Final Round: The Journey of a Lifetime

 

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Dave’s facing death. Sol’s truck runs into a tree. Two very different males are thrust together in the same ward with life-changing consequences for both. Such is the premise of Australian debut novelist Ross Barrett’s new book, “Final Round, The Journey of a Lifetime.”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: There’s no question that your career path has taken a fascinating route – from scientist to playwright to published novelist. Let’s time-travel back, though, to the early years of Ross Barrett. When you were a lad of 10, what did you envision doing as your life’s work in the future?

A: When I was 10, I think I had an aspiration to be an electrician. After that, I thought about being a Bank Manager, and later a teacher. I was always interested in science, but had no idea you could make a career out of it. I was very naïve with regard to the professions, and my family was quite poor, so the initial plan was that I would leave school after completing my Intermediate Certificate at age 15. Two of my teachers came to visit my parents at home and explained to them that it would be a waste of talent if I didn’t stay on and go to university. It was financially very difficult for my parents but they managed to support me for the extra two years of school. Once at university, I had scholarships and bursaries and was self-supporting. I am very grateful to my two teachers, and to my loving and very proud parents.

Q: Were you an avid reader back then or only putting your nose in a book if homework required it?

A: I was a keen reader, but not fanatical. Books were not part of our family life. I borrowed books from the municipal library, which were a mixture of fiction and popular science. My childhood tastes in fiction were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, Tarzan and Biggles. All of these are now regarded as politically incorrect. In my early teens I discovered Sherlock Holmes, and was attracted by the logical, i.e. scientific, methodology Holmes applied to the solution of his crimes. I read all of the SH stories many times. Later I based one of my plays on the relationship between SH and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Q: What drew you to the field of science and, specifically, what type of science was your calling?

A: One of my early teachers, when I was about ten, gave me a book detailing simple experiments that could be performed at home. I loved working through them, and trying to explain unexpected results. For instance, spin a boiled egg on a smooth flat surface, and you will see it quite suddenly rear up and continue to spin on its point. Why?

I began to read books on science, and had an array of useful equipment that I had gathered together: electric batteries, buzzers, bells, transformers and globes. I was a bit of a pain in the neck, developing booby traps that woke up the household when my sister came home late at night from a date.

At university I studied physics, chemistry, zoology and mathematics. Although I was the top student in Chemistry, I dropped it and majored in physics because I liked the more fundamental questions that physics posed into the nature of the universe.

My research interests have been experimental and theoretical nuclear physics, signal processing, underwater acoustics and sonar.

Q: Do you believe that science is an art or that art is a science? How so?

A: I wasn’t quite sure what this question was getting at, so I Googled it. Most of the hits seemed to imply that art is subjective, and science is objective. I think this is very simplistic. We might like to believe that the results of science are independent of the scientist who carried out the research, but that is often not the case. Scientists are just as prone to ego trips, jealousy of their peers, susceptibility to financial inducements, and other human frailties, as anyone else. These can influence their interpretation of their results, so that they too become subjective.

Q: Like a lot of my peers in high school, science was a class that you either loved (because of the chance to make smelly things blow up) or loathed (because of all of the formulas and tables of elements that had to be memorized). You recently co-authored a book called Physics: The Ultimate Adventure. The title alone suggests a glamorous side to a subject that many of us would otherwise run away from. What inspired this approach and who was the target readership you and your fellow authors had in mind?

A: One of the attractions of science at school was to get hands-on and carry out smelly experiments ourselves. In those days, the school science lab was often full of the highly toxic hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg gas), and the benches awash with Mercury. These days the students are kept at arm’s length from such experiments, to avoid law suits from their parents. Little wonder that science numbers are down.

One of the reasons I dropped chemistry is because I found organic chemistry full of the rote learning of formulas. For me, this was not the case with physics. If you understand the basic principles, the formulas can usually be derived, at least at the level taught in high school.

When we decided to write Physics: the Ultimate Adventure we wanted to present physics in a way that would enable non-specialists to enjoy the mystery and wonders of modern physics, without being submerged in mathematics. We hoped it might encourage students starting out on their careers to consider physics as an option, and those who had already gone down another road to gain a better understanding of the world they live in.

We believe that physics, far from being dry, can be, and should be made, beautiful, inspiring and enjoyable.

