Welcome to the two hundred and fifty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist (and octogenarian) Gordon Gumpertz. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Gordon. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Gordon: I’m a California native, UCLA grad, and private pilot. I’m a member of the Authors Guild and the Palm Springs Writers Guild. I started writing fiction after leaving the L.A. advertising agency where I was an owner and copywriter. Creative writing was something I always wanted to try my hand at, but I was too busy running the agency. Learning the craft of writing has been a rewarding journey. Good writing coaches and a critique group of published writers have helped me along the way. I’ve published two novels, am finishing a third, and have a fourth in first draft form. Have also been fortunate enough to win gold and silver awards in U.S. national and regional short story contests. My wife, Jenny, and I live in Palm Desert, California, just a few miles from the San Andreas fault which, the seismologists say, may soon produce the Big One.
Morgen: I learned about the San Andreas fault in geography at school so I hope it’s a few years off yet (or not at all would be even better). You have some great experience writing-wise to put into your fiction and well done on the awards. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Gordon: I write action / adventure novels, usually with a natural disaster theme. The blog articles I write for my website are well-researched nonfiction. I’ve given serious thought to writing a memoir, and to writing a nonfiction book on how natural disasters or natural phenomena have altered history.
Morgen: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about the natural disasters living where you do. You mentioned that you’ve published two novels to-date, please tell us what they are.
Gordon: Tsunami in 2008, and Red Hot Sky in 2011.
Morgen: Great titles. Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your books?
Gordon: I’m still waiting for the thrill of seeing a stranger reading one of my books.
Morgen: 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your writing?
Gordon: My website www.tsunaminaturaldisaster.com attracts hundreds of new visitors a month. I promote my books on the website and have had steady sales of both the printed and ebook versions of my first book, Tsunami. I’ve engaged Pump Up Your Book to help me promote my latest novel, Red Hot Sky.
Morgen: You have – the lovely Dorothy. She’s been very supportive of my blog sending me some wonderful authors. 🙂 You briefly mentioned two awards, perhaps you could expand on that and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Gordon: I won first prize in the Palm Springs Writers Guild annual short story contest, and the silver award in the Writers Journal national contest. I believe those credits help being considered a serious writer.
Morgen: It’s certainly good to have on your CV. 🙂 Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Gordon: I don’t write under a pseudonym. Unless you have an established brand name such as John Grisham or Tom Clancy, I don’t think it makes any difference what name you use. The appeal of the story, the quality of the writing, the reviews, the promotion will determine the degree of success.
Morgen: They will, and why would you want to change your name? It’s wonderful. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Gordon: I don’t have an agent. My first book was published by a small press. I self- published Red Hot Sky with CreateSpace. With the way the publishing industry is changing, I don’t think agents are as necessary and important as they once were.
Morgen: I think you’re right. Even represented authors still have to do a lot themselves. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Gordon: Ebooks now outsell hard covers and will soon overtake paperbacks. They’re expected to have a greater market share than all printed books within the next few years. That’s the way the market is headed. I sell far more ebooks on my website than printed books. I have a Kindle and a Nook, and do most of my reading on those two devices.
Morgen: I’ve not had anyone say they sell more physical books than electronic books… unless they only do the former of course. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Gordon: I was thrilled when the small press accepted my book. And always when informed I had won a prize in a short story competition.
Morgen: It’s great, isn’t it. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Gordon: My first novel, Tsunami, was turned down by almost every literary agency in the U.S. Many encouraging comments, but no cigar. A real ego-crushing experience. I had to accept rejections as a time-honoured part of writing and take some comfort in the good comments and near misses. As luck would have it, I had already signed a contract with the small press to publish Tsunami when I received a letter from an agency saying they wanted to represent me. Since I was already committed, I had to turn them down. I decided not to go through the pain on my second book, and instead self-publish.
Morgen: I’ve only gone that route and once I’d worked out the formatting, it was very simple. I’d recommend to everyone who’s prepared to do their own marketing. For me it’s having control over the content etc., under the wing of a great editor. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Gordon: My next book speculates on what might happen when the oil runs out. There are heroes and villains and an elaborate conspiracy. Working title is Dry Well, but will probably change it.
Morgen: I like the sound of that (I’m a big fan of titles) as it sounds like it does what it says on the tin. Do you manage to write every day?
Gordon: I treat writing as a job. I try to get in 3 to 5 hours a day of solid writing time, depending on life’s other demands. I’ve had 6-hour days, but feel too drained after that. 5 is really my max.
Morgen: Wow, that’s good going. I’d like to do an hour a day. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Gordon: Some writing days are tougher than others, but I’ve found the best way to get through it is to keep writing.
Morgen: I’d agree; even if it’s not all that good you can’t edit a blank page. A question some authors dread: where do you get your inspiration from?
Gordon: Thin air? Above? Who knows? I try to imagine what might happen and how people might behave in certain situations.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Gordon: My stories start with an idea, but the next thing I do is lay down a rough story line. Character development follows. Even though the characters often take the story in a different direction than planned, I am usually able to stick with the original plot concept.
Morgen: They do and I love that. Speaking of characters, do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Gordon: I try to make my characters flesh-and-blood people, not cartoon characters. I try to build in human flaws, foibles, habits, and rituals, as well as admirable traits. I try to make each character consistent, but sometimes with a surprise twist. I also try to show how the character changes in response to challenges met during the arc of the story. I try to stay away from ordinary names like Tom, Joe, Dick, and Mary. My main characters in Red Hot Sky are Ben, Claudine, Yuri, and Byrone. Morgen is not an everyday name. I might use it in a future book.
