Frequently Asked Questions
1.) When did you decide you wanted to be an author? Writing was my first career choice, one that I made when I was in the second grade. However, childhood dreams go the way of monsters in the closet; they are still there, just buried under a mound of dirty clothes, spent hangers and smelly sneakers. After a long series of drudgery-type jobs and more failed novel completion attempts than I can remember, and forty-five years, I decided I was going to write and finish a novel, even if it was never published and no one ever read it. It took me two years to complete the rough draft, writing after work and on weekends. It took another fifteen years of writing and strange bits of publishing before I could leave my job and begin to write, publish and market full time.
I became an author in 1998 when I finished my first novel ‘Eye on The Prize’. I became a full time author when I published my seventh novel ‘The Granite Heart’ book two in an Ozark Mountain series. Believe me, I wish I had become a full time writer long before this.
2.) What other authors have influenced your work? I think all authors have been influenced by every writer they have ever read, both good and bad. For me, my two favorite authors have always been Robert Heinlein (scifi) and Louis L’Amour (western). They are not as divergent genres as they sound.
3.) Where do your ideas come from? This is an easy question. I go to the local library (like every other author) and get the big book of story ideas. I scan through it until I find a story that hasn’t been written and mark it off in the book, so the next author knows it has been used. Story ideas come from anywhere and everywhere: a newspaper article, a bad television show, a dream slightly remembered when waking, a sudden insight while out for a long walk, a good conversation, an overheard conversation, a conversation gone bad, a strange location, the sight of an old cowboy on a dusty road driving an old beat-up blue pickup truck, the smell of fresh bread wafting through the air when there are no bakeries nearby, a picture of a body mangled by a car wreck with a bullet wound in his chest, putting a bullet through the head of a zombie at a hundred yards, the feeling of touching an orange while wearing silk gloves, remembering the soft touch of Grandma’s hand on your cheek, remembering the harsh touch of Grandpa’s belt across your cheeks, the back cover of a book that bore no relation to the story inside, the sly glance of an attractive painted lady, the rambunctious bounce of a puppy and/or the taste of the color blue on a bright spring morning. All of these and more can become wonderful stories with the added question of how and why and what led to this.
4.) Do you write every day? Yes, I do. Now it is a full time job. I may not be turning out a new novel, but I will be working on a story outline, a rewrite or an in-depth edit.
5.) Do you set writing goals? My goals are more toward the publishing side. When I write, my goals tend to be story driven; get the hero into trouble…then get him/her out again.
6.) How does my work differ from others in its genre? Writing about genre is confusing for me. I don’t like writing in one genre anymore than I like only reading one thing. I try to write one science fiction story in between each historical fiction or action adventure. But, one theme does manifest itself, my science fiction is more story oriented than science and my historical fiction is more story driven than history lessons. You do not need to understand string theory to enjoy Metal Boxes and you do not need to understand the constitutional implications of prohibition in America to enjoy The Friendship Stones.
7.) Why do I write what I do?I write what I would enjoy reading. It is readily apparent that today’s society is becoming more stressful. My books offer a brief respite from stress. Read and enjoy…try not to think so much…forget about the hassles of the day.
Besides, I like writing. It is as much fun as reading to me.
8.) How does my writing process work? This is a simple question for me. The process is to sit my ever expanding backside in a chair and type out the stories in my head. I start with an idea. For example, let’s take Mom’s stories of growing up in extreme poverty (I have heard them for the last sixty years-over and over and over again) and fictionalize them to tie them together for a coming of age novel set in the Ozark Mountains. Then I slap together a very fragile and flexible outline. Sitting down at the computer I slam in the words as fast as my digits can fly. Halfway through a manuscript, the outline goes in the trash as I make it up as I go along. With the Ozark Mountain Series I did have a co-author (Mom) so it was a matter of making her memories fit into the storyline.