Q: In 1987, you began writing scripts for live theatre, a decision that subsequently led to not only seven of them being professionally produced in Adelaide but one of them selected as the best new South Australian play of the year in 1994. Tell us about your approach to the playwriting craft. For instance, is there a formulaic/outline structure that draws from your left-brain expertise as a scientist or do you allow your right-brain creativity to invite the muses in and see what they do?

A: I do not have any formulaic structure that I work from. I tend to have a broad outline of character, plot or theme that is the starting point. I start writing fairly early in the creative process, and it is this act of putting the material on the page that generates further ideas on where to go next. For me, the analytical, or left brain activity comes at the rewriting stage. Characters are then torn apart and extra traits introduced to give them more depth, the dramatic structure is analysed to locate the climaxes and make sure they are in the right place, and the dramatic conflict in every scene is studied to find the characters’ objectives and what is preventing their fulfilment. When all the problems of the script have been identified, I then return to the starting point, and let the muses prepare a second version. This cycle continues until a convergence occurs, and I have what I call my First Draft.

It is a time-consuming process, and probably not practical for a long work, such as War and Peace. However, if I try to plot everything out first, I find myself staring for ages at the blank page.

Q; Do you allow anyone to read your works in progress or does everyone have to wait until you have typed the final page?

A: After I have reached the First Draft stage described in the last question, I let others read it and offer critical comments. To let them read it before this stage would be to waste both their time and mine, because the script has not yet solidified enough. It is very beneficial to get a play script read aloud by good actors. They have much to contribute on characterisation and dialogue.

Q: What did it feel like the first time you heard applause for one of your productions?

A: It was very exciting. Even though not comedies, most of my plays have plenty of humour, and it is always rewarding to hear laughter come at the correct places.

It was a great surprise to me to see the different reactions of different audiences for the same play. This is the charm of live theatre. The audience is a part of the production, and the actors feed off their reactions, as much as the audience responds to the actors. Some audiences can be quite cold, while others respond very warmly to the same show. Psychologists could make a living studying the group dynamics of audiences. One of the best audiences I ever had was when the play went on after a cocktail party, and the audience was half sloshed.

I will always remember a comment I overheard at interval during my first play. I was walking past two young members of the audience who were outside the theatre with a drink. They did not know I was the writer, and as I went past I heard one ask the other: “what do you think of the show?” My ears pricked up because I was interested to discover whether someone thirty years younger than I was would get anything out of the play. His reply was one of my most satisfying moments. “That’s my life being enacted on the stage in there,” he said.

Q: Your first novel, Final Round, was originally conceived as a stage play. What was the inspiration behind the storyline?

A: This play began several years ago when I spent a week in hospital with a Deep Vein Thrombosis. “Look on the bright side,” everybody said to me. “It’ll give you material for a new play.”

When the character in the next bed learned of my condition, he comforted my wife with: “That’s what I’ve got, only worse. They may have to take my leg off.” Another member of the ward had a carotid artery that was 50% blocked. He was given aspirin, sent home and told to come back when it was 75% blocked. The fourth patient, who kept everybody awake at night with a hacking cough that we all thought was chronic bronchitis, was found to have inhaled a pea, which was now lodged deep in his lung.

A hospital ward is a place where people, who would normally power-walk the Nullabor Plain to avoid each other, are thrown together. Scars are opened, muscles flexed, secrets unlocked; all this in an environment where tragedy and death are often not far away. I realised I had the perfect setting for a play to explore the growth of a bond between two very different males who nevertheless shared a dark secret.

Q: What triggered your desire to adapt it to a different medium?

A: In a play, you are bounded in what you can present by the available time (in this case, 60 minutes) and by the limits of the stage. I wanted to explore the motivations and internal thoughts of the characters in more depth than was possible in a Fringe stage play.

Q: What did the adaptation to a novel allow you to do that might have been challenging/problematic in a live performance?

A: I structured the novel so that each chapter was written from a different point of view, cycling through the POVs of the three main characters. In this way the thoughts of the three characters about their life situations, and the others sharing them, are clearer.

The stage play takes place entirely in a hospital ward. Although this is still largely true with the novel, in the latter case there was more freedom in exploring the characters’ back-stories and other events outside the hospital environment.

