Stephen King: My Favorite Teacher   ~ by Joan Hall Hovey

Joan with Stephen King

Joan with Stephen King

The year was 1984, a lovely summer’s day and I was sitting in the packed, buzzed audience waiting for Stephen King to appear.  To say I was excited is an understatement. Uncool? Totally. I’d bought my hardcover copy of his book Different Seasons for him to sign.  I wouldn’t be denied. I had all his books in hardcover – Carrie, Cycle of the Werewolf, Danse Macabre, Salem’s Lot –  there would be  many more to come. He was my hero in a time when I was already much too old to be star-struck.  I’ve read that it is mainly teenagers who are addicted to Stephen King’s work, and I was hardly that.  Though probably immature.  I’m at a much more more advanced age now and that hasn’t changed, and I hope it never does.  Stephen King was  the Elvis Presley of the literary world.

I hadn’t had a novel published yet; that was still a dream, floating somewhere above the horizon. But I’d written and published some articles and short stories, enough to make me eligible for a travel grant through the NB Arts Council to London, England to the writers workshop at Polytechnic Institution  on Marylebone Road, aptly across the street from Madam Tussauds wax museum.  Stephen King would be a panelist, along with authors P.D. James, Robert Parker and some others.  I was eager to hear all the celebrated authors, but I’d flown all this way from New Brunswick, Canada to see and hear Mr. King.

He came into the large room through the back door and I swear I knew the instant he did.  You couldn’t miss the rising buzz of the audience, of course, the shifting of bodies as people turned to look, but I also felt the change of energy in the air. On stage, Stephen King joked about his ‘big writing engine’ and I had heard (within my third eye – yes, it can hear) its power, its purr.   Or maybe there’s more to it.

As he talked to us about writing, he spoke about seeing with that third eye.  The eye of the imagination.  He told us to imagine a chair.  Then he said it was a blue chair.  I saw it clearer now.  He added the detail of a paint blister on the leg of the chair.  Now I saw it close up, with my zoom lens.  We hung on his every word.  He was funny and brilliant and entertaining, and we learned. Everything he said was not necessarily something brand new, but were reminders to pay close attention to details.  To always tell the truth in our writing.  I even got to ask a couple of questions.   And his answers to all our questions were thoughtful and insightful.   I try to pass along a few of those lessons to my own students.

Stephen King has been teaching creative writing to aspiring and even established writers for decades, long before his wonderful book On Writing came out.  Such a gift to writers that is, regardless of the genre you write in.   I am gushing.  I don’t mind. It’s true.

I have been fortunate to have had many highlights in my life –  an anniversary trip to Niagara Falls with my wonderful husband, the births of my children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren – a trip to the Bahamas with my eldest son – my own first novel published and several more after that – and I have to say that that workshop in London, England, where Stephen King spoke to us about writing, is right up there.  Thank you, Mr. King.

I want to leave you with a quote from an interview with contributing writing for the Atlantic, Jessica Lahey, published in The Atlantic,  Sept  2014.  She asked him if teaching was craft or art.

“It’s both,” he said.  “The best teachers are artists.

Stephen King is an artist on every level.   He tells the truth.  In his fiction.  And in his teachings.


Joan Hall Hovey, Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-JournalIn addition to her critically acclaimed novels, Joan Hall Hovey’s articles and short stories have appeared in such diverse publications as The Toronto Star, Atlantic Advocate, Seek, Home Life Magazine, Mystery Scene, The New Brunswick Reader, Fredericton Gleaner, New Freeman and Kings County Record. Her short story Dark Reunion wasSONY DSC selected for the anthology investigating Women, Published by Simon & Pierre.

Ms. Hovey has held workshops and given talks at various schools and libraries in her area, including New Brunswick Community College, and taught a course in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick. For a number of years, she has been a tutor with Winghill School, a distance education school in Ottawa for aspiring writers. She is a member of the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick, past regional Vice-President of Crime Writers of Canada and International Thriller Writers.

