Tell me about yourself.
I am a teacher and technology director at an independent school. I grew up in Seattle but have been slowly migrating southward with stops in Portland, Eugene, San Francisco, and now Los Angeles. My first career was as a professional ballet dancer. I studied dance in college and worked for a professional ballet company for a few years before going back to school. Later I worked as a web developer and did some time in the silicon valley startup world before taking a job at a school. I’ve been working in schools ever since. I really like working with kids and can’t imagine going back to being a grown up.
Congrats on the publication of your latest novel. Tell me about your publisher. What attracted them to your work?
Thanks! My publisher is Black Opal Books. They are a small press located in Oregon. My first book, Old Gold Mountain, was an adult mystery/thriller. They mostly publish mysteries and romance so my first book was a more natural fit for them. They have published some young adult in the past though so when I finished writing my most recent book I sent it to them to see if they would be interested. They responded very quickly with a yes. I already had a good working relationship with them and trusted them to do a good job so I went ahead.
What’s it like working with a publishers editor?
Both of my books have gone through two rounds of edits by Black Opal’s editors. The first round is content editing where they look for inconsistencies in the plot, incorrect facts, etc. The second round is for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. Both rounds are very thorough. My experience with the editors has been wonderful. Nearly all of their suggestions made complete sense to me so the process was painless. I tend to revise, edit, and clean up as I write so by the time I’m done the manuscript is pretty error-free (I hope). I also research and plot very thoroughly in order to avoid the kinds of pitfalls the first round editor would be looking for.
What’s your philosophy on the right amount of description to set the scene?
This is an interesting question. I think it has a lot to do with what story you are telling and who your audience is. Two of my favorite writers are Jane Austen and Thomas Pynchon. They couldn’t really be farther apart in terms of the amount of physical description they offer. Austen limits her aesthetic problem to people, their interactions, their thoughts, and their emotions. She almost never offers any but the most basic descriptions of things and places. Pynchon, on the other hand, often uses physical description as a sort of externalized emotional landscape. He describes things in almost hallucinogenic clarity. I love both and I love them because of how thoughtfully they write. It is clear that they are making conscious decisions about every word they include. So, to (not) answer the question, it depends. I am a highly visual thinker so I probably do more describing than the average author.
In “The Place Inside the Storm,” your main character is a high school teenager with autism. Growing up, how was your autism similar to Tara’s and how was it different?
Any character I write is going to have similarities to me in the way they think and the choices they make under particular circumstances. In terms of the challenges Tara faces, I did try to model her to some extent on autistic girls and women I know or have known but, in the end, she probably ended up being a lot like me. When I was growing up people like me were just thought of as shy, weird, or awkward. This is the same reality Tara lives in the book since diagnosis and accommodation are not available to her. Like Tara, I usually had one friend who I connected with and hung out with almost exclusively. I was interested in things others found strange or geeky. I didn’t do well in group activities. I had a lot of trouble with the school environment and executive functioning deficits. Luckily, I was able to find places where I could fit in. Drama club in High School was one. Classical ballet training was another. Ballet was a life saver for me. It gave me the self discipline and mind-body connection I lacked.
You have a full-time job besides writing. What does your writing schedule look like? How do you carve out time to write between family and work responsibilities?
Simple answer: I get up at 5:30AM every weekday and write for thirty minutes before anyone else is up. I also write sometimes in the evenings when my spouse is putting the kid to bed. We trade off on bedtime. My goal is two hundred words per day. At that rate, I can write a book in a little over a year. It’s not easy to drag myself out of bed that early but it’s necessary for my mental health so I do it.
What draws you to a story? How do you know which stories are going to be a novel? What’s the longest novel attempt, in pages, that you ended up having to kill?
