What is your favorite quality about yourself? My sense of humor. I like making people laugh, and I try to see humor in everything, no matter how dark. My daughter says that I’m the second funniest person she knows behind David Sedaris. I’ve sent multiple challenges to Mr. Sedaris for a showdown, but he keeps ducking me. I think that says it all, don’t you?
What is your least favorite quality about yourself? My temper. It’s gotten me in a lot of trouble. And broken a lot of stuff.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why? Veni, vidi, vici. Gaius Julius Caesar. What’s not to love about it? It’s one of the most famous quotes of all times. Any quote that’s 2,000 years old and makes it into Ghostbusters has to be the greatest quote of all time.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life? Stopping a cycle of abuse with me that has been part of my family history for at least 3 generations, probably a lot longer. And I did it on my own, without help.
What is your favorite color? Scarlet and gold, or cardinal and gold. Colors of the U.S. Marines and USC Trojans respectively.
What is your favorite food? Fried shrimps.
What’s your favorite place in the entire world? Paris. Hands down.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing? It made me see the funny in what others might think are really awful situations.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? Nope.
When and why did you begin writing? My first true writing project was a novel I began at 10 about the Soviets (I grew up in the Cold War with the duck and cover drills and testing of the air raid siren every Friday at noon) invading our country. Specifically, the entire invasion was focused on my street in Houston. And me and my friends, using WWII-vintage weapons courtesy of a friend’s father who was a gun collector, fought the Godless Commies to a standstill. You’re welcome America.
How long have you been writing? Uh, since I could write?
When did you first know you could be a writer? Hmmm. When did I know, or when was Itold I could be a writer? Because I’ve been pushed to be a writer for almost as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until people started buying my first book that I knew I could do this.
What inspires you to write and why? A good story more than anything.
What genre are you most comfortable writing? Hmmm. Another toughie. Historical fiction will probably always be my macro genre. Obviously, because of the last 4 years that I spent immersed in the subject, Ancient Rome is an area where I’m comfortable. But ironically as much as I know about Rome, my true wheelhouse is the American Civil War. It’s what I studied as my area of focus for my History degree. I have ambitions to cover that era one day.
What inspired you to write your first book? My FIRST first book? That’s the one I wrote when I was 10 about the Soviet invasion. I was inspired to write about scenes of gore and violence, with exploding heads and falling guts. As I recall, there was a lot of that.
But my first adult novel wasn’t Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul. It’s another book set in our times, titled Damning Secrets. But for reasons I won’t go into it won’t be published for a while. I was inspired to write it by a girlfriend who said, “You should write about your life.” So I did, although it’s a fictionalized account. For example, the main character is writing from Death Row shortly before his execution. So far, that hasn’t happened.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began? Louis L’Amour was a huge influence on my writing from the very beginning. In fact, in my Soviet invasion novel, you can track when I was introduced to his Westerns by the sudden shifting of location. My friends and I loaded up our riding lawnmowers (the one thing I knew how to drive at that age) and puttered up to Colorado, where we traded in our modern weaponry for trusty six-shooters and Winchesters and the lawnmowers for horses. We would mosey on into town and slap leather with the Russkies, then ride out hell-bent for leather. Good times.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? Finishing it. I can mark the point where I went from “a guy who writes” to “writer” when I sat down and actually finished my first adult novel, the Damning Secrets title that I mentioned. And that’s what I tell other young writers now. If you start something, finish it. Go back and tweak it, revise it, modify it all that other stuff AFTER you finish it. Because until you actually finish a project, you’re just dabbling.
Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it? It taught me to wear socks with my Roman Legionary sandals, even if the Romans didn’t. Our feet are way too soft. It also taught me that the best way to truly understand your character is to try and put yourself as much as possible in their shoes, no pun intended. I wouldn’t suggest going as far as I went, buying the entire kit of a Roman Republican Legionary and going to the remotest park in the continental U.S., Big Bend National Park, and go humping through the desert. But I did learn a lot from it.
Do you intend to make writing a career? Judging from the success I’m having, I would be stupid not to. So yes, it IS my career.
