Thanks, it’s great to be here.
Tell us a bit about you – where you’ve been, how you got here, where you’re going.
I’m a full-time freelance writer and photographer with three books to my credit so far. I also write and shoot for about three dozen national magazines and newspapers. This is my third career–I was in the television business and an entrepreneur for many years–but the one I enjoy most because it lets me indulge my passions for travel and curiousity about the world around me.
I started writing professionally about ten years ago, although I’ve been a writer of one sort or another all my life. The release of my latest novel, Heart of Diamonds, marks my first foray into the romantic thriller genre. Hopefully, it’s the first in a series featuring international TV correspondent Valerie Grey.
Tell us about Heart of Diamonds and how it went from idea to published book.
Heart of Diamonds is a high-concept romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo. The plot involves the White House, the Congolese government, and an American televangelist in a diamond smuggling scheme that Valerie Grey uncovers. It sprang from a Time Magazine story I read about the true connection between Pat Robertson, the founder of the 700 Club and one-time US Presidential candidate, and Mobuto Sese-Seko, the dictator who raped the Congo for 30 years.
Robertson owned a diamond mine and many other riches in the Congo at one time–probably using what amounted to slave labor to exploit them. He also used his charitable operation in Africa as a front for his business dealings. Combine that blatant moral duplicity with the horrible civil war in the Congo, and you’ve got a compelling storyline for a thrilling novel.
What is the one thing you like the most and the one thing you dislike the most about Valerie Grey?
I tried to make Valerie a real person, with pretty equal amounts of self-confidence and self-doubt. I admire her for standing up to the powerful forces that try to stop her from revealing the secrets of the diamond smuggling scheme. She faces a real moral quandry as she fights them but deals with it in a very human, revealing way. On the other hand, her indecision regarding David Powell and Jaime Talon drove me crazy! The love triangle adds a whole separate dimension to her character.
How did you become a writer?
I’ve always written, starting with some awful short stories I did in my teens. About ten years ago, though, I was in the position to take the plunge and go full-time. I closed my consulting business, studied the ins and outs of getting published in various venues, and went at it. I’ve never looked back.
What would you say is the most difficult thing about being a writer?
That’s a hard question. For one thing, writing takes a lot of discipline. I’ve worked for myself from a home office since 1988, so I’ve learned how to focus and get things done, but it’s a new struggle every day. The other obstacle is financial. Writing pays poorly–if at all! I don’t think most beginners really understand how little income their work is going to produce. We’re talking hundreds–not thousands–of dollars for what can be months or even years of work.
If you could pick any author to collaborate with, who would it be?
That’s easy: William Shakespeare. The Bard could do it all–fascinating characters, clean, compelling plots, and he worked in all genres–comedy, tragedy, fantasy, biography, history, poetry–you name it, he could do it. When I travelled to Africa to research Heart of Diamonds, the only book I carried was a collection of Shakespeare’s plays. I could read and re-read them without ever losing interest.
Do you have any interesting writing habits/quirks?
I drive my wife crazy when I’m in the full swing on a novel. It’s with me all the time, even when I’m not in my office, so I’m horribly pre-occupied. It’s hard to have a dinner-table conversation with somebody whose mind is eight thousand miles away on a river in the Congo.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?
The old Nike slogan “Just Do It” summarizes the best lesson I’ve learned. Sit down, put pen to paper and tell a story. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or bad, literate or garbage, just start at the beginning and don’t stop until you’ve told the whole story. It’s a great temptation to try to get every word perfect from the very start, but you’ll never get it done if you try to write that way. Once the story is told, you may have a page or you may have a thousand pages, but you’ll have something you can work with.
When you’re not writing, what are you doing?
I play a lot of golf, which often crosses the line with work since I do a lot of golf writing as well. I also have a woodworking shop that keeps me busy. We live in a 300-year-old farmhouse on a pretty large piece of property, so there’s literally always work to be done.
I try to get to the gym on days I don’t play golf or chop firewood; I help my wife who breeds and shows dogs (bichon frises); I spend time with my kids; I play the guitar and read a huge amount. I’m also active in library land, serving as a trustee of the Westchester Library System, a consortium of 38 pulbic libraries. I must admit, I’m never at a loss for something to do.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers here?
I’d like to draw their attention to the situation in the Congo. Heart of Diamonds is a work of fiction, but it’s set against the background of the deadliest conflict since World War II. Nearly six million people have died in the Congo in the last ten years alone, victims of vicious gang rape, starvation, disease, and exploitation as slave labor.
It is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. I hope my readers will lend their support to the people of the Congo through any number of worthwhile organizations that help the victims of this horrific conflict.
Thank you very much for coming by this blog. I wish you great successes with Heart of Diamonds.