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An interview with David W. Berner

davidwberner2David W. Berner is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, author, and teacher. His first book, Accidental Lessons was awarded the 2011 Royal Dragonfly Grand Prize for Literature. His broadcast reporting and audio documentaries have been aired on the CBS Radio Network, NPR’s Weekend Edition and a number of public radio stations across America. David has been the recipient of awards from the Associated Press, RTNDA (Radio and Television News Directors Association) and the Broadcast Education Association.

David was awarded the position of Writer-in-Residence at the Jack Kerouac Project in Orlando, Florida for the summer of 2011. His writing, both reporting and personal essays, have appeared in publications and online journals such as Under the Gum Tree, Chicagoland Journal, PERIGEE, Tiny Lights Journal, Shaking Like a Mountain,,, Golf Chicago Magazine, The Sun Newspapers, and Write City Magazine. David is also a performer. He’s a regular on the Chicago storytelling circuit, reading his personal essays at events such as 2nd Story, Story Club, Essay Fiesta, and This Much is True. As an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, he teaches radio narrative, audio documentary, and writing. He has presented writing workshops at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and for numerous literary organizations throughout the Chicago area.

David holds a Masters in Education/Teaching from the Aurora University and a MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

And with all of this, David still finds time to play guitar and watch as much TV coverage as possible of his beloved Steelers.

PJ: David, how long have you been writing?

DB: I wrote my first “book” when I was seven years old. It was an assignment for an elementary school class. It was called “The Cyclops,” a story about a deep sea monster that ate ships and ocean divers. I evolved, if you will, when I began writing news for radio in the early 1980s. I was writing journalism, writing a regular column on golf and other matters for a local paper, when I was in my mid-30s. I wrote a lot of bad fiction that ended up in a desk drawer somewhere in my late 30s. In my 40s, I began to write more seriously and began writing my first book, Accidental Lessons, in 2004.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

DB: I don’t ever feel “successful” as a writer. It’s always a journey; it’s always a struggle. Success to me is about the final artistic product. So, next week I could feel successful as a writer and then the week after, I may not.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

DB: I expected nothing. Honestly, I wrote because I loved a good story. Money, success (whatever that means) was never, and still is not the reason I write.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

DB: I never had expectations. Still don’t. Don’t plan on having any. It’s funny, most people think of other kinds of artists (painters, actors) as “struggling” — but for some reason, authors are rich. Why is that? LOL. Most writers are far from rich, even some of the best struggle financially. And in a perfect world, writers should NEVER be rich. It has a tendency to corrupt.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

DB: I do workshops a lot and tell participants: “You have to ask yourself, do you want to be published or do you want to write?” They are two different things. If you want to be published, and that’s all you really want, then write something about vampires, because that’s what sells at the moment, just to make a point. But if you want to write, then write about things you love, interest you. And maybe eventually, if you learn to tell a good story about those things, you may…may…get published. For me, I think only about writing. Publishing is a by-product. Do I want my work out there? Certainly. But I’m not going to write just to get published.

PJ: Very good points. How long did it take you to get published the first time?

DB: It took six years to write my first book. It took five months to get a publisher. I was lucky. That is not the norm. Getting published in online journals, magazines, or newspapers was different. I got an assignment, wrote it, edited it, and it appeared. Different process.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

DB: No. My bad writing led to my better writing. My mistakes led to my good decisions, good ideas. All of that had to come first before I got better. And I’m still learning. I’m sure I’ll make more mistakes.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

DB: That’s a struggle. I teach at college, I also do a lot of broadcast work and journalism. So, I’m always juggling. I haven’t been writing a lot lately and I don’t like that. I’ve been working getting a new book out there. I also have a novel with my agent, a novel I finished last summer. I’m sure I’ll be working on fine-tuning that novel this summer after my agent gets a close look. She’s a good judge and critic. I try to take a couple days every month to submit shorter work. I try to mix my writing days with my submitting days. That doesn’t work for me. And I also do a fair amount of storytelling projects, live literature in Chicago like Essay Fiesta, 2nd Story, and Story Club.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

DB: My first book. There’s nothing like holding that in your hand.

