Tell me your story.
I was born on a dark and stormy night, of course. But besides that, sharing news and stories has compelled me to write. My parents both wrote — my mom was a frustrated artist and my dad an engineer in the steel industry — and I saw that as a way to be where the action was. I was in elementary school when the nightly news showed images of American servicemen fighting in Vietnam and I scribbled out my version of Nixon’s Watergate trial and debacle.
Helping others became engrained in me in junior high after reading two books that impacted me forever — The Cross and the Switchblade and A Man Called Peter.
After a brief stint in radio news I worked in a Christian nonprofit and hosted a radio spot series for 20 years on holidays and cultures around the world.
My wife and I adopted four kids out of foster care and had two boys in their teens as guardians. I’ve never had the quiet I’ve longed for and, at times, nearly lost my faith in God as the years of chaos and crisis eroded my own spirit — much like a boat capsizing and struggling to right itself again.
Writing fiction has come partly from that place of pain and discovery.
Tell me about your latest book.
Tom Stone: Day of the Dead brings closure to the chase and battle between LAPD Detective Tom Stone, his partner Jake Sharpe, and the wanna-be drug lord they chase. Anthony Angelino wants to build his own empire the way he sees fit, but the danged mob keeps getting in the way and threatening his life. He keeps escaping their clutches until —
Day of the Dead is Book 3 of the Tom Stone stories and weaves multiple characters with their points of view like Angelino’s attorney Alisha Davidson who is dating Stone in an interracial romance; Samuel Amman who is the number two guy in the mob and sees himself as the Boss; and Andrew, a boy in foster care whom Det. Stone has befriended.
Where do you get your information and ideas for your books?
My writing partner, Lon Casler Bixby, wrote a script with many of the Tom Stone characters and we expanded on that for the book series. I’m originally from western Pennsylvania but live in Southern California and I’m fascinated with the the diverse So Cal region — the people and places. I also want to write about western PA eventually but it’s the quirks of people and the charm or harshness of where they live that intrigues me.
Do you have a specific process when writing a book?
Getting started and moving through as best I can is my process. I like to outline using bullet points and then adjusting as needed. Getting an outline down is important because it forces you to think about where the story is headed.
Do you have a writing quirk or ritual?
Uh, hmm, let me get up for the 15th time for another cup of coffee before answering. Oh, boy. I have to get myself seated and unwinding in order to focus and that can take me about 15 minutes or so. My favorite creative time is the morning around 8 until early afternoon but uninterrupted times have been rare in my life. So there’s not a clear-cut ritual, except my need to push aside distractions in order to focus and that pattern isn’t always clear to me.
What is something you’ve learned about yourself through the process of writing?
That it’s possible to finish what I started. At the University of Pittsburgh, I studied short story fiction and then wrote radio news for years. Me, write a novel?! Now, I’ve written 3 with Lon Casler Bixby with others on the way. I had written one previously. I’ve enjoyed the discipline of writing, editing and finishing an involved project.
What do you think makes a good story?
A favorite movie of recent years is Far from the Madding Crowd which is certainly a romance. Tension kept me involved in the film just like tension kept me reading John Grisham’s novel The Firm, about a law firm in Memphis. So, tension, has to be present.
There was tension also in the gentle anecdotes that James Herriot, the English veterinarian, wrote in his stories that I loved so much.
If you could only read one book over and over, which one would you pick and why?
Oh, don’t ask this. Too late, you already did. I guess it’s this feeling of vulnerability but I would read Cross and the Switchblade and perhaps I should again. Why? A man senses God’s calling into the toughest areas of New York City in the 1950s and discovers his life’s purpose–one that goes way beyond his own abilities. Inspiring and engrossing.
What books are currently on your night stand?
61 Hours by Lee Child; and Fields of Wrath by a lesser-known author from So Cal, Mark Wheaton.
How do you organize your books?
Oh, I’ve got them stacked on my bookshelf with fiction, non-fiction narrative and business. And then I’ve got them downloaded messily in my Kindle Cloud reader.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Darn. You did it again. 3? Okay, James Herriot (pen name) since his memoir-anecedotes were so well-written and entertaining. I loved getting lost in the farms of Yorkshire and would like to ask him how I could write my own memoir; C.S. Lewis, since I took a class in Tolkien and Lewis at Pitt. It was one of the last classes I needed to get my graduating credits and we had to read all of their works in 7 weeks. The prof led fantastic discussions. And, John Grisham. His first novel The Firm, was one I enjoyed the most and he sets high standards in writing.
Thanks, Meghan, for hosting me and twisting my brain.
Thank you for joining me today, Don. It was a pleasure talking with you.