When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
In 1985, during my sophomore year in college, while reading The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. While not my favorite novel by either King or Straub, I got so caught up in the adventure unfolding within the pages that the world outside of the book ceased to exist. And I thought: “I want to make others feel this way.”
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
That’s a tough call. Stephen King had a significant impact on my early writing and is the reason I became a writer, but Chuck Palahniuk inspired me to become the writer I am today. His novel Lullaby is the reason I wrote Breathers. So call it a tie.
How do you create the characters in your books? Are they based on people you know?
If they’re based on people I know, then it’s something of which I’m not aware. Since I tend to discover the story as I write it rather than plot it out, characters tend to appear when the story needs them and their attributes just seem to fit the situation. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but when I’m writing, my characters just manage to take shape in my head and then they start doing things and talking. To be honest, I’m not really sure I create them. They just show up.
What is the one book you think everyone should read?
Just one? Not fair. But if I have to choose, then I’ll stick with my favorite novel of all time. Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Solid writing, beautiful prose, memorable characters, and an unforgettable allegory of human nature. Who’s got the conch?
If you weren’t a writer, what would be your profession?
Nature and landscape photographer. I’d love to travel all over the planet to remote places that I’ve never seen, to catch moments like the first light on the Australian Outback or the sun setting on the Mediterranean Sea or the wildebeests migrating across the Serengeti and share those moments with others. Though to simply experience those moments would be enough.
If you could trade places with anyone in the world, past or present, real or fiction, who would it be and why?
John Lennon. I’m a big Beatles fan and I would love to experience what it was like to be a Beatle. To share creative energies with Paul and George and Ringo. To be contemporaries with bands like The Who and The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. Although I would like to avoid running into Mark David Chapman.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have 3 things, what would they be?
Avoiding the pragmatic answer of food, water, and shelter (I’m assuming I’m going to find those), and staying away from anything that would run on batteries and eventually turn into desert island art (no iPod, Kindle, or laptop), I’d choose a good book (Lord of the Flies, ironically), a comfortable pair of waterproof hiking shoes (Merrells or Keens), and a journal. Although a journal is pretty useless on its own, so I’d have to forego Lord of the Flies and replace it with a box of blue Uni-ball pens. Though I suppose a case of sunscreen would probably be more sensible.
What is your favorite movie of all time?
Star Wars. The first one, before the prequels. While it’s tough for me to exclude The Graduate or films like Fight Club and Being John Malkovich – which have better scripts and better acting than Star Wars and are more appealing from a writer’s standpoint – I’ve never been as awestruck by a film as I was by Star Wars. I can still remember sitting at the Festival Cinemas in Hayward in 1977, watching that Imperial Cruiser appear on the screen and seem to go on forever. From that moment, I was completely sucked in. Hearing the 20th Century Fox intro still gives me chills.
What is the one thing that you want all your fans to know?
I write to make myself laugh. If I happen to tickle someone else’s funny bone, then that’s a bonus. And if I can make someone laugh, then I feel like I’ve done a good thing.
If you could invite 5 people to dinner, who would they be and why?
Are we talking alive or historical? If alive, then I’d invite Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King, Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums), Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and Billie Joe Armstrong (lead singer of Green Day). These are all novelists, screenwriters, and songwriters who have influenced and inspired me and I would love to sit down and share an evening of conversation with them. And maybe a beer or two.
If historical, then I’d have to go with Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, William Golding, John Lennon, and Vincent van Gogh. For the same reasons.
If you could use a time machine, would you go to the past or check out the future?
I’d go back to the past. To be able to see what actually happened two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, or to visit a real life Jurassic Park, or to watch Van Gogh paint and Michelangelo sculpt would be absolutely worth the price of admission. I’d rather learn more about the history I’ve studied and been inspired by than the future that’s yet to happen.
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