When was that moment when you realized that language had power?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single moment when I realized the power of language. I think it’s a gradual realization that came in stages. As a child, we realize that how we say things matters, and that it directly affects whether we get what we want in life. I was nine when I got the books that made me fall in love with literature. That was a pivotal moment, certainly. Learning to talk to girls, job interviews, working in sales, and of course, school—they all had different lessons to teach me about the magic of words.
If you could sit down with one writer from any period who would it be?
ONE WRITER? How could I pick just one? There are just so many, living and deceased, who I admire and whose brains I would love to pick. I think I can narrow it down to Kipling and Orwell, but it’s impossible to choose between them. Ask me again tomorrow, and I’ll probably name someone else.
When did you know that writing was what you were going to make your life’s work? Or is it?
September sixteenth of last year. After the hurricane on the eleventh , my dogs hitchhiked to Savannah, which is three hours away. The microchip service notified me, and I had a six-hour round trip to bring them home. To pass the time, I bought an audiobook: Steven Pressfield’s *The War of Art.* (He’s another favorite author.) Those two rascals can never know how they changed my life. When I got home, I asked my wife for a pen and paper. I felt like I had to write or I would bust. I started writing every day. I just knew I had to do it.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do read my reviews. I’m always looking for honest feedback to help me improve. Unfortunately, the reviews have all been positive. I say unfortunately because that means not enough people have read it. At least with my beta readers and editors, I try to approach criticism with an open mind. I can’t grow unless I’m open to the idea that I’m making mistakes. Let’s face it, I AM making mistakes. And I really want to grow. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” I need people who won’t tell me what I want to hear, but the truth. Fortunately I have people in my life who will do that. As for compliments, I try not to let it go to my head and just say thank you. It’s hard. I have a huge ego. I don’t want it to keep me from growing.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
There are always Easter eggs. In SoZ, one of my characters has a pale streak in his hair. I did this because I have a nephew who was born with one. I needed to care about this character, so I made it so I would picture my nephew when I wrote him. I hoped that it would come out in my writing, and the readers would care, too.
What was your hardest scene to write?
I’m going to try to do this without spoiling anything. My main characters do bad things. Not brooding antihero bad, not relatable villain bad, I mean *”how-do-I-even-write-this?”* kind of bad. You don’t want to cross a line so that readers can’t pull for your protagonist. The problem is this is historical fiction, dealing with real people who don’t always behave the way I want. But I was committed to being as honest as I could. I took a chance and wrote the truth. I’m glad I did. There was also a death scene that I felt a lot of pressure to make impactful. I really wanted you to *feel* it. One of my readers said it made her cry, so maybe I pulled it off. On this note, I want to say that I could not have written those scenes without support and encouragement, especially from my wife, Audrey. I think the terms “self-published” and “independent” are misleading. No one can do it alone.
And lastly, a fun question we ask everyone: If the universal super being came down right now and said, “I give you two choices. 1 – I will give you 100 million dollars for your work, but no one will ever be able to read a word you write, or 2 – You can never ever benefit even one dollar ever off of your work, but 100 million people will read every book you ever write. Which one do you pick?
This one’s easy. I’d rather have readers than money. The point of writing is to connect with readers. I’ve even given away some of my books when money stood in the way of someone reading it. I’d just rather have that relationship. I’m not against writing to make money. I wish I made enough that I could spend more time doing it. But I think commercial success is a poor indicator of how well you’re doing as an artist. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime. Ultimately, I’d rather make something that I know is good than just something that will sell. I want to write the kind of books that I like to read. I want to get them in the hands of people who also like those kinds of books, because I love those people. Most of all, I want to give others the joy that other authors have given me. That joy and that love is something money can’t buy.