Q: What would you advise other playwrights who may be thinking of adapting their stories to a different platform?

A: Go for it. If you have a successful play then you already have well-developed characters, realistic dialogue and a plot line with climaxes in the appropriate places. A novel enables you to go into greater depth with the characters, and explore issues that may only have been hinted at in the play. You have the freedom to develop sub-plots and take the action to exotic or surreal locations.

Bear in mind, however, that you must develop language skills that enable you to write clear, grammatical English. A play consists of dialogue and stage directions. The latter are read by nobody, least of all the director. A novel must carry the reader along with the artistry of the writer’s prose. This is a different skill from those possessed by a playwright.

Q: In writing for both the stage and the page, are there recurring or underlying themes that readers should pay attention to?

A: My writing has dealt with historical subjects (Billy Hughes and How We Beat the Favourite), science themes (Footsteps, Love in the Chook House, Double Blind) and more general explorations of the human condition (Suns of Home, Final Round, Rainbows Singing). My writing is about the themes that interest me.

In both my career as a scientist and in my writing, I have ranged over a fairly wide area. Probably more success comes to those who restrict themselves, e.g. the specialist who knows more than anybody in the world about the third digit on the African elephant’s left front foot, or the writer churning out the fifteenth book in a crime series. However, that is not what I enjoy doing.

Q: Authors oftentimes inject aspects of their own personalities into their characters. Would you say this is true of your own work?

A: Partially. I would say that there are parts of me in most of my characters.

If you are writing about a murderer, that doesn’t mean you have to be one. However, you need to be able to construct a believable murderer if your play or novel is to be successful. This might entail imagining what you would be capable of if some of your moral inhibitions were switched off. Character actors face the same situation when playing villains. Some decline to play child abusers because they are unhappy with the dark places in their minds that their research for the role takes them to.

I would say my characters are based on research, combined with exploring and exaggerating the parts of my own personality that are relevant to the character.

Q: Which comes first for you – the characters or the plot? Why does your chosen method best suit your writing style?

A: This depends on the play or novel. My plays, Billy Hughes and How We Beat the Favourite are the stories of two real characters, a former Australian Prime Minister and a poet/horseman. In these cases, the characters obviously came first. My play Sherlock Holmes and ‘The Coming of the Fairies’ asked the question: how could such an irrational person as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed in spiritualism and fairies at the bottom of the garden, have created the most coolly rational character in fiction? The characters were already there, and I had to develop the plot. In the novel I am working on now, Double Blind, the plot came before the characters, as it was based on a fiction analogue of a real situation.

Q: When and where do you get your best writing done?

A: I write in my study at home in Adelaide, or at a beach house we have in Marion Bay on the Yorke Peninsula of South Australia. When I was working as a scientist, I wrote in the evenings after dinner. Now that I am retired, I write in the morning.

I try to write as a habit, and to produce a minimum number of words each day. This is not realistic when writing about science, as there is quite a bit of reference checking and research to be done with each paragraph.

Q: Do you self-edit as you go along or wait until the end?

A: Before beginning my day’s writing, I tend to read several of the last pages that I wrote at the previous sitting. I polish the prose while doing this. I treat it as a warm-up, in the same way that actors warm up before a performance. It enables me to get into the state of mind that I was in when I left off last time.

One thing that I do not do is listen to the critic on my shoulder who is whispering into my ear that what I have just written is rubbish. I know from past experience that although it may be rubbish at the moment, by the time it has been subjected to endless rewrites, it will at least be of an acceptable standard.

Q: What governed the decision to self-publish Final Round?

A: I was one of a group of writers who had submitted their novels to a small U.K. publisher, had their books accepted, and been offered quite generous contracts. However, the publisher became sick and when he recovered from an illness lasting over a year, he had lost interest in the fiction side of his company.

Rather than go through the whole hassle again, we all decided to self-publish, and provide each other with any tips that we picked up along the way.

My experience with Physics: the Ultimate Adventure was quite different. In this case, we submitted two sample chapters and a summary of the other chapters sequentially to three publishers. We received replies within a few weeks. In two cases, they said they liked the proposal but it was not the type of book they published, and they did not believe their readership would be interested. They were basically text book publishers. The third was more dismissive, but also replied quickly.