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

DB: “Disappointing” may be too strong a word, but it was tough to get rejection letters over and over and over again for my current manuscript, not because they didn’t like it, in fact many said they loved the story and the concept, but rather because it just wasn’t “right for them right now.” That’s usually code for, “we know this isn’t going to sell a million copies and the publishing world is a rocky place and we are not prepared to take a risk on this, even if it’s good.” That’s frustrating, but it’s reality.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?


DB: The first time someone came up to me at a reading/signing and said, “Your book changed me.” I actually had that happen, in so many words, a number of times. But theAccidental Lessonsfirst time is amazingly humbling. Accidental Lessons, my first book, is a story about a year of teaching in a troubled school wrapped around a very personal story of discovery and life-changes. Knowing that this personal story resonated so strongly with the reader is incredibly satisfying.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

DB: Admittedly, I am a little uncomfortable talking about what makes my writing different. I think that’s up to the reader to say. But I can tell you that I have had many people say that my stories – especially the memoir/creative nonfiction writing – makes them laugh and cry, and illuminates something in their own personal life.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

DB: Keep writing. Don’t worry about publishing. Write because you love it. And submit, submit, submit. Send material to journals, your local newspaper, whatever. Writing is like working out — to get better and published you have to keep writing, like you have to keep working out to lose weight, get in shape. It must be part of your life.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

DB: Personal appearance, readings. I love talking to potential readers.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

DB: Probably the same as what I think is the most effective – personal appearance, readings.

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

The Book CellarDB: I love The Book Cellar in Chicago.

Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

Accidental Lessons: A memoir of a rookie teacher and a life renewed.

After Opium: Stories.

Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons. (to be published in 5/2013)

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:AnyRoad

A middle age father, hoping to rekindle a new fire in his life, re-reads Jack Kerouac’s iconic road trip story, On the Road, and uses it to take the 5000 road trip he never took as a young man. This time though, he brings along his two sons and discovers a deep appreciation for his role as a father, and is forced to come to terms with all the fathers who came before him.

Where can we buy it?

Amazon is the best place to find it. But bookstores, if they don’t have it, can order it. Just ask them.

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

DB: I worked hard to be a good writer. It’s work. And I’m still working on it. And when I read great writing, I question my abilities. But in the end, I get right back at it because I am, eventually, inspired. I just re-read the first 300 words of Denis Johnson’s award winning book Tree of Smoke and was just blown away, again. I am inspired everyday by good writing.

Another thing someone might not know about me — I cry at movies, and every time I hear Bob Dylans’ Girl from the North Country, I tear up. I can be a softy.

And one other thing – I may live in the Chicago area…but I’m a Steeler fan. Always will be. Sorry, Bears.

David, thanks for taking time to share with us! I love Any Road Will Take You There and strongly encourage everyone to get a copy!

An interview with Suzanne Burke

Suzanne_Burk (7 of 9)Suzanne Burke is an amazing woman, and some days I wonder when she finds time to sleep! Although I usually feature authors here who are primarily mystery oriented, I think writers of all genres can learn something from her experiences and her “can do” approach to her writing. Sit with us a while and enjoy!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

Suzanne: I’ve been writing for over 20 years in a corporate environment and only recently have switched over to creative writing.

PJ: I know you’ve been working with the Greyhound rescue organization for years. What inspired you to get Logan’s Secret and the other stories into print?

Suzanne: This real-life story began seven years ago. After I witnessed the miracle of Logan being found, and the multitude of coincidences (actually I no longer believe they were coincidences) surrounding his story, I promised myself I would write his tale someday. I created the first draft of it 5 years ago and sat on it that long before an opportunity arose that allowed me to focus 100% on its completion this year.

PJ: What has been the most surprising aspect of your journey so far?

