Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I started my first novel the summer after I finished seventh grade. It was based on a short story I had written for class the previous school year about the passengers of a shipwrecked cruise ship forced to coexist on a deserted island.
I didn’t get very far with that project. Much as I liked writing stories, I far preferred playing outside with my friends.
Eight years later, I wrote the early drafts of my first screenplay Vita during my last two years of college. Vita went on to win an Honorable Mention award in the 2010 Los Angeles Movie Awards script competition and was named a finalist in the 2011 Sacramento International Film Festival.
After college, I spent a year in Sundsvall, Sweden and Cape Town, South Africa, playing and coaching for local baseball teams and penning my first book, a dystopian fiction novel titled Our Dried Voices. That novel was published in 2014 and was a finalist for Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Science Fiction Book of the Year.
I currently work as a forensic scientist by day while writing during lunch breaks, evenings, weekends and whenever else I have a few spare moments. My second novel, a literary choose-your-own-adventure titled The Friar’s Lantern, was published this past October.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
The Friar’s Lantern is another name for a will-o’-the-wisp or ignis fatuus (Latin for “foolish fire”), all terms for the pale ghostly light sometimes seen at night over marshy ground. The light results from the oxidation of gases produced by the decomposition of organic material. Folklore warns travelers to beware this false light, lest it lead them from the safe path.
The Friar’s Lantern is a choose-your-own-adventure novel, meaning readers will get to pick their own paths through the story. But the title of the novel warns readers to avoid being deceived by false ideas and straying from the safe path.
More specifically, the novel addresses the long-standing philosophical debate between free will and determinism. It questions whether or not free will is a myth, an illusion of conscious deliberation that can lead you astray from the truth.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I like to go for walks outside to stimulate ideas. There’s something about moving and breathing fresh air instead of sitting inside in front of a computer screen that allows my mind to wander and helps new ideas flow.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Socratic Puzzles by Robert Nozick (specifically the chapter on Newcomb’s paradox), Columbine by Dave Cullen, and The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley.
What are you working on now?
I just finished the first draft of my next novel, tentatively titled Parabellum. It’s the story behind a fictional mass shooting incident in my hometown of Chicago. I’m hoping to polish it up enough to send it to beta readers by mid-2018.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Read the news and opinion columns. Read works of fiction by your favorite authors and by authors who come from a very different perspective than your own. You’ll get ideas for your own stories (exactly what happened to me with Our Dried Voices) and you’ll also see how other writers tell their stories. You’ll start to discover what styles and linguistic peculiarities you like and learn what works in plotting and character development and what doesn’t.
2. Be confident, but humble, but confident
It takes some guts and some faith to put your work in front of another reader for the first time. Write something you’re proud of (i.e. free of major gaps in story logic and without significant spelling and grammatical errors), and then get another pair of eyes to read your work. That person will almost certainly discover things you missed. Try not to get defensive—after all, you asked for advice.
Instead, consider their feedback with an open mind. It may seem like your reader hated your work. But a good proofreader or editor will do their best to pick your story apart so you can make it as strong as possible. Have confidence that you can take the reader’s advice and apply it to your story one step at a time.
3. Keep track of your good ideas, no matter how small.
The Friar’s Lantern began over ten years ago with a single line in my writing journal: “Write a literary choose-your-own-adventure novel.” I didn’t know what that book would be about. I just thought a choose-your-own-adventure novel sounded like a cool idea.
Two years after that, I came up with an idea for one of the main story threads. Another two or three years later, I began to outline the basic elements of the story. And now it’s a completed novel. All from that one sentence that never would have amounted to anything if I hadn’t written it down.
Ten years ago and earlier, I kept track of my writing ideas in a spiral-bound notebook. Today I use Evernote. However you do it, find a way to curate all your good ideas, even if you don’t know what they’ll become. Someday, you may discover connections between multiple ideas or build an entire story on a single, decade-old thought.
What are you reading now?
I just finished Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which I highly recommend, even if (like me) you don’t read a lot of graphic novels.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – It’s my favorite book and one I think I could read over and over without ever getting tired of it.
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela – A great autobiography of the man who was imprisoned for twenty-seven years during apartheid and later became South Africa’s first black president, and a book which would hopefully offer some solace given my plight on the desert island.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Something a little lighter than the first two titles that would help my mind escape my surroundings.