Tag Archives: Bob Rector

Digital Revolution Act Two, Amazon vs. Hachette: What Future for Indies ?

The on-going Amazon-Hachette war that started in April is viewed by many as a paradigm shift. The digital revolution is not over yet and the ground is moving, major actors are re-aligning themselves. Whether Hachette or Amazon wins or loses and with what results for authors, particularly for self-published authors, remains to be seen. 

 

Bob Rector
In short, Amazon is shaking up the publishing industry and a lot of people don’t like it. I blogged about this last week, (see here), and got a remarkable comment from Bob Rector, who’s not only a talented novelist (if you haven’t read Unthinkable Consequences yet, you should) but also a successful playwright (Letters from the Front, an award-winning play that toured the world for 15 years) and a veteran film director who first became famous with “The Now Explosion“, historically the first experiment in music video.
He has a uniquely upbeat take on the changes happening to the publishing industry, no doubt because of his long experience, and I wanted to share it with you. This is what he wrote (I love his uplifting conclusion and I added the highlights): 
Claude, your blog post “The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution:Mirage or Reality?” is a very informative and sobering article that once again leaves my head spinning about the book market today. But also conjures up some memories along similar lines.
A little less than 40 years ago I jumped through these same kinds of hoops but in a different medium: film. I was part of a small production company that decided to make a low-budget feature film for theatrical distribution. The timing was right because several G-rated low-budget ‘outdoor-adventure’ films had done very well, chief among them was Grizzly Adams. The attraction to this genre for the filmmaker was that Mother Nature provided all the sets and most of the players (wildlife) for free. All you had to do was get the cast and crew to a really spectacular location and tell a reasonably entertaining story about a hero single-handedly fighting man’s abuse of nature.

I was chosen to write, direct, and edit for the simple reason that I had more experience than anyone else involved, plus I was still riding on my fame from The Now Explosion. The film was titled Nature’s Way but before its release was changed to Don’t Change My World.

We made the film for next to nothing, just like today’s indie authors produce a book. In its initial screenings audiences responded very positively but to go into wide release, we ran into the same obstacles that indie writer’s face. We weren’t MGM or Universal or 20th Century Fox and they owned the game.
The major studios had long-established relationships with movie theaters around the world, as well as marketing and distribution operations that ran like the proverbial Swiss watch. On the other hand, we were, in effect, knocking on the door of each individual theater. They didn’t want to deal with someone who only had one film to peddle and no marketing machinery behind them. We eventually did sign with a small independent distributor who managed to get our film released nationally but playing at only one or two markets at a time, so the money generated trickled in and seldom covered expenses. Plus the theaters, since they were dealing with a small fry, slow paid, and sometimes no paid, us – something they didn’t dare do with the majors. When we protested they simply said, “So sue us.”
The sad fact of life was that the audiences who saw the film loved it, but getting it in front of an audience was a constant uphill battle that cost more than we could possibly make, especially since much of the time we never saw the money that came into the box office. By the time the theater took its cut (much more severe than Amazon’s take) and the distributor took his cut (always with extra expenses added) and the advertising agencies took their cut, nothing was left (sound familiar?).
The film finally generated significant revenue when it went into non-theatrical release, primarily on cable channels like CineMax (HBO). It was also broadcast by the BBC and several other operators in Europe. The US Navy purchased a hundred or so 16mm prints for showing onboard their ships. A specialty distributor who provided inflight movies for airlines licensed its use. Same for a distributor who supplied films for college campus theaters. And finally the film was released to the newly emerging home video market. The point being, we had to search out and broker all these deals ourselves.
And the same is true for indie publishers/writers. Anybody who has been in business, whether it’s selling books or selling paper clips, knows that it’s never easy and you have to work at it continuously.
Selling is ALWAYS job one. During the 15 years we toured our play Letters From the Front around the world, selling and marketing was a nonstop daily job – and I mean every single day.
So I guess I come to this issue with a little different and perhaps more cynical (based on experience) but realistic perspective.
If there’s money to be made, then big money is going to control the market. Always. Never been any different since the beginning of commerce. Might makes right.
Will fair play come into play? Don’t count on it.
The question to indie writers/publishers is: what are you going to do about it? Throw up your hands and say the deck is stacked and I don’t stand a chance so to hell with it? Or, I have right on my side but I can’t win so I might as well not play? Are you going to take Amazon and the other major players to court and sue them for what you believe are unfair practices? Good luck. They each have teams of lawyers just waiting to bury you.
Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m being dark or negative, please don’t.
As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (although why anybody would want to baffles me). Most of my professional life has been spent finding alternate routes around established institutions, with varying degrees of success. My first rule is to never let somebody else define my pathway to success. If I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms. As far as indie publishing is concerned, my wife (a fellow author) and I are still experimenting and searching out alternative paths. It will take time but it always does. I’m confident that we’ll find a way that works for us. We’ve done it many times before.
The threshold we’re shooting for is not just to make money for ourselves, but to make money for somebody else, preferably a large well-funded organization. That’s what we’ve done before. We found a way to make money for major companies with our product, lots of money. Then they started writing checks to us, big checks. I’m not saying this is the only path. We’re all supposed to be creative people — so be creative about this too!
To be exceedingly trite, we don’t look at this as a problem, we look at it as an opportunity. A huge ground-floor opportunity. And we don’t expect anybody or any organization to do the heavy lifting for us. Maybe we’re naive. We’ll see.
Letters From the Front stars Bobbi Kravis and Bob Curren meet with troops at Ft. Lee, VA after a performance and distribute free letter writing kits (source: “Why Letters from the Front is so important today”, click here

