For as many years as I lived in Northern California – and even the coincidence of penning advertising copy – my path had never crossed that of fellow wordsmith and publisher Dan Lombard.* It was through some of his well-crafted political posts on Facebook that our cyber-paths not only began to cross regularly but soon segued to chats about our joint fondness for fabulous food and travel. When I learned that Death Panel, Dan’s debut novel in 2012, had been followed in rapid succession by several more, I just knew I had to put this prolific author in the global spotlight.
*A mirthful bit of disclosure here is that I’d once had a government coworker of the same name. When I encountered that name again decades later, I couldn’t help but think the passage of time had made DL much more accomplished and interesting. A closer look at his head shot, however, also explained why he never mentioned he remembered me. Because, in fact, we’ve never met.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: If we were to time-travel and take a peek in the bedroom of your 10-year-old self, what clues might give us an indication of what you thought you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: Probably more riddles than clues. I haven’t figured them out yet. Or maybe I just did. Yes, that is it, I was always seeking adventure in the unknown, and back in those days entertainment was very participatory and required imagination, unlike today’s passive entertainment. It was a different place and a different time though. I mean, today I’m reluctant to allow my high school children to go into our local Target store alone. But when I was 15, back in the early 70’s, my buddy and I bought Eurail Passes and toured Europe for a month with nothing but that pass, a few hundred dollars and whatever we could fit in our backpacks. I need to keep that in mind when considering a contemporary audience; their experiences today are completely unlike anything I experienced. Perhaps that is why ageism is prevalent in Hollywood and on 5th Avenue.
Q: Did you have favorite authors/books at that young age?
A: Tolkein of course, the Harry Potter of my generation. Then, not long after it was Ian Fleming, I enjoyed reading about James Bond’s adventures as much as seeing them on screen. It was not until much later in life that I became aware that a favorite childhood movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was written and directed by the same duo, Ian Fleming and Albert Broccoli, who gave us Bond in print and on film. Of course, that made complete sense.
Then it was Leon Uris and above all James Michener (notably The Source) and his ability to draw you into a tale that featured far off places and spanned centuries. At one point I also found an unfortunately misplaced copy of a Henry Miller book, I can’t even remember now if it was Tropic of Cancer or Capricorn. Needless to say, it ruined me. But little did I know it would give me a taste of what would, far in my future, (today) be the model for bestselling novels. At the time I was living in Stockholm, Sweden, a very permissive society in that regard, and on my way home from school every day (yes, in 7th grade) my buddies and I would pass by a number of sex shops. Nobody would ever bat an eye when we’d stop in for a little ogling of the picture books, furthering my youthful debauchery.
Q: And who are your favorites now?
A: I do not read near enough fiction today, either in reprint from generations ago or contemporary. My preference in writing and reading is for books with an (accurate and believable) historic context, Dan Brown being a good example. I do have one peculiarity that I will share. At the age of 25 I read the entire 6-volume set of Winston Churchill’s recounting of World War II. I reread it 25 years later at the age of 50, and expect to do so one more time at 75. However, in between those readings, I do read volume one, The Gathering Storm, alone. That volume contains the instructions on how to avoid reliving the subsequent volumes. History is fascinating, a great teacher and, unfortunately, widely ignored.
Q: What experiences – travel, work, relationships – would you say have/had the most influence on your approach and discipline toward the craft of putting a story together from start to finish?
A: It’s not so much the experiences, but my approach to them. Everything I say, do, hear, think or see is tucked away for future use, whether simply in life, at work, or perhaps to form a plot or subplot in a good story. And in dreams and nightmares, the observations do show there frequently, as well.
Q: Which is more challenging for you as an author – writing a book or writing a short story?
A: If writing was a challenge I would not be writing. Okay, that was snide. A book is more difficult but has less regret. A short story is easier, but I am always left wondering why I didn’t expand that wonderful plot into a more complete work.
Q: Catharsis often factors into the development of works that are deeply personal and/or painful. Your first book, Death Panel, addressed the failure of the medical system during the last four months of your wife’s life following a diagnosis of multiple myeloma. What governed your choice to pen this as a novel told in third-person through fictional characters rather than as a first-person memoir?
A: It was not to shield myself from pain, or to serve as an outlet for the pain. I wanted to be completely honest in recounting my experience, which included some emotions from which I felt I could derive no pride. A reader can tell, though, that the third person is merely a front, so it was not an attempt at deception. But rather to deceive myself, and thinking that, since I had signed a confidentiality agreement with Kaiser when they paid me off, that this was a defense should they decide to come after me for violating that confidence. In retrospect, the best thing possible would’ve been for them to do exactly that, to give me publicity you just can’t buy. And after that ordeal, there really wasn’t any blood for them to get in return.
Q: The reviews on Amazon reflect that the themes which underscore Death Panel have resonated with readers across the country. What was your reaction to the outpouring of vicarious support from total strangers?
A: The reviews were a tremendous reward in themselves, and were sufficient to justify the time spent writing the book. Which is fortunate since, well, there was no financial reward.
Q: Almost on the heels of your debut novel, you entered the self-publishing waters again, this time with a cat and mouse suspense thriller set against a backdrop of California’s high-speed rail system. How did Midnight Departure come about and can we draw from the plot’s prescient context that Dan Lombard is secretly psychic?
A: I actually had been against the bullet train back when it was first proposed at the turn of the century, and even financed a website called StopTheBullet.com. That measure failed, I patted myself on the back for the small part I played, and assumed that was gone. Then it came back, and I thought what a great context in which to place a cat and mouse suspense thriller. Much of what I wrote is happening, not that greed, corruption and government planning are such a novel premise.
Q: Other than flowing prose and compelling dialog, what is the most important consideration as you write?