I do not require quiet. I do not require noise. I am happy facing a window and just as happy to face the wall. I like a messy desk and I like nothing on my desk at all. I prefer snacks while writing and…oops, yeah. I like snacks, okay, so I will buy bigger pants when I write my next novel. The point is that when I am writing, I ‘see’ the landscape and the characters in my head. It is a very clear mental image that I can control and command (oooooo, don’t tell Freud about that, he might make something of it how I don’t control this life, so I make up places that I can command, hmmmm!?) The point is that I write what I see and try to do it in such a manner that my reader can get a similar view.
When I am immersed in this other world, I can usually get down around 950 to 1000 words per hour. So I can write a rough draft of an 80,000 word novel in…well, that is why I write stories since I can’t do math. But, it is quick enough to finish the story before the characters in my other worlds learn that they have the power to rebel against my tyrannical command and control.
9.) What is the biggest drawback to being an author? Being an author is a butt expanding and checkbook balance shrinking activity.
10.) What marketing suggestions do you have for a new writer? This question now has a tab of its own.
11.) What genres do you write? What genres do you write?: I am uni-genre-phobic. I can’t seem to write the same genre more than once in a row. I have published 5 scifi (2 military scifi, 1 young adult military, 1 young adult scifi, & 1 action adventure scifi), 1 contemporary action/adventure/humor, 1 western & 3 young adult/Christian/historical novels.
12.) Before the writing bug decided to sink its teeth in and take hold, what was it you did “for a living”, so to speak? I did a lot of different jobs over the years. It was just work to pay the bills. I spent many years as a buyer/purchasing agent for various companies. I have also worked as a maintenance man for a resort, sold insurance, cut up dead animals, repo man, used car salesman, bill collector, loan officer, washed dishes, cook, and I am a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
13.) When would you say was the moment you realized that you were an author and not just penning as a hobby? When I got a paycheck that was big enough to cover the bills. That first book in your hands says you are an author, but it is still a hobby until it starts paying for itself and making a profit. Then it becomes a business.
14.) How did your family/friends/others react when you told them that you were going to make writing your vocation? The first time? Well, I was about 10 years old and they laughed. But, forward a half dozen decades later and they are more than supportive. Telling someone that you are going to be a writer will never have the same impact as putting a book in their hands. I met a man once who said he was an author and has been working on the same story for twenty years, but he hasn’t put any of it on paper. I was too polite to laugh at him, but he will only be an author when he has written something and he will only be in the business of being an author when he has a book to put in someone’s hands (or on their e-reader).
15.) When getting to hold one of your own books for the first time, what was your reaction? I was so tickled that I almost wet my pants. Really! I mean: happy dance, the giggles and ice cream for supper. And just to let you know, my 10th book wasn’t any less exciting than the first.
16.) What other hobbies do you have that may have transferred to your characters in your books? I like to eat, so do all of my characters. Strangely, I get fat, but they don’t.
17.) What genre do you find yourself reading the most? That is hard, because I read everything, including the back of cereal boxes. I am reading horror now, the book before was historical fiction, before that was contemporary literature, before that was fantasy, fantasy, scifi, western, scifi, romance…and well that is as far back as I can remember without checking.
18.) In research, one of your writing genres is Military Science Fiction. Are you a Star Trek or Star Wars fan? Yes. Sorry, but I refuse to pigeonhole myself to either of these storylines, both are wonderful universes, complete and fully functioning. If push comes to shove (um, no shoving here!) I would have to say I am more a fan of Firefly.
19.) If there was a moment in any one of your novels where you could visit it for a day and be a part of your own story, what novel and moment would that be? One! Just One! Are you kidding? I live every moment of every novel I write. I slide inside the world and only attempt to describe what I have seen. I can disappear for hours on end into dozens of worlds, universes, and character’s lives.
20.) Not that a parent can choose between his kids, but which one of your characters has become your favorite? LillieBeth Hazkit from An Ozark Mountain Series. She is my mother’s memories wrapped up in my wife’s personality and fictionalized into a strong, young woman. She may only be 12 years old, but in 1920 in the Ozarks a child either grew up fast or she didn’t survive to thrive.
21.) When you sell a book, are you still excited that someone has chosen to get your story above all the other stories out there? Yep! It’s the wet my pants, happy dance all over again.