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What’s Life Like When You’re a Writer Married to a Writer? To Find out, Rome Calls Chattanooga, choo-choo!

Couples engaged in the same occupation are rare and don’t always have a happy life together. It may be harder for writers than for other artists to achieve serenity in their life as a couple – perhaps because writers are more given to analyzing their feelings and expressing them into words. That can easily turn into a source of friction as famously happened with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, when she wrote The Mandarins, a barely concealed critique of Sartre and his group of existentialists whom she felt had cut her out.

Marsha Roberts, author of the best-selling Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer and…
…Bob Rector! His recently published book, Unthinkable Consequences, is steadily climbing the ranks of romantic suspense novels, are definitely an exception: I know from reading “Confessions” that they are very close to each other and have always been, including now that they are suddenly finding themselves in the situation of writers married to each other.

Yet, before they met, they had pursued completely different career paths. Bob had been into musical video production, documentaries and script writing. Marsha started as an operating room nurse but quickly became restless for adventure. She began to travel, using part time nursing to support her habit, and met Bob at the end of one of her journeys. He was directing the feature film, “Don’t Change My World” at the time. She immediately became fascinated by the filmmaking process and became Bob’s right-hand-gal for years. She worked herself up to the position of Producer which culminated in the production of Letters from the Front, a most unusual and arresting play written and directed by Bob, which toured the world with great success for 15 years.
 
Today, I am honored to interview them: Rome calls Chattanooga, choo-choo! 
Yes, I live in Rome and they live in America and we have never met anywhere else but on the Net. I see this as a unique opportunity to find out how Marsha and Bob have moved from a situation where he was the artist and she was the business manager to the present one where they are both writers.
 
Claude: Marsha and Bob, this is a question for both of you: for the first time in your life, you find yourself in the same line of work, writing books. And pardon my curiosity, how do you get along? Do you help each other? Do you avoid each other?
Marsha: I can’t help but laugh when I read this question, Claude! We get along (as Forest Gump said) “Like two peas in a pod.” We are always there for each other and it would never occur to me to avoid Bob. He’s too delightful to avoid!
Bob: We’ve always enjoyed working together. I think we bring out the best in each other. Traditionally, I’ve always been the writer, but Marsha has developed, through our mutual work, keen storytelling skills that I learned to respect. Marsha neglected to point out that for years she was an accomplished film editor and, as one of my blog posts points out, nothing develops story telling abilities like hours spent at the editing table.
Claude: Marsha, you told me that you are producing an audio version of your book. From your own life as a theater producer, you knew actors and I’m sure Bob, with his long experience in video production, could also help. How did that work out?
Marsha: First off, it was a delight to have Della Cole read my book. She starred in Letters from the Front for years and is also a dear friend. She is a top voice talent and she knew many of my stories from first hand experience. She also runs one of the top acting schools in the southeast, YourAct. The tricky part was in post production and, frankly, Bob saved my… well, he saved the project! He is a fantastic editor and finished the audiobook in style. It will be available through Amazon soon and I’m really excited about it!Claude: I’m looking forward to hearing it! Bob, your book came out a couple of years later than Marsha’s and you had ample opportunity to observe her working at book promotion. Were you able to profit from her experience?
 

