Life story in brief:
I was reared in a Faulkner-esque corner of Southeast Arkansas. Tulane University in New Orleans, seven years. The Army. Then, several years as a criminal prosecutor. I spent three years representing indigent defendants in the California Appellate Courts. Then I discovered drama and creative writing. Since then I’ve tried to make life an art form.
In 1998, I met David Milch (producer of “NYPD Blue” and “Deadwood”). David asked me to write a teleplay for “NYPD Blue.” I wrote three. He produced one of them, and I fell in love with drama.
I do not write for a living, but writing dominates my life as a professional dilettante. I paint (badly) in watercolor and oil, travel a good deal, hike the city for exercise and relaxation, socialize with other writers and artists, and, of course, read widely. I take tons of notes that come to me at any time, no matter what I’m doing. However, all of these things inform my writing, and my writing is what I take seriously.
Favorite short stories:
W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter” and “Mr. Harrington’s Washing.” Ring Lardner’s “Haircut.” Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.”
Autobiographical, in a way. I almost always begin with something that has hurt me, given me joy or broken my heart. But that’s only the starting point. The characters grow out of my experience and develop their own personalities.
I began late and have not written a great deal. Attention Deficit Disorder has blessed me with interests all over the place. I’ve written teleplays, screenplays, a stage play and, for the past year or so, short stories.
Where my writing appears:
My teleplay, “These Shoots are Made for Joaquin,” was televised on “NYPD Blue.” My play, The Shelter, had a six-week run at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in West Los Angels in 2006. I’ve published a bit of poetry and a short story or two on the Internet.
Best way to hook readers:
With immediate, sensory detail. Specific, concrete words create visual images, imaginary sounds and senses, and mood. Such detail, in my view, arrests the reader’s attention and induces him to read on into the story to follow the plot or join the characters in their world.
Inspiration for the winning entry:
I lived the story, or something very like it, but I wanted to dramatize the lonely anguish of soldiers facing death, perhaps, quite alone. No medals, no glory. Just death. Many professional soldiers simply do their duty or fight because they love the competition and the challenge. They love to show Hemingway’s “grace under pressure.” But many other soldiers—most, I think—would simply rather not be there. Notwithstanding duty or obligation, they simply don’t want to die. They would rather live their lives with their loved ones. My story is about that feeling.
Timeline of “We Sat in the Darkness”:
I’d thought about the experience and the questions it raised for years, but I wrote the story in a day or two. Then, when I saw the contest advertised, I spent several hours over a few days editing and polishing it.
Secret to a great short story:
The story should, in some way, give readers new insights into themselves, and into mankind in general. Readers may not come away from a short story as better persons or even different persons, but they will come away from a great short story knowing more about the human condition and, very likely, knowing more about themselves.
Best advice for a budding short story author:
Write about something that brings tears or out-loud laughing—both, if possible. Or something that makes you angry or tears your heart out. Place seat of pants in chair and write. Straight through. Next, strike out every word you can. Throw out as many adverbs (think “-ly”) as possible and put in concrete, specific words. Don’t write “man,” or “clergyman;” write “priest.” Reduce the word count again by 20 percent. You can do it.
Read it aloud. If it has rhythm, if it sings, if it makes you weep or laugh, you’ve got your heart in it. If it doesn’t, start over.
Treats himself to:
A hot cup of Earl Grey and quiet time in our solarium, sitting and gazing out at the fountain, the humming birds, the birds of paradise, the roses and the irises in season, the cymbidiums and the flowering pear trees.
Spends too much time:
Agonizing in megalomania because I cannot reorder the world as I think it should be.
Doesn’t spend enough time:
Dancing, walking in the Sierra and driving about the country and abroad talking to people I meet. I love driving through small-town America and chatting up store owners, waitresses, farmers, cops or almost anyone else.
Currently working on:
At the moment, I’m sweating blood over a screenplay. It’s a story I’m obsessed to tell about an honorable, Graham Greene kind of character, a professional woman pushed by circumstances to violate her most basic principles. At the same time, I’m working on a stage play concerning the death penalty.