Suzanne: I left a high-paying IT corporate job at the end of 2011 to take six months off to write and publish this story. I made a August 2012 SBL Book Signing 2promise to Logan and myself that I would finish and publish his story while he was still alive. I had always visualized him being by my side at book signings. I knew Logan was turning twelve this year and my time with him over the last seven years was quickly slipping by. This effort is my homage to him for his incredible spirit and zest for life. During these last 6 months, I have worked incredibly hard in meeting my own self-imposed deadlines, but I enjoyed every moment of this work. It has been the most satisfying and fulfilling work I’ve completed so far in my lifetime, and the best part was it was accomplished in the company of a pack of greyhounds!

PJ: Have you reached a place where you feel successful as a writer?

Suzanne: Yes, I have learned an incredible amount in the last year. The deadline I set forced me to not only learn in-depth about creative writing, but also about marketing, social media, and the creation and management of my website, I have learned more in 6 months about a new career in writing than I have learned in 2 years of information technology.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Suzanne: I really didn’t have any expectations. I just knew I had 6 months to write a book and get it published. My career as a project manager inspired me to set a very tight plan to make this happen and I was able to accomplish it! I love to write as it’s very freeing to the soul. I haven’t tried to make a career of it just yet, but I am having a lot of fun!

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

Suzanne: I do not believe all that I read. It usually takes years for writers to become successful. I have visualized my outcome of being able to sustain my standard of living at writing at some point in my life. This may not come for a while, but I am fortunate to be able to have my project management skills to support me as I continue with my writing. Writing is a joyful enterprise for me and it is what I do to relax. To do this on a full time basis would be my greatest joy!

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

Suzanne: Once you’re published, the real work begins – promotion and marketing.  You need a team of individuals to get the word out about your book. From all the great reviews and very positive comments about Logan’s Secret, I think it’s a matter of promotion.  Kids love this book and surprisingly, so do adults.  I really didn’t expect that.

PJ: What made you decide to forego traditional publishing for the self-published route? How long did it take you to come to that conclusion?

Suzanne: I know several writers who went through the painful process of trying to get published. I also did a healthy amount of research on the Internet about publishing. I talked to several publishing companies. In the end, through my research, I determined that self-publishing would accomplish what I wanted – to get the book in the hands of children and animal lovers while Logan is still alive on this earth.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Suzanne: I don’t think so. This has been an amazing journey! I don’t think I would have learned nearly what I did had I tried the traditional route and from what I have read, the traditional route can be a test to one’s psyche. I learned an incredible amount about publishing through the self-publishing process. I am self-taught by nature, and I prefer to have control over my destiny, so self-publishing was the right choice for me! I am thankful for my project management skills because a solid plan kept me on schedule.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

Suzanne: That’s a tough one….this was a huge part of what I had to learn in the last 6 months and I am so thankful I had 6 months of 100% devoted time to this project. I conducted a lot of research on authors and how they kept up with writing, social media marketing, etc.  It all comes down to a carefully orchestrated plan of time management each day and week.  I finally developed a plan where I would spend 1-2 hours first thing in the morning to work on the social media aspect (website content, FaceBook, Twitter, etc.), then I would devote each day of the week to a different task.  As a project manager, the greatest asset you have is your team.  I pulled together a great team of folks to help me with editing, website development, etc.)  This is a team effort!

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

Suzanne: Finishing my book and getting it published within 6 months and appearing on Good Morning Texas less than one month after its release. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk about the book through radio interviews and another TV interview in my hometown in October.

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

Suzanne:  Understanding that promotion is a huge part of the success of your book.  It’s the journey that is often time consuming and frustrating, but understandably so. This aspect takes a huge amount of work, but the education is priceless!

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

Suzanne:  Logan by my side as we promoted our book on Good Morning Texas – this was a true high point!

