Where Dreams Do Come True!
Friday Author Interview Series: Val Edward Simone
“Writers make the worst editors, especially when trying to edit their own work.” -Val Edward Simone
How did you get started writing your book? Or what inspired your book?
The plot for The Wondrous Life of a Long-Ago Man came to me at 3am one morning, waking me up out of a dead sleep, with one question nagging at me: How would I live my life if I was stranded alone on an island, knowing that I would most likely never be rescued? Sub-questions followed: Would I be able to live at all, or would the sheer loneliness cause me to end my life? Do I possess a strong enough character to withstand the terror of living alone for perhaps years? Arising from my bed, I began typing out a rough, but detailed synopsis of the story. By noon that day, I had so energized myself with the questions posed in my brain, that I began typing out the rough draft of chapter 1. By day’s end, I had already written nearly 20 pages.
What was the hardest part about completing your book?
Plotting is always the most difficult for me. Before I ever start a book, I write a general synopsis to use as a guide only. What is always interesting though, is that I end up writing pretty much as the reader would read the story. What I mean, is that the plot unravels to me that same way it does to the reader. I’m often as surprised as the reader by how the plot unfolds because I have no idea where or when my characters move in the story until I get to it. The synopsis just keeps me pointed in the right direction. In the synopsis, though. I know two things for certain, where and how the story begins and where and how it ends. The path from one to the other is pure discovery during the journey.
Did you learn any lessons in the book creation process, if so what where they?
I never stop learning, but I’d say the most important lesson that I have learned thus far, is know your characters well. Know them so well, in fact, that you know how they are going to react almost instinctively. This makes their growth or destruction throughout the story a fluid one and much more believable and interesting. If you don’t understand your character’s mind set, they may not react correctly to the plot changes.
Did you enlist support in getting your book done? If so, what kind of support?
The only support that I feel is mandatory for me, is editing. Writers make the worst editors, especially when trying to edit their own work. My editor and I operate on one infallible understanding that I came up with: “Writers write. Editors make it readable.” It works well for us. Other than that, I do everything else myself including, formatting, cover design, and publish.
What tips or advice do you have for aspiring authors?
The best advice I can give to aspiring writers is this. “Write, first and foremost, because you love to write. If you write for the initial purpose of making money, you’ll soon become disillusioned, because it is a business. And the business of writing is NOT writing, it is selling books.
Unless you are very good and very lucky, the chances are best that you will not sell many books until you achieve recognition. To get the recognition, you must hone your craft. To hone your craft, you need to write. To write, you need to love writing.
There is a crazy gene in us writers that fills us with the need to write. I love writing. I write nearly 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. My love for writing helped me hone my craft over several years. Thus when I got serious about marketing my books, I could better weather the storms of frustration because I had already decided that success was not measured by book sales, but by the act of writing itself.
Once again, with time, if you are good enough and lucky enough, you’ll break through and start selling books. It has paid off for me, because now I’m selling books internationally, something I had never dreamed of before.
If you self-published, what made you self-publish?
Besides, of course, the wall covered with rejection slips being a strong motivator to self-publish, it was ultimately because I wished to have more control over what was out there with my name attached to it. I wanted the book to represent me, what I believed in, what represented me as a person, not what some frustrated writer calling themselves an editor in some high New York tower office thought I should be. I wanted to control the visual and content of my book. That is why I design my own covers. Covers are incredibly important to any book, but I wanted control over what the readers saw. For well or ill, I’ll take the heat or the credit for the success of my book. Self-publishing gives me those choices and responsibilities, that traditional publishing would not.
If you had to do your book all over again, would you?
I absolutely would do this book over. And probably would do it the exact same way. The message of the story, the way the character reacted to the stresses and strains of the plot, has been a lesson for me. I want to be more like my main character. The book taught me a lot about what was going on inside my own heart and mind, things that I had no idea had been planted there and were both festering and blooming all at the same time. The book and some of the comments readers have made about it, have given me a warm sense of completion and accomplishment. When a reader tells me how they identified with my character and that it brought them to great emotion, tears, and wonderful elation at the end, it confirmed that I want to continue writing for the rest of my life. It was, in actuality, a confirmation of my choice to become a writer way back in 1977.
Are you writing or planning to write an additional book(s)?
I am currently working, simultaneously, on twelve other novels. When I arise in the morning, my muse decides which one we’ll work on that day. I never argue with my muse. She rules the roost when it comes to which book we work on. And she hasn’t been wrong yet, but she can sure be a real bitch sometimes. I love her.
