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A Life to Di For
Bernardo Press
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Why do you write?

I write because I'd never be able to get through a day if I didn't.  I'd constantly feel as though I was on the edge of insanity, a slippery edge.   Ideas constantly bounce around, nagging at me until they begin to play out "right," and as the story unfolds it insists of being told.   I've actually stayed up an entire night writing a two hour movie so I could fall asleep - the most ironic part, it had begun as a story I was telling myself as I fell asleep.

When did you start writing?

I started creating stories before I could write.   I would hop on my bike and ride off until I found a comfortable place in the large field behind our house where I could see far off mountains, and imagine the lake I knew they hid from sight, and I would entertain myself for hours on end.  I still remember some of my first stories - looking back on it they say a lot about my age at the time... my adventures with Richie Rich.  I was devastated the day my brother explained to me that Richie Rich was a cartoon character - which meant he could never come over and play.   Then I realized Richie Rich, and whoever else I thought of, could come over and play any time!  To this day all of my stories are played out in my mind, dozens of times over, before I make a first attempt at putting them on paper.

Have you had any mentors?

I'm not sure if they knew it at the time, but there have been several people I considered mentors.  I spent a season working on the set of a Stephen J. Cannell television show, and was fortunate enough to have a friend/co-worker who took it upon themselves to tell Stephen I was an aspiring writer.   From then on, when he saw me on the set and we both had a few spare minutes, he pulled me aside and offered some casual bits of advice.

Write at the same time every day - and sit there every day writing something.   Every night I sit at my computer... and those words float through my mind.

He also pointed out to me that the easiest thing for a writer to do is not write.  And at that time, I wasn't writing.   But, he balanced it with the observation that I was working 12-18 hours a day, 5 days a week, and had a 1 hour drive to work, and an hour drive back home.   I had chosen a job that did not afford me time to write. 

I've also been fortunate enough at several conventions to meet several published authors who had a few minutes to spare for a conversation.  Whether someone has just been published for the first time, or has 40 books available, they all have useful advice for aspiring writers!

Does your college degree really help you as a writer?

Real world experience contributes a great deal to good writing.  Having traveled to 37 countries in the last 12 years I have seen radically different cultures and societies, and met people from every walk of life.   But college helped me grow up in many ways.  Where traveling to West Germany just 5 months before the Berlin Wall came down, and living with a family there for a week, opened my mind to world politics and showed me how similar Germans were to my friends and family back home, college taught me how to share it.

The professors at Austin College challenged me to prove a wisecrack, which I did, and dig deeper into topics than just the surface information that anyone could see.  They dared me to stand behind my words, and say what I believed... and I learned a great deal about life as well as academics in the process.

What do you like and dislike about writing?

What I like is simple, putting a dream in to a tangible form, and later reliving that dream which once entranced me so much that I couldn't tear my mind away from it.  Reading something I've written is a wonderful feeling, to see that I was able to convey the images in my mind is unlike any other feeling I've ever experienced.  And hearing others tell me that a piece of my writing made them pause for a moment and think, or evoked some emotion in them puts an enormous smile on my face.

What do I dislike?  Simple again.  There are so many things people do at computers, play games, surf the web, work and play.   It's impossible to tell with a simple glance if someone is working on a deadline oriented project (like rewrites) or surfing the web just to see what's out there.  (I confess, I do that part too at times.)  I get frustrated when people think these stories rolled out as a finished project in one quick sitting.  I often go back and tweak something in chapter one to fit with what I'm adding to chapter four - and trying to make everything the best possible presentation of my mental images.  But these are the things no one sees.  Occasionally comments that slip out of other peoples mouths begin bouncing around my mind in place of the story I'm trying to tell.

What writers have had an influence on your writing, and who are your favorite authors?

Mark Twain and Poul Anderson are the two that immediately come to mind.  I spent an entire Christmas vacation in eleventh grade pouring through every Mark Twain work that I could get my hands on.  At first it was just an assignment for Survey of American Lit. - but I found in those pages something that, for the first time I could remember, pulled me into a book and made me want to stay there.

Poul Anderson's books pull me in, and I'm always happy with where I find myself at the end. 

What is your goal when you write a book?

Every story I write is first and foremost meant to take you along on a ride with me, be it for three pages in a short story, or two hundred pages in a novel. 

Somewhere in everything I write there are things I hope the reader will think about, and ideas about the world in which we live that I want to share -- but at the core, my goal is to invite the reader into my imaginary world for as long as they would like to stay.

Why a book about Princess Diana?

The book is not just about Princes Diana, it is about life, humanitarianism, compassion, understanding, fate, faith, and many "deeper" things than a beautiful women who was often put forward as a figurehead or representative to bring them into our homes.

So why a book about Diana?  Because I was full of grief and confusion when she died, and needed a means to deal with the wide variety of feelings I was experiencing.  So, each night, as I found it difficult to fall asleep, I wrote a story for myself, meant to ease my own feelings... and ten days later I was in possession of a novel.  Which I then shared with other friends... and in that foundation I found "A Life to Di For."

What role does your family play in your writing?

My family plays a tremendous role in my writing... from inspiration to finished product.   When I was a child, part of the family ritual was reading some little book before we fell asleep.  Stories and drifting off to dream of all the possibilities in those worlds is still part of falling asleep for me -- and my parents.  The night after I "finish" a chapter, I give it to my parents to read as they are drifting off to sleep.  It is by no means the "final" check for grammar and spelling - but conversations the next morning are full of fantastic feedback as their mind has wondered around my world for eight hours.

As for my siblings, true to form for older siblings they are both supportive and protective, keeping me well grounded, and full of faith and encouraging words at all times.

Who read "A Life to Di For" before it went to print?

I believe in feedback, it is extraordinarily valuable to me as a writer.  I send copies to three or four close friends and ask them to read through it and tell me if the pacing feels good - and if the characters feel real. 

As a writer I know the story I'm out to tell, I've seen it in my mind a dozen times and as I sit at the computer what I want most is to get it out -- so I can move on to the next scene.  Just as the reader goes through chapter one to get to chapter two, so do I.  My mind will not be at rest until I get to the end, whatever chapter that is!

That said, I always have several stories in the works, when one story hits an obstacle I wasn't expecting I focus on another -- and in time every story unfolds.

Have a question not answered here?   Ask Kay

Answers (c) kay kellam Feb 1999.


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