Q1. Hi Frank, we all enjoyed Malek’s Sanctuary. Now we’d like to know more about you. Please tell us a little about yourself, your background and important accomplishments. (If you have a website, books, etc. please list them and tell us about them.)
A. I am currently touring my seventh decade and grateful to God that I’m still able to complete 80 pushups at a setting and go 40 minutes on a treadmill. I have exercised all of my life; accordingly my weight hasn’t changed in the last sixty years. My health is a primary consideration, which includes eating the right foods, adequate sleep and at least an hour a day of exercise. My accomplishments are of the common variety, pecking away at college and postgraduate study until I finally got it all done at age 34. I have no personal website. Primordial Vault may be purchased on line at AppalachianAuthorsGuild.com
Q2. How long have you been writing? What made you put that first story down on paper?
A. I never really had a first story to write. As a lawyer, I did a lot of writing, tons of it yearly, but it was a completely different kind of writing, I began writing fiction as a result of having to eject from a jet training aircraft one night on a routine mission. The experience was traumatic, and when I got home the following night, I sat down at my IBM Selectric (I’m not certain if all who read this will recognize the pre-word processor era of typewriters) and pounded out everything I could remember about the ejection, including the vertigo and vomit during the descent. I figured that could be a key episode in a novel, the Great American Novel, that every would-be writer thinks he’s going to write and doesn’t. So I have spent 40 years writing a dozen novels, and in the end, in order to get one into print, I published it myself.
Q3. Do you write in a particular genre? If so, what genre?
A. After my response to your last question, this question is out of the question.
Q4. What was your first story? Where was it published?
A. I have been published hundreds of times, but no one has ever paid me a dime for my work. I write political essays for newspapers and many Letters to the Editors in two newspapers. Limited to 200 words, Letter to Editors are an excellent writing exercise in cogency and exactness, unlike the lengthy responses you are getting in this interview.
Q5. Who is your favorite author and why?
A. Believe it when I tell you that no one has ever asked me this before. Never. Most people are eager to tell me who their favorite authors are. In fact , most people like talking about themselves. As an astute observer of human nature, let me ask you, “Who is your favorite author and why?”
Q6. How do you deal with rejection letters? If you received any?
A. I expect to receive them. The second half of your question is unintentionally courteous, It’s like asking, “Have you ever exceeded the speed limit?” Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Melville and other masters have all received rejection letters, And John Grisham of more recent fame. Tom Clancy and Anne Tyler are two contemporary writers who have not. There are others who also achieved stardom with their first novel.
Q7. What in your opinion are the most important elements of good writing?
A. I don’t have an opinion? I can tell you what I think is needed to write well and to write with total pleasure, and that is an intimate knowledge of the structure of the English language. If a writer knows what the three moods are (Indicative, imperative, subjunctive) knows, really knows the difference between active and passive voice, recognizes when parallel construction in a sentence has broken down, understands case (nominative, objective, and possessive), can handle apostrophes (not as easy as you think) and the rules for commas and semicolons, and knows when it’s okay to break those rules, and when to shift from past perfect tense to straight past tense in a paragraph and a myriad of other things about our language, then writing becomes for her an endeavor of pure joy. Why? Because she’s in command, and can concentrate on plot, theme, structure and the like. (Incidentally this last clause you should recognize as a fragment.)
Q8. How do you develop your plots/characters, ideas/concepts?
A. In the most difficult manner. I should, as is advised by many, sit down and write a bio on each character from birth to his age at the time setting in the story. But I have not done this. The characters evolve for me on the page. This is not only proceeding in the dark, but it’s really unproductive. But like most writers, I’m eager to get to it, when taking the time to write a bio will in the long run, make writing move along expeditiously with improved verisimilitude. I have a general idea where the plot is going from the beginning and often sketch an outline with times, episodes, the characters’ appearances, etc. E.g. in Primordial Vault, I planned carefully the in-flight episodes and distributed them evenly throughout the story. They are powerful pieces and could not be placed back to back. The exceptions are the dénouement and climax.
Q9. What do you do to relax and unwind?
A. Except when asleep, I cannot, do not relax while I’m at home. I have to leave the house to do that. But I do not have to go a great distance. I use a human-powered lawn mower, which is a helluva workout (both cardiovascular and isometric), but quiet enough to allow me to listen to an MP3CD player. I’m currently reading (listening) Whittaker Chamber’s fine autobiography Witness. Chambers died in 1961, I think, and his is a marvelous account of the people and operation of Communist Party from the 1920s into the 50s. He was a polyglot, quite brilliant and a pleasure to read.