Have you developed a specific writing style? I’m sure I have, but I’ll leave that to others to determine. I write the way I write, and people seem to enjoy it. That’s as far as I’ve gone to analyze it.
What is your greatest strength as a writer? According to my readers, it’s my ability to make a strong connection between the reader and character, particularly when it comes to their physical world and the challenges that come with it. “It’s like I was there” is a pretty common comment in my reviews. So I guess it would be that.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it? Nope. Never. Not once. Ever. And I don’t know why, but it makes it hard for me to relate to other writers who talk about it. I just don’t have a frame of reference for it.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? Well, I’m kind of in between major projects. The Marching With Caesar series is a four book series, but it’s already written. So right now I split time between polishing what will be the third book before I send it to my editor, adding to a story that I’m telling on my blog, and fleshing out my long-term strategy for what happens after this series is over. Oh, and I “work” at playing video games.
How did you come up with the title? Good question. Originally, the working title was “Under The Standard”, but that was before I found Simon Scarrow’s great Macro and Cato Series, titled “Under The Eagle.” And that was just too close. So I thought about what the central theme of my character’s story was, and it’s about his years spent Marching With Caesar. This works even after the original Caesar dies on the Ides because Augustus took Caesar’s name, and every subsequent emperor was referred to as Caesar.
Can you tell us about your main character? Titus Pullus is an anomaly in many ways, while at the same time he’s a typical Roman. Physically he’s out of the ordinary because he was born very large, and would grow to over six feet tall. When the average Roman of the day was only about 5’4″, he had a natural advantage. In addition, growing up under the circumstances he did, with an alcoholic father who did no work himself, he grew up strong even for his size. And because of the relationship with his father, who hates him because he blames Titus for killing Titus’ mother in childbirth because of his size, Titus is determined to get off the farm. And the way to do that for people of his class was through enlisting in the Legion. But Titus has a further ambition, and that is to elevate himself into the equestrian class. He’s aided by the fact that he’s extremely intelligent, but at the same time hampered because of his lack of education. And it makes him extremely sensitive about his lack of letters, and he overcompensates for that lack with martial prowess. His ambition serves as the fuel for the success he will experience in the Legions as he rises through the ranks.
How did you develop your plot and characters? I’m not sure how well I can explain this, because frankly I’m not sure if other writers work the same way or not. But when I started this story, I had a starting point, and an end point. Titus is one of the lucky few men who survive a 42 year career in the Legions to retire a wealthy man who’s achieved his goal of elevation. The story is how he got there, and most importantly what it cost him. But while I knew how it was going to end, it was the journey there that took a number of twists and turns along the way. And here’s where for all I know I do things differently. Or maybe everyone’s like this. But when I would sit down to start the day (this was a full-time 7 day a week, 8+ hour a day project) everything I was going to write that day was already written……in my head. I think that’s one reason I never have writer’s block, because the actual creation of the words happens in my head so that it’s just a matter of me taking dictation from myself when I start typing. So I don’t have moments where I sit staring at the screen, trying to decide what to do next, because it already has happened. And in that sense, it was as much of an adventure finding out how the story was going to go as it is for the readers now.
Who designed the cover? Marina Shipova, who is an absolutely fabulous artist. The cover of the first book in particular has been my secret weapon in attracting attention, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s going to be my cover artist for all of my books.
Who is your publisher? Me. And I must say, I’m really great to work with. I really listen to what I have to say, and I take input from me very well. I can tell I have my best interests at heart and I’ll be there to help however I need.
Why did you choose to write this particular book? Thank Colleen McCullough, Conn Iggulden and a number of others. While this is a time period that has been covered extensively, it’s exclusively been from the perspective of the movers and shakers. One day as I was driving to my crummy job as a VP of a software company and listening to McCullough’s “Caesar” on tape, I wondered what it would be like to hear the story told from the perspective of the men who did the fighting that made Caesar one of the greatest figures in history.