Bob: Unthinkable Consequences was a project that simmered on the back burner for a couple of decades. Marsha’s success with publishing and promoting her book was what convinced me to finally finish mine and publish it. By that time Marsha was already plugged into social media and I benefited from her experience.
 
Claude: I’d like to know how you organize your working life and whether you have advice for other writers: how much time do you devote to creative writing, how much to book promotion?
Marsha: I wish I could say I’ve found all of the answers in how to time manage promotion and writing, but I haven’t. I’m still trying to wrangle the beast of marketing my book without it taking up every minute of every day.
Bob: We have both tried various approaches with e-marketing our books, some with success, and some without. It’s a tedious and sometimes frustrating process because it’s all new. And most of us at this point are making it up as we go along.
 
Claude: I am asking because book promotion in my own life is interfering with my writing, sometimes much more heavily than I would like. Do you ever feel any frustration, any desire to shut down the Internet?
Bob: I can answer that with two words: hell yes! But Marsha and I are in this for the long haul and we certainly know about long haul projects. Ultimately we’re going to have to develop our own methods for marketing, just as we have in the past. How much the internet will be a part of that is still a question, but I firmly believe you should use all resources that benefit you in achieving your goals.
Marsha: Well said, Bob. I’d like to add that about a year ago I begin a process of trying to discern which activities on the internet were helpful and which were just time wasters. And I’m speaking here about the bottom line: selling books. Social media can give you the impression you are getting a lot done because you are posting and tweeting and sharing and it’s all so busy, busy, busy! At the end of the day, does it sell books? If so, I continue to do it. If not, I move on. But, do I have time for writing? Not much.
 
Claude: Same here! I’d like to probe a little deeper into your working life as a couple, if I may. Do you discuss book ideas together? Do you read each other’s drafts and critique them? Do you even listen to each other’s advice and act on it (grin)?
Marsha: As Bob mentioned earlier, we enjoy working together and collaborate very well. Yes, we read each other’s drafts and critique them. I can say without hesitation that my Mutinous Boomer book would not have taken the shape and form it did without Bob’s input. We always listen to each other’s advice and usually take that advice because we are working on such a level of trust. However, occasionally one of us will feel passionately about what we’ve written and the author always has the choice to keep it as is.
Bob: From the beginning of our relationship we had to learn to work together as pros first and a couple second. I did not want Marsha branded as ‘the director’s girlfriend’ as the reason she was in the business. So I was very tough on her, tougher than I would have been on an employee, but she understood why and simply upped her game until she became well-respected within the business and us being a couple was no longer an issue. We still work that way and never allow personalities to get in the way. Our goal is to produce the best work we can. And neither of us has much tolerance for people who don’t operate on this professional level.
 
