I was an instructor at CU Boulder for several years, and taught business courses in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Last February, I launched my third career as a fiction writer, and my first short story, “Fair and Square”, is scheduled to publish this spring in the Iris Literary Journal.
I have a BS in Industrial Management from Carnegie Mellon University (emphasis in robotics and factory automation), and an MBA from UC Davis (emphasis in product development and alternative energy). The bulk of my business career has been helping commercialize clean-energy technologies, and I still consult for companies and mentor teams.
My siblings and I grew up as expats in Brussels, Belgium (1970–95). We attended local grade schools and spoke American English with our parents and a mix of languages with others. I used to be fluent in several languages, and when I get tired, I tend to think in bits of French and Flemish.
What are you currently reading?
I am reading Gary McBride’s latest Writers Who Read assignment, Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro; An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943, by Rick Atkinson; Nothing Like it in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869, by Stephen Ambrose; and a stack of writing books such as The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. I am also transcribing the American English dictionary. I am currently on the letter G, and at this rate I should be done by August 2023. Transcribing 20 to 30 words a day (two to three pages) is a great source of ideas and improves my writing.
What are some of the most important books you’ve read?
Calvin and Hobbes, genius; To Kill a Mockingbird, for Harper’s smooth style; Angle of Repose, for Stegner’s American realism; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, for le Carré’s genre writing; The Bible, to understand references; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, for Shirer’s non-fiction style and first-person account of an important period in our history; and The Elements of Style.
Do you hide Easter eggs?
Yes, it is fun to do. I have hidden several in my short story “Lucky You” (mythological realism). It is not until the last third of the story that readers learn the woman with whom the casino crook is flirting is one of the Furies come to avenge his crimes. The clues are there for readers who know some Greek mythology.
Do you have half-finished projects in your files that you mean to come back to?
Well, lots of ideas, but they predate my decision to be a writer. I am revisiting these old ideas and filling journals with new ones. It is too soon to say any of these are half-finished projects.
Do you have preparational practices to help you get in the proper headspace to write?
Yes. I like to practice in the morning (grammar, description, etc.), imagine in the afternoon, and write through the night.
I am also learning that my first drafts are never any good. Knowing, however, that I will keep at it and eventually deliver the best I can, helps me get in the proper headspace to write.
Do you like the editing process, or would you rather leave it to others?
I cannot imagine leaving editing to someone else. My writing needs to improve significantly before I would be confident enough to leave editing to others. If I were to do so, I fear I would deliver neither that which I wanted to write, nor would I learn to write as well as I might. However, once I share my work, then I am very thankful for the help I’m given.
What is it that inspires your writing?
I like to tackle difficult life questions—ones that try to explain human behavior, involve fateful decisions, and generate strong emotions. The premise: bad people should not win, but they often do, at least in the short term.
Is the pen mightier than the sword?
Yes, words move people. However, given a choice, when the tip of the sword draws blood from the neck of my protagonist, I think he would prefer a pistol. “Now’s not the time for a sonnet, sir. Surrender!”
Does writing energize you, or does it deplete you?
Writing fiction energizes me, and as my writing improves, I am having an easier time delivering that which is banging about in my head. I think I am in the last rounds of editing “Lucky You,” and am excited to start my next story. Time to look through my journals.
What is more challenging to write: an assigned piece, or a creation of your own?
Neither: give me both, no problem. I will take a walk around the lake and have five new ideas. My challenge is to stop procrastinating.
Do you prefer to write off-the-cuff, or do you take a more methodical approach, such as using an outline?
I am trying to write more off-the-cuff. However, for a thriller I am writing, I have covered a wall with sticky notes, divided them into chapters, and color-coded them for plot, theme, scene, dialogue, etc. The story is still not right, but maybe I should just sit down and start a draft.
Are there certain writing exercises you find helpful?
Yes, exercises that have me practice descriptions are helpful because they make me practice metaphors and similes. The problem is that I do not get immediate feedback, especially with grammar exercises: I do not know if I am getting better or developing bad habits. In the spirit of positive action, I am now enrolled in a spring semester fiction writing class at Front Range Community College.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Sit down and write.
Is there such a thing as writer’s block?
As it is such an accepted concept, there must be. From a little research, I learned I have experienced it in at least one form. Neil Gaiman’s writing on the topic suggests that when I step away from my laptop, take a walk, and let my brain crunch a puzzle, I am using one of his eight steps to “overcome writer’s block.” I had not thought taking a walk was trying to resolve writer’s block. I thought it was just part of the fun of figuring things out.
How do I personally define success in your writing career?
If I were to jump forward and look back, I hope I would say my writing career was successful because I had fun, I found a creative outlet for my ideas, I learned others enjoyed my stories, and I was paid handsomely for my work. Cheers to all that.