Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Edward. Would you mind starting out by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Thank YOU for your interest in my writing! It’s gracious of you to reach out like this.
I’m a Southern Baby Boomer who fled the South as soon as I could, but there’s still a lot of it in me. The old saying is true in my case: “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can never take the country out of the boy.” Overall, I think it’s given me a valuable perspective on things. My parents divorced when I was six so it was just my mother and younger sister until I went off to college. In many ways it was an isolated childhood—primarily for two reasons. One, we were very poor. Thanksgiving and Christmas we were one of the families who got baskets of food left at our front door by civic groups. The other was my mother’s extremely fundamentalist religion that dictated every area of our lives. So I grew up without a TV, pop music and jazz was forbidden, certainly no dancing, movies were Satan himself trying to ensnare us…anything “wordly” was evil, evil, evil.
What saved me – and I mean this quite literally — were books and music. For some reason my mother didn’t mind me reading voraciously and almost never monitored the books I brought home (by the ARMLOAD) from the library. To this day I’m amazed by that, because she and her church so totally controlled almost everything else my sister and I did. But I’m grateful for it, because it gave me a constant window onto different ways of life. It was a reminder that “out there,” beyond the mountains that surrounded our small town, there were people who lived very different lives than we did.
And the music fed my soul. It’s rather bizarre because classical music was not something that was part of our lives until I started searching it out—finding it on the radio, discovering the library of a neighboring town had recordings I could check out, learning that some of the people on my paper route actually BOUGHT classical records and took the time to just sit and listen to them because they wanted to. Imagine that!! And they were delighted to sometimes ask me to come inside and listen with them….I will forever be grateful to those folks!
Anyway, the two big loves of my life—reading and music—appeared early and still show no sign of leaving. After college I lived in Europe for a bit, then moved to New York City where I’ve lived ever since, with a break for a few years when I lived in San Francisco.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
I’ve been involved with the publishing industry in one way or another—both books and magazines—most of my life (well, so far, anyway). Through this involvement I ended up doing some writing for hire under another name. But writing fiction that I wanted to write, just because I wanted to write it, is something I’ve only been doing for a couple years now.
One of the advantages of living in NYC is that almost everyone you know comes through here from time to time—on their way to Europe from California; on their way to Hawaii from Berlin—the world stops off in NYC regularly. And a couple of years ago, within a two or three week period several groups of friends – from very different areas of my life—dropped by and they all happened to say: “You really are a story teller, you know. That’s how you see the world, that’s how you communicate you ideas.” Or words to that effect.
And it was a revelation. (“DUH!”) So I started with a short story for a Dreamspinner anthology, figuring if I targeted a publisher’s need that would increase the chances of getting into print. Fortunately “The Cub” was accepted for the Games in the Dark anthology, and I followed that up with other short stories, Jonathan’s Garden of Eden being the most recent.
I just finished my first novel, an historic romance set in New York City and Dresden, Germany, during 1910-11. The period just before both world wars has always fascinated me, so it was great to be able to “live” back then for a while. It took a little over a year….really two quick bursts of actual writing, separated by some months when I just fretted, but didn’t do any typing. I’ve submitted it to a publisher, so keep your fingers crossed!
Do you write full time? If not, how many hours per day do you try to dedicate to writing?
A hunk of my “real” job involves doing some non-fiction writing…though I confess some of my marketing blurbs come perilously close to fiction. I’m still struggling with how to carve out regular time for my own fiction. It still tends to be a hunk of time I steal from “real” life—a weekend when I don’t answer the phone, or a couple days I take off from work.
How long have you been a storyteller, at heart?
I’m told that when I was very small (not old enough to go to school) when my mother and I would take the bus to go downtown, I would tell stories I made up on the spot, just to pass the time. One day, apparently, a woman sitting behind us tapped my mother on the shoulder and said, “Lady, you really ought to write that story down. Some day you’ll wish you had it.” So apparently I started pretty young, though I don’t remember it.