Claude: I don’t either! And it is natural of course for the two of you to collaborate. But are there things you would never do together?
Bob: I won’t eat tofu with her. Marsha won’t join me in spitting, belching and farting, but other than that, we both enjoy football and baseball, the great outdoors, time with our kids (grown!) and consuming adult beverages, preferably in exotic locations.
Marsha: Ha! True that! I’d say the only professional area that we operate separately is that Bob is a whiz with the computer and manages all our tech “stuff” and graphics. But, when it comes to making a call on a potential client or sponsor, it’s me who walks through the door. Bob would hate it just as much as I hate dealing with computers!
Bob: That’s because Marsha is like Sara Lee, nobody doesn’t like her!
Claude: I’d like to know what writers have influenced you the most and why. Marsha, you wrote what is basically a memoir yet with a totally new twist – giving us an extraordinary sense of life seen from an unshakeable optimistic standpoint. Did you believe you were into something entirely different from anything you’d ever read or did you have a model in mind?
Marsha: Thank you, Claude, for those kind words about my book. Besides novels, I’ve always read books that teach about how to grow spiritually, everyone from Dr. Wayne Dyer to Deepak Chopra to the great Granddaddy of them all, Norman Vincent Peale. The Power of Positive Thinking is real and is a real force in my life. However, I had a different and more personal story to tell than a how-to type of book. Mine is very conversational in approach (quite female!) and, no I didn’t really think about doing something entirely different. I was just telling my story as honestly as I could.
Claude: How did the word “parable” end up in the title? Was that your thought from the beginning or was “Confessions” the main idea? And I’m curious, will there be a follow-up to your “Confessions” or something totally different? I expect you still have a lot of confessions up your sleeve!
Marsha: My book started as The Parable of the Tomato Plant and as it grew into something bigger, it just didn’t seem right to remove it from the title. My original idea was a series of vignettes that illustrated how spiritual lessons are part of our daily lives, if we take a moment to see them. When Bob read my first draft, he loved the stories, but he said he thought it would leave the reader frustrated because I had introduced so many interesting characters, but had not completed their stories as I moved on to the next vignette. It was then that the organization of my book took shape and “Confessions” AND “Mutinous” seemed appropriate! And, yes, I do believe I have another Mutinous Boomer book in me, but not just yet…
Claude: Any plans other than writing yourself, like reviving Letters from the Front? I’ve only read it but I’ve enjoyed it immensely, it’s a great play and I’d love to see it produced again. In our world tired of wars, that’s exactly the kind of play that needs to be seen.
Marsha: The reason I said I wasn’t concentrating on writing another book just yet is that we have decided that it is time for Letters from the Front to be out touring military bases again and we intend to make that happen. Our audiences always described it as “from the heart” and “healing” as well as “incredibly entertaining!” With so many of our troops returning home after multiple deployments, they need something as positive and encouraging as Letters from the Front and we intend to be there for them and their families. We miss them and we miss the show.
 
Claude: Bob, you’re an incredibly versatile artist, from music videos to cartoons that you have drawn yourself – yes , I’ve seen your remarkable and very funny cartoon. I can’t resist inserting it here:


And of course, you’ve done film scripts and theater plays, and now a romance that is also a fantastic page-turner, it’s so fast-paced. The dialogues are superb which is of course what one would expect coming from a talented playwright like you. What writers, or should I say artists, do you consider as models to follow in your widely diverse endeavors?

