- When did you start writing?
As soon as I started writing. Uh, sorry. That wasn't a smart aleck answer. I don't recall ever not writing creatively. An elementry school teacher tried (unsuccessfully) to get my first poem published. As a pre-teen, I wrote a little pocket-sized book about turtles. I wrote my first song as a senior in high school. I focused on poetry for a few years during the mid-seventies and wrote a few short plays as well. Only in 2003 did I settle down to write my first novel.
- Why did you decide to write a novel then?
I'd been downsized from my job a year or two earlier and was doing a part-time job at Target to help make ends meet. I'd always wanted to write a novel, but had never had a good enough idea—and I thought I'd never had the time. Once I was working at Target, I found the time—and the idea.
- You self-published your first book, I Started a Joke?
Yes, and what a horrible mistake that was. Once I started reading writing books and attending writing conferences, I realized I didn't want the self-pubbed book "out there" representing me. Not when with time, study, and practice I could do so much better.
- But you've self-published another book, haven't you?
Yes, I used the Amazon facilities CreateSpace and KDPdirect to publish Rosa No-Name, the prequel to Found in Translation. Rosa has always been my wife's favorite of all of my novels. In rereading it, I fell in love with it all over again and decided to do the publishing myself. But I would avoid the pitfalls I'd encountered with that first self-published book. I paid to have cover-guru Ken Raney design the cover and Cay Fultz do the editing. I'd like to believe it's polished enough that no one would guess it hadn't been traditionally published.
- Do you have an agent, and how did you get him?
I no longer have an agent, but I have a great tale about how I got my first one.
I submitted a proposal to an acquisitions editor at Harvest House after meeting her at a conference. I heard back—not from her, but from a different editor. She told me they didn't publish the type of novel I'd submitted, but she thought I had talent. We continued to correspond, and she encouraged me that my time for publication would come. Then I sent a sample of Found in Translation to get her reaction to. She asked for the whole thing, and several days later she went out and sold it to Mr. Terry Burns of Hartline Literary. I've never heard of anything like that happening to anyone else. I believe it was truly a God-thing.
Terry Burns has since retired. Linda Glaz, who also works for Hartline Literary, became my agent not long after that, but—no matter how good our relationship—we've since parted ways. She freely admits she just doesn't get my kind of "quirky."
- The covers of Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams list your daughter Kristi as a co-author. How was it working together that way?
You're asking about the original editions of those two books—the ones from Barbour Publishing. Although those editions are now out of print, they've been re-published by Wings Publications. We've changed the name of Lost in Dreams to A Season of Pebbles.
To answer your question, however, working with Kristi was no strain whatsoever because we didn't work together. She went on a mission trip to Mexico. A few details of her trip gave me the idea for Found in Translation, so in a very real sense Kristi became my protagonist. She wrote the Foreword to Found in Translation, but was only a reader of Lost in Dreams. So she wasn't really a co-author. Barbour wanted to keep teen girls from passing up a book written by an older man.
The Winged Publication editions don't list Kristi, although her Foreword for Found in Translation is still included.
- Love that girl on the cover. Not Kristi, though, huh?
This question also relates to the original Barbour Publishing editions of the first two Altered Hearts books.
A picture of Kristi and me appears on the back of those editions. I don't know who the girl on the front is. Funny thing is she looked so right for the covers, even though she looks a lot different from how *I* picture Kim Hartlinger. Among other things, the cover girl looks tall. Kim's quite short. But—like everyone else—I fell in love with my publisher's choice of pictures regardless of that.
My wife and I selected the photos for Winged Publications' release of the Altered Hearts novels. I'd like to believe these covers have even more teen appeal than the original covers.
- Is it true that the Altered Hearts series ended with book two? We want to know what happened to Kim and her friends next.
That's true. At least it was true. Barbour Publishing decided to discontinue their Young Adult line, even though I had a completed prequel for the series (not a Young Adult novel, though) and 30,000 words of the third book, Overshadowed. In 2014 I felt a very strong leading from God to finish writing Overshadowed, a leading that took me on a mission trip to Nicaragua. I completed Overshadowed, and it's now been published by Winged Publications.
- I see that you have written some novels for older readers as well. Do you still consider yourself a Young Adult author?
Nope. In fact, I never have. The YA tag was necessary because of the age of my Altered Hearts characters, but I didn't go out of my way trying to think or talk or act like a teen. Too many years since I'd been around many "typical teens." I have written other YA novels, however, but they haven't been published. Whether they ever will is yet to be determined.
On the advice of Cecil Murphey, who did the actual writing of 90 Minutes in Heaven, I've decided to stick to contemporary women's novels.
At least until I had to find a new publisher for the first two Altered Hearts books. Winged Publications has not only also released the third book in the series, Overshadowed, but will publish the final book in the series when I finish writing it.
- I've heard The Devil and Pastor Gus is particularly special to you. Why's that?
Although I'm rather fond of every novel I've written—what father doesn't love all of his children?—I think of Pastor Gus as being my legacy. Since Gus at middle age wanted to leave a significant legacy, he represents me to a certain extent. Even though I hope my writing will continue to improve with every new novel—published or not—I can't imagine any story being equally significant.
It's both ironic and frustrating that a novel about the Devil seems to scare many readers. Yet those who read The Devil and Pastor Gus find that it's not a horror novel...not a Stephen King kind of scary. If anything, it's a creative blend of the biblical book of Job, C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, and Steven Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster (or any other of many literary works about someone who sells his soul to the Devil and tries to break the contract).
- Is it true you once helped a friend get published?
That's one of my favorite stories. I reconnected with Jenny Spinola on Facebook after being totally out of contact for years. When I learned she'd written a novel while living in Brazil—she had married a Brazilian—I asked her to email it to me. My wife and I both loved it. So I encouraged her to get a proposal together, and I referred her to Barbour Publishing. She ended up with a three-book contract on the first proposal sent to the first publisher. Only God could have managed that one.
- You've written some songs, too?
Yes, over two hundred of them. 99-plus percent of them are Christian songs. I started playing guitar during the "folk fad" of the sixties, so that's influenced my style considerably. Anyone who doesn't like simple, straight forward songs may not like mine. But I feel very strongly that the lyrics are most important: They're the letter to the listener; the tune is just the envelope.
- Some of your songs are pretty interesting. Do you ever do programs in churches—or wherever?
Over the years I've done dozens of musical programs—everywhere from my local church to churches in England, Wales, Romania, Nicaragua, and Australia and in such varied venues as prisons and migrant camps. As much as I would LOVE to get back into that type of ministry now, I'm conscious of my guitar playing deteriorating slowly as my hands and wrists grow stiffer with age.
- Not to be personal, but you've been divorced, haven't you?
I'm not proud of that fact, but yes. Divorce for a Christian is a tough issue to deal with—tougher than the divorce itself. But I can say I'm very happily married now—and I have a pleasant relationship with my ex-.
- How does it feel to be seventy?
Alive—and well! Regardless of the number of pills I take daily to stay that way. *G*