The fourth publisher we submitted the proposal to was Springer. I received their email reply 48 hours after the editor returned to her office from a week-long holiday break. The mail started off in a very positive vein. I skip read down the screen, looking for the paragraph beginning with “however”. There wasn’t one. They were going to publish it.

Q: What have you learned from the self-publishing experience that you’d like to share with fellow writers?

A: Self-publishing is a doddle and costs nothing. The resultant Print-on-Demand paperbacks and ebooks are of good trade quality. However, the marketing of the books takes time and effort. This is something that I, and the other group of writers I mentioned above, are working at.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: Possibly that I have played seven 1st grade rugby matches, and have had my photo published in the local newspaper more often as a rugby player than as a scientist or writer. Admittedly, this was half a century ago.

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Both. I like a cappuccino in the morning, but prefer tea as a thirst quencher during the day. These days, however, I have to cut down on caffeine.

Q: Cake or cookies?

A: Cookies (we call them biscuits). However, they do tend to put on the weight.

Q: Early riser or night owl?

A: Certainly not an early riser.

Q: If Hollywood came calling to make a movie out of Final Round, who would be in your dream cast?

A: Geoffrey Rush for the older character. Rush was a member of the Adelaide State Theatre Company when we moved to Adelaide years ago. This was before he won his Oscar, his Emmy and his Tony. I saw him in many stage plays at the time, and thought he was brilliant. I saw him again last year playing King Lear in Sydney. Same verdict.

For the younger man, I would suggest Russell Crowe, but he would have to take off a few years.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Double Blind, which is my second novel, also based on a play script.

It is set in a science research institute. Linh, a Research Fellow at the Verdelho Institute in Melbourne, becomes worried that her supervisor has more than just objective scientific reasons in wishing to see a pharmaceutical discredited. She finds herself unwittingly caught up in a major scandal, and the steps she takes to extricate herself have consequences for her career, and for everybody else at the Verdelho Institute.

As you can imagine, my academic background came in useful here.

Q: Where do you hope to go with your writing from here?

A: My two Italian co-authors and I are planning a second book, exploring the limits of physics. Our first book raised a number of questions, and issues, that deserve further discussion. For instance, the two major 20th century theories in physics, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, are mutually contradictory. They can’t both be right. Also, there are about two hundred arbitrary fundamental constants in physics, and if the value of one of these were changed by a few percent, our universe would be so different, life as we know it would not be possible. We thought we could write something interesting on these, and similar, topics.

Q: With hindsight, what have been the most rewarding aspects of your professional life?

A: For a scientist it is exciting to be able to look at your work and say “I have just learned something that nobody else on the planet knows.” This is the ultimate adventure. It is exciting to look at Google Scholar and see that scientific work I published in 1990 is still being cited today, and used in fields, e.g. traffic control and the analysis of music, far-removed from where I ever imagined it being applied.

However, another reward is the variety of people I have met, and the places I have visited. To live in a non-English speaking country (Germany) for two and a half years, learn German, and appreciate the different perspective that an experience like that brings to one’s outlook, is broadening.

At my recent birthday party, among the guests were physicists, engineers, business managers, company executives, writers, actors, directors, musicians, teachers, and university professors. They were the friends I have made in the various phases my career has passed through. They are all very different people. I hope none of them recognises themselves on the stage, or in one of my novels.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: I have a web site at www.rfbarrett.com

Readers can read more about my work there, and contact me through there if they wish. I will be glad to answer any of their questions.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I think that about covers it.

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Homing Instincts

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Seth Hingham has hit a dead-end. At 35, he returns to his New England hometown after losing his job and the woman he had planned on marrying. Homing Instincts – a new novel by Karen Guzman – traces Seth’s struggle to redirect his life and lay to rest lingering ghosts, including one from a long ago accident that killed a childhood friend.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: So tell us how your journey as a writer first began.

A: It seems I’ve always been writing. As a child, I wrote short stories and descriptive passages of things that caught my fancy. I must have been about nine when I began writing short stories and stapling the pages together to make “books.” I began writing fiction seriously in my twenties.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and teen?

A: Maybe not “voracious,” but pretty enthusiastic. I still am. One of my greatest pleasures is curling up in bed with a good book. I’m always reading something.

