20 Questions

A friend of mine, who writes for a number of websites about books and writing, was kind enough to interview me for one of the sites. Not sure which one it will appear on, but he’s allowed me to post the first draft here.

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Dan Garmen – 20 Questions

1. Some readers have complained that the story of “Time Flying” is incomplete. Is there more?

A: Yes, there is. The last words of the book are “The End of Part One,” and I am working on part two. The book’s ending is definitely a cliff-hanger, but I know that some people read the final chapter as a ridiculously sped-up finishing up of the story, but it’s really a connector to the sequel, tentatively titled “Passed Lives.”

2. Time Travel fans have also complained that the ending makes no sense. How is it Richard suddenly ends up in the 1950s?

A: I can say without spoiling, that the story that begins with “Time Flying” is a tale of two different kinds of time travel, consciousness and bodily. Readers of “The Time Traveler Blog,” from which the book is derived, know that Richard travels bodily to 1933, a trip documented by the letter, written by his grandfather, that is given to Richard. How his experience in his own past relates to his time travel to 1933, and how those two types of travel are connected is the subject of Passed Lives.

3. Where did the idea for two types of time travel come from?

A: I’ve read Time Travel stories that involve only consciousness, and of course, many more that use bodily travel, but have never seen the two used together. So I did it.

4. Since “Time Flying” is told in the first person, it’s natural to wonder how much of the book comes from your own life?

A: Every writer I know uses (hopefully well-disguised) people from his or her own life, in addition to situations, places and experiences. I look back at things I wrote when I was in my 20s, and am amazed (and not a little embarrassed) at how naive and one dimensional they are. It usually takes a writer years to build an inventory of building blocks that are at all compelling. I had a very well-known and successful author as a professor for a 400 level Fiction course in college who, in critiquing a short story I’d written for his class, told me to write my next story about a subject I knew very well. I was trying to write about things I didn’t really understand and hadn’t researched very well, and so the work wasn’t very good. But that’s how you learn. My next effort was a huge improvement. I’m in my 50s now, and so have a very complete collection of experiences from which to draw inspiration, ideas and execution.

5. Who was the well-known professor?

A: Tobias Wolff, who still teaches, currently at Stanford. He’s an award winning short storyist, novelist and autobiographer. In fact, his autobiography, This Boy’s Life was made into a major motion picture, starring Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCapprio. Leo (who, I have never met, even though I’m using his name as though I have) is the only major actor to play someone I’ve known. I know a lot of famous people from my time in Radio and Television, but Toby is the only one who has had a movie made about their life! Well, check that. There may have been a cable movie about Donnie Osmond, so that may not be entirely true. 🙂

6. Are you still in contact with Mr. Wolff?

A: I am. I’m not sure he’s read Time Flying, but we email, usually with me asking him a dumb question.

7. Like…

A: (Laughing) Well, I sent him an email a couple weeks ago, asking for his thoughts on mixing narrative modes in a novel. Another project I’m in the middle of (sorry Time Flying fans, but I’ve got to finish this one before I can complete Passed Lives) had me a bit perplexed. The book started in third-person past mode, but I came to really like a supporting character, and started playing with writing his story, telling myself it’s just “background” and “research” for the book. The supporting character’s story though, needs to be told first-person past, which wasn’t a problem until I realized it needed to be done along with the first book. Toby had red-penned me on one of my stories once because I had slipped in another character’s internal dialogue at the end of a short story, which was cheating. I was recently reading a new John Grisham novel, which is told partly in first-person present and third-person past (I think – it may have been present), but I asked Toby if something like that was simply Grisham being too successful to be edited. He said if the novel works that way, it’s okay. There are no rules, if the writing works.

8. It’s very cool to have such a successful and well-respected mentor.

A: You know it. I’m very proud of my association with him. He’s a tremendous talent and teacher who truly cares about his art and his students. He brushes it off, but I have apologized for not yet having the commercial and critical success of some of his other students, like Jay McInerny (Bright Lights, Big City) and Alice Seybold (Lovely Bones). Young punks. 🙂

9. Both of those major motion pictures, too.

A: Yea, thanks for pointing that out. I’m counting that as one of your 20 questions, by the way!

