Born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wichita State University. He worked his way through college in a candy store, about the same time he began attempting to write short stories. He had his first story published way back in the late eighties in a small Southern publication called Starsong.
Ten years ago, he moved to Columbia, Missouri, only intending to be there for about four years before moving on. He had no idea how much he would fall in love with the area. During the summers, though, he gets as far away as he can, usually to somewhere along the Gulf Coast.
His novella, One Helluva Gig, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I first started dabbling with it when I was around nineteen years old. I’d always enjoyed reading, but as a kid hadn’t really thought much about writing. I do remember one time when I was about eleven and I first read "The Star" by Arthur C. Clarke. When I got to the end of that extremely short story, I thought at the time how cool it would be to be able to create something with such impact.
Why do you write?
I really don’t have a clear answer for that. It sounds kind of corny to say "because it’s what I do," but that comes close to being the truth. It’s simply something that’s been a part of me for a long time, and as of now I don’t see it going away any time soon.
Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be?
Heck, no. When I first started this, in my late teens and early twenties, I naturally figured that at some point, say around twenty-five, I’d be famous and rich. It too a couple of years to realize that the fantasy that most people have comes along very rarely in the real world. When I was around twenty-nine, I pretty much gave up on that kind of dream and began to look around for a real career. A few years later, I accidentally ended up in teaching and figured that the best I’d ever do, as was true for several years, was managing to publish one or two short stories a year.
What was the inspiration for Helluva Gig?
It’s kind of hard to believe, but the basic idea came to me while I was watching a late night rerun of an old Married with Children episode. It was one of the earlier ones, back when it was at least partially realistic, and involved Peggy finding a sweat stain shaped like Elvis on one of Al’s shirts. That got me to thinking about Elvis impersonators, and the way people try to hold on to their celebrity icons even after they pass, and the story came from there.
Have you ever worked for a tabloid paper?
No. The closest I’ve come was a couple of years serving as the advisor to a student newspaper at a small community college. And I didn’t do a very good job of that.
If you were to write a tabloid story, what would it be about?
UFO’s because it’s so easy to get people to believe in them.
What sort of music are you into?
Mainly soft rock, what used to be called adult contemporary, and oldies, from the sixties and seventies. I’m also a big fan of a syndicated radio program called Hearts of Space.
Which celebrity would you like to see impersonate him/herself?
That’s a tough one. I would say, going back to the classic TV of the seventies, either Carroll O’Connor or Henry Winkler, mainly because they played such broadly-defined characters.
What musician would you most like to interview?
Without a doubt, the main crush of my youth: Olivia Newton John.
What do you think makes a good story?
If I knew that, I’d probably be able to produce more of them. For one, things have to be as realistic as possible. The various elements of a story should, even in something fantastic, hew as closely as possible to reality. In other words, the characters have to act and speak the way that people act and speak. One of the biggest things that turns me off from a story is when the dialogue isn’t realistic. If characters aren’t speaking the way people really speak, I can’t finish the story.
And if you’re doing horror, as most of my shorter work is, for Heaven’s sake don’t show us everything. Give us something to imagine and figure out.
What's your favorite genre to read?
It depends on the format. For short stories, I prefer horror or dark fantasy. For novels, I’m more into suspense. I still read a lot of the old paperback men’s adventure series that I collected as a kid, and now and then I go on an Edgar Rice Burroughs tear for a few years, but I can’t really tolerate any of his imitators. And really stretching it back some, I’m still trying to add to my collection of the old Doc Savage paperbacks.
Who is your favorite author?
If I had to pick one single favorite, and it would be tough, I’d probably go with Don Pendleton. When I was younger, I couldn’t get enough of his Executioner books, but when he stopped writing them I kind of lost interest.
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
"The Star" for sure. That’s an almost perfect example of the precisely-written short story. Because most of what I do is in the short story field, anyone who can write a subtle, get-under-your-skin tale ranks right up there for me.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
Although it’s not what people consider "great literature," I’d have to go back to Pendleton’s early Executioner books, up to number thirty-nine when new writers took them over. As a young teenager, and a rather weakly, awkward one at that, Pendleton’s books provided basic lessons about how a man’s supposed to act, not in physical terms but morally and intellectually. Then again, for anyone at all interested in language, Leslie Charteris’s Saint stories and books test how many pages you can get through without grabbing a dictionary.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Basically just all around. It took me a while to develop the knack, but if you go through the day with eyes and ears wide open, you can find inspiration anywhere. As just two examples, driving through Iowa several years back I saw an old wall, the last remnant of a barn, standing in a field. That inspired my short story, "Visage," which got me my first Featured Story slot in a magazine (The Edge: Tales of Suspense). One time I stumbled upon this old, quaint inn in a coastal town in Texas, which eventually led to a piece called "The Dead Spot." So, lame as it sounds, inspiration is everywhere. You’ve just got to open yourself up to it.
