Q: Every writer has their own idea of what a successful career in writing is, what does success in writing look like to you?
A: I want to be read. I would also like to be able to support my family with what I make from it. Really, though, it comes down to I think I have something to say, so I want to be read widely enough that people will have a chance to hear it. I don’t know what that looks like in terms of numbers, but I would like to be able to get my ideas out there broadly and take care of my wife and kids.
Q: Tell us about your new book. What’s it about and why did you write it?
A: Beauty & the Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale is, as the title suggests, a re-imagining of the classic story. I set it in my hometown at one of the local high schools.
The story is about two high school seniors who want more than what they have. Rory Bellin is editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, is really smart, and plans to go to Yale. But it drives her crazy that other people are so popular for things like playing sports or dating the captain of the football team. She wants a world where academics are more important than social concerns. Meanwhile, Caleb Johnson is the third-string running back on the football team, but he dreams of being the starter and dating the most beautiful girl in school – Rory.
The two seem destined for individual frustration until Mr. Nickleby, the mysterious new English teacher offers to help them both. He gives Rory a ring of three wishes, and he teaches Caleb all the right things to say to win Rory’s heart.
But once they start getting the things they wish for, their worlds turn upside down. The book examines the consequences of obsession. Nothing is ever exactly what Rory and Caleb are hoping for, and the novella explores what happens when we let some things matter too much.
Q: When you are not writing, how do you like to relax?
A: I’m a huge Cincinnati Bengals fan, so I like watching games, reading about the team, and speculating about their Super Bowl chances.
I also enjoy acting, singing, and otherwise performing. Working onstage is a lot fun.
I spend a lot of time with my kids. I swear when the last one is out of the house I will probably have driven enough miles getting them to their activities that I could circumnavigate the world twice. But I do like seeing them in their activities and listening to their adventures.
None of that sounds very relaxing, though. Truthfully, nothing beats sitting on the deck with my wife having a beer. She’s the best friend I’ve ever had, and there’s not enough time in the day to spend with her.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from your writing? How do you hope they’ll feel?
A: I hope they think. While I infuse my books with themes, and I have a certain point of view, I try to make almost every character a little sympathetic and every character a little detestable. I don’t think there are many black and white answers to the hard questions. But I hope people read my books and think about their world and their lives a little more broadly.
Q: What’s your favorite meal?
A: That’s another question I couldn’t possibly answer just one way. I’m the cook in our house, and I like experimenting. Weather and mood have a lot to do with what I want to make. I like meatloaf as much as I like butternut squash ravioli, but it all depends on my mood and what the weather is like. I make a bacon-melon salad my wife adores, but it’s a summer meal. In the winter, I want stew and bread.
I suppose it sounds cliché, but my favorite meal is one I can enjoy with good company. That’s usually my wife, but sometimes I let my friends in on the fun too.
Q: What color represents your personality the most?
A: Orange. It’s warm and even a little fiery, depending on the shade. It’s also a fall color, which is my favorite season. And I’m a Cincinnati Bengals fan, and it’s one of their colors. Orange fits me all the way around.
Q: What movie do you love to watch?
A: Once again, there are tons. I have a large movie collection, and I enjoy all kinds of different things. I like adventure films, but I’m just as entertained by a romantic comedy. In fact, rom-coms are among my favorites, because they usually feature witty dialogue, which, as a writer, appeals to me. I used to watch Gilmore Girls just to listen to the banter between the characters (although I admit to liking the plots too). And I like scary movies – not slasher films, but good, creepy movies or monster films. I love vampires – classic vampires, not the weepy, sparkly Twilight ones.
But since you asked for a single movie, I’ll pick Love Actually. It’s incredibly funny. It jumps from laugh to laugh to laugh. It’s got more plots than three ordinary movies, and it’s incredibly sweet. That film is a Christmas tradition at my house. I wish my stepson was old enough to see it, because the little kid and Liam Neeson totally remind me of us.
And speaking of Christmas traditions, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story. I could probably recite the whole film line for line. I used to love it, because I really identified with Ralphie. Now, I’m the Old Man. That’s kind of funny to me.
Q: What are you passionate about? What gets you fired up?
