Playwright Arthur Miller and I went to the same high school in Brooklyn, New York. I missed him by 40 years but then he stopped by when I was there to share a few expletives with the people who said he would never amount to anything. By contrast, the English department at Lincoln High School loved me. That didn't bode well at all so I went and pissed off a professor at Columbia University and became a columnist at Scholastic, a museum founder, and a professional educator. Not bad.
As a novelist I wrote science fiction because it had no boundaries, and it made me one of the first bestselling authors on Amazon Kindle. It helped that I was a NASA consultant. But when I was young and strong, I was a federal agent, and I've saved and novelized those tales, the stories inspired by the IRS and my work alongside the FBI. Because it seemed appropriate, I’ve made Creds: The IRS Adventure one part drama, one part parody.
When and why did you first start writing?
John Lennon said it best in the 1960's when he wrote, "Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup." He added that "they slip away." That's exactly what copious words do if you don't capture them. That was a momentous time when even as a child I could feel the world shifting. Looking back, it seems to me that growing up in the '60's and '70's was the sort of creative jolt that could make anyone a writer. But we had these enormous bookshelves in our house in the middle of a bad neighborhood, and my mother got me to read both Shakespeare and East Harlem's Piri Thomas. When I was 11, I won a state-wide essay contest over participants as old as 17 and that told me a lot about my options. Brooklyn, though, was a hotbed of intellectual activity. In junior high school there were several writers that were far better than me. It gave me quite a bit to strive for.
If you could describe your work experience as a federal agent in one quote, which one would that be?
One could easily confuse the U.S. Treasury department with the center of the universe.
How has your work experience contributed to your writing?
For decades, my career decisions were influenced by the advice of George Plimpton, who—not incidentally or coincidentally—was known for his quotes. This writer/editor/actor/sportsman was also a federal agent at one point, and he did the "Writers at Work" series for the Paris Review, which Joe David Bellamy called, ""one of the single most persistent acts of cultural conservation in the history of the world." I wanted to be a spiritual part of that and gain the enriching effects of what Plimpton had done and then advocated, getting a taste of everything, which was, according to him, the only way to live many lives. He was born to wealth.
I could never do quite as many things as he did, but I had an intense desire to be a writer and the broad approach to work experience was highly effective. I'm able to draw from my time as a freelance artist, a bank teller, a fry cook, a stage performer, a marketing researcher, and a political campaigner, just for a start, and I've mingled with and interviewed people from a great many other professions. I wrote the first analysis of candidate Bill Clinton for the Democratic National Committee, wrote stereo marketing strategy for executives at Kenwood Japan, and revised the AICPA Guide to Electronic Tax Preparation. I'm learning to speak Mandarin now. My store will never run out.
As an educator, have you ever used quotes as part of your teaching? If yes, which ones?
I use songs, plays, speeches, everything from Pink's "the shock and the awe that can eat you raw, that's the truth about love," to Richard Nixon's, "I come to you tonight as a man whose honesty and integrity have been questioned." Quotes are a tradition of teaching that I first saw in the New York City school system. They open the door to every kind of discussion
Tell us a few things about your latest projects / books.
My readers are the greatest, most patient people in the world, awaiting Kreindia of Amorium, the sequel to Wade of Aquitaine, which I've insisted on making better than volume one and just as long. Tor Books wanted me to cut 20,000 words from Wade of Aquitaine and I refused (imagine how many quotes would have died with it!) so Tor Books was not allowed to have it, and it became one of the first Kindle bestsellers for Amazon. Kreindia, I'm happy to say, is now 90% complete. Meanwhile I've got a book I've done with William Freedman that's only 31,000 words called Supernaturalz Weird Creepy & Random, a companion book to the instant video movie I produced. The movie is a silly, low-budget parody but funny and full of cult-classic magic thanks to Director Kevin Sean Michaels (Vampira the Movie), and a terrific cast.
I take inspiration from prolific Campbell and Hugo Award winner Elizabeth Bear, who I know from the lecture circuit. She also worked a vast number of eclectic jobs and is one of very few people who can successfully write everything at the same time (younger than me but still my hero). Bear speaks of her "compulsive inability to stick to a genre," because of her range of science fiction and fantasy, but I'm way worse genrewise. Much as I like science fiction and comedy, I've recently released three out of four parts of Creds: The IRS Adventure, which is based on my years in the Treasury department. At the same time I'm putting out the video release of The Amazing Kreskin on Ultimate Fear. Then I'm behind on my blog at Linkedin yet I've got two more books in the testing stage, one of which is as much a ghost story as it is a memoir.