Q: Who are some of the authors whose books we might have found on your childhood bookshelves?

A: As a young child, I liked animal stories best. In grade school, some favorites included:

Meindert DeJong, whose children’s classic Hurry Home, Candy stole my heart. I didn’t want to return it to the library. I went on to read most of his books.

Walter Farley, wonderful animal tales.

E.B. White, Charlottes’s Web, bittersweet even as a child.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The Yearling was a landmark book for me. I loved the natural descriptions, the relationship between the boy and his fawn and the dramatic turn it all takes.

Jean Craighead George. Julie of the Wolves is a sophisticated, sensitive children’s masterpiece. Love her work.

Marguerity Henry. I think I read every “Misty” book. Couldn’t get enough.

Jack London, Call of the Wild and White Fang.

Oddly enough, Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons had a big impact on me in about 5th grade. My parents had the book in their own collection and I somehow began reading it.

Q: As an adult, what kinds of stories are you naturally drawn to?

A: I seem to be dawn to stories that feature protagonists who must remake their lives, or find their way again, after major disruption or loss. Why? Good question. I guess because we all encounter this scenario so often in our own lives. I also like stories that include spiritual elements or longing.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your debut novel, Homing Instincts?

A: I attended the funeral of a man I had never met the summer before I began writing Homing Instincts. He was the father of my husband’s good friend, and judging by the turnout at the funeral and the tributes paid him, he was a dearly loved and respected man. I began wondering what kind of life a person leads to be remembered so fondly. At first, I thought I wanted to write about the deceased father, but it didn’t take me long to realize that it was really the man’s son whose story I wanted to tell.

Q: It’s interesting to note that your first-person narrator of the story is a man. What, for you, are the challenges of writing from a male perspective so as to keep the voice and mindset authentic?

A: I’ve always been close to and comfortable with men as people, as individuals. I have three brothers, and I’ve always had male friends who tend to confide in me. That said, when Homing Instincts, I did have to occasionally stop and ask myself would this male character say this, like this? I sometimes had to back up a bit, not just because the character was a man, but because he was a unique, individual character, who also happened to be a man. I just followed his lead.

Q: Aspiring writers often forget that the physical environment and backdrop of the story can play as much – and as crucial – a “character” role as any of the actual people in it. For Homing Instincts, why did you choose the picturesque landscape of New England? Give us an example of a scene that you believe could not have been played better somewhere else.

A: The forests and coastline of Connecticut play such a big part in this book. As a wildlife biologist, the main character is drawn to the natural world. He finds comfort and a connection to all living things. New England was a natural choice, because I live here and I love the landscape and the seasons. The ambiguity of the weather—its dramatic swings and the resilient natural world that bends to them—is a wonderful, atmospheric tool for scene setting and for character development. One scene that would have been difficult to place elsewhere: the politically tinged protest when state officials cull the deer herd at a state forest preserve. The shifting, provocative skies overhead and charged atmosphere are pure Connecticut. The scene is, in fact, based on a similar, emotionally charged issue that pitted deer lovers against deer haters years ago.

Q: Describe your process for developing your first novel. For instance, did you work from a formal outline, make things up as you went along, do extensive research, etc.?

A: After writing about fifty pages just to capture the voice and get something on paper, I created an outline. I like outlines, because they keep me moving forward. But my outlines are very broad and I fill them in as I go along. I never project more than a scene or two into the storyline. I kind of just lay out plot points, big things that I know I want to have happen. The arc of the story connecting these points is created on the fly as I write.

Q: How long was the process from start to finish?

A: About four years. But they were four years when I also changed day jobs twice, moved, and had a baby, so, you know, a lot was going on!

Q: How do you find – and make – the time that being a serious writer requires?

A: As best I can. It’s not easy. All the writers I know face the same challenge of struggling to find time for our writing while living a life in this demanding world. Lunch breaks at work are crucial, so are the stolen hours late at night when my husband and son are both asleep and the house is at last quiet.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read Homing Instincts while it was still a work in progress or did you make them wait until you typed “The End”?

A: My dear friend and fellow writer, Cathy Cruise, did read pieces of Homing Instincts in progress. She stopped me from making all kinds of terrible mistakes. My husband and a second writer friend didn’t read the manuscript until it was finished. They both offered interesting insights, too.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for it?

