Finding gold in a conversation


Tropico Gold Mine

Inside Tropico Gold Mine, Rosamond, California.

The other day I had the weirdest experience: a newspaper reporter interviewed me. No mistake: he interviewed me, and not the other way ’round.

For years, I was the reporter at the “great suburban newspaper.” And I had interviewed all sorts: old timers, rock stars, museum curators, historians, gold miners, artists and even writers like me, who’d just had their first novel published.

In “News Writing I” at Kent State University’s School of Journalism, the professor tried to teach us how to interview. We were given an assignment to interview each other. Most of us felt intrusive asking questions of someone we barely knew, even if it was as innocuous as, “Where’d you grow up?”

When presented with such a question, the interviewee often replied without elaboration, as if answering a question on an admissions form. The “share all” mindset of the 21st century was still decades away.

Evidently, there was more to this interviewing business than just questions and answers.

I can’t say that class assignment did me much good. Interviewing is a technique I developed over time, as I conducted interview after interview, learning what kinds of questions touched people where they lived, allowing me to draw from them the quotable quotes.

The interviewer has to be a listener. At one time, journalists excelled at listening. I don’t know if that’s still true, in this age of navel-gazing and blogging (irony duly noted).

In the midst of listening, you discern a path through the interviewee’s psyche and follow it, formulating new questions along the way, based on what he says – and not asking everything you had prepared in advance. All this has to be done while scribbling (or typing) frantically (which is why I recommend recording interviews, so you can worry about that later).

Throughout the conversation, the interviewer must hone in on the one thing the interviewee is most passionate about. That thing might not have anything to do with the music she just released, or the tour she is doing, or the exhibit she curated.

It might be totally unrelated – but no less important. Whatever that topic is, the interviewer must shift directions, and push forward into that strange land that had not been mapped via website or biography, nor researched ahead of time.

For it is from that wilderness place the best quotes are mined. The gold of the interview is found in the cache held dearest to the interviewee’s heart.

That is also when it becomes a true conversation between two people, a spontaneous human interaction, a meeting of the minds, memorable for both participants. And when the article based on this interview is written, the authenticity of that miraculous communication shines through.

The young reporter who interviewed me by phone is writing his article for that same college newspaper I wrote for so many years ago.

It was a very educational 20 minutes – for both of us. He had never interviewed an author before, and I had never been interviewed (in “real time,” not via email) as an author before.

The reporter had very well-thought-out questions – about me, about my writing process, about “Rings of Passage” and its main character, Richard III – an unlikely romantic hero.

After all the preparation I had done over the years to interview people –  now that same thing had been done for me. It was not unpleasant. It felt like admiration, in a way. My background as a reporter helped me not to be nervous beforehand. Regardless, it was still a heady experience, exhilarating, yet daunting.

And so unexpected – to be suddenly the person on this side of the phone interview.

To answer the begging question –  yes, the college reporter followed where I inadvertently led, excavating at least one golden topic held close to my heart. I’m sure he could hear the excitement in my voice when we talked about it. I look forward to seeing it in print.

* * *

“Rings of Passage” is a time travel romance set during the reign of Richard III, who is the romantic hero. It is available in e-formats at the following links:

For Kindle:

For Nook (ePub and PDF):


Universe, throw me a (royal) bone!

Richard III PortraitThere are times in your life when something in the Universe shifts and you get what you want.

Up until that point, it seemed impossible. It was the tallest Everest to climb without ropes, or the widest Pacific to cross in only a bamboo raft. The odds were always against you.

Finally, you get to an age where the magical thinking stops and reality sinks in. You accept the fact that what you want so badly, what you have wanted all your life, you will never have. You make peace with it. And inside you – really deep inside you – it does become okay not to have it.

Perhaps it’s that acceptance that causes the shift. Maybe, when the Universe is between hoisting weird coincidences upon hapless humans and laughing at them, it stands back, takes a look at your noble acceptance and hears your brave utterings of “It wasn’t really that important.” Then, and only then, the Universe says, “Ah, ha! Now let’s throw her a bone!”

It’s exactly what happened to me. The Universe threw me a bone. Actually, it threw me an entire skeleton.

In February, it was announced that the skeleton of King Richard III had been unearthed from beneath a parking lot where, back in the fifteenth century, the Greyfriars Priory had stood in Leicester, England.

I took the hint, and unearthed my own remains – of a novel I had finished years ago and had tried, but failed, to get published.

The time had come to try again.

In “Rings of Passage,” my unlikely romantic hero is King Richard III. In the centuries since he was slain by Henry Tudor’s army (528 years ago today), Richard has been unfairly maligned by, oh, just about everyone. That’s what happens when the winning side writes history books.