10. Is “Time Flying” going to be made into a movie?

A: I don’t know. We haven’t sold the movie rights yet, and to be honest, I’m not sure we will. I have the feeling that after Passed Lives comes out there may be some interest, but we’ll see. I’m okay either way. Adapting a novel is a tough thing, and I’ve seen so many just get butchered, Jumper being a recent one that comes to mind. Such a powerful book rendered almost silly on the big screen. I’m happy for Steven Gould, who wrote a wonderful series of books that became the inspiration for the movie, but it’s a bit of a shame. Production on Dust, by Hugh Howey the poster child for the new world of self-publishing has begun, with Matt Damon involved. It’ll be interesting to see how that one goes. I waited a long time for Ender’s Game, and had mixed feelings about the result. That book was a relatively simple, straight-forward story with one of the best twists of all time, and they adapted the book pretty well. I’m a little uneasy, seeing as how they used the ending to possibly setup a sequel, but Speaker for the Dead and Children of the Mind, the final two installments in Ender Wiggens’ story are infinitely more complex. I really can’t imagine them translating that well onto film.

11. How did your background and life help you write Time Flying?

A: I think we all, at one time or another, have wanted a time machine that we could use to go back and get a second chance with something. Sometimes it’s to avoid pain, other times to take advantage of something you were afraid to commit to at the time. I have both of those things going on in my life. I played high school basketball, and for some reason that I can’t fully explain today, sat out my senior year, even though I had worked very hard preparing for it, and let my coach down by not showing up for that first day of practice. I’d suffered an injury a few years before, but it had nothing to do with my sitting out. Nor did I get hooked on pain meds. In truth, though I’ve never had anyone complain, opioid addiction wasn’t really a huge problem in the late 70s and early 80s. It wasn’t until a few years later than Vicodin and Oxycodone came onto the scene. Oxycontin came even later. Using the addiction problem in that way involved taking some artistic license.

12. What about Richard’s lost love. Is there really an Amanda?

A: I’ll admit my wife is a pretty good model for Richard’s wife Molly, but there specifically is no single “Amanda” in my past. As I said before, writers use events and experiences from their own lives all the time, and yes, there are a couple events in the book that are similar to things that really happened to me. The character reminds me of one person I knew in high school who wore a particular perfume I can still identify today, and another who I did a few musicals with – I played in the orchestra and she was an actress, but no, there’s no Amanda. I had a good friend from high school, who I’m close to now, even though we didn’t really run in the same circles back then, read a draft of the book with the assignment of trying to identify anyone we knew. In every case, she was wrong about who she thought was being portrayed, so I felt okay with it. A couple other friends who have read it have had their own ideas about who might be who, but I’m confident that nobody from those days have snuck into the story. My high school basketball coach did pass away in the locker room at halftime of a game a couple years after I graduated, and I’ve always had a sharp regret for letting him down by not playing that last year. I wouldn’t have made a difference in the performance of the team that season had I played, but he had been so supportive and encouraging when I told him I wanted to play my senior year. He worked with me, coached me (quietly and unknown to most of the rest of the team) and I knew wanted me on the team that year. One day, a few weeks after practice started, I ran into him in the gym, and though he wasn’t mad, I could tell I had disappointed him, and was so sick about that. Then, when he passed away, I knew I’d always carry that regret with me. Which I do.

13. Your description of Naval Flight Operations are quite realistic, and more than a couple readers have commented that you, obviously, have been a Naval Aviator. Were you?

A: What I can tell you is: A: I’m a pilot, B: I have set foot on a number of Naval vessels, including the now retired USS Ranger (which is an important setting in the book), and C: During Operation Desert Shield/Storm, I had very short hair, a mustache and wore brown Navy Oxfords a lot. But, I can tell you that I was NEVER a member of Navy VA-145, known as “The Swordsmen.” During Desert Storm the squadron DID carry their share (and then some) of the Naval Air Operations that were carried out, but didn’t lose a single (let alone two) aircraft in action. My love affair with the A6E Intruder started while in college. I’d always wanted to fly, but wore glasses and couldn’t be a military pilot. My father saw an ad in the newspaper that said something like “Wear glasses but want to Fly Navy?” which was a recruiting advertisement for the NFO (Naval Flight Officer) program. NFOs were RIOs (Radar Intercept Officers) in F14 Tomcats and BNs (Bombardier/Navigators) in Intruders. The Tomcat crews got all the girls, and according to the movie Top Gun, played a lot of shirtless volleyball, but the first time I saw a picture of an Intruder, I knew I was in love. Later came the book Flight of the Intruder by Stephen Coonts, and my “girl” got a little more famous.

14. What’s the other non-Time Flying project about?

A: It’s part Daniel Silva spy thriller (I’m a huge fan of the Gabriel Alon books) part police procedural, part Sons of Anarchy style biker action story. I’m dealing with the first/third person issue by telling the story twice, in installments, simultaneously releasing two novellas at a time where each of the two characters is the protagonist in one novella and a supporting character in the other. As the outline exists today, the stories are well-separated at first, and through the five installments, grow together. I want to end up at a place where each book, each told in five parts, is self-contained so the reader only needs to read both if they want to. The common theme is that we are often more than one person and sometimes, not even those closest to us know us completely.