What else would you like to share about you or your book?
I think my passion for writing is what I’d like to share most. During workshops, especially with children, I become impassioned about writing. To be the creator of a story that touches hearts, moves souls, and changes lives, is a privilege. I take my work very seriously, but I do not take myself serious at all. Secondarily, I would say that when I arise in the morning, the first thing I do is give thanks that all I have to do is write that day. I don’t have to battle my way to work in rush hour, sit in an office filled with strife and stress, and be subjected to will of a boss I can’t stand and a job that I hate. I’m blessed and I know it. I don’t take it for granted, either.
How can people find out more about your book?
First and foremost, they can visit my websites: www.morningsidepublishing.com and www.ekidslandpublishing.com. Secondarily, they can friend me on facebook and follow me on twitter. They can also link with me on Linkedin. I’m only getting started in those mediums, but I’m learning quickly. Through these mediums, I engage with readers directly. There we discuss how my books come about, what problems I had creating them, and how I overcome those problems.
What people find after contacting me, is that I really don’t care about selling books. I care very deeply about writing. I love to inspire people to express their own creativity through reading, writing, and/or drawing. I love getting people excited enough to make the leap for themselves. It is the most rewarding part of my writing life. Selling books is far down the list for me. Seeing the light sparkle in a person’s eyes when a book idea strikes them is precious. Receiving an email telling me that I had inspired that person to start writing is the highest compliment that I could EVER receive. Did I tell you how blessed I am? Sure I did, but I never get tired of repeating it.
The following is a compilation of notes from previous interviews:
How did you become a writer?
In 1977, while working construction with my father’s construction company in Adak, Alaska, remodeling Navy dormitories, I read a book from the “Honor Shelf,” entitled, “Shadow on the Stars.” It was a science fiction story written by Robert B. Marcus Jr.
As soon as I finished it, I knew, instantly, right then and there that I wanted to become a writer. In 1980, I wrote my first novel, “Treasure.” It was completed in 1981, but it needs serious rewriting. I’m still planning to get to that someday.
You said that you dabbled in screenwriting for a while. Can you tell me about that?
Sure. Around 1984, I attended night school, at a local community college. I had found my first editor there, Colleen Demaris, a wonderful woman who took pity on me. During my association with her, I was introduced to the famous director and producer Stanley Kramer. He was putting on a class about filmmaking. I signed up immediately. Stanley announced that we were going to make a movie just like Hollywood. Scripts would be submitted. Only two movies would be made. Producers would be selected. Then directors would be “hired” along with the rest of the cast and crew.“ We had only a budget of $5,000 per movie, very tight even for back then.
I submitted a script called, “The Return of Corporal Sakowsky.” It was about the return home of a Marine from Beirut who was escorting the body of another friend and fellow Marine killed when the barracks were bombed by terrorists back in 1983. Out of hundreds of scripts submitted, Stanley picked my script as the number one script. I was pretty excited. I can tell you that. The other writer and I then met with Stanley. He made us the producer as well. He told us to just go do our best without his help and he would act as studio head and pass judgment on the films by making the final edits. The final film received great reviews. It was considered largely a good success. Even Stanley was proud of it. He was a very irascible guy, but he was always very kind and helpful to me. I really miss him.
It was a great experience and I learned a lot from it. Later during 1984, I moved up to Vancouver, British Columbia to work as an auditor on the film, “The Grey Fox,” starring Richard Farnsworth. My job was to audit the cost of the film relative to the revenue, rebuild the pay history of the film and get revenues distributed to the shareholders. A huge job! It took me over a year, living in a hotel, to get it accomplished. During this time I was also a part of the production team that was preparing to do a new film. I got to work with Bob Geary, who at the time, was with Orion Pictures as their Vice President of Business Affairs. Bob and I got along wonderfully, but with all the problems with the budget, the cast, and the ongoing difficulties with the director, it was too much for Orion and that finally killed the project.
I submitted my own scripts to Bob and he was so kind in trying to help me get them produced, but in the end, it was again just too much for either of us to continue the way we were. I still consider Bob a good friend. Later, I had some minor success with TV writing, but I never talk about those days. Besides, I had a family that needed me. So I gave up my screenwriting career and got a real day job. I am considering writing the screenplays for my novels, but I may not proceed with that. I think writing the novels is more important. I may let others tackle the screenplays.
