innocence and the bitter sting of betrayal.
I'm working on a short story for the holidays. A sort of Funky Little Demons Christmas Carol that jumps ahead quite a few years, and that will help flesh out the main character for the readers a bit more. Be sure to look out for it.
SM: What inspired you to write it?
AJ: That question from XTC's "Dear God" clearly comes to mind--Did you make mankind after we made you? And a quote from Homer's "The Odyssey": Ah how shameless--the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share. Along with my own search for something to believe in. Roman Catholic, born and raised. Dabbled in Buddhism. Now a devout atheist. Parts of it are loosely based off my own experiences growing up in Spanish Harlem, NYC. Write what you know, right?
SM: As novelists, we always reflect something within ourselves through our characters. What do you feel you reflect through your characters?
AJ: There's definitely a lot of my childhood in Marley in the first novel. But it probably stops there. There's only so much of yourself you can put in your characters. There are parts of yourself that just need to remain yours. I feel writers are solitary creatures. We sit back. We observe. We write what we see, what we think we see, what we know. In our minds we are many things, but those things are just reflections of the world around us. So while there's some of myself in Marley, the other characters probably reflect people I've known in life. I suppose we have to insert that legal caveat here regarding all characters being fictional and any similarities are merely a product of one's over-inflated ego. LOL.
SM: Where can readers get a glimpse of your novel? And are you planning on a formal release for it?
AJ: They can find the first few chapters at ajbeamish.com; and as of this moment, I don't have a release date planned. My diseased mind constantly finds ways to screw with me so I feel the same way Douglas Adams felt about deadlines--I simply love the whooshing sound they make as they whizz on by.
SM: AJ, I’d like to close off by saying that, unlike in other careers, being an older person gives an author an edge and more insight because of the life experience we go through: the lessons learned and the wisdom we acquire (at least, for most of us). This is something that a younger person may have trouble portraying in their writing unless they are exceptionally wise or they’ve suffered greatly. What are your thoughts on this?
AJ: All artists suffer. It's what we do. Mostly in melodramatic ways. Though our suffering can be somewhat selfish at times and wear down those close to us. My own introverted nature, anxieties and depression have pushed many people away, including family. So we have to find balance there, especially in our writing. Insert too much personal suffering and your narrative will come off as more whiny than entertaining.
Worldliness plays a huge part in a writer's ability to draw upon vivid experiences to infuse their narrative with. Someone who has never travelled ten feet beyond their white picket fence will be writing a lot of one dimensional characters and places until they get out there, start travelling, and start experiencing life.
It's also a "know thyself thing". In my youth I wasn't very introspective. Most humans are the same deep down; once you start figuring yourself out you've pretty much figured everyone else out. At least their base needs, wants, and fears. Everything else is just layer upon layer of internal reactions to personal experiences that warp, jade, or inspire us.
SM: It’s not always easy to open up and tell the world what we think and feel through our stories. But I think we’re blessed if we can do this, even if it makes us feel vulnerable at times. Some people may not take away anything from our writing; others will go on to criticise us and bring us down. But if we can touch one heart or one soul with the stories we write, in my estimation I think we’ve done a good job. What do you think?
AJ: When I first started writing they had this saying, if you have a message call Western Union. I suppose it would be nice if someone came up to me and told me my writing got them through a difficult time or inspired them, but I don't believe you can write a good story if you're focused on that. I think you have to write for yourself first and foremost. If something wonderful, like touching another's soul comes out of it, great. I try not to think about it too much because when I do it ends up in mental images of someone throwing one of my novels at me and screaming YOU SUCK! And then there's that whole Stephen King's Misery paradigm... My mind is a very dangerous place.
SM: And my house is your house, especially the one pictured above. Hehehehehe. Well, I think we'll stop here and ponder on this--the mind boggles--and the meaning of life, etc, etc. We all know the answer is "42", right?
AJ, it was great having you on Sylvia Says. And I hope you make it to the land down under one day so we can continue the "42" discussion, among other things. Best of luck with Funky Little Demons, and thank you for using UK/Aussie spelling in your answers to my questions. Nice touch!
AJ: Thanks, Sylvia. And I'll hold you to your invite to visit Australia.
SM: You're on :)
On "Sylvia Says" today, I go all the way to NYC (on a virtual trip) to interview author Steven Jay Griffel about his successful David Grossman series.
SM: Welcome to Sylvia Says, Steven. It’s great to have you as a guest on my blog, and all the way from one of my favourite cities—New York City! Today, I decided to start this interview with the last question first and ask you: “Are you David Grossman?”
SJG: Great to be in the land down under, Sylvia. And the answer to your question is no, I’m not David Grossman, though he and I are often mistaken for each other. David Grossman is my best-known fictional character and appears in all of my novels, serving me as a sort of fictional alter-ego. Through David’s decisions I get to imagine other life choices, which tend to be more imaginative and daring than my own.
SM: Looking at the novel blurb in each of your David Grossman books, I see there are many life lessons learned; what would you say is one of the most important lessons of all and why?
