When did you first discover that you had a predilection for reading and writing? When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was 10. I had a best bud in the fourth grade, Rinnie, who would do the sleepover thing on the weekends. Rinnie and I were both latchkey kids (Gen X), raised by single moms. I know, cry me a river, lots of kids with single moms these days; but this was back when it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. Anyway, we were inseparable. I don’t remember how it got started, but we started writing these little one or two paragraph stories and reading them to each other. Rinnie was really good at it. One time he wrote about a mansion with traps and machine gun turrets, and for a little boy like myself, into GI Joes, Transformers, and shit like that, Rinnie’s death-trap mansion blew my mind and that’s when the bug bit me. My synapses fired and rewired my brain for hyper-imagination and all things fantastical. But he was really the creative one, more than me I think. And he made me aspire to be at least as creative. The synapses haven’t stopped firing ever since.
What were the earliest influences on your reading/writing?
There was Rinnie. Ooh, and The NeverEnding Story! And I also have fond memories of my mom reading to me Huckleberry Finn and The Chronicles of Narnia. But perhaps the greatest of the earliest influences was… AD&D!–and then 2nd Ed. I loved Ravenloft! Greyhawk was my second favorite–the From the Ashes boxed set. The height of my D&D heyday was when I got a Side Trek adventure published in Dungeon Magazine. In hindsight, the adventure wasn’t very good. I was twenty when I wrote the adventure; and the editor butchered the adventure and completely rewrote it. Nonetheless, I got paid, and it was a good experience. After TSR got bought out by WotC, I wasn’t into D&D as much. The 3rd Ed and 3.5 Ed were okay. I wasn’t thrilled when WotC updated to 3.5 after only a few years, and I quit playing altogether. Namely because I refuse to spend a ton of cash every 3-6 years on a new Edition. But I still have a cabinet full of product, miniatures, and a gargantuan battlemat that I break out whenever I visit my long-time and good friend, Steve, in San Diego (whom I used to play the game with back in the day).
What was the impact of these early influences, and what, if anything, has changed in how they influence you today?
The impact of Rinnie was that the writing bug bit me hard. And, I suppose the greatest impact of playing D&D, and especially Ravenloft, was that I also read all the novels by Christie Golden, P.N. Elrod, Elaine Bergstrom, James Lowder, J. Robert King, et al. The Ravenloft modules, boxed set, etc. would always have quotes from poems and “literary” authors like Edgar Allen Poe. Also, many of these products would contain “recommended” reading lists, all of which were largely rooted in the classics, pulps, and golden age writers. There’s really no change in how they influence me today. They are just as influential now as they were then.
As a veteran, has your military service affected your writing and reading habits? How has it changed you?
Ha! I used to be a really nice guy in college. I have a BA in Public Relations for crying out loud! Then I joined the Army and went to Iraq. Now, I cut out the hearts of my enemy and eat it in front of them. But seriously, though, the people who know me will tell you I’m a puppy dog. Ha! Boy do I have them fooled!
Who are some of your favorite authors and how have they influenced your preferences?
Ravenloft and those D&D recommended reading lists led me to some of my favorites, such as Poe, Robert E. Howard, Dunsany, Blackwood, Burroughs, Lovecraft, H.G. Wells, A. Merritt, Bradbury, Heinlein, Leigh Brackett, Jack Vance, C.L. Moore, Fritz Leiber, and many others. This is one of the reasons why Ben and I get along famously and I’m an Assistant Editor for Red Sun; because we share many of the same tastes in fiction. Later, I got into reading/writing crime noir, Chandler, Hammett, Spillane, Big Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, George V. Higgins, et al. When it comes to contemporary SF/F/H authors (not contemporary crime authors), I don’t read many of them because, in my humble opinion, they can’t hold a candle to the classics, pulps, and golden age authors. There’s plenty of the latter in my TBR to keep me busy reading for a long while. Occasionally, I read contemps like Clive Barker, Stephen King, Lansdale, Masterton, Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Tuttle, et al.
What do you look for in a story?
I look for many of the same qualities in the classics, pulps, and golden age stories. That is the perfect word to describe what I look for–quality. That is it, exactly… quality. That’s what it boils down to for me. Don’t sacrifice quality on the altar of quantity and expediency. So, what is quality? I’ll know it when I see it… and that is the name of the game. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
What do you not look for in a story? Is there anything that you would consider a deal-breaker and would make you stop reading? If so, what is the number one thing in a story that turns you off the most, enough to make you stop reading?
It’s all gravy. Work on your craft, roll the dice, and take your chances.