Do you write straight through, or do you find that you revise/edit as you go along?
Thank god for computers because they fit the way I write perfectly! I’ll write a section (a few paragraphs or a page, say) and then pause while I try to figure out what comes next, and as I’m thinking that—to keep myself focused on the characters and their situation—I reread what I’ve just written. Often I’ll think, “Ah, that word needs to be changed” or “No, that’s not QUITE what he was feeling,” and I’ll do those slight revisions as I’m writing. It helps to keep things flowing smoothly. But after the story—or novel—is done I go back and reread it noting things that don’t work with the finished version. That’s when any big revisions get made.
A good friend (a publishing Mucky-Muck) told me after I was three or four chapters into the novel, “Don’t revise and polish what you’ve done until you finish writing the novel. Too many people spent a years obsessively revising a couple of chapters, trying to make them perfect, and they never finish their book.” Very wise words! At least for me.
How much of yourself, your experiences, and the people you know do you find make their way into your stories and characters?
Well, the first rule of writing is to write about what you know. But that’s not the same thing as writing your autobiography. Fiction is not autobiography. But you have to understand the emotions and motivations of your characters. For instance, Jonathan in Jonathan’s Garden of Eden is from the South and a very religious home, but he’s not me. There are lots of differences between us. On the other hand, every adult has to decide how much of their family’s rules work for them, unless you just blindly go through life without examining it.
A very good friend—much older than me—told me he was having a terrible time adjusting to life in NYC until his wise shrink said, “Bill, you’re trying to live your life here by the same rules that worked for your parents in North Carolina in the 1930s and ‘40s. Those are lovely rules, but they’re making you miserable because they were designed for a very different society, and no one else in NY is playing by them.”
I think gay people, especially, get hit early on with the necessity to examining what’s important for us. We’re outsiders—a stranger in a strange land, as Robert Heinlein put it—but that also gives us an opportunity for an early start on deciding what’s important for us, personally, and seeing the world more critically…perhaps.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? Do you have any routines or exercises you use to get past it?
Oh, hell yes. There are times I feel like I’m pregnant and the damn kid just refuses to be born. I fret and obsess and trust that when the kid is ready he’ll appear. But it’s a miserable time.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they feel, experience, or gain from it?
Pleasure. And I hope they’ll feel a bit of warmth inside, a glow that means their world is a better place—even just momentarily—because they read it.
Now that you’re a published author, would you share three things you’ve learned about the publishing business?
Mainly that if you genuinely have something to say, then there’s an audience for it. It might be very small, and you might never know how much they like it—in fact you probably won’t. But that’s not our job. Our job is to let the story inside come out and then let the Universe (or Life or whatever word you want to use) take over from there.
Does the title of a book you’re writing typically come to you as you’re writing it, or do you title your stories before you even begin the first sentence?
It varies. The short story titles all came before I finished the first page, but I’m still not sold on the title to the novel.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received with respect to the art of writing? How did it change the way you approach your work?
It was from a good friend to whom I was complaining about some of the really badly written novels I had to deal with in my “real” job. She said, “I’m tired of listening to you bitch about other people’s writing. Shut up and write your own damn book.” So I did.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
HA! I would love to be a symphony and opera conductor. And I’m fascinated by the idea of doing something totally different in another country—making Parmesan cheese in Italy, say; or being a baker in Dresden; or making champagne in France. Or making oboe reeds in Vienna. Maybe in my next life…or six.
I have to hear some good music every day. If I don’t I get really cranky. I love hanging out with friends, but with everyone’s schedules that doesn’t happen as much as any of us would like.
I love traveling, being in a different culture and, with any luck, meeting people who were raised very differently than I was. For instance, I have a good friend who was born and raised in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. (In fact, he was in the East German Army during the time the wall came down!) He was raised in one of the most repressive Communist regimes, his parents – who are just a wonderful as he is–grew up under the Nazis and during World War Two, and then lived most of their adult lives under the Communists…that gives you quite a different perspective on life than growing up in the American South!