Bob: The storyteller who has without a doubt had the greatest influence on me is Walt Disney. He understood character and plot construction and the workings of the human heart better than anybody. And of course he was a master showman. As for writing, from books with great scope and adventure I think Hammond Innes is probably the best and certainly influenced writers like Clive Cussler and Ken Follett. In the genre I’ve written in, Dashiell Hammett is the acknowledged master, followed by Earle Stanley Gardner and later by John D. MacDonald, who is my personal favorite.
Claude: I know that you feel like playwriting is not “fully appreciated” in the writing world – though I beg to disagree, I love playwrights and consider some of them as the greatest writers ever, from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller. I’ve been wondering why you feel that way. Have you had a particularly disappointing experience in the theater world and is that why you’re into novel-writing now? 
Bob: That’s a complicated question and definitely hits a nerve. As you know, most of my background was in the world of films. So when I stumbled into the world of theatre, I was surprised at how ego driven it was and the amount of snobbery that was prevalent. Particularly towards someone who had not “played by the rules.” But since Marsha and I produced this play ourselves, we could basically tell everybody to go to hell, and did. The fact that our show was so successful only ostracized us further from the theatre establishment. So I was a little put off when I first joined ASMSG that playwrights were not included. As for writing Unthinkable Consequences, it was a project I’d tinkered with for years and finally decided to complete, but not because of my experiences in theatre. I just wanted to finally get it done.
Marsha: I’d like to interject something here, Claude. It would be difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it the incredible impact that Letters from the Front has on its audiences. Why? Bob Rector. How he walks the audience into the lives and hearts of the characters is no less than genius, and I’m not exaggerating when I use that word. I’ve never been more proud of Bob than when the curtain went up hundreds of times to audiences that could only respond with standing ovations.
Bob: Okay, lets all sing together now: We belong to a mutual admiration society, my baby and me. Before we move on, Claude, I’d like to say something about playwriting that the painter side of you will appreciate. You are familiar with the challenge of painting with a limited palette. Playwriting is very similar in that you virtually have nothing more to work with than dialogue to develop characters and advance the story. I encourage all writers to try writing a play at some point because it will hone their storytelling skills in ways that will only benefit their novel writing.
Claude: I agree, good dialogue is key and writing a play is the way to hone that skill. Do you plan on a sequel to Unthinkable Consequences or are you ready to write something entirely new?
Bob: I have no plans for a sequel and very little interest. I’ve told the story, it’s finished, and so am I. As for other projects spinning around in my mind, I’d have to live to be 500 years old to do them all.
Claude: I know what you mean, but I hope we’ll soon see another one of your projects! Bob and Marsha, there is one thing that brings you together now, the world of indies and self-publishing: you’re both self-published authors. How do you feel about the world of indies, would you do it again or would you seek a traditional publisher for your next book?
Marsha: No question about it, I would self publish again and I will. Why? The big publishers are primarily interested in putting their money and time into established authors. I have seen quite a few indie author friends I’ve grown to know on the internet to get publishing deals. They end up working just as hard as the rest of us, marketing their books and trying to sell them, but splitting the sales with an agent and a publisher who are doing virtually nothing to promote them. This isn’t an easy path. We are on the forefront here – the beginning of the way it will be done from here on. I’m glad to be in on the ground floor.
Bob: Marsha’s right. This is a ground floor opportunity and that makes it both exciting and frustrating. There’s lots of very talented and energetic people involved and I am inspired by them, and have made lots of friends. Who knows how the world of indie publishing will eventually shake out, but I know I want to be a part of it and maybe in some small way, help make the baby grow.
Claude: I’m sure you can help “make the baby grow” but like any parenthood, it is frustrating at times! Thanks so much for responding to all my questions. Just a last one before we close, and I take the inspiration for it from one of the author interviews you did, Bob: if money was no object, what would you do with your life beside write?
Marsha: Money no object? I love that question! I would have a home on Lake Como, be able to travel to wherever I wanted, make sure my sons had what they needed to pursue their dreams and insure that Letters from the Front was entertaining the troops and their families (and veterans!) for a long, long time. Besides that? I’d have clothes designed just for me, I’d have…. I guess you get the picture. I’m ALL about enjoying life!
Bob: We have known so many people who look at life as a contest that must be won. Marsha and I look at life as an adventure that must be lived. So if money was no object, I’d spend as much time as possible with Marsha at Lake Como and we’d make ourselves real nuisances dropping in on you and Giuseppe and drinking up as much of your wine as possible. Other than that, as Marsha said, just enjoy life and spend as much time with our family as possible.
And many thanks to you Claude for your valuable help as a beta reader on Unthinkable Consequences. You definitely helped me shape it into a much better book. We enjoyed doing this interview with you and wish you every success with the launch of your Forever Young series. 
Claude: Many thanks to you both, and Giuseppe and I are looking forward to drinking our Lake Trasimeno wine with you next time you come to Europe!
Bob and Marsha in Pompei, looking happy…not yet Lake Como!

 

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A Five-Star Review by a Major Writer for Just Published FOREVER YOUNG, Part One

Hugely talented writer Bob Rector, author of Unthinkable Consequences (I highly recommend it, great romantic thriller) and of the acclaimed play Letters from the Front that successfully toured the world for 15 years, has just put my new climate fiction book, FOREVER YOUNG, Part 1,  on his list of “hot new reads”. This is a serialized novel exploring the future that I believe awaits us all, and three more parts are soon coming up, the next one, Part 2, The Immortality Trip, to be released tomorrow on Amazon (and later on all other e-platforms). Look for it!