22.) Do you pick up little trinkets or things that make you think of one of your characters? Not really. Mostly I already have the trinkets and build the characters around them. It has been pointed out that rocks and stones are prevalent in my stories. They are all over the house, too.
23.) What is a writing genre you’ve never tried, but would like to? Romance. Every book has some romance in it, but I haven’t written a book that specifically targets that genre. It also is the biggest selling genre out there, almost 3 times as many sales as scifi/fantasy.
24.) What do you feel was the WORST book ever written? Why? I don’t want to offend anybody. But a couple of my least favorite books are Moby Dick and Catcher in the Rye. My problem is that in Moby Dick is there is a whole chapter on whaling. I understand the author’s reasoning for putting it here, but it really stopped the story. It is like…hey! Let’s just take a break from this story and read a history lesson. And Catcher in the Rye. Well, I understand the teenage angst part of it. I was forced to read it during my own bout of angst, but the story doesn’t really go anywhere and do anything. Maybe because I was forced that it became a problem for me. No. I was forced to read Great Expectations and I still enjoyed it. Maybe I just don’t get those books.
25.) Have you ever had a stalker? No. Well, if they were good at it, how would I know? Are you wanting to apply for the job?
26.) Another planet with earth-like people has been discovered and we are communicating with them. You have been asked by the powers that be here to put together 5 items that represent our world as a whole to be sent to this new planet and its people. What would you send?
- A sheaf of wheat because we have the technology and power to feed the world, but we don’t
- A cat because more humans have catlike personalities: aloof, superior and we purr when stroked.
- A mirror because as a race we are more self-absorbed than is good for a species. Aliens take note: we (as individuals and as a species) will always, always, always put our own interests first regardless of the majority’s greater good.
- A handgun because it only has one purpose and it tells a lot about us that we invent and use a product that only kills. It’s a warning to any new civilization that we have a dangerous side, both to ourselves, but to them as well, so tread carefully with us.
- A box of chocolates. Because, yeah, well, it’s chocolate and it travels better than beer.
27.) Have you ever had to invent a new word for your writing? What was the word and what does it mean? Nope. I struggle to use words that people already know. That is how writers get their point across.
28.) What word do you know you over use when writing? That, But, Very, Which. Thankfully, my editor makes me go back and take them all out.
29.) What word do you always seem to misspell? Leiutenant. And bureaucrat. Huh…I got the second one right after only six tries.
30.) Where is the furthest place you have traveled to? Sapporo, Japan.
31.) Where is the furthest place you’ve heard your books having been bought? Distance-wise, I think New Zealand.
32.) Would you want your books to be turned into movies knowing they are rarely the same? Sure. That is a matter of money. Movie producers pay between 2% and 6% of the movie budget for the rights to a novel. They can do anything they want for that kind of money.
33.) Do you prefer the book or the movie? Books. But I still go to the movies…a lot.
34.) How do you feel ebooks have helped or hindered the writing world? I think they have helped. Any medium that makes literature more accessible it a good thing.
35.) Do you prefer cats or dogs? Dogs. Not the little yappy kind, but the friendly kind who doesn’t know its too big to be a lap dog.
36.) What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen? We were travelling on a dirt road in the middle of Nevada. You know the type of road? More of a farm tractor path, just 2 ruts with rocks and weeds down the middle, not a building in sight. There were cows in the road, not moving as they stood in the snow, their heads on swivels, staring at us in unison as if choreographed by a rogue Rockette. We drove past, went a short distance and turned around. The cows were gone. No tracks in the snow, not a ravine, hill or gully in sight. They just disappeared. So it is not the strangest thing I have seen, but more the strangest thing that wasn’t seen. I think it was aliens checking out the planet disguised as cows.
37.) What is the oddest thing you have ever eaten? A purple octopus sucker wrapped in a deep fried breading on a stick.
38.) When you were a child did you ask why? Or just accept things as they were? I was a quiet child, I don’t remember being that inquisitive, probably because I liked my own made up ‘why’ better than anything Mom or Dad would have said.
39.) Who was your favorite person growing up? I think that my favorite person changed depending on who was around at the time. I know that sounds a tad bit fickle, but it is more of being satisfied with my surroundings and the people who populated my world than wanting specific people, places or things.