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

Suzanne: I conducted a lot of research with children prior to deciding on the format for this book. This is a children’s chapter book, so I asked a lot of children what would make a first chapter book the best. They all said short chapters and lots of illustrations, so that’s what I set out to do and I have to say that the feedback from children has been phenomenal.  The book also is designed to help children expand their vocabulary, so there is a vocabulary list at the end of the book as well as creative writing projects to engage children.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

Suzanne: Network with other writers, join writing clubs, and pull together a team of professional editors to assist you. Do all the research you can on self-publishing if this is an interest.  Being able to self publish is very liberating. Engage with a good PR person who can help get you noticed out in that big world!  PJ Nunn has been excellent in her skill of promoting my book to get interviews – word of mouth is critical!

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

Suzanne: Hire a good PR person that has experience in promoting books – this is key!

PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:Logans Secret cover

Suzanne: The Logan Trilogy

  • Logan’s Secret
  • Logan and the Mystical Collar (2013)
  • Logan’s Legacy (2013)

PJ: Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Suzanne: Logan, the champion racing greyhound is at the top of his game. Today, he is at the racing start gate, the race begins, he takes off and gains an expert lead, but events take an unexpected turn and his life changes forever! Follow Logan on his adventurous journey as he makes a decision that launches him into a world of uncertainty and challenge. Discover the secrets he uses that help him achieve his life dream. A great story for adults or children! Logan’s Secret will teach children important values about life, and to think positively no matter what challenges they face. If you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything!

Where can we buy it?

It is currently available in print and ebook formats on and Kindle, my website at and The Greyhound Adoption League of Texas. Soon to be available in iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.

PJ: What do you hope to achieve with your current book, Logan’s Secret?

Suzanne: With Logan’s Secret, I hope to educate readers in many ways. First to learn about the greyhound breed and what wonderful companions they are for families, they are truly a breed apart. But also to impart to readers the importance of pet adoption from shelters – that older dogs often make better companions than puppies because they are so forgiving and so enthusiastic about someone selecting them to be a part of their family.

Further, I hope my book educates children and adults alike about the values of overcoming adversity by using a positive attitude. Logan is the perfect model for courage, endurance, positive thinking, and forgiveness. I owe much of my personal growth to him over the last seven years!

Thank you, Suzanne, for spending time with us today. I’ve fallen for Logan, I hope our readers here do too!

An interview with Randy Richardson

Randy Richardson is fabulous! And I’m not just saying that because I have the pleasure of working for him, although that’s certainly one of the perks of my job. His writing is fresh and innovative; his demeanor is the same. And, he’s just a really good guy. He doesn’t write mystery, per se, but then life is mystery and he writes life. If you haven’t read one of his books yet, I promise doing so will enrich your life. I hope you enjoy!

PJ: Randy, how long have you been writing?

Randy: I’m probably considered a late-bloomer when it comes to creative writing. I studied just about everything but creative writing in college. I earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science, a master’s degree in journalism, and finally a law degree. Never took one creative writing class through all those degrees. While working as a lawyer, at the ripe age of 33, I got this seed in my head for a novel. That seed grew into Lost in the Ivy, a murder mystery set against the backdrop of Chicago’s Wrigley Field.  I’m now 50 and just published my second novel, Cheeseland. So, how long have I been writing? Well, you can do the math, I suppose. But I think I have always been a writer, it just took me some time to accept that and, obviously, I took a circuitous route to becoming one.

PJ: It seems to me that you select your topics with great care. How do you decide what you’re going to write?

Randy: Well, I pick topics that interest me.

My first novel, Lost in the Ivy, for example, is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. I’m a die-hard Cubs’ fan (I know, woe is me, right?), so this was obviously a topic that interested me.  I took that interest an extra notch by constructing a story arc that followed the heart of a Cubs’ fan.  If you’re a Cubs fan, you already know the story.  There is going to be hope and there is going to be pain and anguish and ultimately futility.

In Cheeseland, my second novel, I tackled much more serious issues, including teen suicide.  The story isn’t about suicide, but rather about boys and how they tent to avoid confronting difficult issues, like suicide, only to have them fester and grow over time.  In this case, I constructed a road trip that took thirty years to complete – a road trip becomes a roller-coaster ride. One moment the reader laughs along with the characters and the next he is crying along with them.