15. Wow, that’s an interesting process. Have you seen another book written that way?

A: No (laughing). I may not have been the first to come up with the idea, and maybe there isn’t a lot of work written that way because it’s a stupid idea! Then again, the traditional commercial publishing system that’s been in effect for a long time wouldn’t be able to support something like that. It’s the ebook industry that makes it possible. We’ll see how it works!

16. When will the first installments be available?

A: I’m shooting for the first of December of this year (2014). At least I’m on schedule for that right now. Then, we should have new novellas released every two months, followed by an Omnibus, the complete novel for each story in September of 2015. We’re also looking at making a double Omnibus available, with the installments alternating. At that point, however, it will be a work of about 200,000 words, which could be unwieldy. I’m not sure.

17. Cloud Atlas comes to mind.

A: I suppose, though I wouldn’t presume to compare my work to someone as good as David Mitchell. Talk about an ambitous first novel! It’s an interesting thought about what we were talking about earlier, though. I never dreamed Cloud Atlas would be a good motion picture, and since I loved the book so much, I vowed to never watch the movie, I was definitely glad when I did. It was the same with Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. They were both excellent adaptations, and interestingly, their authors’ first novels as well.

18. Who are your favorite authors?

A: Well, as I said, I love Daniel Silva’s work. His Gabriel Alon novels are tight, and Mr. Silva has created a wonderfully complex and compelling character in the Israeli assassin, Gabriel Alon. Richard Bach influenced me greatly. Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah was life-changing for me, as was The Bridge Across Forever. I really enjoy Scotland’s top crime writer, Ian Rankin’s work, especially the Inspector Rebus books. I’ve met Ian as well and like him very much. I adolized Robert Ludlum and was lucky enough to interview him before he passed away. A great writer, the most imaginative spy thriller author of his age. I liked Eric Van Lustbader’s Ninja books, too, but haven’t been a fan of his work in the Ludlum universe. I know having him take over the Ludlum franchise makes sense commercially, but it’s a different artist’s world, and doesn’t do either of them justice. I’ve always loved heroic fantasy, especially the work of Michael Moorcock, whose Eternal Champion cycle instilled in me a deep love of serial fiction. Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books had powerful effect on me as well. Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series is thrilling, as is Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander saga. Both could have college level history courses based on them.

19. Is Time Flying available as an audiobook?

A: Not yet, but it’s in progress. I’m doing the voice work myself, and wow, has that been an eye-opener! I’ve been on the radio for 30 years, and have done commercial voiceover work for at least half of that, but performing an audiobook is a whole different thing. I have so much respect for good audiobook narrators. In some cases, listening to the author read his own work adds a neat perspective on the book, like Malcolm Gladwell reading Blink or Outliers, but those are both non-fiction books, requiring just the author’s voice. Multiple character fiction, especially stories that involve both men and women, as well as accents or foreign words is so much more a performance. I’ve listened to Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series performed by Christian Rummel, who in my mind is the very best there is. Jeff Gurner, who does the audiobook versions of Daniel Suarez’s novels (Daemon, Freedom TM, Influx and Kill Decision) is also amazing. Listening to those two guys can make it really difficult to crack the mic on your own work, but I’m working on it. Time Flying should be available on audiobook in November of this year.

20. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A: I’m not sure I feel comfortable giving a lot of advice yet, so I’d prefer to point to advice already given by those who have earned the right to advise! If you want to write fiction, you have to read (and preferably memorize) Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules. I violated 5 of the 10 rules in Time Flying, but hope to get that down to no more than 2 in my next book. Any successful author (and most unsuccessful ones, too) will tell you to write as much as possible, even if what you are writing isn’t very good. Talking or thinking about writing doesn’t count, though most of us do way too much of both. Although I don’t really have any experience with this one, Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying one should “write drunk, and edit sober.” Apparently, he didn’t really say this, although it would be hard to argue he didn’t follow that advice. The idea comes from a book by Peter De Vries, who wrote a character based on Dylan Thomas. And finally, never, ever try and show people how smart you are by correcting misattribution in print! 🙂

Critics

Believe it or not, for a published writer, critics and reviews are as important as ever. I think there was a bit of a sigh of relief when it started to become clear the Publishing world was changing forever, and we were not going back to the exclusively curated world run by “BigPub,” and some writers thought they were no longer going to be ruled by New York Editors and Critics.