A: I like to bring together larger concepts and figure out how to work them in together. In the case of Midnight Departure pairing the project to build a $100,000,000,000 high-speed rail system with greed and corruption might have been kind of obvious. In my screenplay Prime Time Crime I chose to pair the notion of seeking fifteen minutes of fame (and the hoped for fortune that follows) with the evolving idea that just about everything we do is, or has the potential to be, surreptitiously recorded. In Last Writes, a short story, I chose to pair a Faustian deal with unforeseen consequences, especially when the devil is the author of those consequences. In the short story Red Ringer I paired the concept of identity theft with the Wild West of the 1880’s. And in Serum 6 I chose a device that is, I think, unusual if not unique. In this medical thriller I create a situation whereby the two protagonists do not realize they are brother and sister (though the reader does) as they get closer to consummating their relationship. Later in the novel, when this knowledge makes all the difference, the roles are reversed: they believe they are brother and sister but the reader now knows they are not.
And finally, most important, as I write, I think, how will this novel translate to the big screen? And, in so doing, how can I avoid stretching credibility? Not only do I feel compelled to research anything I write for accuracy, but timelines as well. I absolutely detest faulty timelines in writing or in movies. The notion that, in the space of five minutes (five minutes to other characters in the work, not necessarily for the reader), the protagonist can board a plan, fly halfway around the world and confront his nemesis for the final battle, just bothers me. And bathroom breaks. How can someone live an entire life, or even a month, or a year, in a novel or a movie, and never have to relieve themselves?
Q: When and where are you the most creative at the keyboard?
A: At the strangest of times.
Q: What’s the most unusual object that occupies a space on your desk or the walls of your home office?
A: Perhaps not so much unusual as special. Many years ago I had been publishing a local advertorial magazine and for one issue I featured an artist’s work on the cover. She later confided that had done more than anything to boost her career. I soon began doing this for a different artist on each issue, though no longer as a favor. I am the proud owner of a very nice collection of art by the local art community. In one case I commissioned a piece through this arrangement, bringing the artist two very different historical renditions of William Shakespeare and had her meld them into one. He looks over my shoulder whenever I sit down to write.
Which brings me to the one thing for which I am most grateful. While the Italian language may be wonderful for soaring operatic aria, and French as a musical spoken language lacking hard edges, as a writer, I most grateful that I am an English speaker. It is an incredible language with great depth that allows nuance and poetry within prose. Rules that I can break with abandon; though recognizing the need to avoid the banality of one cliché too many. The downside? A rapidly increasing English speaking population that believes a vocabulary of under one thousand words is sufficient to see one through a lifetime of communicating.
Q: If your writing career came with its own soundtrack, what would it be and why?
A: Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf, one of my ten top favorite tunes of all time, and because if its title. Any good read should take you on a ride like that, as should the writing itself.
Q: Anticipation or the real thing: which is better?
A: If it is alright I will direct you to the answer to next question as I see them as intertwined. Anticipation is the future, the real thing is history
Q: If someone gave you a crystal ball, would you look into it?
A: Yes, though I would likely question what I saw.
Q: What are your thoughts on modern literature and the direction it’s taking in the 21st century?
A: The greatest let down was not long after I published my first two novels. First was, after finding my book as one of an estimated 30,000 titles self-published every month, as lost in the wilderness, oblivion, that I would try giving my books away for free on Smashwords.com. After three months of promoting myself vigorously and watching my rankings inch upwards I found I just could not compete with the porn that was also being given away. So–no I did not decide to write my own porn–but I did download and read one. We are not talking soft core here, folks.
The second instance was shortly after publishing Midnight Departure I was on a flight back East to visit my parents and struck up a conversation with the fellow on the other side of the vacant seat between us. I gave him a free copy of Midnight Departure, for which he thanked me profusely. Thirty minutes into the flight he pulled Fifty Shades of Grey from his carry-o and was immersed for the rest of the flight. So immersed that he forgot to pack the copy of my book which was left on the vacant seat as we deplaned.
Q: Do you let anyone read your projects while they’re still in progress or do you make everyone wait until after you’ve typed “The End”? What about that method works for you?
A: I don’t really have anyone around me right now that would be particularly interested or have the time to critic a lengthy manuscript, so pretty much rely on myself.
Q: What piece of technology could you not go an entire week without using?
A: The Internet.
Q: What makes writing a joy for you?
A: As previously stated, the fact that I get to write in English. An amazing language.
Q: What is currently gathering dust in your footlocker or (to channel Hemingway) in your mind ready to bleed from your forehead?
A: Since I have already, in bits and pieces, described the work I have completed, what lies ahead? I have a drama in the works, Jack Rabbit, a story of an accidental con man, which unfortunately will not be completed until long after Danny DeVito has stopped performing in lead roles; I pictured him firmly in my mind’s eye every time I sit down to write a chapter there. I have a great American Novel in the works, in fact in the works for fifteen years now, and largely untouched for the last seven. A paranormal novel that involves time travel, though without the intention or ability to change history.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?
A: The books are on Amazon, or drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: The most important part of writing, and the one which can cause the most serious hang-ups (writer’s block) is the segue. It is necessary if you want to weave your tale. Loose ends are to be avoided and ideally, you don’t give your reader a resting place where they can set the book down and resume it later! Perfectly good, and acceptable, to fool your reader. But if you do fool them, it is best to do so with a V8-style forehead-slapper: leave clever clues.
Humor is always a useful tool in writing. I see humor as having three flavors:
Situational, where you juxtapose two or more unlikely-paired conditions in one scene.
Slapstick, where simply falling down is funny.
Wit, where you use the tool at your disposal, language, to bring a smile. This is my favorite flavor.
So, to tie it all together, and before I lose my audience, I repeat my favorite quote by my favorite author and conclude the interview:
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”