Which authors do you like? I read and have read voraciously for most of my life. Frequently, I try different, often unknown, writers. I can tell by the blurb and the first few paragraphs whether I will like a book or not. I read mostly fiction, but do enjoy a good biography (the great figures of WW2, Tolstoy) or a bit of history (Dalrymple on India, Radzinsky on Russia). My favorite writers--all of whose books I have read--are Somerset Maugham, John Le Carré, Alan Furst, Larry McMurtry, Sebastian Faulks, and Elmore Leonard. Recently, I have added Penelope Fitzgerald, who has a quirky way with words and spins interesting stories about unusual times and places. Lastly--in no way presuming that I belong in the class, or even the same paragraph, of those listed above--I like my books. I write books that I like to read.
What genre are your books? I write fiction, because fiction is easy: it entails merely making up stuff. Booksellers or websites often limit the choice of genre, so my books are usually listed under Literature. That might sound presumptuous, but I don't get better choices. Some, I am certain, would label my creations "Trash Novels", which I do not mind. After all, one man's trash is--notoriously--another man's treasure. If I had to create a genre, I would call it Airplane Books. Those are books that are good for long flights, enforced airport stays, or sleepless nights in distant hotels. The stories transport the mind to other places and other times, thus relieving the tedium. They require little thought, so ambient noises do not distract. That said, I have found the addition of music helps minimize the aggravation of public noise. These books become like chance encounters with the person in the adjacent seat: entertaining, but easily forgotten when finished. Of course, my books can be read by anyone with time on his or her hands and the need for light entertainment. Each story will take your mind off whatever might need avoiding and let it wander to interesting places to meet new characters with problems of their own. “There are no rules for good writing except those you make for yourself, and you follow them only because they work, or seem to work, for you. Everything else is mere opinion, or prejudice.” Allan Massie
When did you start writing? Like everyone, I started writing in school. It was a chore. My desire to write reached a low point in college--one with a renowned summer writing school (which I did not attend). I became serious about writing, when I started working at an advertising agency in Germany. It was a case of the one-eyed man amongst blind people. Being the only native speaker--some of my German colleagues spoke more grammatically correct English--I was able to craft the documents demanded by client Procter & Gamble. When I became the Director of Global Marketing Communications at adidas, I was one of the first foreigners at a very German company. Guess who wrote a lot and was asked to help others. It was during my time at adidas that I began to write stories. Because I traveled the world and spent many sleepless hours in planes, airports, and hotels, I spun stories in my head. Television was either worthless or non-existent, and I did not want to dwell on work. I started to put these on paper in 1995, but did not complete a novel until 1998 during a vacation in Japan. After waiting years to be polished and published, Hell Is Other People finally joined the stable in 2012. I did not get serious about writing novels until I retired from adidas in 2000 and took years to figure out how to do it and to fiddle. The first title, Sister Sisteron was released in 2006.
Where do you get your ideas? I look around, and I read a lot of magazines and newspapers. The first novel I published, Sister Sisteron, came to me while vacationing in the south of France. I watched yachts pass by my house each day, and I read an article about the lure of religious cults. Although I had been on yachts, I tried to imagine what could be happening on one passing by. The novel I wrote for the NaNoWriMo in November, 2010, Don't Fight Fate, was inspired by experiences that I had working for adidas. Taken For A Ride was inspired by something that happened to me: I bumped into a high-ranking banker--someone that merited protection--in a hotel lobby in Switzerland. This made me realize how easy it would be to kidnap such a figure. Righteous Revenge was inspired by 24-hours news coverage. After realizing that my own experience in Vietnam was not the stuff for I novel, I made up a story using what I had seen, read, or imagined.
Where do you get names of characters? The main character must have a name I like, because I have to write the damn thing hundreds of times and read it even more-frequently. I trawl my memories for childhood friends, college buddies, or recent acquaintances, as well as study the credits at the end of movies. I have changed the name after writing the novel, which is made easy by Word. For example, Claire in Sister Sisteron was Anne until just before publication. Her last name came from a jar of pickles, seen in a French hyper-market. The hero of Hell Is Other People is named John Winston, because I was reading Winston Churchill's biography at the time I wrote the first draft. There is no science and no magic.