I’m deeply honored that Bob singled my work out and his review makes me particularly happy. Here it is:

5-STAR REVIEW OF FOREVER YOUNG PART ONE by Claude Nougat

If you’re a boomer and this book doesn’t send a chill up your spine, you’d better check your pulse. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s no spoiler to say that Claude Nougat’s Forever Young series takes place about 200 years from now. Unlike so many stories set in the future, Ms. Nougat creates a very plausible future. Too plausible. Scarily plausible.

The changes that have taken place on the globe sound eerily prophetic. It’s hard to single out a protagonist. Forever Young is comprised of an ensemble cast, each with conflicting interests. They are all faced with the choice of whether to remain forever young for a hundred or more years or receive a billion dollars.

Thrown into the mix is a quest for true love, family bonds, greed, sculduggery, duplicity, and humans basically behaving at their worst. In other words, some things never change despite all the glittering marvels science can bestow upon us.

Ms. Nougat creates characters that jump off the page at you. Her dialogue is so razor sharp you find yourself sometimes saying “Ouch!” The climax is as hair raising as an old west shoot out. Is there humor? Oh yes, and it’s dark as molasses and just as tasty. You’ll be tempted to lick it right off the page.

As a reader, when I pick up a new book, I want to feel like a mail sack on a railway platform waiting for a speeding train to snatch me away to a new destination. That’s just what Claude Nougat does with this first book in her Forever Young series, Gateway To Forever.

It’s always comforting to be in the hands of a real pro. Ms. Nougat certainly is that. Highly recommended read.

For the whole post, see here: FOREVER YOUNG by Claude Nougat.

Update: this morning, another 5-star review was posted on Amazon by author Marsha Roberts, see here
I’m wowed!

And here’s the cover of my book:

Available on all e-platforms, for Amazon click here: http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Young-Part-One-Gateway-ebook/dp/B00JU99LS4/

Available on all e-platforms; click here for Amazon

BIG NEWS: Drum roll please! Part 2, The Immortality Trip is out! Find out what happens to Alice, Lizzie and Jamie as they are given the chance to fly off to a pristine planet one thousand light years away where humanity can start again…Click here to see it on Amazon and here on Smashwords in the Premium Catalogue, which means it’s available on all e-platforms, for the Nook, Kobo and iPad as well as mobile devices.
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Author Bob Rector’s Interview of C.N.

Reblogged from author Bob Rector’s blog, see here. He’s just launching a round of interviews of authors – so keep an eye open on his blog, more interesting interviews are sure to come!

I’m very honored to have drawn his interest. He is a remarkably talented writer himself, the author of Letters from the Front, a show that became known as the World’s Most Decorated Play and that entertained America’s troops around the world for fifteen years. Most recently, he has released a smashing novel of romance and suspense, Unthinkable Consequences (see here) that is climbing the Amazon ranks at a fast pace and has already garnered 19 reviews, all of them 5 stars and well-deserved too!

For more about Bob Rector, click here. And here’s the interview, with lots of arresting questions:

April 6, 2014

MY INTERVIEW WITH MULTI-TALENTED CLAUDE NOUGAT

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you the very talented author/artist Claude Nougat. Not only is she a gifted storyteller, she also provided invaluable editing advice to me while I was in final preparation of my manuscript for Unthinkable Consequences.

Claude you are an accomplished author with several books in release, but before we start discussing your word-craft, tell us a little about your background.
I guess you could say I’m a world citizen, I really don’t have roots anywhere. Born in Belgium, raised in Sweden, Egypt, Russia, France, Colombia and finally reaching the US when I was 17 – picking up on the way many languages and forgetting them in turn. What’s left is French, Italian, Spanish and of course English that I learned attending classes at the American Embassy in Moscow. My formative years as an intellectual took place in America, at Columbia U. I graduated in economics not because I particularly liked the subject but because my father felt that studying anything else would be a “waste of time” (what I really wanted to study was paleontology, I love old bones…) Once out of school, I travelled the world over for the United Nations, giving management advice to aid projects in difficulty, a fantastic job. It put me in touch with so many different people – a very enriching and full experience that lasted 25 years till I retired in 2003.