To add insult to injury, Shakespeare wrote one of his greatest plays based around Richard’s infamous crimes, such as how he’d had his innocent nephews, the Princes in the Tower, murdered. (In my novel, you’ll find out who really did it.)

The Bard leaves us with the taste of ridicule in our minds when he writes Richard’s final cry as he falls in the throes of battle: “My kingdom for a horse!”

I mean, who is ever going to forget that? (Especially, if you’ve heard it spoken by Laurence Olivier.)

At the Battle of Bosworth Field, this was the real final cry Richard shouted at his usurping and unworthy cousin Henry Tudor: “Treason!”

Today, on the anniversary of Richard III’s death, my novel “Rings of Passage” has been brought to life. In it, Richard is loved by a modern heroine, Anise, who travels back in time to attempt the impossible: to change history and save the king from his tragic fate.

The excavation of an anointed King of England’s remains, followed by the DNA evidence confirming his identity, was the unlikeliest of outcomes – and yet proved successful.

The unearthing and resurrection of my novel? Well, let’s just say both occurrences are a bit of a miracle.

(To give credit where credit is due, I recommend you visit the Richard III Society’s article by Dr. John Ashdown Hill describing how this amazing archaeological discovery unfolded.)

And because today is August 22:

“PLANTAGENET, Richard. Remember before God, Richard III, King of England, and those who fell at Bosworth Field, 22nd August 1485, having kept faith. Loyaulte me Lie.”
Afterthought: My novel can be found here:

Fork in the road

Writers, like everyone else, struggle to escape their past. It could be in the form of memories or people or “stuff,” but we want to get away from it. Maybe because it reminds us of our failures, or lost hopes and dreams, or simply a period of life in which existence was truly miserable

Spoons and a fork

The spoons belonged to my Grandma, and the fork to my Aunt Mary. Photo by Karla Tipton.

But writers, to do their jobs, have to draw from something to put an honest sentence, paragraph and story to the page. That something is the stuff they most want to escape – demons that, although specific to them, are at the same time universal.

Demons make great copy.

Some demons caught up with me recently, at last bringing the phrase, “my wounds are open for the sake of art,” home to me in a way other than intellectual.

Although I’ve been a writer for many years, and can draw from my highs and lows, pain and pleasure, for the sake of a story as well as the next scribe – I’ve never really had that “lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice” moment that Stevie Nicks writes about in her song “Gypsy.”

For a writer, it’s that moment she realizes she has a story to tell – not a story to entertain, or for use of escape. A story that sings like the angels.

But a story that’s going to require some bloodletting. Not a romance or a mystery or a horror novel, but a story that falls into that crazy narrow definition of “literary.” And it’s probably not going to have a happy ending. At the least, it’ll have an ambivalent one.

Bloodletting. Opening some wounds for the sake of art. Falling into a river of emotional blood that might carry me to a place so dark I’ll never escape it.

What people who write memoirs go through to visit the places of their lives no one should have to walk through twice.

True catharsis.

It is (at least as far as the New York Times Book Review section goes) the thing that separates an artist from a hack. Or at least, a career novelist.

I’ve gone into the crypt of misery so deep before I almost didn’t return to the living. It was a dark place that I’ll have to return to, if I’m to do this thing.

This literary thing.

I don’t know if I can. I’m not sure I have the courage.

But it’s as if fate is whispering in my ear, and I can’t turn it away.

I’m at a fork in the road and it’s decision time. I’ll be a different person if I come out in one piece on the other side of this project.

I don’t know if I can survive the honesty.

I don’t mean to complain, but…

I’m reading the final proof of my novel looking for typos. It’s like, I have to read this thing again??

By the end of the editing process, I will have reread it more times than I can count. That doesn’t include the zillions of rereadings I did when actually writing it.

Proofing it this “last” time in PDF format, I feel guilty (“I shouldn’t be bored, I should be thrilled! I’m getting published.”) I feel embarrassed (“OMG, this is so trite.”) On occasion I come across a scene I like (“This isn’t half bad!”)

You never hear published writers discuss this part of the publishing process. They always talk about how they get ideas, or characters taking the story in a different direction, or how many rejections they got before they sold it. Sometimes they mention the rewriting required based on some editor or agent’s recommendation.

The tedium of rereading it over and over again to make sure it’s perfect? They fail to mention that, like women who have borne a child don’t mention how painful labor was.

The baby, “Rings of Passage,” will be born into the world on Aug. 22, at the hospital called Lazy Day Publishing. Despite all my moaning, it will have all been worth it.