I think it’s about the character. I like to write in the first person and I like to write books that are about a specific person’s singular experience. I admire the kinds of books that follow multiple characters and examine how their lives/histories interrelate but I don’t think I could ever write that way. So, if I have an idea of a character that really feels like a living, breathing person with a story to be told, then I will let the idea float around in my head for a while. Eventually, I will make an outline of a plot. If I can write an outline that seems like it might realistically become a book, then I will put it in the queue. I have several ideas for books that are currently percolating. I haven’t actually started writing any novels and then completely abandoned them so no kills so far. I do have a couple I started and then put aside to finish later. One of them is about 75% done. The other is about 30% done.
Who is your audience for your novels? Who are your books not right for?
Funny story: There is another writer named Bradley Wright who writes in a very different style. His books are action packed international thrillers with hard edged spies who are stoic and ruthless. Think James Bond, Jason Bourne, etc. A few people have purchased my first book thinking it was by the other Bradley Wright. This is why I include my middle initial on my book covers. Alas, they did not like my book one bit and left very dissatisfied reviews on Amazon. So, I can say with certainty that people who want that kind of book are not my audience. My books are gentler, slower, and more interested in details. Some of my favorite authors, aside from Pynchon and Austen who I mentioned above, are Ursula LeGuin, Joan Didion, William Gibson, Peter Høeg, Frederick Reuss, Richard Brautigan, Philip K. Dick. I certainly wouldn’t put myself on the level of any of those writers but I think (hope) people who like their work might like my writing too.
Why write science fiction? Why read science fiction?
I don’t really like these artificial categories of literature. Science fiction is just literature that takes place in the future or in times/places with different technology. Fantasy is just literature that takes place in imagined worlds with different laws of physics. Some of the most honored, most loved works of literature are fantasy. The Iliad, the Odyssey, Beowulf, the Faerie Queene, Hamlet. I think writers choose their setting in time and space based on the necessity of their stories. I chose to write a ‘science fiction’ book because I wanted to explore the idea of a character who is autistic being forced to choose between a ‘cure’ and an uncertain future on the run. That wouldn’t have been possible in a contemporary setting so I set it a bit in the future. I think people should read and write speculative fiction for the same reason they read/write any other kind of literature. Books are about experiencing life from another point of view. We feel what the character feels. We are transported into their world. We share their triumphs and failure. We take away some pearl of wisdom, some new nuance of emotional depth we didn't have before because we shared their journey.
What are you working on next?
I’m writing a sequel to my first book Old Gold Mountain. That book was a mystery/thriller that established a character I liked. He’s a kind of amateur sleuth. When I finish that I will probably go back to one of my unfinished manuscripts.
How active are you in autism advocacy?
I don’t really have time to do much advocacy work unfortunately. Hopefully my book will help in some way. I had one reviewer say: “I've honestly never read a book with a main character who's so much like me.” I hope other people will read it and feel like they see themselves or see someone who they can relate to. Every form of diversity needs to be reflected in literature. This is especially true for children’s literature. To create a new generation of readers, we need to reach everybody. At my school we talk a lot about window books (books that let you see how someone different from you lives and experiences the world) and mirror books (books that mirror your own experience). We need both kinds and we need a rich variety. Every kid deserves a mirror book.
If a friend told you that they were lighting it up blue for autism speaks what would you say to them?
That’s a slogan and marketing campaign started by an organization called Autism Speaks. I’m not a big fan of that organization. Other people have explained the issue much more eloquently than I can so I would just point my friend to those resources. I would urge them to get on Twitter and follow autistic activists like @JustStimming, @autistichoya, @shannonrosa, @NeuroRebel, and @fodderfigure. I would urge them to read Neurotribes by Steve Silberman. I don’t like to tell people what to think but I would make it clear that I have decided not to support Autism Speak based on my research.
How can we best stay up to date with you?
My main social media presence is on Twitter where I am: @rabbit_fighter
I also have a website which can be found here:
You can sign up for my newsletter if you would like to receive occasional emails from me with information about new releases and appearances.
Final thoughts? If you like a book (not just mine, any book), rate it on Amazon and Goodreads. Write a review too if you have the time. It only takes a minute of your time and it is super important to authors. Also, recommend books you like to your local library. Library sales are huge for authors. Thanks for reading!