I happen to know that you are also a very talented painter. Do you find that it compliments your skills as a writer? If so, how?
Painting and writing seem to call on diametrically opposed segments of the brain: the mode of concentration is totally different – painting is more intuitive, it sort of “happens” on the blank canvas. You could argue that a book also happens on a blank page, but it is a long haul, not like a painting that can be done in a few hours. A book can take years in the making – my first one (now out as “Luna Rising”, a Sicilian family saga) took 30 years in the making, from the first moment I thought of it (when I walked into a dusty men’s club in Sicily full of old men playing backgammon – they all looked like ghosts) to its most recent incarnation (now out in a brand new edition). A painting only takes a few days, in that sense, a painting is more like a short story or a poem…

Two of your works that I truly enjoyed are Crimson Clouds and Forever Young. Give us a brief description of each.

So happy you enjoyed them! “Crimson Clouds” is about the anxieties of restarting one’s life after retirement. Robert, the protagonist, in his early 60’s, a brilliant manager, he’s still young and attractive and has a lovely and much younger wife who’s carved out her own success as a dealer of contemporary art. But when he decides to renew with a childhood dream of being an artist and produces paintings that are dreadfully academic (a little like my own!), his wife is horrified. They fight over art but what is at stake is their marriage and they separate. He goes to Italy, has some love affairs but his wife wants to save their marriage and comes back to him…

“Forever Young” is set 200 years from now, when the Earth is dying and only the ultra rich, who can afford the costly and exclusive Age Prevention Program (APP), enjoy a perfect life in their gated communities, looking young till the day they drop dead. The book has three major characters, forming a love triangle: Jamie, a young investigative journalist from the World and US Post (the New York Times and Huffington Post rolled into one), his partner Lizzie, a professional golf player (she’s a descendent of the mythical Tiger Woods), and Alice, a beautiful Swiss nurse and an outsider: she yearns to join the APP and is in love with Jamie. There are two options to survive the extinction of life on Earth, both opened only to APP members: fly to another pristine planet similar to Earth or take refuge in Antarctica, the last virgin continent, and wait for the end to come, getting ready to re-settle the Earth afterwards. What will our threesome do?

Why do you write?
Tough question. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write!

What appeals to you most about crafting a story?
The suspense. Digging into another person’s head. Figuring what happens next. If I know ahead what’s going to happen in my story, I don’t feel like writing it at all. I’m my own first reader!

What writers have inspired or influenced you most and why?
All the classics, especially the Russians – I consider Gorki’s Dead Souls an absolute masterpiece, it’s got everything I love, the characters, the social comments, the way a light is thrown on society – much more effective than any sociological critical essay. The same can be said of Bulgakov’s The Master and Marguerite: literally insane fantasy and the most effective and devastating comment ever made about Communism and men’s tendency to fall into dictatorship. But I also like the French, Voltaire’s Candide and Camus’ novels for the same reason I like Gorki. Also the English, in particular the sci-fi masters, Aldous Huxley and Orwell though this is an area where there are lots of remarkable American writers too, from Frederik Pohl to Philip K. Dick and most recently, Hugh Howey. Actually, there are lots of amazing writers alive today from Penelope Lively to William Boyd, David Lodge, Louis Begley, Deborah Moggach, Tracy Chevalier, Siri Hustvedt…

If your writing was music, what would it sound like?
Good God, I have no idea! I guess, cool jazz…

What comes first for you, plot or character, and why?
Character, no question about it. The plot comes next, it develops out of a character’s strengths and weaknesses, yearnings and fears. The setting is often what challenges the characters and pushes them to their (internal) extremes but the challenges also come from relationships between characters.

Tell us a little about how you formulate your plots.
I don’t formulate them at all. I have a general idea and jump in. As I write, it all unfolds in front of my eyes like a film.

Talk a little about themes. At what point in your writing process do you address them?
Never. I don’t believe in writing with a theory in mind that you want to develop. The themes come naturally as a side-effect of the plot and characters. Forever Young really deals with major issues threatening life on earth but I hope that doesn’t show. The intention is to entertain, not teach or preach.

Tell us a little about how you create your characters.
Observation. People around me are warned! But most of all, I draw characters from my own inner self. Whatever looks logical for the character, given who he/she is, gets written down. The characters dictate the creation, not the other way around. I’m sure you know what I mean, because I can see that’s how you create your characters too.