What was the hardest part about writing this book? Maintaining the authenticity, knowing that my audience is very educated about the time period and will be quick to spot things like misplaced tactics or weapons that wouldn’t have shown up in the Republican period. Also, while there’s a lot of historical record for the Roman army of the period about a century before, and even more for the Imperial period immediately following this, there’s a real dearth of sources for the Late Republican period. This is a blade that cuts both ways; as an author it gives me a bit of latitude, but as a historian who wanted to make this as close to nonfiction as one could get, it meant that those things that I did invent, I had to be able to support why I drew these conclusions.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it? Besides wearing socks with sandals?
How do you promote this book? Every way I can think of. I know there’s a lot of debate in the indie community, for example, about the merits of social media, and I’ve gotten some very…spirited resistance to the idea. All I can say is that for the first book I used Facebook to great effect, helped a great deal by that “secret weapon” of my cover.
I also do things like this, with Orangeberry, and I’ve tried a few other things. Being brutally honest, it’s a learning process and there have been some dry holes along the way. But probably the best promotion is through the readers themselves. In a really short period of time (at least so I’m told), for an unknown, self-published author, in the 8 months that the first book has been out, I’ve garnered more than 100 reviews, and 95 of them have been 4 or 5 stars. The word of mouth has been outstanding, and now that I’m sitting at more than 10,000 copies sold for the first title, and several weeks in the #1 spot in the Ancient Rome genre, I would have to say that the word of mouth promotion has been the most effective.
Will you write others in this same genre? Ah, the 64K question. For some time I’d been wavering about this. I hate it when people use the “But I’m an artist” crap, and yet I found myself saying, “But I want to do more than just write about Rome. I’m an ARTIST.” Thanks to a very loyal, and vocal, group of fans, I’ve seen the error of my ways. Yes, the “Marching With Caesar” will continue, and I’ve already begun creating a “genealogy” that has my character Titus Pullus as the founder, where characters from that family tree will be Marching With Caesar throughout Rome’s history. After the release of the fourth and final book of the Titus Pullus series, in May of 2013, I’ll be announcing what comes next.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Although my first goal is to entertain, the goal of informing is a very, very close second. I wouldn’t be true to my historian roots if I didn’t. But the overriding message I want to impart to readers is to connect them, through Titus and his friends, to the young men and women who are even as I write this, standing in harm’s way somewhere in the world. I don’t get political in my book, outside of the actual politics that took place in the story of Julius Caesar, so I don’t pass judgment on any of the actions of anyone in the book, unless it’s through the eyes of Titus. But Titus, Vibius and all their friends are alive today, sitting in a prefab bunker in Afghanistan, talking about the same things, sharing the same worries, and laughing at the same stuff as their counterparts 2,000 years ago. More than anything else, I want readers to make that connection. And from the reviews, I’ve been successful at that, which makes me very happy.
How much of the book is realistic? As realistic as me wearing the gear of a Roman Legionary, or hanging a (dead) pig from the rafters of my garage to understand what it was like to plunge a sword into flesh can make it. I call it “immersive research”, but I think the clinical term is “crazy.” But I was determined to keep this as authentic as possible.
Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends, in the plot? As I say in my author’s bio, I’ve been the pointy tip of the spear of my nation’s policy, so there is inevitably some commonalities between my story and that of Titus and his friends.
How important do you think villains are in a story? Never given it much thought, to be honest. I think because I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that anyone is pure good or pure evil, so that even the ‘villians’ in my story, like Spurius Didius, will show himself to have redeeming qualities. While my hero Titus does some really dickish stuff to others in his climb to the top.
What are your goals as a writer? Win a Nobel Prize for Literature, become mentioned as one of the great American writers, and have my historical fiction books on Rome become required reading in colleges around the country. You know, nothing big.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? Well, the funny thing is that I visited Rome for the first time this past October. I decided that it was probably a good idea to actually, you know, visit the place I’m writing about. I’ve already decided I’m going to be going back. And ideally, when I describe the battles and the terrain, I would have liked to have walked the ground myself. However, thanks to Google Earth, I could do that virtually at least.
