1. Which book (or other media) would you say is your largest influence?
That’s really a difficult question because I’m constantly finding new influences in books I’m reading. I usually default to something like the Count of Monte Cristo or something but… that’s a tough question.
2. What part of the book was the most difficult to write?
Understanding Mary enough to step into her skin was extremely difficult. Plus having to work her internal dialogue into a clipped prose that works for readers. It was a huge challenge. I’ve never done so many rewrites, other than Off The Map.
3. What was the seed of the book, or the very first thing that came to you as you started the writing process?
That first photograph I saw of Mary stayed in my mind. But there was also the experience I had as a child when the circus set up near my home – I think it was Lennon Bros but I’m not sure – and I saw these three elephants chained to one tree whenever they weren’t performing. They’d sway their heads and cry. It was just awful. I would have been around ten at the time and it’s stayed with me all my life.
4. Did the book change a lot through different drafts? How so?
I really had to be on the ball with that internal dialogue. Mary’s interactions and thoughts forever teetered on the brink of going into rambling poetry, which I didn’t want.
5. If you had to pick any aspect of the book to change, what would it be?
I ended up being too kind to Charlie Sparks. The real Charlie sold tickets to the execution, which I left out and I can’t even remember why. He was a despicable man and I think I showed him as such but not quite as much as I could have. I just felt an urge to be gentle with him for some reason.
6. How much of yourself do you find in the protagonist? Was any of it intentional?
A five ton Indian elephant? What are you saying exactly?
7. Did you discover anything new/unexpected while doing research?
The intelligence of the elephant. They really are a remarkable creature. Just incredibly aware and emotional beings. When I saw footage of an African elephant mourning for her dead calf and staying behind from the herd to try to wake it up I knew had to show this not just in a scene but in every aspect of the elephant characters. They had to have that depth of understanding and emotional gravitas.
8. If this is your first experience writing in this genre, what drew you to write the book specifically this way? (If not, what makes this genre one you like to write in?)
I haven’t done a true story before. I sort of have, but I’m still working on that one even though I drafted it first… I don’t know if I like it more than others. It’s just that there are soooo many untold stories out there. Untold in fiction but in nonfiction as well. Just so many inspiring, incredible things that have happened. And then you think about what might have happened and that’s what makes historical literature so fascinating. With Terra Domina I set out to explore that. This didn’t happen, but it might have. The idea of exploring events that for whatever reason went unrecorded. Mary’s story was recorded but is not widely known. I had to give thanks to a lot of indie history buffs and online collectors of obscure facts once Mighty Mary was published.
9. Did you ever find yourself burning out on the book? How did you get through that?
Not really. I work a full-time job and study as well as writing, so it’s like a privilege that I get to write fiction as well. I don’t want to waste a second of the time I have for it.
10. What do you most hope readers will take away from this book?
The message of compassion and respect for all living things. That we don’t own this world. It is not ours to destroy for our own gains. We are part of it and have to behave as such.
11. Was this book easier or more difficult to write than others you’ve written?
Extremely difficult. Not the most difficult, but it was up there. It was an extraordinary challenge.
12. Is this a book that could be easily adapted to other media (movie, podcast, etc.)? How much do you think an adaptation might change it?
A movie would be difficult. I think the image would sell it but filling out the story would be tough. Although there was a movie called The Bear, which was told from the perspective of a Kodiak bear, and that worked wonderfully. What was that? Late 1980’s… it could be done. It has been done before.
13. Has writing this book changed your worldview at all?
No. I was very much driven by the worldview I already have.
14. How much do you think your life impacted how the book turned out?
Exponentially, incrementally… every which way. As a writer you seek to imbue the fiction with as much truth and honesty as possible. The only way to do that is to connect it to your own truth. Like George Costanza said, it’s not a lie if you believe it.
15. Is there a certain place/time of day that most inspires you to write?
Immediately after work.
16. Do you have a writing routine? How well do you follow it?
Every writer needs a strict routine. I write two thousand words after work every day of the week except Wednesdays when I train as a volunteer firefighter. Unless there is a (literal) emergency, I don’t break my routine.
17. Do you think any books (or other media) have been bad influences on your writing?
Being a screenwriter before being an author. They’re entirely different and separate disciplines and early on in the piece I think they blended a little bit, which wasn’t good. I’m glad I’ve separated the two now. As a screenwriter, I wear an entirely different hat. Whole other ballgame.
18. If you could pick any book to write differently (yours or another’s) which would it be?
Terra Domina, my first novel. I’d tone down the violence. There, I said it.
19. What writers do you look up to most, either for their writing or as human beings?
Nobody should look up to anyone on account of their job or how good they are at it. As I said, I’m a volunteer firefighter. I save lives and property and I don’t get paid for it. Does that make me a wonderful person? No. It’s just one part of my day. I might be or do any number of awful things for the rest of the time. A writer can make the most beautiful love poem ever heard and also physically abuse their spouse. History teaches us this. But as a writer, I have to say Mary Shelley. To just throw together a novel out of boredom is one thing, but to have it be the first of a whole new genre and be as amazing as Frankenstein is… I don’t know. Freakish.
20. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Never forget you’re doing this because you love it. If you don’t love, don’t do it.