I’m pleased the Red Room folks introduced me to author Chuck Waldron as part of their “Author Matchmaking” series. I’ve been writing time-travel thrillers for decades, and so I was fascinated to find out about a novelist who writes adventures that mix time periods or which occur over a long period of time. Chuck’s newest novel, Lion’s Head Deception, is a thriller that takes place in a dystopian near-future in which all-pervasive media, law-enforcement, and government make the privacy issues today seem tame, but which all too possible.
Who are your favorite writers and why? It’s okay if they’re not household names. In this world, they’re only a few clicks away.
Starting with fiction first, I would begin with John le Carré (Okay, in reality David John Moore Caldwell). I have read every one of his novels and admire a writing style that doesn’t use a single, wasted word and his stories open like the layers of an onion. You never know what the next layer will yield.
I would also toss the 2011 winner of the Giller Prize (Canada) into the mix. The winner was Esi Edugyan, with Half-Blood Blues. I love the jazz-like riff of her words.
I loved reading Robert Parker, in my mind the master of dry wit packed into few words. I also like to read, and reread, Elmore Leonard. Alas, both Parker and Leonard both gone now. I would never leave Hemmingway off that list.
As a history major many years ago, I place William Manchester at the head of my non-fiction list.
How about painters?
Just about anything by Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, along with the other members of the Group of Seven, who helped shape Canadian Landscape art (1920-1933).
I was mesmerized by Kramskoy’s Portrait of a woman reading at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
And from my home town, an artist my father went to school with, Grant Wood.
Wow, who to pick? Stanley Kubrik, Orson Welles (Citizen Kane), John Ford, Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin, and in spite of the subjects, Leni Riefenstahl.
We both love writing thrillers that have aspects of time travel, whether through scientific or supernatural means. What is it about the collision of different eras that fascinates you as a storyteller? As a reader, what are your favorite time-travel stories?
In my second novel, Remington and the Mysterious Fedora, I imagined a time before recorded history. That was influenced in a large part by the traces left by the Anasazi. Living in Arizona for a time I tried to imagine what it was like, and nobody really knows.
With Lion’s Head Deception I took a stab at what might lie just around the corner, considering our views on privacy, etc.
What’s the fascination about both? I think there is a universal curiosity about both prehistory and the future, and both are beyond our knowledge. That makes it tempting to view such times as benign or scary. A good story needs a bit of both, in my opinion.
As a reader I was influenced early on by H. G. Well when I met Time Machine. Then came Rad Bradbury and A Sound of Thunder and Fahrenheit 451.
There are others, but those were my top two writers when I thought about your question.
There are 15 million books (and counting) in cyberspace. Is this exhilarating or intimidating for you? (Or something else again?)
I can’t even begin to wrap my head around that. My wife claims she’s the only person in the world who hasn’t published a book. She may be right.
If it was all that intimidating I would simply give up. But wait, I have my stories to tell. Churchill said the last step to writing is to fling your words at unsuspecting readers. I choose to do that, and let my stories stand on their own. So far in relative obscurity, but I still “Keep calm and write on.”
The answer lies in the previous question. Publishers are struggling through a major, if not tectonic, shift in the way books get into the hands of readers. They aren’t about to spend a lot of money marketing an unknown (yet) writer.
If that’s the case why not just do it myself?
My job is to tell a good story. The next step is to make sure an editor makes up for all my mistakes. Following that I look for a good cover design. There are many POD services like Createspace that make it possible to become and indie author.
Indie films have come of age. Indie music has come of age. Alas, indie publishing still has a cloudy patina. The way to fight that is to do my best to produce a quality product that will give someone a good read.
Have you tried or will you try the traditional agent – editor – publisher route?
I have the typical desk drawer full of rejections. I will continue to pursue the chase for an agent or editor. Lacking the contacts to open the door, it seems hopeless at times, but I still butt my head against the doors.
Are you influenced by reviews of your books? (I suppose, I mean in terms of craft.)
Rave reviews by friends and family are almost expected. The reviews I value are the ones that reflect the time to comment on the good and bad of my writing and stories. While I’m thin skinned about many things, I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to critiques of my writing. The positive reviews give me the green light to keep going. Criticism about something, grammar or otherwise, that gets between me and a reader are comments I treat with respect and need to learn from them to improve my writing.
