I mostly keep my head down trying to write. I read a lot of fiction, a mix of contemporary and classic novels. I love movies, but will only go see one if I think it's going to be great (most are not). Plus I’m immersed in the fun and drama of living with a teenager and a pre-teen in the house.
In fourth grade, I wrote and illustrated the suspense story “The Runaway Hot Dog” about a misunderstood hot dog that a certain boy wanted to eat. To save himself and live life to its fullest, the hot dog runs off in search of adventure.
In sixth grade, I wrote a Christmas play for my class, about a group of feisty boys who want to kidnap Santa Claus and keep all the presents for themselves. I asked my mother for character names that would sound tough and wise to the world. She told me ‘Slats’, but I heard ‘Slacks’, so one of my tough boy characters was named for a style of pants, although I spelled the name 'Slaks.' Writing this play also introduced me to the concept that other people will edit my work. In my last scene, the boys get caught and apologize to Santa for their despicable behavior. However, according to my teacher (nun, Catholic school), justice was not properly served. She changed the last scene so that Santa is taking the first kid over his knee for a spanking. Nothing like a little corporal punishment.
Books & Movies
I became a big reader in high school, devouring all kinds of novels and taking independent study classes in English & Literature. Like most writers, I’m still an avid reader. You simply have to have a passion for reading to fulfill your passion as a writer. Here is a list of ten novels that meant a lot to me at various times in my life, although the list keeps changing, and I could have listed hundreds of books, from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Exorcist:
- A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
- American Pastoral, Philip Roth
- Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
- Ten-Thirty on a Summer Night, Marguerite Duras
- The Hours, Michael Cunningham
- The Man Who Gave Up His Name, Jim Harrison
- The Road, Cormac McCarthy
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
- The World According to Garp, John Irving
- Little Children, Tom Perrotta
I also love movies (at least those that aren’t predictable) and a select few television series. I think novelists can learn a lot from the disciplined pacing and storytelling structure of feature films:
- 21 Grams
- Body Heat
- The Fugitive
- American Beauty
- The Deep End
- The Godfather
- The Graduate
- The Return of Martin Guerre
- Band of Brothers
- Breaking Bad
- Mad Men
- The Sopranos
I hold a Master of Arts in Creative and Writing and English from the State University of New York at Buffalo. I studied under the poet Irving Feldman, who did not encourage me, although I probably demonstrated little talent and too much confidence. I wrote a lot of short stories, often imitating the style of my favorite writers (which isn't a bad way to learn a few things about writing). Some of the stories were published in literary journals.
I also have a Master of Science in Communication from RPI, which helped me understand corporate and business communications. I write a lot for businesses, too, helping them transform double-speak and technical jargon into language that means something to a customer. Annual reports. Executive letters and presentations. Web content.
What I Like in a Story
I’ve always liked to write about ordinary people (or food items, such as hot dogs) who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, often due to their own flawed character or decision-making. Such situations can be rich with conflict, moral complications, and ethical gray areas.
One of my inspirations in writing STASH was the question: "What if a well-respected mother and wife who liked to occasionally smoke a little pot got busted?"
For CLEAN BREAK, I was interested in this question: "What measures can you take to get someone you once loved to leave you alone?"
I also like the concept of Worlds Colliding: "What happens when her privileged suburban world intersects with the darker drug world?"
Worlds Colliding is a great concept for drama—or comedy. Perhaps the George Costanza character from Seinfeld articulates it best. Click here to watch.