Give us a brief summary of your life till now (education, work, etc) and how it led you to write.
My life has taken a rather interesting course. I am from Richmond, Virginia and graduated college here* in the mid 90’s but really had no idea what I wanted to do. I just sort of ended up working a corporate job for a local company and had a very long, successful career managing projects and designing business processes. Simultaneous to that job, I became heavily involved in animal causes. I initially became involved in pit bull rescue after adopting two pit bulls from the shelter and that soon turned into running various non-profit animal groups, deploying to help animals in disasters, and doing anything I could to fill my free time with causes that helped animals. Eventually, I grew disillusioned with the corporate world and realized that I wanted to look back on a life that accomplished more than making money for a corporation. Having dealt with animal cruelty, dog fighting, etc. in my animal efforts, I decided that I wanted to go to law school and pursue a career in animal law. So, after 20 years in the corporate world, I left it all behind and entered law school. I loved law school immensely and graduated in two and a half years and was able to intern at a number of places practicing animal law. I spent a year in New Jersey working at a criminal court and came back home to Richmond where I work remotely for an animal rights non-profit doing civil litigation and undercover investigations-related legal work.
When I was in New Jersey, I didn’t have a ton of free time, but I knew no one and was not a fan of the area, so I essentially stayed inside at night and on weekend and wrote. I had always enjoyed writing in my free time, mostly short stories and some poetry, and I always thought it was pretty decent but never thought much beyond that. Since I had free time and I always like to be productive, I consciously set forth to finish a book that I had started years early, which turned out to be Chasing the Blue Sky. I enjoyed the process so much and have especially enjoyed sharing what I believe are important messages, that I have been writing ever since.
Chasing the Blue Sky is a difficult but necessary story. Did a particular experience prompt you to write it, or was it a combination of experiences and events?
It was a bit of a mix of both. I had spent many years volunteering at a city animal shelter. Throughout that time, I saw a great many dogs, learned their stories (as best as I could), and watched their plight. It was apparent to me very early on that each and every dog was an individual with a story. So many people see dogs in the shelter and they are usually sympathetic for them when they see them, but then they leave. It just stuck with me that the dog is still there, in that kennel, still waiting for someone to come. I felt that people did not think that deeply about the life of a dog trapped in a shelter and I wanted to try and share what it might be like not just for that brief moment of human interaction, but for the whole process. Toby was inspired by so many black pit bull mixes who just never had a chance. I have had two and to some degree, he was an homage to them. Other dogs in the story were based on dogs I have met. For instance, Oscar was based on a dog that lived in deplorable conditions and ended up biting someone and was deemed to be a danger to humans. I was with Oscar when he was euthanized and I will never forget how he simply longed for someone to bond with. Julius was based on a dog from a dog fighting case who sat in a kennel for almost a year because the court case dragged on and on. I watched him deteriorate and essentially go mad in that kennel.
I try and write books that will make people feel and think. My hope is to share some stories of animals I have known in a way that will be engaging for readers. I have written other books to share similar stories. In Where the Irises Bloom, I tell a story of homeless kitten that is based on a kitten I used to see every day on the way into work in the city in New Jersey. In Words on a Killing, I tell the story of a cow I watched slaughtered at a slaughterhouse. I am currently working on another dog book at the moment that involves a dog I interacted with from a rural dog fighting case. My hope is that I can amplify the meaningful lives of these animals through writing.
How do you fit your writing around your law practice?
My writing is really separate from my legal work. I spend my days using the legal system to fight cruelty to factory farmed animals. I enjoy my work immensely and it is the sole reason I went to law school. Sometimes something I see or hear might inspire a story idea, but my writing is entirely separate from my legal work. At the end of the day, though, my intent with both is to alleviate suffering for animals.
Tell us about your next project.
Well, I recently finished a book that I am in the process of publishing. I will publish it sometime in May. The book is a bit different than Chasing the Blue Sky. Although it is an animal-related book, it is not about dogs or cats. I try and mix my books between companion animals and non-companion animals. My non-companion animal books (Words on a Killing and Odd Robert) are not read anywhere near as much as the companion animal books (Chasing the Blue Sky and Where the Irises Bloom), but they are equally important to me as those animal deserve a voice just as much. The current book to be released in May is somewhat similar to Animal Farm and involves a courtroom trial involving farm animals.