I’m reminded of something attributed to Robert Kennedy, “one-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.”
What is your favorite part of the writing process? The least favorite?
It would be tempting to say the start, but the favorite part for me is when the story starts to become clear. Not just the start but the middle, the end, and all the detours along the way.
I have often said how much I regret sleeping through my high school English classes. I put commas where they don’t belong and leave them out when they do belong. Then, there’s the pesky and dreaded semi-colon. All that to say the sweaty, rewrite is the least favorite part for me.
In some ways the last word of the story is my least favorite. That’s when a writer has to bid farewell to his/her characters.
Do your characters talk to you?
Oh my, yes. Sometimes it’s a whisper, sometimes a shout, but fortunately I spent a career in mental health services and I can do a self-diagnosis and convince myself they’re not real. Then again, they are. Go figure.
Do you belong to a writers’ group? If so, is it a good or a bad influence?
I have learned to cherry-pick who I share my writing experience with. I’ve found that there is sometimes an underlying resentment from some who are not feeling their writing jones.
I’m also not helped by the people who want to red-pencil and point out all the spelling and grammar mistakes when what I really want to know is if the story is working.
That said, I have had some very good writing group experiences.
Do you write everyday? Do you have a schedule?
If I’m not writing everyday I’m thinking about writing every day, and most nights as well. It’s amazing how many plot bunnies hide under my bed.
When you write, do you consider “audience?” I mean, who you are writing for?
I write for an audience of one to begin with, me. I sometimes think about how something might be read by others, but not all that often.
Do you start with a character or an idea?
I have a notebook with several ideas for stories. When I start it’s because I was drawn to something that isn’t in that notebook.
When I have the hint of a story I begin thinking about characters. Then the fun begins for me. Sometimes I spend days and weeks getting to know a character, old, young, smart, good looking, good or evil. When I have my list they often tell me their story.
What is your next book about? (It’s okay if you don’t know.)
Talk about a split personality. I’m part way through a sequel for my third novel, Served Cold. At the same time I’m writing a sequel to Lion’s Head Deception, that has most of my attention right now. I’m starting with my bad guy living in a remote cottage on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island and waiting to see what comes next..
Re: the business of writing. Do you have or hire a publicist? Do you have or use a marketing plan?
I’m a pensioner with modest means. If I had the money I would love to have a marketing department to handle all of my publicity needs. Until then I make use of my limited resources, and yes, I have a marketing plan to help me get the most I can. I try to research marketing sources once a week, looking for ways to gain exposure.
Any money I make goes straight into the bank account to fund my next novel.
Do you find social media helpful, annoying or a waste of time?
Argggh, social media, something I love and hate. Does anyone use a website anymore? Still, we have to have one. I think we ignore the many social media outlets at our own peril, but how can we even begin to measure the cost/benefit? A lot of it doesn’t take money, but time. It can certainly suck up a lot of our time.
To answer, I think social media is helpful, annoying and a waste of time. Still, “I’m just saying.”
Karl, thanks for the interesting questions.
A fifth-generation Angeleno, Karl Alexander was raised in a family of screenwriters. His father, William Tunberg, wrote Old Yeller, his uncle, Karl Tunberg, wrote Ben Hur. He's worked as a machinist, commercial fisherman, semipro baseball player, bartender, actor, literary agent, film technician and lighting director. He received a BA in philosophy from Brown University, was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps, served as a captain during the Vietnam War, later earned an MA from San Francisco State and an MFA from the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, thanks to a graduate fellowship and the G.I. Bill. He's traveled extensively in the Third World and lived in Cuba for a short time which inspired his novel Papa and Fidel. He was a university professor for three years, then—back in L.A.—an intern at the American Film Institute. He has written and optioned ten screenplays and published six novels. Two have been made into films, including his bestselling book, Time After Time. He co-produced the feature film Rattlers, and has also written two TV pilots which have aired on NBC.
This interview is one in an exclusive series of original author interviews arranged by Red Room editors as part of our Author Matchmakers series. Learn more about the series here, and arrange to be an interviewer or interviewee by writing to email@example.com.
Causes Chuck Waldron Supports
A proud volunteer at Save the Chimps, the world's largest Chimpanzee Sanctuary.