40.) Do you like public speaking to a large crowd or prefer a few people around a dinner table? I think a large crowd suits my personality a bit better. It’s a control issue, you know?
41.) How do you handle not having the chance to write? I get grumpy. It is the same feeling I get when I don’t get my fair share of the ice cream.
42.) Were you ever a boy scout? Yep. I was horrible at it. I like the camping and outdoor stuff, but wasn’t so much exciting about all of the organizational stuff and having to earn merit badges to advance.
43.) What bother’s your wife the most about your writing? She is my chief editor, so I have to say it is my bad grammar, spelling, and syntax.
44.) What does your wife love the most about your writing? The freedom it gives us to go where we want to go when we want to go there.
45.) Do you use places that exist in you books or do you make them up or both? I mix and match locations as much as I mix and match people. Some places are real. I’ve been there and touched the bricks. Even the imaginary places have some basis in reality, although I have stretched, added, subtracted and blended parts and pieces of real locales.
46.) If there was another author you could sit down and write a book with, who would it be? None living. Really. Writing with a partner is difficult. Been there and done that. It is my story and my vision. I love some authors and would like to spend time with them: learning, talking, and laughing. But writing? Nope. That is mine.
47.) Do you prefer cake or pie? Pie. Why isn’t there such a thing as a birthday pie?
48.) If you could go back in time and remove one thing from modern civilization, what would it be? Nuclear power…or television.
49.) What book genre(s) do you steer clear from when you’re going to read something? Nope. I read lots of stuff. A good story is a good story whether it’s framed as zombie cowboys having a romance with space-going hookers or if it’s a cute story about kids and horses. There is a good story in both of those ideas.
50.) Is it luck or hard work that has brought you to where you are today? It’s work. Tain’t hard tho’. It’s sitting my butt in a chair and writing stories. That’s a lot of sitting. That’s a lot of writing. It is a lot of editing, cover creation, formatting, publishing, and marketing. It is 60 hours a week of constant work. I do it in my jammies, but it’s still commitment to action and a modicum of skill. Luck is what happens when you aren’t looking, it’s random chance.
51.) What is one of the most surprising things you have learned as an author, either about you or about developing the story? I find that I care more about what people think of my writing than I thought I would. My stories, whether they are about a sixteen year old boy in space or an orangutan in Alabama, they are a part of me and…yes, it is personal.
52.) What do you take away from reading a review of your books? Obviously, that depends on the review. A well-written review will tell me what I did right, what I did wrong or a little of both. Even a review that slams my works can be instructive. Reviews are feedback on how well or how poorly I did my job. They are the equivalent of a Christmas bonus to someone who works paycheck to paycheck.
53.) What type of preparation do you do for a manuscript? Do you plan everything first or just shoot from the hip? I started my first novel with an extensive outline. That is what I had been taught. I had been told that was the only way. About halfway through the book, I couldn’t make the story follow the outline anymore and I caught myself spending more time updating the outline than I did writing the story, so I threw the outline away. Now, I know where I am going to start, where I want to go and about how long I want to take to get there. Then I pants it the whole way through.
54.) What were you in a past life, before you became a writer? I have done…um…a lot: I have been a busboy, dishwasher, daily farm laborer, line cook, barback, radio communications analysis as an Air Force vet, insurance salesman, used car salesman, HVAC assistant, turd wrangles assistant, bill collector, car repoman, meat cutter, grocery clerk, business news reported, purchasing agent, and telephone customer service representative.
55.) Do you have any tips for new writers? So much advice. So little time. Two things.
#1 rule of writing fiction: There are no rules to writing. Oh sure, editors have rules, agents have rules, publishers have rules, booksellers have rules, and even readers have rules. But, write what you want and how you want. You will be happier for it, even if you have to make a few changes later to make everyone else happy.
#2 Never quit writing unless your protagonist is in trouble. This will help you avoid writer’s block and help you get back to writing.
55.) Do you suffer from writer’s block? Nope. Because I follow rule #2 from above.