What books have most influenced your life? Too many to count. I consider Stephen King’s “The Stand” to be the best book I’ve ever read. Although I will have to say that most recently Plutarch’s Lives, and Caesar’s Commentaries have had a huge impact.
Have you ever considered anyone as a mentor? Yes, but he was unwitting in his role, and I didn’t realize it until recently. Ironically, my real area of expertise is the American Civil War. It was what I focused on when pursuing my BA in History. One semester, I needed a history class, but none of the ones I wanted were available. All that was left was an Ancient History class, taught by Dr. Frank Holt of the University of Houston. And he ignited in me an interest that slowly developed into a passion, and it was through his influence and his ability to present the material in a way that I (and a lot of students) completely connected to. So without Dr. Holt, “Marching With Caesar” would never have been written.
Can we expect any more books from you in the future? Yes.
Have you started another book yet? Not yet. As I said, right now I’m polishing the next book, but the writing that I’m doing is focused on my blog, with a story I titled “Caesar Triumphant”. It’s a suppositional history based on a simple premise, that Caesar didn’t get assassinated on the Ides of March. As it was widely known at the time, the very next day he was scheduled to go conquer the Parthians. My story picks up ten years after the Ides, where Caesar not only conquered Parthia as he planned, but in his attempt to outdo Alexander, he just kept going. Now he’s poised to conquer the last lands, an island nation known then as Wa, but what we now call Japan. The idea is based on a simple daydream; if the Legions of Rome were to face the samurai, who would win? Granted, the classical era of the samurai occurred about 14 centuries later, so these people that Caesar’s army faced have the characteristics of the samurai. I’m willing to bend history, but not to the point where time travel is involved. And while this started out as just for fun, it’s kind of taken a life of its own, so I’m toying with turning it into a book before I pick Marching With Caesar back up.
Where do you see yourself in five years? If I’m still alive I’ll be happy. Seriously, I never thought I would live this long. But if I could have a couple books on the bestseller list (whatever that means five years from now), and have a yacht and private jet, I’d be satisfied.
What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out? The ability to publish your own work has altered the landscape and has made it easy for people like me to get my work out. As long as you don’t go into it with the expectations that the masses will come flocking to your work, and as long as you actually have some sort of critical input from people who aren’t related to you by blood or marriage, or who owe you money, the sky’s the limit.
What contributes to making a writer successful? Being good at what they do?Seriously, I don’t know. I see such a wide variance in authors who have experienced success that it’s hard to narrow it down to one or two common factors.
Do you have any advice for writers? It makes me feel pretty presumptuous to give anyone advice, given my relative newness at this, and the fact I haven’t sold a gazillion copies, yet. Again, I think it would be to finish what you start, and then revise, revise, revise.
Do you have any specific last thoughts that you want to say to your readers? Thank you for responding to Titus and his story in such an overwhelmingly positive way. It really is humbling to see, and I’m sure that my daughter would tell you I need all the humbling I can get.
What do you do to unwind and relax? Shoot people. On video games.
What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? One really silly one. When it started to become clear that I would actually be signing books that people wanted me to autograph for them, I fulfilled a dream I had. For a long time I have wanted a Mont Blanc pen. Not a ballpoint, but a Meisterstuck 18K gold-nib pen, because the softer gold of the nib supposedly deforms to the shape of your writing. But when I looked online, I just wasn’t willing to part with that much money. Then when I went to Rome, I told myself that if I walked down a street and came upon a Mont Blanc store, that would be a sign. So now I have my dream pen to sign my name to my books. I don’t know how big a dream that is, but that was mine.
If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would you want it to be? Wisdom? Let’s see; keep your blade parallel to the ground or it will stick in the ribs of your enemy. Honestly, just to say thank you for liking my stories.
When you wish to end your career, stop writing, and look back on your life, what thoughts would you like to have? ”Where’s the girl who peels my grapes? Has the fur-lined sink been installed yet? No, for the thousandth time, I don’t want Channing Tatum playing Titus! Fuel up the jet! We’re going to the apartment in Paris for the weekend!” Or something like that.