I did two masters, including the M.F.A., for several reasons. The M.A. in Writing was one of the best experiences in my life. It gave me a good grounding in all aspects of writing-- Composition, Rhetoric, Professional Writing, and Creative Writing. But, in one sense, it was still a generalist program. And, the M.F.A. was the fine-tuning I wanted in Creative Writing. Professionally speaking, I wanted the academic clout that came from holding a terminal degree. But, more specifically, I saw the M.F.A. as being to a writer what Parris Island is to a Marine. I went into the program thinking I was a writer; I left knowing I was a ***-****** writer.
Your latest book, Duncan Hambeth, Furniture King of the South, is a play. What made you decide to write it in play form?
Duncan Hambeth started off as a thought experiment. It dawned on me that there were an awful lot of parallels between Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “MacBeth.” And, the more I studied the two plays, the more convinced I became that they were structurally the same play. Both had questions about who should be in charge. Both had strong female characters. Both had elements of the supernatural. Both had political maneuverings. And, both were resolved with violence. The big difference was that “MacBeth” was told from the perspective of the one who stole the throne; “Hamlet” was told from the perspective of the one who had the throne stolen from him.
Then, I got scared. It was working . . . too well.
What inspired you to begin writing?
Mick Jagger asked, “What can a poor boy do, ‘cept sing for a Rock’N’Roll band?”
Would you share with us the story of how you got your first novel published?
There’s really not that much to tell. I wrote Rocket Man in the Summer of 1990. I wanted to be able to tell myself that I’d written something of value before I turned thirty. But, it sat in my strongbox for approximately fifteen years for two reasons. One, the further I went through graduate school, the more I heard about how impossible it was to get anything published. And, two, I found out years later that I have Avoidant Personality Disorder. In layman’s terms, that means a person received so much negativity in their childhood that their psyche simply saturates with it and can’t absorb any more. People with APD have an extremely difficult time dealing with rejection and negative feedback. So, I was caught between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis, compelled to write and equally compelled to not go through the rejection process so common to pre-digital publishing. Self-publishing through Xlibris helped me negotiate those treacherous waters.
What do you think of the importance of networking in relation to book sales? Which social networks do you think work the best for marketing and why?
A writer has to be careful when networking. There are plenty of people who are willing to take free copies of your book, as long as you’re giving them away. But, that takes money out of your writing business; it doesn’t bring money into it.
1) Book sales
2) Speaking engagements
3) Teaching opportunities
Would you please share with our readers the steps of your writing process?
I write at two different speeds-- big project and small project.
How important do you think critique groups are for writers and do you have one?
The only thing I learned in creative writing workshops was how much I hated creative writing workshops. I avoid them. They are evil.
All of your books are meant for adults. Have you ever thought of writing for a younger audience?
I have been working on a project for some time that could find a following among younger writers. It’s called “The Warrior’s Guide to the Battle of the Sexes.”
How important do you think it is for a writer to have an agent? Do you have one?
I don’t have one. Someday, I may need one. But, I know, ultimately, an agent’s allegiance is going to be with a publisher first and me second. So, I’ll have one of my attorney buddies riding herd over my end of the contract.
Your blog, Sushi Tuesday, has several contributors. Would you please describe how you met and why you decided to blog together?
Sushi Tuesday came into existence because I got to a place in life where all I was seeing were students and patients, and I needed more. So, I called a fraternity brother of mine that taught in another department and suggested lunch. He agreed, and we went to a sushi bar on a Tuesday. And, we’ve been meeting ever since. Our group has grown. We include an English professor, a music professor, a violin instructor, a sociologist, two psychologists, a lawyer, and a physician. We’re like Cleveland, Tennessee’s version of the Algonquin Roundtable.
It’s a strength-in-numbers thing and, so far, it has worked. We now have a core audience that visits the site, as well as derivative audiences through SinfoniaCircle, Twitter, and Facebook. Sushi Tuesday is a literary honkytonk, that place where writers can try out new material, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and cultivate an audience along the way.
What do you think of e-books and e-book readers like Kindle? Are any of your books in e-book form?
I believe e-books and e-book readers are the organic extension of a revolution equivalent to the invention of moveable type.
And, that’s a very liberating thing.
Your books were published by Xlibris. Would you tell our readers what you think of this publisher and why you decided to go with them?
I chose Xlibris for a few reasons. There are any number of local printers who can stamp out a few dozens books and hand them to you. But, do they provide all the extras (LOC cataloging, copyright, etc.) that legitimize what you’re doing? And, once you have your box of books in hand, then what? For me, flexibility of distribution was a key factor. As an extension of Random House, I figured Xlibris would not be a fly-by-night operation. And, with the print-on-demand set-up, combined with the global reach of the Internet, I knew Xlibris would allow me to market my books worldwide, without inventory issues. And, so far, Xlibris has exceeded my expectations. I would recommend them to anyone.