They were partially right.

The literati in the Big Apple no longer offer the only “non-vanity” route to being published. Don’t get me wrong, Editors, BigPub bosses and the gaggle of intellectuals who will gladly spend a couple hours skimming a work that took years to create, and for reasons completely divorced from the quality of the work, name it “superb” or “a waste of paper.” There was a time (not long ago, by the way) where to succeed in that business, a writer had to navigate those waters, and I’m not just talking about writers of books. Kurt Sutter, show-runner for the brutally…brutal Sons of Anarchy in his very smart and hugely entertaining (oh shit, I think I just became a critic) videoblog “WTF Sutter,” where he talks about a certain “douchebag” critic for HuntingtonPost.com. At least I think he was talking about that website, because I don’t think there is actually a “CuntingtonPost.com” as he referred to the site (ed. note – There isn’t, but since I just registered the domain “cuntingtonpost.com,” there now could be). SOA is seriously good stuff, but I can’t even begin to imagine the crap he must have to deal with. Much respect to him.

Thankfully, we who publish books don’t have to deal with that nonsense to practice our craft any longer. We can, of course, if we decide to publish the traditional way, and I have absolutely no problem with any author who does. For many of them, it would be stupid not to. In a recent interview, Daniel Silva, whose protag Gabriel Alon makes his appearance in a new novel every summer, said in a recent interview that eBooks now make up 50% of his sales. That’s a lot of dead-tree books, and he’d be stupid to chuck it all for a completely digital publishing venue.

I think, however, that Silva and his type are the end of the dead-tree exclusive line. The Kindle could go away and Mr. Silva wouldn’t miss a payment on his private jet (if he has one, but I’m guessing he doesn’t).

Now, all of this suggests we who publish in this new paradigm no longer have critics to deal with. We do, and in many ways, they are every bit as important as the critics (douchebags or no) of old. I regularly check for reviews on my books (I’ve published under my own name as well as, for various reasons, others) and am constantly touched and pissed off by what is written. In terms of sales on Amazon, you need reviews, positive and negative, to get search placement on the site. Amazon is looking for books that create engagement and reviews are a good indicator of this. As the number of reviews rise, so do sales. Getting to that magic “20” seems to get a book to a higher level of exposure that can really jumpstart sales. It’s important to be reviewed, even if some of the reviews aren’t glowing. In fact, too many 5-star, glowing, “this guy is the next Kurt Vonnegut” can kill you, because they appear fake. So, most all reviews are appreciated and welcomed.

That’s not to say some reviews don’t leave me unsettled, however. A great example of this is a reader of my book, Time Flying, who criticized me for an “anti-semitic” rant where I “compared Jesus to terrorists” and got a comparison backwards because Jesus was a Jew. Though I appreciated the lady’s reading my book and taking the time to review it, I couldn’t for the life of me understand what the hell she was talking about. Here’s the offending section of text:

I remember such a morning, 26 years before when I stood, not too far from this spot, looking at the statue of Jesus beckoning the cars driving by. The statue had creeped the 19 year old me out, the Jesus depicted there seeming to be the Angel of Death, looking for new residents for his little community here. This time though, thanks to either the wisdom that comes with age, or a more mature, religious outlook on life, the same Jesus seemed more reassuring, telling the drivers speeding by all who rested here were safe in his arms. I think that was the sculptor’s intended message, anyway. In the end, it was a statue of a guy who while he almost certainly lived, and may well have been the only son of the creator of this universe, probably physically resembled  a rock-throwing Palestinian whose house was being bulldozed by the Israeli Army, more than he did the white bread, midwest rock star Jesus so popular in Middle America.

I thought what I was saying was pretty clear here, but obviously not. Normally, I’d simply assume she read it too fast, or was distracted, but in this case, she took the time to criticize what I’d written (or what she thought she read) by posting on Amazon.com. Again, happy for the review, but unfortunately, it raises more questions than it answers. If she misunderstood that passage, what chance did she have to understand some of the more subtle things I did in the book. Did the fact that the epilogue to Time Flying was written in first-person present, and the rest of the book in first-person past even register with her? Or with anyone? That last short chapter sets up the second book, which a couple other reviewers have complained cuts the book short. I read these comments, knowing that there’s no way I could write the story as one book, because of the stylistic differences I need to employ. If I did put both books in one, it simply wouldn’t work.

In reading reviews of other books, I always feel blessed to have such great readers, who appreciate my storytelling and truly understand what the book is trying to say. But, it demonstrates that every change in paradigm, like the one the publishing world is going through, brings new challenges as it eliminates old ones.