How did you become a children’s book author?
My daughter came into my life in 1981. My son, in 1983. When they were old enough to be told bedtime stories, I begin telling them stories while tucking them in. The first story I told them was about what happened to me when I was eight years old.
In the middle of one particular night, a golden roller coaster came to a stop just outside my window and a gingerbread pony knocked on the glass, awakening me. After opening the window, the pony spoke to me saying that my help was needed in Fairy Land. It was most important. So I climbed out my window and into the roller coaster guided by silver rails. It took off into the sky and raced past all the planets until it came to a stop in Fairy Land. Two fairies, Katrina and Bethina, greeted me. They were so small. Tinker Bell small. They asked me to stop the Giant, who lived on the other side of the great jellybean wall in Troll Land, to stop eating the jellybeans out of the wall, fearing it would cause the wall to fall. If the wall fell then the Trolls would invade Fairy Land. I stopped the giant with the help of the gingerbread pony. The giant complained that he had a sweet tooth that hurt. So I tied a rope around his tooth and to the tail of the gingerbread pony. Then the pony shot up into the sky and pulled the giant’s tooth. Thus, I saved Fairy Land.
I still believe today that it really happened. I remember every single detail of the event with crystal clarity. It was the first story I told my children. Since then I have changed the story a bit and it has become “The Gingerbread Pony,” my bestselling children’s picture book to date. I invented other stories over the next few years to put them to bed.
Around 1984, or so, I got the notion to publish the stories, but I was turned down by every publisher and agent I found.
In 2008, after retiring from my day job, as a commercial real estate appraiser, I decided that it was time to publish the best of the stories. So I rewrote them (six in all), hired an illustrator, and took over a year to learn how to publish books before I actually got them all finished and published through my own created company, Ekidsland Publishing, LLC. I originally wanted to publish them in eBook format, but I received so many requests for the printed book that I found a way to get them printed. The rest, they say, is history. The printed books, today, are only available through Amazon.com. The eBooks are available through Kindle and Smashwords (Apple iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, etc.). With the invention of the color tablets, color Nook and Color Sony eReaders, however, most of the recent sales of my children’s books are now eBooks, with a large percentage being sold in Europe and Australia.
How did you come to write a book for the kids at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute (Proton)?
It’s a wonderful story. In 2008, I wanted to contact Robert B. Marcus Jr., the author that inspired me to become a writer to thank him for his inspiration. So I searched him out and found him working as an oncologist at Proton. I told the receptionist my story and wondered if she would pass my information on to Robert (Rusty, as he prefers). She was so interested in my story that she agreed to pass my name and email address on to Rusty. He contacted me within a day or two and was fascinated with my story of Adak, Alaska and how his book, “Shadow on the Stars” inspired me to become an author. He was really tickled about that.
I told Rusty about my children’s books and sent him three complete sets of books for the children going through the proton treatment. It was only a matter of days when Rusty sent me an email saying that the children absolutely loved my books and that it was a big help to them, aiding in their recovery. I can’t tell you how wonderful that made me feel.
About a month later, I got an email from Rusty with an odd request. One of the young patients going through treatment asked Rusty if he could ask the author (me) if a story could be written about a character he called, Proton Gator. Rusty told me that he had no idea whatsoever who or what Proton Gator was, but asked me to think on it and try to come up with a story for the patient if I could.
I sat back in my chair and thought for only a few minutes and then started writing the story. Within less than thirty minutes, “Proton Gator” was written. I emailed it down to Rusty. He went into shock, at how fast I had written the story. He showed it to the patient, named Christian. The lad went berserk! He loved it! The story went around the whole center and included all the other staff, doctors, and other children and Rusty wrote me that it was a huge hit. His boss wondered what it would take to publish a book for the proton center specifically.
I contacted my illustrator and he was delighted to become a part of the project. I had Rusty contribute to the writing. He was also delighted to be a part of the project. Within four weeks, the book was ready to be printed, but it took some time for the center to raise the capital for the books.
In Spring of 2010, I received a check in full for 1,000 books. A month later the books arrived to elated children in the treatment center. Since then, Rusty and I have been trying to put a “check in” package together for the children consisting of the book, a coloring book, made up from all my children’s books characters, a t-shirt, a denim bag and crayons. It is designed as an interactive way to help the children get through their treatment a bit easier. As of today, however, we are having trouble raising the capital needed to make the project a reality. The most amazing thing out of all of this though is that Rusty and I have become good friends and colleagues. I think the story of one writer contacting his inspiration after so many years is one heck of story by itself.