A: Besides the Bengals? I guess I want to see a better world. We spend so much of our time being casually hostile to each other. I don’t understand what that’s about. It’s so easy to be nice. It takes almost no effort to be kind instead of cold to someone. I really get on my kids about that. I try to make them put themselves in the other person’s shoes. I’m not rich enough to clothe the poor or feed the hungry, but I can make some stranger’s day a little better just by smiling, just by not cutting them off in traffic, just by holding the door. When you reduce someone else’s stress, they treat others better, and it spreads. Life is hard enough without us making it harder on each other.
I feel like the constant battles we have in Congress and on the internet over politics could be less acrimonious. I get that people have different views and that oftentimes those ideologies come into conflict. But differences can be expressed civilly, and, if you do that, you get to a reasonable compromise a lot sooner.
Q: What makes you angry?
A: Hypocrisy. I see so many people throwing stones at their neighbors over politics or religion while doing other things that are completely contrary to what they profess to believe in. I see people quoting Leviticus to support their position that gay marriage shouldn’t be legal, but they completely ignore other passages not just in the Bible but in Leviticus, and I think, “How can you say that? How can you believe one thing is completely, utterly true and ignore something else only a few verses later?”
The biggest problem I have with that kind of hypocrisy is it’s often used to promulgate discrimination and hatred. I keep going back to, “Why do you want to make someone suffer? Why do you think it’s okay that only certain people have the same rights?” That’s not how I was raised. I’m from the love-your-neighbor and all-men-are-created-equal schools of thought, and it really makes me hot to see people subscribe in name to those ideals and then ignore them completely in practice.
Q: Are you a city slicker or a country lover?
A: I’m a suburbanite. I was raised in the ’burbs, and it’s where I’m most comfortable. I do like the city.
I spent a semester studying abroad, and I lived in London. That was amazing. I did like the way everything is at your fingertips in the city.
And I like the quiet life of the country. It’s a slow and easy pace, and the stars at night are incredible.
But I don’t like the how the city is always noisy, and I don’t like how everything is so far away in the country. The suburbs are my preferred world. I can live anywhere, but I like my split-level house, with the grocery store just down the road, and my yard and my trees best of all.
Q: What’s the reason for your life? Have you figured out why you’re here yet?
A: I’m a Camusian existentialist. I believe there is no reason we’re here, but, because life is essentially meaningless, we can attribute whatever meaning we want to it.
My raison d’etre is to make the world a better place. I try to make my wife happy. I try to raise my kids to be good people. I try to help others wherever I can. I stand up against bigotry when I see it. And I write books that I think are entertaining. I hope my readers get caught up in the story – that they get whisked away from their troubles for a little while. And maybe, when they come back, they think a little about some bigger issue.
Changing the world is accomplished one person at a time. I think if I can engage a person one-on-one – in person or through my work – and make life a little better for them, then they’ll pay that forward by treating someone else well.
And I suppose I aspire to be the great love of my wife’s life. Not for any selfish reason about being The One, but because I hope that I make her happy, that I make every moment with me worth her while, so at the end of our lives she feels like hers was pretty good.
Q: How important are friends in your life?
A: I have mixed feelings about friends. I had a lot of friends in my first marriage, and, when I got divorced, they all assumed I was a bad guy and didn’t want to see me anymore. And it wasn’t so much that I lost a lot of friends in the divorce that bothered me. I figured I would lose some. That’s how those things go. What got to me was that no one wanted to hear my side of the story – even people whom I’d known longer than my ex-wife had. No one came up to me and said, “Dude, what happened?” They just assumed I was the bad guy and walked away.
Loyalty is a big thing with me, so I was a little taken aback by people not at least asking me what happened. I’ve lost friends over the years over issues that made me think, “Don’t you know me better than that?”
So I’m kind of cautious about making friends now. But I’m also really friendly, and I like talking to people. And you need friends. Nobody gets through life well without people you can count on and pal around with. I have always tried to be the person you could call at three in the morning to drive you to the hospital or come rescue you when you have a flat tire or are out of gas.
But I’m choosier with my friends now. I invest myself a little more carefully. And the truth is I prefer to spend time with my wife. She’s the most interesting and most reliable person I know, I’m totally in love with her, and we don’t get to spend enough time together. Every day is not enough.
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Genre - Fairy Tales, Contemproary Fantasy
Rating – PG-13
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