As mentioned above, I recently started another book about a dog that I am excited about. I have written the entire outline and just started writing the first chapter. I hope to release that book sometime around September of this year.
What’s your research process like?
Good question. I try and base a lot of my books on things that I have personally experienced and seen. There are certain settings and animals that just stick with me. It is far easier for me to write about things that I know firsthand. That said, there is invariably some research. When I set out to write, I always draw up an outline of what will happen at each level by chapter. I also create a separate sheet of characters and key settings and find pictures of each that I can use as reference to draw ideas from. When there are things that are foreign to me, I do Internet research to try and gain some basic understanding. For instance, on my current book, I needed to understand a bit about certain trees in a deciduous forest and found myself reading various forestry websites to try and gain a basic understanding. I try and avoid diving too deep into topics I do not know well, but I do enough basic research to be able to mention something that will be accurate (I hope). My goal is to mention just enough to set the scene and let the reader’s mind fill in the blanks.
What’s your writing routine? Do you have a dedicated office, or do you write at the kitchen table? Do you write longhand or type everything?
I work remotely for my job and write at the same desk as I work from. I have a different computer that I use for writing. I type everything in MS Word. My first step is to come up with an idea. I keep a running list of book ideas, usually just a few sentences. I refer to it every now and then and see if any of them inspire me. When I find one that really inspires me, I start an outline and make sure I can lay out the whole story from start to end. Then I find pictures of key characters and settings as mentioned above. Then I begin to write. I always do a first draft which is essentially just a word dump, just to fill out the chapters. My first edit of that draft is where most of the work comes from. I go through that first draft and make heavy edits, changing words, rewriting things, and really refining the story. Once that is done, I do a third pass through the story and refine it further. I view it almost as carving a sculpture from wood. The first draft is just taking a raw tree and getting it roughly into the shape you want. The second draft is where the features and details come in. The third draft is just chiseling away the edges and finalizing it.
Once that is all done, I send the story to a copy editor who proofreads and fixes any spelling, grammar, or inconsistency issues. Once she sends it back, I do a fourth and final pass and catch and remaining areas and fix any final issues that are troubling me. After that, I am ready to publish.
Do you outline your stories or let the characters take you where they want to go? Do your characters speak to you?
Yes, as discussed above, I definitely outline. In the past, I have only used a skeleton outline, but of late, I have tried to fill in more details before I get started which has been helpful.
Yes, many of the characters speak to me. I generally try and only include things that are meaningful to me in some way. When a character is meaningful, I want to share the contours of their character and reveal them in a way to the reader that will be profound and lasting. I am not always successful, but that is my goal. Many of my animal characters are especially meaningful because I know this is my one chance to honor their memory and tell their story. For some animals who have since passed, that is the chance for their life to be conveyed beyond the unfortunate circumstances that existed, so I try and do my best to honor their memory in a way that does their life justice.
What writers do you admire, past or present?
I actually really like Franz Kafka. His ability to tell a rich and meaningful story with very minimal settings (sometimes a single room or apartment) and a diversity of characters, is very powerful to me. I am not good telling stories that are complex and involve detailed universes and complicated situations. I like stories that have a simple setting but a powerful meaning. Along those lines, I also appreciate Cormac McCarthy and am especially fond of The Road.
What do you like best about being a writer? What do you like least?
I don’t think there is anything I like least. I consider it a blessing to be able to have the opportunity to write words that people read and hopefully benefit animals. That is what I like the best. I can take something that stirred around my head, put it on paper, and people will actually read it and comment on it. Even when people have a bad reaction, I appreciate that they took the time to read it. I feel honored that people even both to pick up my books and give them a shot.
What little personal quirk would you like to reveal to your readers?
I type with two fingers. I never took a typing class or learned to type but have typed so much for my careers and writing that I have gotten very fast with two fingers. I also type very aggressively to the point I have broken keys before; not out of anger, but when I get going, I get going and the words flow.
Lastly, I just wanted to thank you for this opportunity and thank your blog readers for even getting this far. As mentioned above, I consider it a blessing that people actually read what I wrote and never take it for granted that people have valuable time they could spend in any number of ways. So, I am always thankful they have honored me with their time, whether they like the books or not.
*Will and I are both graduates of Virginia Commonwealth University
Two-finger typing image: Deposit Photos, Image ID: 188293564