The one thread that ties both novels together is that the seeds for both were inspired by true events from my life, but I suppose that’s another question.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

Randy: Do writers ever reach that place? I suppose the answer depends on how you define success as a writer.  Creative writing, for me, is a hobby; it’s not my profession. So I don’t measure my success by money. I also don’t define it by sales, or awards or other kinds of recognition. To me, success is writing the story I wanted to tell the way that I wanted to tell it. Simple as that. By that measure, I suppose I have achieved success as a writer, because I’ve been able to write two novels the way that I wanted to write them.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Randy: I don’t know if I had any expectations when I started out. I was pretty naïve, for sure. That might have been for the best in some ways. If I’d known then how hard it can be, I’m not sure I would have chosen such a path. Would anyone? The reality is that I don’t think I chose it so much as it chose me. By that I mean, that writer is inside me. I probably did just about everything I could to deny that I was a writer, as evidenced by my college choices.  Once I accepted that part of me, I found out how hard it can be. Then I found that it doesn’t have to be so hard.  There are a lot of others out there struggling, just as I did. That’s how I came to get involved in the Chicago Writers Association, a nonprofit organization of which I now serve as president.  I saw that writing is much more than just the act of writing, and that we, as writers, can help one another to achieve our writing goals, no matter what those goals may be. We can all learn from one another and support each other along the way. So, for me, the biggest difference from when I just started out and now, is that I’ve got an entire community of writers to help me along the way.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

Randy: They really think that? They must be reading too much fiction! I know very few writers who are making a living solely from writing. As I mentioned earlier, creative writing, for me, is a hobby; it’s not my profession.  I earn a living as a lawyer. There’s a part of me that has fantasized about being John Grisham or Stephen King, but there’s another part of me that wouldn’t want any part of that kind of success. The demands they face, both in terms of writing and publicity, have to be all-consuming. It’s a big price to pay. As it is now, I write on my own schedule and write only what I want to write – not what an agent or an editor or a publisher is telling me to write. Do I hope that others will like what I like? Of course I do. We all want some degree of acceptance of our work. But at the same time I don’t think I’d be happy writing if writing were my job. It would feel like a job, and I already have one of those and don’t really want another one.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

Randy: I honestly don’t think about getting published until I’ve written something that I feel is worthy of publication.  I try not to be influenced by the publishing marketplace, because it is too fluid, too temperamental. One day everyone wants vampire stories and the next they want erotica.  I simply try to write the best story I can write. To me, the one thing that always sells is a good story.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

Randy: Well, that’s a long story in itself, filled with rejections, disappointments, mistakes, and even death. The death part was quite tragic. I was scheduled to meet a small mom-and-pop publisher, and the night before I was to travel to meet with them, I got a call from the pop that the mom had died, quite unexpectedly, and that the pop wouldn’t be continuing the business. The biggest disappointment was with a bigger indie press that rejected the manuscript at the last level after reviewing it for six months. The mistake was giving up at some level after all of those disappointments and making the choice to publish with a POD publisher that claimed to be something that it wasn’t. That was a tough lesson to learn, but I really don’t regret that it happened. I always take such lessons as exactly that, lessons. We learn from them, hopefully, and don’t make the same mistakes. This is another reason why it is helpful to have the support of a writing community where you can learn and share information with one another so that others don’t make the same mistakes.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Randy: Would I have done things differently knowing what I know now? Yes. But, again, I look at those pitfalls as part of the learning process. Was it a tough price to pay? Yes.  Have I recovered from it? I think so. I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am today, leading a 400-member writing community, if not for those mistakes I made in the past. I can’t dwell on those past mistakes. I learn from them and I move on, and I try to help steer others in the right direction.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

Randy: Like just about everybody else, time is probably my biggest challenge. I have a day job as an attorney, I have a volunteer job as president of a 400-member writing community, and I have a family. I have to squeeze in writing whenever I can. Lunch breaks. Late at night, after everyone else is asleep. I also give up a lot of things I used to enjoy, like TV and movies. The reality is that my family and my job have to come first, and there isn’t a whole lot of time left over for writing. Fortunately, for me, I don’t have to make a living as a writer. That’s what my day job is for. I write for the love of writing. I honestly don’t think I could make a career as a writer. I’m much too slow. I am always amazed at these authors who are able to crank out a novel every six months.  Both of my novels, from start to finish, took about seven years. My son was just a baby when I began writing Cheeseland. It was released just a few days before he turned 9.