How is that you came to begin your “old man” series of historical novels?
My first love is novel writing. Screenplays are so very limiting, while novels are so very liberating. You can go where your mind can take you. There are no time limits and page limits like in screenplay writing. As I told you, I started out writing a novel, called “Treasure.”
About the time I was working in Canada on those film projects in 1984-1985, an interesting story came to mind. It was initially written as a screenplay, but I abandoned that format after I left the film business. I changed it to a novel format and worked on it for a year or so, but I could never grasp the hook to the story. Over the years I dabbled with it on and off.
In 2008, after retiring from that nasty day job, I decided to give it another shot. It was called at the time, Blood Money, but I changed it to Blood Trackers: One Crazy Love Story. I started working on it and suddenly the whole thing came together, the plot, the characters, the whole thing.
It took me the better part of that year to write it, but in early 2009, I had it complete and ready for an editor. Two months later I was ready to publish. I decided to self-publish, through my company, Morningside Publishing, LLC, not caring to whore myself out to find an agent or publisher. The memory of my earlier attempts to find both was still searing in my brain.
I got it published in mid-2009 and I got many good reviews, but something inside me was gnawing at me. I didn’t want to write action/adventure novels. They seemed to be a penny a dozen. Yeah, much less than a dime.
Several stories set in historical pasts were crying to come out. They were gentle stories, loving stories, stories of hope and caring. Four individual plots instantly came to mind. I sat down and painstakingly wrote detailed synopses for all four. As I read them over and over, I saw the unity in the themes and the wonderful rich characters. I then dubbed it the “Old Man” series. I think they are going to define my career someday. I had the titles clearly in my head from almost day one. The four books are entitled, “The Wondrous Life of a Long-Ago Man,” “Captain Delightable’s Marvelous Tales of a Minchon Warrior,” “Once Upon a Harbor,” and “Adventure Island.” They come from the same premise, but the stories are hugely different. The initial, single premise is that a young man in and around 1800 shipwrecks on an island somewhere in the South Pacific. The stories then vary widely from there. The general theme of them all is how a man faced with difficult choices learns to make the best out of every situation. They are stories filled with humor, terror, sadness, joy, pain and elation. The general overall plots vary greatly, but every story has a wonderfully happy and uplifting ending. To date, “The Wondrous Life of a Long-Ago Man” is the only one completed and published. I’m currently working on two of the following novels at the same time, “Captain Delightable” and “Once Upon a Harbor.” Each will stand on its own yet hopefully, again, they will take the reader on a journey back in time to the 1800s by way of the language, style and story.
To prepare for the novels and capture that “old world” feel, I studied earnestly, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, “The Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann David Wyss, and “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe. These novels gave me the sense of the times, the thoughts of the time, the rhythm of speech, the use of words familiar and typical of the times. Very helpful to someone trying to emulate a novel being written in the 1800s. I think giving the novels these attributes lends authenticity to the books. I want the readers to feel that they are reading books written during that period. I want to enmesh the reader into that old world, give them the sense that they are actually there back in time experiencing what the characters are going through.
You mentioned an annual ritual. Can you tell me about that?
My annual “Magic” event, yes. I’d be happy to tell you about that.
My annually celebrated, self-invented, “Return to the Magic” Week consists of watching the movies “Pete’s Dragon” “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” the Original “Peter Pan” movie (animated), the 1999 TV movie, “The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns,” and finally, “The Wizard of Oz.” You could call it my “Reimmersion into Childhood” week. I have been watching these movies annually for the last 15 years with the obvious exception for “Leprechauns,” of course. The movies return my spirit to the younger days when the magic lived strongest within me. They rekindle the magic of some long-ago innocence that lived stronger within in me then. They inspire me to write the magical stories I'm working on now. They return my mind to the magic of gentler times. To top it off, I'm so delighted to confirm that 4 “Munchkin” actors out of the original 124 are still alive today from the 1939 “Wizard of Oz” movie. It’s comforting to know that their light remains among us, still shining through my inner child’s eyes, the magic of their being, enjoined with my spirit, keeps me filled with hope and a belief that there is still something special in the world to enjoy. While I’m immersed in those movies, I feel like the child I used to be. It feels like Tony the Tiger. GRRRRRREAT!
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