A: When I reached the point where I just honestly didn’t know how to improve the manuscript anymore (3-4 drafts in), I just started sending it out. I queried agents as well as small presses. Several agents really liked it, but felt literary fiction was just too hard to break into at the moment. Some offered helpful criticism. I did another rewrite and kept sending it out. Then Michele Richmond from Fiction Attic Press contacted me in late December 2013 to say my manuscript had won the Press’ First Novel Contest and to offer me a publishing contract. I was—and still am—overjoyed.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: That selling a book is even tougher than I’d realized. That persistence matters more than anything. That good writing does get noticed. Agents will read your query—and so will editors—if your sample is well written…having solid credentials helps, too. That small presses are publishing some of the best literary fiction being produced today, and we should all support them. And that as writer trying to publish today, you absolutely need a social media platform and a website. Authors have to work really hard to build readership.

Q: Tell us some of the things you’re doing to promote your book. Which ones seem to be the most effective in generating a buzz?

A: It’s still early in the process since my book just came out this month but I’m networking with other authors, especially around New England. I’m reaching out to independent booksellers, libraries and writers groups to arrange for readings. I’ve announced the book’s publication on my social media platforms, and I’ll ratchet it up in the coming months. I’m also tapping into my old MFA crowd, down in Virginia and around the country to raise awareness and get the word out.

Q: What’s next on your plate and how is it different from – or similar to – Homing Instincts?

A: I’m working on a new novel, and it’s a huge departure from Homing Instincts. It’s about a woman facing a sort of midlife crisis in the wake of her divorce. It’s a third-person narrator, so different from the first-person voice and so freeing.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your upcoming projects?

A: Please visit my website, www.karenguzman.com, and follow my blog at www.writedespite.org

 

 

Deadlight

Lasher Lane

Eons ago I dated someone who went into a freakily depressive funk that started every October and lasted until mid-February. Not only was he subject to lethargy, weight gain and extreme despair but he would also become paranoid, quick-tempered and even quicker to accuse everyone around him of being untruthful. While some of this bizarre behavior could be attributed to the fact he was a descendant of the Mary Todd Lincoln gene pool (cue The Twilight Zone music), he was finally diagnosed as having Seasonal Affective Disorder – a condition experienced by approximately six percent of the U.S. population, primarily those who live in northern climates. I hadn’t thought about this for years but was reminded of it when I recently discovered author Lasher Lane’s compelling new book, Deadlight. In this work of literary fiction, the story’s haunted narrator, Henry, struggles with sanity, wondering if his friend’s fatal bet was a stunt for attention or suicide…and if “solar deprivation” might be to blame.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Little did anyone suspect back at Westchester Square Hospital in the Bronx that your birthdate marked the debut of a future author! When did you first know that being a writer was in your blood?

A: At six years old I was struck by a car, leaving me bedridden for months due to a serious head injury. As I was healing, for some odd reason I had the strong desire to write poetry, but as soon as I was able to return to school and friends, excepting written homework assignments, I put the poetry aside.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?

A: No, not until I married and told my husband of thirty years, a voracious reader himself, that I’d like to write a novel about my childhood town, to which he said, “You don’t read enough authors to write.” So for the past thirty years I’ve been reading a few pages from ten to twelve books a night to get a sense of different styles. Of course, it takes a while that way, but I do eventually finish the books!

Q: Did writing come easily to you in school or was it something you had to work hard at?

A: While I dreaded math tests in school, I looked forward to the weekly lists of spelling words and essay/book report assignments. I’ve loved words for as long as I can remember, but I feel writing will always be a learning process for me.

Q: Who were some of your favorite authors that not only captivated you but also may have had an influence on your own storytelling style?

A: T.C. Boyle for his Tortilla Curtain, Darin Strauss for Chang and Eng and Jan Yoors for The Gypsies. They are my three favorite books that have always stayed with me.

Q: If you could go to lunch with one of these people, who would it be, why would you choose him/her, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask?

A: Sadly, Mr. Yoors has passed away, but I’d like to have met all three separately! I’d like each author to choose a place for lunch in any California, North Carolina or European setting from their novels. I’d imagine the writing came easiest to Mr. Yoors, living alongside those he wrote about, but I would ask all three authors the same question: how they so deftly breathed life into their beautiful, but less than fortunate characters, especially Mr. Strauss, creating a personality/ego for each adult conjoined twin he’d never met.