Why do you self-publish? And, as follow-up question, aren’t all self-published books dodgy? To answer the second question: perhaps. Not unlike with my children, I like my stories with any of the possible flaws (which I cannot discern). I do not care what others think. Of course, I am pleased if someone finds enjoyment in what I have written. I chose self-publishing because it’s easy and basically without cost (nothing in life is free). I studied the options and chose what worked best for me. During my business life, I dealt with many agents and different types of agencies. From those experiences I developed an opinion about agents (John Winston in Hell Is Other People shares some of my opinions). I decided to do as much as possible on my own and not put my fate into the hands of others, all of which would be difficult to find and tedious to work with. Also, I learned that in a race with a glacier, a publisher would lose. I wanted to work at a faster pace, even if I would be forced to sacrifice some credibility.
Why are print books so expensive? It's not my fault. And, it is certainly not because I am greedy. If the price of a book is 100, the retailer takes around 50%; the other 50% is divided between the printer, the publisher, and the author. So, that means the author earns about 5% of the cover price...after doing the most work. If you buy a book from an Internet bookseller, all they do to earn 50% of the retail price is let the order run through their computer. That explains large discounts, because they still make money. Only the author is the chump. I worked many years in the sporting goods industry, where companies were criticized for using cheap labor in Asia and paying the workers a small percentage of the cost of a shoe. Authors suffer similar indignities, but no one fights for their rights. Any system that cuts out retailers benefits the author. That explains authors' preference for ebooks. Of course, they are also cheaper to produce, because there is no printing.
Why do you live in Germany? I had visited Germany twice during my college years, at which time I noticed a few nice aspects: significantly better beer, real bakeries, and street markets. When I moved here in 1972, I learned to appreciate the European lifestyle. When I married and started a family, I decided that this was a good place to live and work. Over the years, I have traveled the world and learned that there is no perfect place to live. Of course, there are many horrible places, but you have to choose one where you can be content. I'm not happy with the level of taxation: 58% direct tax and a ridiculous amount of indirect taxes. But, you get what you pay for. Germany offers a good quality of life, for which I am willing to pay. These days, I rarely drink beer, but still enjoy great baked goods.
What did you do in the war, Dad? My children never asked me that. They are not interested. Of course, I should not be surprised: I never asked my father what he did in World War Two. Still, people do occasionally ask me how I passed my time in Vietnam. I was a helicopter pilot, which was a way to avoid being an officer on the ground. I assumed that pilots slept in beds, unlike infantry officers who sleep in the mud. I did have a bed, but it was in a hut made of discarded ammunition crates. Still, it was significantly better than mud. I played at war near the end, when all US combat troops had left and the war had been turned over to the Vietnamese and Koreans. Then, as now, the US Government likes to pay others to fight their wars. My unit provided aviation support to the Koreans, ARVN, and MAVC. Needless to say, it was an interesting episode. I am happy to have experienced first-hand, unscathed, the most significant event of my lifetime.
Why do you have a blog? 1. Because I can. 2. Because it's supposed to help sell books...but hasn't. 3. Because it's sorta like taking out the trash: I clear a bunch of stupid thoughts from my mind. 4. Because it's a method of one-sided communication (unless someone writes a comment) with friends. After all, who else is gonna read my garbage. 5. And, because there's no right or wrong. It can be just as valuable as it can be worthless.
Why Fool-On-The-Hill? That is the title of a song written by Paul McCartney (credited to McCartney/Lennon) and recorded in 1967. I was in college in Vermont. The words struck a nerve, as I stared out my dorm window at the Green Mountains. I imagined old age, sitting on the porch of a house and watching the sunset each day. I now live in a house on a hill, sort of. Trees and other houses block the view of sunsets, but I do get to see a bit. Sunsets here are rarely as goods as the ones I remember in Vermont (over the Appalachians, not the Green Mountains). These, days, true enjoyment of a sunset requires travel to other spots in the world. Recent news of flood waters in various parts of the world--Australia wins the prize ahead of Germany--remind me of the benefit of living on even a slight rise in elevation. My house is a bit higher than the flood plain of the Main River, a tributary of the more-famous Rhine. If waters ever reach this far, human population on this planet will be in big trouble. So, I got to be a fool on a hill, watching the sun go down the best I can. There are plenty of people that “don't listen”, people that “don’t like” me, and even more that I don't like. Who would have known way back then?