Which characters have you created that are most vivid to you, or continue to reside in your heart?
The young man in Luna Rising, he is stuck in his life, he hates it and he’s trying to get out of it. Obstacles on his way, coming from the ghosts in his family, are so numerous that he is forced to become a hero or…die! Contrary to a lot of my readers who disliked Kay, the wife in Crimson Clouds, I actually love her. That’s why I rewrote Crimson Clouds (now the second edition of what was originally called A Hook in the Sky). I wanted to make it clear that for her, winning back her husband is a huge undertaking and he’s constantly cutting her down. So I added whole sections to the book giving her side of the story. And I also love Alice in Forever Young: she’s the outsider who should be in, but is constantly left out. But that doesn’t discourage her, she’s a brave, determined woman – at any rate, that’s how I think of her and painted her (at your behest!) and I’m thinking of using that portrait as a book cover…

ALICE
Portrait of Alice at dawn – oil on canvas by Claude (2014)

You definitely should! Talk to us a little about writing good dialogue.
Bob, I think that’s where you’re the master! In any case, I follow your system: see the people talk, hear them talk (go in a trance if necessary!), take time to speak the dialogue out loud, and you’ll hear it when it’s too long or repetitive or useless. Then, there’s only one solution for it: cut, cut, cut!

I agree. For every line of dialogue that makes it on the page, I probably toss a dozen more. Do you have personal, social, or political convictions that worm their way into your writing? If so, give an example.
I suppose I do though I try very hard to not let them “worm” their way in. Yes, because they can be truly worms that punch holes in the plot. I am convinced that much of contemporary art is not good and I guess that worked its way into Crimson Clouds (mainly in the form of fights between Robert and the women in his life who are all contemporary art fans). Likewise, I’m convinced that income inequality is a major evil of our time and it’s become one of the premises of the brave new world you find in Forever Young.

What do you find most difficult about the craft of storytelling?
Avoid repetition. Not talk down to the reader. Realize that they’re bright and don’t need to be either lectured to or have to be told anything twice. So again, I cut!

Amen! Talk to us about your greatest “Ah-ha!” moment when you read over a passage or chapter and said, “Wow, that’s really good!”
Are you speaking of my own work? I don’t have such moments, ever, when it comes to my own writing! Other people’s writing, yes. Right now I’m into Siri Hustvedt The Blazing World and there are a fantastic succession of such awe-inspiring moments! Just to quote one (out of a dozen or more) when she describes the protagonist’s father: “Harriet’s father was physically awkward, prone to self-conscious pats of his daughter’s arm or quick, hard hugs that were more like speeding collisions than expressions of affection…He liked to expound to us on philosophy…He believed in tolerance and academic freedom…But it is not what is said that makes us who we are. More often it is what remains unspoken.” That last sentence is fantastic!

Many writers create different working environments or conditions that help them focus on the job at hand. Tell us about yours.
Nope, sorry to disappoint. No special environment. I work wherever and whenever I can, in between womanly tasks like cooking or making beds. I leave the gardening to my husband!

We’re in agreement, although I don’t make beds. Don’t see the point. What frustrates you most about being a writer?
The marketing. I hate book promotion but it’s a necessity – especially in today’s environment, with millions of books available on Amazon with just a computer click.

Yes, I think most writers would agree with you on this. Do you think male and female writers approach storytelling differently? If so, how?
I never thought it was a gender thing. For me, it’s not and I don’t believe there’s any gender determined difference. Character-wise, sure. I should think we’re all different in the way we approach work, whether it’s writing, painting, music or economic analysis.

If a young person just starting their working life said to you they wanted to be a writer, knowing what you know now, what would you say to them?
Hey, that’s a tricky question! I don’t think of myself as a guru… On the basis of my own experience, I would say, be ready for the long haul, chances are that your first book won’t make a ripple. So don’t get bitter about it, it happens to all of us. Be ready to befriend your competition. Actually, a lot of writers see other writers as rivals and that’s totally wrong. Writers are terribly different from one another, there’s space for everybody, and we can help each other!

Great advice, Claude. As always, I enjoy your stimulating views on writing. Thank you for participating.

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