Speaking as a published author, what words of advice would you give to someone just starting out in the business?
Trust yourself. Learn to listen to your inner guide and trust it.
What future projects do you have in the works?
As far as gay fiction goes, I’m toying with a couple things—a fantasy novel where the greatest magic comes through singing the magic into being and shaping it with the voice; and the people who do that are society of gay adepts, who are valued for their healing powers, but also viewed very suspiciously before they’re “different.” And I’ve started working on novel set in the closing days of WWII, an American B-17 pilot who’s shot down over Germany in the months just before D-day and rescued by a German Army doctor who’s home on leave. We’ll see what happens.
Now some questions just for fun:
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
I think Blazing Saddles is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. It still cracks me up. As do the old “Thin Man” movies—such marvelous style they had back then! I love that deft, rapier wit. I’m currently reading Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern by Simon Winder, a Brit, who has a wonderfully droll, and often quite baroque, way of describing a town, or a era, or a cultural point of view. He spent three pages describing a room in a museum and explaining why it summed up an era in history, then said, “This must all be understood to be in brackets (indeed, there could be an argument that this entire book should be understood to be in brackets).” And I thought, “Oh damn! I’ll never be able to use that without plagiarizing it.”
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
Bertolucci’s The Conformist—that made an appearance in Jonathan’s Garden of Eden. But there are other movies I wouldn’t live without. Casablanca, the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films; Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich (hey, I’m a gay man, they’re in my DNA). I’ve already seen The King’s Speech twice, so it’s likely to end up on a Permanent Must Re-See List.
What’s your favorite food?
Anything Italian, especially pork or pasta. Or German Christmas food.
Cake or pie?
If you could sit down to dinner with any one famous person, either past or present, who would that person be and why?
You know the person with whom I really would like to have a nice long dinner? My mother’s father. He died when I was not yet two so I have no memory of him and knew very, very little about him as I was growing up. It was only a few years ago that I discovered he left the Michigan farm where he was raised, went to South African to mine diamonds, and then spent a few years traveling around Europe going from opera house to opera house, until his fiancée (my grandmother) told him if he didn’t get his ass back to the States she was going to accept another offer of marriage. I had no idea anyone in the family even knew what an opera was, much less was so passionate about it he spent a couple years reveling in it in Europe. (How did HE learn about opera and develop a passion for it?) And since I love great singers of the past, my first thought was “I wonder if granddaddy heard Claudio Muzio at La Scala? Was he in Vienna when Richard Strauss conducted his own operas? Did he hear Rosa Ponselle when he stopped on in NYC on his way back to Michigan….to start his ‘real’ life.” My mother had no idea about this, it was her youngest sister who told me. Apparently granddaddy brought back a whole trunk load of programs that disappeared not that long ago—but before I knew anything about them. AUUUUUGH!
If time travel were possible, what time period(s) would you most like to visit and why?
First of all, Ancient Greece because their way of life was so different from ours, and yet so much of the basis of Western Civilian was created by them. Plus I’ve very curious what their performance of drama was like. Apparently not at all like us going to the theater today to hear one of their plays.
I’d love to go back to the 17th and 18th century and hear what the famous singers known as the castrati sounded like (and it wasn’t ANYTHING like countertenors of today sound like!) And, as I said, I’m fascinated by the periods before both of the world wars, especially the first world war. We think we know a lot about it, because many of us have family pictures from then and we can relate to seeing the early forms of things we know today—early cars, early forms of movies, recordings, things like that. But their expectations of life, the structure of their society was so completely different from ours. I’d really like to inhabit it and experience it.
Or maybe I did in a previous life?
Edward, thank you again for taking the time to be with us today; will you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
I’m still working on the internet thing, though I have a Facebook page I haven’t really done anything with.
Thank you for asking the questions! I appreciate your interest.