56.) Do you have a preferred writing schedule? Nope. As a full time writer, I sit and write whenever there isn’t anything good on television.
57.) Do you have a favorite writing place? I have a home office. It is for writing, nothing else. I control distractions and I can get there without any traffic snarls.
58.) What is your greatest joy in writing? Finishing a good story.
59.) What’s the greatest compliment you ever received from a reader? Really! I cut this from her review on Amazon. She is also one of Amazon’s Top Reviewers. Really! I didn’t pay her or nothing like that. I haven’t even met the woman. Honest.
“Alan Black took me to a time and place I have never been to and yet, I could see it plainly in my mind, the simple joys of life and giving and being happy with what one has, while struggling to survive. Let go of your mind’s control and you will experience the dusty roads, the rocky fields and poverty that is all these people have known. There is no fast action, no great adventure, no thunderous preaching, just a journey that can be savored and reveled in through the eyes and heart of young LillieBeth. Had I missed reading The Friendship Stones I would have missed some of the magic of books.”
I had this same reviewer say the following: “The Friendship Stones by Alan Black is one of the most beautifully written tales I have ever read, part historical fiction, part inspirational reading, part coming of age, told through the mind and heart of a twelve-year-old girl, the innocence of youth and the times shines through like a glittering diamond.”
60.) What was the worst comment from a reader? I had a review give me a one star review on Amazon for Metal Boxes, “I thought this was supposed to be sci-fi, not a story about lesbians!”I have read the book 17 times and I can’t find a lesbian anywhere. Not that I have a problem with gay or lesbian, it just ain’t in this book. Makes me wonder where his head was at.
61.) Writers are sometimes influence by things that happen in their own lives. Are you? I firmly believe that an author reveals more of him/herself that most are willing to admit. My Ozark Mountain Series (The Friendship Stones, The Granite Heart, & The Heaviest Rock) all leans very heavily on the memories of my 84-year-old co-author Bernice Knight. That was the initial point of the books in the first place. We took her memories and fictionalized them, twisting in other fictional elements as there were things she wanted to share, but didn’t want her great grandchildren to read that some of the really nasty things had actually happened.
That series was specifically designed to fictionalize factual occurrences. However, even the most bizarre science fiction must have something from my past that I can relate to. If I cannot relate to the story on an emotional level, how can I expect my readers to feel that emotion?
62.) Describe your perfect day. I’ll let you know when it happens.
63.) If you were stuck on a desert island with one person, who would it by? Why? My wife. Not only is she my best friend, but she is an expert in survival, having taught escape and evasion to pilots in the Air Force. She can’t cook worth a damn, but she sure could find me something that I could kill, gut and cook.
64.) What would you say if you had the chance to speak to workd leaders? Take a course in how to listen. Really! Learn to listen more and talk less.
65.) Do you see yourself in any of your characters? I see myself in all of my characters. In fact, I write myself into a lot of my books. You can spot me because I am the short, fat, bald old man with glasses. Every book needs a character that looks like me.
66.) Does the publishing industry frustrate you? Dear God! How could it not? We are in the middle of an industry flux. Booksellers are going out of business so fast that readers don’t have anywhere to go. Publishers are dying and merging at an apocalyptic rate. Agents are so worried about new writers that they only want to bring on ‘the sure thing’. And the world’s biggest book seller also sells cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew and underwear. Writers are criticized for stepping outside of the best selling genre, yet genre catagories are changing and expanding faster than booksellers can keep up.
67.) Did you ever think of quitting? Nope. I have the best job in the world.
68.) How would you define ‘success’ as a writer? It is all about having a fun time at your book launch party. Nothing more than that.
69.) What should readers walk away from your books knowing? How should they feel? I want them to know my name and go buy another of my books.
70.) How much thought goes into designing a book cover? A lot more thought should be given to the cover than I ever give it. We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but readers do it every time they buy a book. I pick a picture that I like and send it to my cover designer with the instructions to make the words readable from across the room. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don’t.
71.) What’s your ultimate dream? Pulitzer? New York Times Best Seller list? Nope. I want to see someone laugh out loud when I see them reading one of my books in the airport waiting for a flight.