If you could pick 5 quotes from any of your books, which ones would they be?
"Yes," said the sorry figure, flashing red-rimmed eyes, "behold Pepin the Hunchback, bastard son of Charlemagne, disinherited at the Diet of Thionville, Pepin disregarded in the Divisio regnorum. Are you pleased to meet me? Are you really?"—Wade of Aquitaine
And finally he thought of Sun Yan who he had personally sent to the Great Luminous Palace in her youth, and wondered whether he himself would ever see the Gate of the Cinnabar Phoenix. Having betrayed her, how would he get past the first gate, Luminous Virtue?–Mars Armor Forged
On February 13, 1983, as I donned my jeans and sneakers for a typical morning in the final year of my undergraduate degree in accounting, tax protester Henry Jessup—fifteen hundred miles away—loaded his Ruger Mini-14 rifle and stepped outside to check his scope for clarity and accuracy.-Creds: The IRS Adventure
The buildings looked like two luminous blue whales in the darkness, riding a string of pearly lights into heaven. My usual chipper self rallied for just a moment. Hard to believe I planned to travel from that breathtaking sight to the hell that Brian Parell had described to his father.—Drastic Measures (Anthology)
A fresh idea in the right hands, which is to say one approached with a high degree of skill and diligence, is a sack of gold. The chief advantage you begin with is that you have a unique mind. You can't help it.—Today You Write the Book
How important are quotes in your life? How have they helped you deal with various issues (health, personal, financial, career) throughout the years?
Quotes teach you how to be great ("Aim for the moon; if you miss, you may hit a star" –W. Clement Stone) and how to be humble ("I do believe I'm a glow worm" –Winston Churchill). This works for me, the NPO boards I've worked with, and the students I teach.
What inspires you to create a quote?
The confluence of truth shared in the beauty of memorable words. It starts from a realization and an elegant way of framing it, a fleeting thought that ought to be something I teach myself to remember.
What makes a quote, a good quote?
An idea that resonates with people, expressed in as concise and original a form as possible. The fresh, almost poetic, sound gets people's attention and stays with them if the message is worthwhile.
What are your thoughts about the rise of the quote-image, inspirational words on graphic backgrounds or photos?
It's an exciting, concise way to disseminate information, a great blazing trail. Quotes have an illustrious history of inspiration and have been enjoying a renaissance in the era of social media. Today's graphic expression of quotes is a democratic movement of rapid access and dissemination, a natural evolution from the world of poster prints to the digital age, making quick tools available to produce these more memorable graphic aids, and providing an infinite way of expressing ideas that are subtly changed with each quote-image iteration.
Which are your favorite quotes?
Those that make me nod, laugh or smile, especially if they throw a spotlight on what matters or has been overlooked so that they make you see a point differently than you have been. I also love quotes that inspire me to write a story to further illustrate the point.
Off the top of my head:
"No man's credit is as good as his money." -Edgar Watson Howe
The quote is so packed with truth in a small space as to make it provocative, the way we used to say, "That's the moral of the story." Making a truth short is not always the endpoint, but the beginning of something begging to expand. Yes, some people will get it right away because they have the store of experience. Others want to acquire the wisdom by seeing the more complete illustration that someone with knowledge and a gift for expansiveness can spin around it.
Is there anything else you might want to say about the power of words?
Since I value everyone's opinion, once in a while I dip into Google to see what is being said about me or my works. One day I was delighted that my book had coincidentally come up in someone's Yahoo Answers post in a game someone had devised utilizing random quotes. After it circulated a bit, the game came to be called the "Page 45 Challenge." The original instructions were, "Pick up the nearest book to you. Turn to page 45. The first sentence describes your sex life in [the coming year]." One of the first books the correspondents picked up was my Wade of Aquitaine. She quoted, "…then stick to your basic wode, vermilion, and madder, and let me do my job." The contributor of this entry added, Don't know what to say about that one... how the heck does this describe my sex life?
I'm tempted to revisit the page on Yahoo Answers and hazard an explanation.