Morgen: Sure, feel free. There are two other Morgen Baileys that I know of (certainly online); one in the US and one in Australia. Morgen is ‘morning’ in German and I’m definitely a morning person. 🙂 You also write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Gordon: In my blog articles, I research the geophysical aspects of current natural disasters, such as which fault line ruptured to cause the undersea quake that triggered the tsunami, etc.
Morgen: That does sound fascinating, especially as we’re at the mercy of nature. Now, on to my favourite subject… short stories. Apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
Gordon: All the action, the setup, the character development, and the resolution have to be compressed into 1,500 words instead of 80,000. Keep it simple and write economically. The market for short stories is small compared to books. I tend to enter contests instead of submitting for publication.
Morgen: I love entering contests, especially as it often gets me writing something new especially for it. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Gordon: My wife Jenny is a former freelance editor, and always my first stop. My critique group is next.
Morgen: Ah ha, handy. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Gordon: No matter how full your writing, revising is an essential part of the process.
Morgen: It is and there should always be a second opinion. Your topics are very specific, how much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Gordon: My books require heavy research, most of which is done online with Google. Wikipedia is a great resource. I do receive feedback from readers, almost all very good. In my first novel Tsunami, I spent research time with the U.S. Coast Guard, the manager of big shipping terminal at the Port of L.A, and with a geophysicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
Morgen: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Gordon: I try to clear my email by 9:00 a.m. and then buckle down to a day of writing.
Morgen: Very wise. I’m a dipper; I hear the ‘ping’ and can’t resist a peek to see who loves me. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Gordon: Computer makes life much easier.
Morgen: Oh don’t they, especially laptops. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Gordon: I write best when it’s quiet, but coming from an ad agency background, I learned to concentrate on the copy in the midst of turmoil. Now I have a quiet place to write and I like it that way.
Morgen: I’ve always worked in an office but definitely prefer solitude. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Gordon: I write in third person. Have never tried second.
Morgen: I love it but it doesn’t suit everyone. If you write dark pieces then you might like it and I’d love to know what you think. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-person_narrative is a great page of information on it (yes, I’m a Wikipedia fan too and aspire have a page one day :)). Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Gordon: I used prologues in two of my books, and an epilogue in one. Prologues can be useful in setting the tone of the story, and epilogues in wrapping up the loose ends.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Gordon: My fourth book now in first draft form is a departure in style for me, and I’m not sure I can ever get it up to my personal satisfaction standard.
Morgen: I think doing something different is great. The four I’ve written so far are all very different (lad lit, general, chick lit, dark) and they were fun to do. That’s another great thing about self-publishing is that we can write what we like. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Gordon: Writing is hard work. My favourite aspect is when the writing works, and least favourite is when I know I’ve gone down the wrong alley and have to dump hours or days of work and start over.
Morgen: Or use it somewhere else? If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Gordon: In the writing process itself, discovering that my characters take on a life of their own and do unexpected things.
Morgen: I love that! I get a thrill every time, especially with the naughty ones. 🙂
Gordon: The most pleasant surprise has been finding myself in the company of other writers.
Morgen: I must admit, having said that I love solitude, I love going to writing events and meeting other writers (although more recently part of that enjoyment is when I involve them in my blog :)). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Gordon: Never give up.
Morgen: Those three little words. So true. I certainly won’t be. 🙂 What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Gordon: James Lee Burke and Carl Hiassen are two of my current favourites.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Gordon: Live and let live.
Morgen: Uh ho… not quite the same but I’ve got the James Bond movie soundtrack going round my brain now. Fortunately I love it. 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing?
Gordon: We like to travel.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Gordon: The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, Story by Robert McKee. Subscriptions to Writers Digest and Poets & Writers.
Morgen: I have ‘Story’ – it’s very good. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Gordon: United States. Helpful.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Gordon: My website: www.tsunaminaturaldisaster.com
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Gordon: The digital world of the future will still need good writers.
Morgen: It will and for that I’m very grateful. 🙂 If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Gordon: Started my writing career earlier.
Morgen: If I had a pound for every interviewee who’d said that… and I think the rest have always wanted to be a writer – I didn’t have a clue until my late 30s. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Gordon: I wonder where the digital revolution in publishing will eventually take us.
Morgen: Oh so do I. It’s certainly an interesting time especially for agents and publishers – I think it’s a great time for writers, we will definitely have more power. 🙂 Thank you so much Gordon. I hope ‘Dry Well’ (or the renamed version thereof) proves to be less of a headache for you.
I then invited Gordon to include an excerpt of his writing and this is taken from Red Hot Sky.
Ben loved the way she smelled. A fresh scent, but earthy. He kissed the soft, clear, olive-tinted skin at the corner of her mouth where some little smile lines had formed. He let his cheek rest against the silky, dark hair that covered her ear. “Can’t tell you how glad I am to be back together,” he said. “I thought about you all the time. And whenever I did, I wanted to do this. Hold your bod against mine.”
Claudine felt his squeeze tighten even more. She relaxed in the closeness and warmth. “Mmmm. Makes me feel snug and safe. I like it — but it is a very determined squeeze,” she teased. “By any chance, did you turn into some kind of python or boa constrictor while you were away?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. At Caltech, they took some python DNA and injected it into my bloodstream when I was asleep. Just a student prank I was told. But then I found I had this enormous appetite for whole rodents and small cats and dogs and even a pig or two if they weren’t too big.”
“Then I guess I don’t qualify,” Claudine said.
“Ah, but there’s more. It was a French python named Beauregard. Had an insatiable appetite for women with French blood in their veins.”
“Oh, stop it,” Claudine said, giggling and squirming in Ben’s arms.
Ben kissed her, and let the kiss linger a long time.
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