SJG: My greatest advice to readers: Do not live a life stunted by regret. Regret is a self-inflicted poison that slowly degrades a person’s courage and self-esteem. People are generally happier when they are able to articulate their greatest regrets in order to render them null and void.
SM: The other thing I noticed is that your novels include aspects of what I might call the “paranormal.” What prompted you to do this?
SJG: Like many people, I am fascinated by experience beyond normal human understanding. In Grand View there is the mystery of the Potato Cave and communication with the dead via the Ouija board; in Grossman’s Castle there are the strange phenomena in the Castle and the appearance of ghosts; in The Deadline there is an Amazonian High Priestess who practices the dark arts of Candomblè. These examples of the paranormal add a sense of exotica and suspense to the plots.
SM: No paranormal in Forty Years Later?
SJG: There is someone who may (or may not) be a knife-wielding murderess. But I think she’s abnormal, not paranormal.
SM: Where did David Grossman come from? The idea of him, that is. I know he “speaks” to you and tells you he has more to say and this is why you wrote your fourth novel in the series. Care to elaborate a bit more on this?
SJG: About twenty-five years ago I wrote a novel called Grand View. The story takes place in a Jewish bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains during one summer in the 1960s; the main protagonist is a young teen named David Grossman. Many years later, I reconnected with someone I knew when we were both teens. This woman is a screenwriter who had a big hit movie modelled on the bungalow colony where the two of us had once lived. My relationship with this woman inspired me to write Forty Years Later, which became my first published novel and featured David Grossman as a middle-aged man. A year later I wrote The Deadline, another novel featuring David Grossman as a Baby Boomer. Following the success of these novels, my publisher released Grand View and came up with the idea of marketing the books as the David Grossman Series. In March, Grossman’s Castle was published, my fourth David Grossman book. I never planned to write a series. I started with one book about a boy named David Grossman--and the series took on a successful life of its own.
SM: Do you ever feel locked in or limited as the author of a series?
SJG: In Grand View, Forty Years Later, and The Deadline, David Grossman is the first-person narrator. In a sense, each narrative is “limited” to David Grossman’s purview and perceptions. But In Grossman’s Castle I needed direct access into the minds of three other main characters, so I moved to a third-person narration. This point of view gives me limitless flexibility.
SM: Do readers have to read your novels in a certain order?
SJG: The novels are independent and can be read in any order, though most readers like to read them chronologically, following the sequence of David Grossman’s life: Grand View, Grossman’s Castle, The Deadline, and Forty Years Later.
SM: As novelists, we always reflect something within ourselves through our characters. What do you feel you reflect through David and your other major characters?
SJG: Emotionally speaking, I reflect my essential insecurity and my desire for a greater, more accomplished life. Practically speaking, I think I reflect my Baby Boomer culture: dying parents, failing health, unemployment, adulterous affairs, revised careers, paranormal events—all that is mundane and miraculous in life. My Boomer novels show that life after sixty is just as dramatic, sexy, and entertaining as any other time of life.
SM: Your novels are available exclusively as e-books on Amazon. Was that your decision? What are your feelings about this?
SJG: I signed with an indie publisher when the digital revolution was just beginning to transform the publishing industry. I had to come to grips with the idea that my books would not appear in a traditional paperbound format. As it happened, my first published novel, Forty Years Later, was a pretty big hit—an Amazon #1 best-seller. Almost immediately I had a sizable readership, which has continued to buy and read my books. I love the fact that my novels are inexpensive and available around the world. I’m told that my books have sold in more than thirty countries and on six continents. This is all very gratifying to me. I no longer have any regrets about my novels being available only as e-books.
SM: It seems to me that being an older author can be a distinct advantage. The lessons learned and the wisdom acquired are not things that most 20-, 30- or even 40-year-olds could write about successfully. My belief is that it’s not until we get into our 50s that we are truly “rounded off” as feeling and empathetic beings. What are your thoughts on this?
SJG: I agree with your thoughts. Being a novelist is not like a being a chess prodigy or a teen gymnast. Although there are exceptions, most successful novelists draw on their experiences hard-won over many years.
SM: Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add?
SJG: I am working on a new novel. Yes, it is a David Grossman novel. And it may be the strangest, most exciting one yet. Suffice to say, David Grossman is involved with a cast of colorful crazies that include a gambler, a wilderness expert, Stone Age Indians, and an old friend just released from Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital.
SM: Sounds great, and I wish you every success with it! Steven, I’d like to thank you for sharing your views with us today. It’s not always easy to open ourselves up and tell the world what we think and feel, but I think we are blessed if we can do this. Many people may not learn anything, but if we can touch one heart or one soul with the novels we write, then in my estimation we’ve done a good job.
It was great having you on Sylvia Says, and at the risk of sounding like a romantic fool I’m going to confess that every time I listen to Harry Connick, Jr., I think of you and NYC!
SJG: It was great being here, Sylvia. And when next in NYC, I owe you dinner.
SM: And I'll hold you to that, too!
For more information on Steven and his books, please click HERE.
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