Q: “Lasher” is an unusual first name. Is that your given name or a pen name?

A: Three characters from my novel, Russell Winterburn, Adelaide Leary, and Sterling Hilliard are actually combined street names from my town. While writing the story, I thought that Lasher Lane, where my childhood house still stands, sounded like it could be either male or female, so I used it as a pen name, hoping my novel would appeal to both sexes.

Q: Speaking of interesting names, what’s the meaning behind the title you chose for your debut novel?

A: My story takes place in and around a marina, and I chose the nautical term deadlight, which is a window or prism mounted flush in the deck of a ship to provide light below. The compound word seemed to work as a title since my story has a nautical setting, and it involves both death and light, or the lack of it…dead light.

Q: What was your inspiration to write Deadlight?

A: A New York times article that stated my “blue-collar mentality” town with its “sense of clannishness” suffered from “solar deprivation” and “collective psychic depression” from living in the shadow of the 200 ft. Palisades that served as a backdrop. The article has always haunted me and I wanted to incorporate those powerful sentiments into my story.

Q: Did you start with an outline or just listen to your muse as you went along?

A: I don’t usually use outlines, and most of the time, for whatever decade I’m writing about,  listening to the music of that era works as my muse and helps me to get ideas.

Q: What governed your decision to set the story in the 1960’s rather than present day?

A: Besides being my favorite decade, the town featured in my novel had a unique, gritty yet pastoral character in the Sixties. The author Joseph Mitchell even noticed and chose to write about the place in his short “The Rivermen.”

Q: You’ve indicated that this coming-of-age novel is part memoir. Why, then, is the protagonist a male and not a female?

A: Again, I wanted my story to appeal to both sexes, not just women.

Q: Elements of Mother Nature – water, wind, light – often serve in literary fiction as a metaphor for life’s multiplicity of challenges. Was this the case in Deadlight insofar as the inhibitions, trepidations, addictions and emotional growth of your characters over the course of the story?

A: With all of the town’s residents living under the cliffs and being hidden by their enormous shadow, in some ways the lack of light represents our invisibility and insignificance.

Q: How much research was involved, given the tie-in to solar deprivation?

A:  Living in the town for forty years, my research was experiencing the “solar deprivation” firsthand. I recently read about the Norwegian town of Rjukan that lives in darkness and is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder for five months each year. They’ve installed 538-ft. mountaintop mirrors to reflect sunshine into the town. Although my town’s lack of light wasn’t nearly as severe, losing only two to four hours a day of sun definitely had a behavioral effect on us.

Q: Is your backdrop a real place or a composite of different locales with which you’re familiar?

A: Although the story is fiction, the backdrop is the real town of Edgewater, New Jersey, which once was named Pleasant Valley and is the name I chose to call the town in my novel.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for this project?

A: I am Patteran Press. I decided to start my own press after waiting months to hear from small presses if they’d accepted my novel manuscript. I’m not in my twenties anymore, so I don’t have the luxury of waiting for long periods of time between submissions.

Q: How have you gone about promoting the book? Which of these activities has been the hardest/easiest?

A: I’ve sent letters to libraries asking about their shelf inclusion policy, sent press releases to newspapers, letters to bookstores, all of them regional and close to the town I write about. I also try to promote the novel on social media, hopefully without being too annoying. The mailing part is easy, but with all the other books out there, I wouldn’t say the results of any self-promotion are easy these days.

Q: What skill sets and experience do you feel you brought to the table as a result of your career path prior to penning Deadlight?

A: For thirteen years I worked for Prentice-Hall’s Art Department, laying out and shooting camera copy for authors’ books. I envied them, so I began writing shorts of my own and submitting to online and paper journals, which I still like to do and is great writing practice.

Q: What do you think readers would be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I believe my desire to write, just like other authors, comes from a past life memory that was viewed in that life as a positive experience. I also believe there’s a reason we come in contact with each and every person during our time on Earth.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on a book of short stories.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:  Through lasherlane.com, readers can find me on Twitter. I’m also on GoodReads.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I want to sincerely thank you so much for this opportunity!