Q10. What do you like to read?
A. The Economist is a British publication, a magazine that costs about $130 a year to subscribe to. Comes out weekly. Oddly refers to itself as a newspaper. It’s a marvelous magazine that’s been around for about 175 years. The British really write well (English after all is their language), and they write about so many things so competently. I subscribe to at least 20 magazines and am unable to read any from cover to cover. As to books, my answer to the foregoing question will give you an idea. I do read fiction as well.
Q11. What does your family feel about your writing? Are they supportive?
A. I have no family, just two surviving brothers. My relationship with them is very good. Are they supportive, you ask? No one in the world really gives a damn that I wrote and published Primordial Vault. And good grief, why should they? They have their own problems to deal with. One sibling does not know I have a book in print, and the other has a copy, but I doubt he’ll ever read it.
Q12. What inspires you? Who inspires you?
A.I think all writers write because they are compelled to write. Just look at the length of my answers to your questions. Who but a writer would spend this much time at the keyboard on a Saturday night when a dozen great movies can be watched at the flick of the Remote, and C-Span 2 has authors discussing their books all night long.
Q13. Are you working on any projects right now?
A. Yes, I’m working on answers to your questions, hoping that your readers will find this interview interesting enough to pique their interest in my novel. That is this evening’s project. For the next year or two, my total concentration will be on marketing Primordial Vault,
Q14. How do you handle writer’s block?
A. I have never had writer’s block. Never.
Q15. What is the most frustrating thing about writing? What is the most rewarding?
A. The things, daily chores and unanticipated breakdown of a household appliance, etc. (really an infrequent occurrence), shopping and the many things that take me away from marketing the book. I foolishly feel guilty when I’m not doing something that will help sell PV. The most rewarding? Seeing my book in the window of the Mountain Lore Bookstore, having people who have bought and read PV ask me to autograph it for them. I recently addressed some forty retired military officers at a breakfast gathering, and maybe thirty had already bought the book (the editor of the local newspaper is a friend, and he had written a review that ran about 30 column inches, included a picture, and an inset where the book might be purchased. The county library took 7 copies. All this is really quite nice. I’m glad I spent the money for a hardcover, a volume that is case bound and Smythe sewn, with dustjacket.
Q16. Do you have any kind of a writing schedule?
A. No, I write sporadically. This does not mean I am unorganized. Indeed, the opposite is true.
Q17. What is the best piece of advice you have been given as a writer? The worst?
A. I have been given tons of good advice; much of it I’ve ignored and regretted. Bad advice abounds, and we all reject it, either early on or too late.
Q18. If I were sitting down to write my very first story, what would your advice be?
A. I doubt that you would take any advice from anyone. Most would be writers are full of confidence and compelled to write. They learn sooner or later (I learned later, much later) those things I lay out in my answer to question 7, or simply do without them. I know a guy who knows little about grammar and has had pieces in The Writer and The New Yorker. So go figure. In the end every writer sets his own course then makes mid-course corrections and finally fails or succeeds.
Q19. What is your best advice for getting published?
A. More books are being published today than ever before, yet fewer people are reading. Non-fiction is easier to get into to print and to sell. There are a wide variety of ways to get your book published. Writers Digest and other entities are now providing competitions for self-published books, the winners receiving substantial money awards. Self-published books have acquired respectability during the last decade. Technology in the new millennium continues to come up with new, less expensive methods of getting a book into print and fast. Alas, all this is but a brief interlude to the dogged task of selling your book. Even if you get with a major publisher, it takes nearly two years before the first press run, and then the publisher will expect you to spend a great deal of time marketing your book, while spending your own money. Yes.
Q.20 What has been the single most important part of your success?
A. I’m not sure I understand this question. Somehow I feel that it has already been answered in some form in several of my answers above. Is there a single most important "part"? Is there a better or more appropriate word than “part”. Like maybe “aspect”? or “element”? I think maybe “ingredient” might come the closest. And I’m not certain what that ingredient might be. Moreover, there is probably more than one ingredient. On the other hand, you might have felt there had to be 20 questions, and couldn’t think of a straight forward one, so you devised one that you weren’t sure of, one that was intentionally ambiguous and vague. If that be so, then shame on you.