Your website says you’re an accountant by trade, yet have been writing since you were young. How have you been able to balance your day job and writing?
Well, first off, thanks for having me. It’s a great pleasure to take up a little space on your blog.
To answer your question, it’s not all that hard for me to balance my day job and my second job. Since I don’t have a spouse or kids—or even a cat—I have plenty of free time to fill. Most of the writing of “Where You Belong” I did after work at my local library for a couple of hours each weeknight. I basically lived off ham sandwiches for a good six months. When the libraries were closed, I went to the nearest Starbucks or other coffeehouses.
I found that working outside home actually helped my productivity. At home there were always so many distractions—TV, Internet, noisy neighbors—that it was easier to focus when I was somewhere else. There are still distractions at coffeehouses or even libraries, but at least if you don’t like it you can leave a lot easier than at home.
Something that hit me right off, was this book is about a very controversial subject, gay marriage. Why?
That’s a good question. I think what really made me want to write something about this issue was that whenever I heard people trying to defend anti-gay marriage legislation like Prop 8 in California or the constitutional amendment passed in my home state (Michigan) the excuses were always so ludicrous. If we let gays marry then people will start marrying their cousins or dogs or houseplants. Either that or they’d start thumping a Bible. The more of the media coverage I watched, the more annoyed I got, so I knew I wanted to write something about it.
The challenge for me was trying to come up with something that wasn’t too preachy. I didn’t want my book to be a 500-page lecture or manifesto on supporting gay marriage. I think what inspired me was reading how my favorite author, John Irving, tackled social issues like feminism in “The World According to Garp” or abortion in “The Cider House Rules.” Those books focus on serious social issues, but they’re still great books with great stories. So my initial thought was, “What if someone were so bad at marriage that he couldn’t make it work with a woman OR a man?” In that way I could emphasize my point that it’s what’s in your heart more than between your legs and at the same time humanize it into what—I think anyway—is a great story.
How did you come up with the “Wukipedia” page for Mr. Devereaux?
This is one of those rare occasions where I can remember exactly where I was when it happened. I was flying on a plane from Detroit to Phoenix and I got to thinking about what kind of web page I could design for the book. Then I remembered I hadn’t designed a web page in nearly ten years, which is like prehistory in computing terms and I didn’t really have the money to pay anyone. So I got thinking that it would be great if I could just put the information on Wikipedia and let them deal with it. Well, I thought, why not? Except I thought Wikipedia might get mad at me, so I decided to make a fake Wikipedia page. As for “Wukipedia” I always like Fozzie the Bear on the Muppets, whose catch phrase was always “Wucka wucka.” And as they say, the rest is history.
There’s quiet a bit of characterization on Mr. Devereaux. Did you do it before, during or after writing the book?
I think most of the characterization came when writing the first draft. I didn’t do any kind of diagramming or role-playing or anything like that beforehand, so I really didn’t have any idea going in what exactly the characters would be like. Once I got Frost interacting with Frankie and Frank it all started to come together. It became clear that Frankie was the leader of their little gang with Frank as the sullen second-in-command and Frost as the faithful sidekick. Really the most helpful part of shaping their relationships was early in the story when they’re children and Frankie conceives a fantasy world for them to play in. That she casts herself as the Queen, Frank as the villain, and Frost as her knight-errant helped to solidify their relationships to each other. Even as they become adults that hierarchy largely holds true.
The first draft was actually written in third-person, which I also think helped me to figure out the characters because I could get inside each one a little more. Then when it came time for the second draft and I decided to switch to first person, it was a lot easier because I already knew for the most part who these people were and how they acted with each other.
Was it hard to come up with plot summaries, etc. for books you’d never write? Or are you considering writing the books Mr. Devereaux wrote?
I like to imagine that I could get on Oprah’s couch like Frost’s friend Roble Madobe does if I wrote a book like “Puntland” that’s outlined on the website. Especially with Somalia being in the news so much a few months ago there’d probably be some interest in the story of a Somali immigrant. But since I’m not a Somali immigrant the story would probably ring false.
As for Frost’s novel “The Lifesaver,” a lot of that I cribbed from a story I already wrote called “The Best Light” that you can download on a site I started called D.E-Press (http://roguemutt.bravehost.com). In that story, a man hears that his former fiancée is dead and goes to where she died to find out what happened to her in the years since they said goodbye. “The Lifesaver” works pretty much the same way only it’s transplanted to Australia and instead of a lover it’s the woman who saves his life. Still, the two share a lot of the same DNA. I suppose if I ever did decide to write “The Lifesaver” I would already have a template I could use.
The “Intergalactic High” series of YA stories are also a little bit cribbed from a series of YA stories I wrote. The first one, “Forever Young”, you can download at Public Bookshelf (http://www.publicbookshelf.com/mystery/forever-young/). They both feature a young girl who’s outcast in a strange situation—in “Intergalactic High” it’s 500 years in the future on a space station while in “Forever Young” it’s on a mysterious island stuck 300 years in the past. Again, they share a lot of DNA. As a fan of sci-fi, though, I also borrowed a bit from books, movies, and TV shows I’d read/seen. Really the way to think of “Intergalactic High” might be to say it’s like if you took “Futurama,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” and the Harry Potter books and threw them in a blender. I’m not sure if a real publisher would have any interest in something like that; if they did I’d love to write the whole thing out.
On a side note, the short story “Antiques” featured in the book is a piece I wrote previously. As is the first story Frost writes, a little sci-fi story involving a cat-like alien with a very large endowment. So I’d urge anyone who’s written anything not to throw it away, because you never know when you might find a way to use it again.
According to Mr. Devereaux’s page he wrote vignettes for charity. Is this something you as a writer would consider doing?
Absolutely. That would be a great way to do something helpful and something I love at the same time. And it would be a lot easier for me than giving blood; last time I had to get blood drawn they had to poke me four times to find any. If anyone ever wants me to be part of a literary “We Are the World” I would be down with it.
Thanks again for having me on and for asking such great questions!
BLURB: Orphaned at an early age, the closest people in Frost Devereaux's life are the free-spirited Frankie Maguire and her conniving twin brother Frank. Over the years Frost's life takes him from the lush fields of the Mideast to the burning heat of the desert to the sparkling promise of Manhattan. His heart, though, never strays far from the two people who have meant the most to him. Ultimately, Frost must decide where—and with whom—he belongs.
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