Even though writing is not my job, I still try to present myself to the world as a professional author. I’ve found that the only way I am able to do that is to break up all those various parts of the writing life into segments. I do one segment at a time and never overlap segments. When I’m promoting a book, for example, I set aside 9 months where that’s the only segment of my writing life that I’m doing. After those 9 months are over, I call it quits on marketing and shift gears back into writing.

The simple answer to the question, for me, is that I can’t give adequate attention to all needed areas, so I break them up as best I can and focus on one at a time and do each as best as I possibly can.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

Randy: It hasn’t happened yet, but it will happen, any day now. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next. I don’t know, but I know it will happen. All authors have to believe this, don’t they? Isn’t that what keeps us going? Isn’t that why we’re sneaking peeks at those Amazon rankings or those GoodReads reviews every chance we get? I think maybe it just happened. I better check those Amazon rankings again.

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

Randy: This has happened, and it stung. Rejection always stings. It is that girl who turned you down for the Homecoming dance, or that job you really, really wanted. I wanted that one publisher to say ‘yes’, when I was shopping that first manuscript. They said ‘yes’ twice, but then said ‘no’. You forget about those two yeses but you never forget that one no. You keep asking what did I do wrong? What could I have done better? The questions are unanswerable. Sometimes it is nothing you did. You’re just not what they’re looking for. Doesn’t matter, it still stings. A lot.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

Randy: This is a true story of my first book tour, when I was promoting Lost in the Ivy, where I really hit the road. It is a story that is, I think, a little sad but more funny than anything. It, to me, represents the life that we, as authors, have chosen to take when we set about on a book promotion tour. I had traveled from my hometown in Chicago to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.  The previous day I’d spent at a literacy bookfair in Waynesboro, Virginia, a small town nestled in the scenic and historic Shenandoah Valley. I’d driven two and a half hours through a rainstorm to get to D.C. This is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote later, titled “Only in America.”

Overnight, the skies finally cleared. Bright and early that morning, I beat the tourist buses and toured The Capitol Mall for the first time since I was a toddler. Take away the politicians, and it’s a pretty amazing place.

From there, I went to a less impressive mall, The Shops at Georgetown Center, where I did a book signing at Waldenbooks. I didn’t have huge expectations for this but I at the very least thought that the bookstore would know I was coming. They didn’t, even though my publicist had confirmed with them – not once, not twice, but three times. Which just goes to show that you should never have any expectations when it comes to book tours.

I will say that the assistant manager at Waldenbooks was quite apologetic and accommodating and quickly tried to make amends by setting up a table for me. In two hours there, I sold a couple of books. One went to a friend of a friend who was kind enough to make a special trip to see me. The other went to a woman who was touring D.C. with her son, Raffi, to whom she wanted the book signed.

Before I learned that she was from Austria, I asked the woman if her son is a baseball fan (my book of course having a baseball theme).

“No, I think he is now a fan of America, though,” she said.

Now there is at least one copy of my book in a home somewhere in Austria.

I signed eight other books that were put on display by the front desk, and then drove off to my final stop, which I thought was going to be a bookstore but turned out to be a Middle Eastern restaurant that used to also be a bookstore. A few weeks ago they went out of the bookstore business. That brings us back to rule No. 1: Never have any expectations when it comes to book tours.

I didn’t sell any books at that Middle Eastern restaurant, but I got a really nice dinner on the house. Unfortunately I came two days too late for the belly dancing. Next time I’ll have to plan better.