What does your family think of your writing?
It’s better now. Way back when, the idea was met with about equal shades of disgruntlement and skepticism. Nowadays, possibly because I’m actually making some progress, things have become more accepted. The biggest problem I’ve had over the years is the constant comments about my writing "Stephen King stuff" when I’ve never done anything even remotely along his line.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
It depends on the time of the year. During the school year I have a full-time job at a high school and usually teach college courses at night. So basically, I just try to do a page or two a day, but sometimes don’t even get that much done. If I have a slow weekend in terms of grading or lesson prep, I may be able to crank out eight or ten pages. But when school’s in session, it’s basically whenever I get a few free moments.
During the summer, I have a much more regular schedule, usually working in the afternoon or early evening. This last summer, with the severe drought and heat, I would usually get up early, do an hour of so of walking or hiking and close to an hour in the swimming pool, then end up in front of the computer by nine thirty or so, refreshed and energized. Some days, if I focused enough, I could sometimes get a good ten pages done. Unfortunately, that whole time I was in the revision stage of my current project, so it wasn’t really that exciting.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Not really. I basically just sit down when I can and go to it.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Continuity. Lately, I’ve been working on longer works, primarily novels, and I find it kind of difficult to keep timelines straight. I’m not a very organized person, you should see my apartment or my desk at work, and I tend to just start typing and gush stuff out. Then I have to go back and spend a lot of time making sure that dates, ages and time spans all match up. For example, in "One Helluva Gig" the project editor caught that at one place I have a character’s age about ten years off from what it was in the rest of the story. I’m trying to get better at this, trying to train myself to work off outlines and notes, but it’s not in my nature so I’m finding it rather difficult.
What are your current projects?
I’ve been spending most of this year trying to hammer out a suspense novel that involves political advertising and a serial killer. I’m currently about a third of the way through what I hope to be the final draft, and hope to have it done by the end of December.
I also have an idea bouncing around in my head for a short horror piece concerning the drought that the Midwest has gone through this year and hope to have a few days soon to pound out at least the first draft of that. And a few weeks ago, while driving along the Mississippi River, again heavily impacted by the drought this summer, I had a great title pop into my head. I think it will work for a new novelette, but I don’t have even the beginning of the story, just what I consider an awesome title.
What are you planning for future projects?
I’ve had a dearth of short stories lately, mainly because so many have been published in the last year or so (a rare event to be sure) and really need to get a handful of new ones generated. And if "Helluva Gig" does well, I’d like to tackle a few new novelettes. I have some notes generated for a novelette, or novella I’m not quite sure which, set in Hollywood of the late thirties and concerning a B-list actor who seemingly returns from the dead.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
In the most general terms, the oldest cliché still holds true. Don’t plan on doing this for a living. My first short story was published over twenty years ago, and if I had to live off my writing I’d be hungry and homeless within a week. Often acquaintances will say to me "well, yeah. But what about (insert name of rich and famous author)." At which point I smile and ask them to name a second one, which they usually can’t. Mainly because rich and famous authors are just too freakin’ rare. I had two short stories out in September, one an original and one a reprint, and between the two of them I could possibly afford to treat myself to a decent dinner. But just myself. I couldn’t bring a date along.
When it comes to short stories, which is still my main area of interest, I’d have to say not to ignore the "for-the-love" markets. Just because they don’t pay (as the majority of short fiction markets don’t), doesn’t mean that they don’t have standards. Over the years, I got tons of help and advice, plus more rejections than I could keep track of, from editors of markets, both print and online, that didn’t pay anything to publish my stories. And in the last few years several of those pieces that originally appeared "for-the-love" have been accepted and reprinted by semi-professional mags. I still haven’t made a lot off them, but I have made some, hence allowing me to eat out from time to time.
Where else can we find your work?
Because I’ve been so tied up with the current mystery novel, 2012 has been a rather soft year in terms of new publications. At least, compared to the two previous years when things really began popping. Compared to most of the time I’ve been involved in this, 2012 has been phenomenal.
Currently, I’ve got what I think is a rather neat story recently released by Allegory. It’s called "Eighty Feet Deep" and can be found through December at www.allegoryezine.com. After that, it will be in their archives. Also this fall, what I personally consider to be one of my most unsettling stories ever, and definitely probably the hardest I’ve ever written (mainly because I had to keep walking away from it because it was creeping me out too much) has been reprinted after being originally available online about five years ago. It’s called "The Old Dogs" and appears in the current issue of Cover of Darkness.
Also, my one and only ever attempt at poetry "Nocturnal Retribution," was reprinted in the summer issue of Illumen.