PJ: Unbelievable! Oh the glamour of an author’s life, eh? With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

Randy: I think what sets my work apart is that you get a lot thrown into a small package. I write small stories that both entertain and hopefully make you think.  You get thrown on an emotional roller-coaster where you’ll laughing at one moment and then crying or screaming at the next. In the end, I hope they are stories that make you think and stick with you for a while.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

Randy: Don’t think about publication. Just write. Write the best damned book you can write. Then start thinking about publication. If the book is good, really good, they will come.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

Randy: This may go against the grain a bit, but I don’t think that book reviews, or book signings, or radio or TV appearances (Oprah was once the exception but she’s too busy promoting herself now to promote other authors) are the most effective tools for promoting your published work. They’re all necessary, and I think that all authors should do all of them, but the most effective tool, in my mind, is the one that doesn’t cost a penny. It does take time and it does take energy but it doesn’t cost money. It is word of mouth. It is building a community of fans and friends who are writers, through social media and your website and through writing groups and writing events. There’s a sense of paying it forward to the writing life, and I try to always say yes to fans and other authors, because you never know when you might need them, when they might be able to help you. I’ve built a whole network of writing friends through my work with the Chicago Writers Association, and all of those relationships have paid off in various ways. I found a publisher for my latest release through a connection I made with CWA. When I needed blurbs for the back of the book, I called upon some of the amazing writing friends I’ve made over the last few years. Every single one I asked said yes. The point is, we, as writers, are all in this same leaky boat together. We can all help one another, we can not only stop that boat from sinking, we can patch it up and make it sea-worthy again.

PJ: Excellent advice! What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

Randy: Standing in front of a crowd, looking at their eyes, and opening my mouth. It terrifies me. I suspect that it comes as a surprise that a lawyer and the president of a 400-member writers’ organization would find public speaking to be a challenge, but I’ve never been comfortable with it. I’ve battled shyness all my life. I’ve never conquered it. But I keep putting myself out there, even though I don’t enjoy it. I’m sure I’m not alone. We, as writers, tend to communicate better through the written as opposed to the spoken word. We tend to work in solitude. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But we’ve got to do it. If you’re going to be successful as a writer, you have to get up and speak in front of a crowd. That’s part of the business. I tell all writers not to wait until that book is published. Get up off that seat and out of that writing cave and get yourself to a local reading event. Start reading your words in public. Now. It’s a great way to meet other writers, it’s a great way to start building a fan base, and it’s a great way to learn to build confidence as a public speaker.

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

I love all independent booksellers, but my personal favorite is The Book Cellar, located in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. Operated by Suzy Takacs, The Book Cellar has been an ardent and active supporter of local independent authors. They host a monthly Local Authors Night, which I will be reading at on November 15. Come on out. It’s a wonderful bookstore. They even serve beer and wine. What more could you possibly want out of a bookstore?

Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:


Lost in the Ivy (Out of Print, 2005)

Cheeseland (Eckhartz Press, 2012)

In addition, I have contributed to the following anthologies:

Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul (2008)

Humor for a Boomer’s Heart (2008)

The Big Book of Christmas Joy (2008)

Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year (Can’t Miss Press, 2008)

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Cheeseland is Mystic River meets The Last Picture Show: a wild coming-of-age road trip that takes thirty years to complete.

Where can we buy it?

Cheeseland is available in trade paperback from Eckhartz Press ( and in e-book format from Amazon, Sony, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

I mentioned that I took a rather circuitous route to becoming a writer and that I did just about everything other than write before I became a writer. I think most people would be surprised to know that I began college studying to be a pilot, a career that literally never took flight. I had been learning to fly single-engine Cessnas at Parks College in Cahokia, Illinois, and had collected nearly 40 hours of flying time. After my first solo flight, my legs were shaking uncontrollably and I realized that I probably wasn’t cut out to be a fly boy.

Randy, thanks for taking time to talk to us here! One thing’s for sure – you haven’t led a boring life! I hope this effort has gained you a few new fans. Now we’ll all know we have to pace ourselves and savor Cheeseland because it’ll be a while before your next book! Any comments for Randy?