How the hell do you pronounce your name and what is its origin?
Second part first. “Cunha” is a Portuguese name. One side of my family is from Portugal, and I am the first generation born in the United States.
There is controversy as to whether that makes me first-generation or second-generation. I say it makes me second-generation, but I don’t argue the point unless I’m feeling particularly ornery. The origins of the other side of the family have been lost to time.
So, is English your second language?
Kind of, sort of. Growing up, English was definitely my primary language, but I had plenty of relatives who, for all practical purposes, did not speak English, so I had to speak Portuguese to communicate with them. Sadly, they are all gone now, and my Portuguese language skills are the poorer for it. My grammar and spelling are horrible and border on atrocious some days.
Where in Portugal is your family from?
A tiny little group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic called the Azores.
Does that make you Hispanic?
I’m not sure. It depends on whom you ask and when. At one time, I recall the answer being “yes,” but I think the current answer is “no.”Spaniards explored and colonized the same areas of the world as my ancestors, but we don’t get a special category. Think about it. I’m an ethnic minority. Outside of enclaves on the East and West coasts, you would have a hard time finding enough of my people to put together a decent parade. It’s another example of The Man trying to keep a Portagee down.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area before California completely lost its mind and while the area I lived in was transforming from the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” with its largely agricultural economy to the “Silicon Valley.”
A school open house included blue-collar wrench jockeys and high-tech office monkeys uncomfortably interacting, so I learned a lot about how people with very different backgrounds interact. Going to school, I was attending with real-life incarnations of the characters play by Raymond Cruz, Noel Gugliemi, and Ronald Ellis in Training Day. Exposure to that lifestyle transferred to my writing as an appreciation for the consequences of seemingly insignificant actions and gestures.
As an example, I was with some friends watching a prison documentary where one inmate stabbed another over a cross look. My shocked friends were propelled into horror when my earnest response was, “How else was he supposed to respond? That was a major no-no.” I’m not defending the guy. I’m just saying I understand what was going on in that situation.
So, I was in what was considered at the time a Podunk, one-horse town with an inferiority complex down the road from the art, culture, and sophistication of San Francisco. But this city of Liberals and Progressive ideals had an undercurrent and history of rough-and-tumble masculinity and skinned-knuckle pugnacity that leached from the ground.
There are several writers with a local connection who influenced my writing. Herb Caen with his word play. Mark Twain’s satirical observations. Jack London, arguably the Patron Saint of the Bay Area and tied with Jesus in name recognition polls, for his hard-charging, adventuring, two-fisted drinker personal life that birthed protagonists battling themselves, nature’s elements, and other men just as tough as he was, often in the same piece. Shirley Jackson’s stubborn refusal to explain her writing and taking joy in the subversive impact of her work that caused South Africa to ban it. And even though he is not a writer, the analogies of Robin Williams. Especially when he was doing cocaine.
Who are your favorite authors?
Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, Homer, Louise Erdrich, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Skeeter Skelton…For better or worse, it is largely a dead, white guy club, but the reason for that is their works have stood the test of time.
When did you first start writing?
I’m not exactly sure, but I remember charging other kids in grammar school to write essays and book reports and such. That’s where I learned how to vary my writing style to avoid detection. I guess you could say I had a side hustle as a ghost writer.
There are several stories from my childhood I do not tell my children, and that is one of them.The first time I could attach my byline to something I created was in my eight grade newsletter. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the piece was about. My mom still has it and thinks it is the first thing I ever wrote. Hopefully, she will not read this interview.
How do you spend your leisure time?
I’m a committed outdoorsman. I hunt, trap, fish, and generally like anything that goes “bang,” “varoom,” or makes the neighbors deliberate whether to call the police, an ambulance, or the fire department first.
I also collect meerschaum pipes and antique firearms. The wife and I are dipping our collective toe into the waters of homesteading. It’s more for the self-reliance aspect than concerns about what is in our food or trying to connect with our inner hippie. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with creating. Since I always get things right by the fourth or fifth try, I’m sure there will be some good fodder for humorous stories.
Describe your desk.
Two 2 x 10 planks duct taped edge-to-edge laid across stacks of cinder blocks and a metal folding chair with a pillow on the seat because the padding has rotted off. I’m not kidding.
What is your writing process?
I typically start with a character, and possibly a situation, that seems workable. Then I build the close supporting character; antagonist, sidekick, etc. Then I go about creating backdrop, timeline, and story arc.
Once I have the basic elements, I being outlining. It can be as simple as a plot point I want to hit and will figure out later, or it can be an entire scene with all dialogue because I thought of something that was particularly good. I’m not afraid say, “I’ll come back to that later,” and I’m not overly concerned with going down a rabbit hole where I produce the first draft of an entire chapter. Writing is writing, and I’ll have to do it all eventually.
When I’m happy with the outline, I call it complete and set myself to writing. I take a Project Manager approach. I literally have a spread sheet with dates, daily, overall, and chapter word counts, production targets, completion percentages, and estimated time to completion. It takes all the romance out of being a writer, but approaching writing as a well-run business yields results of a well-run business, rather than a stack of half-finished manuscripts.
I’m far more disciplined that I used to be. A younger me would write by the seat of my pants and do it whenever the mood struck me. That worked (and may still to some degree) for short stories, vignettes, and the like, but I’m expanding into long-form fiction. The story arc on this project covers an anticipated five books, at least a decade, and more subplots than I can keep track of relying only on memory.
Planning is terribly important, as well. I wrote the complete outlines for the first two books and plot-point synopsis for the other three before writing the first line of narrative. I’ve already been able to prevent writing myself into several corners and have only had to deviate from the outline twice to adjust for tweaks I made as I wrote.
On the subject of discipline, the biggest hurdle any writer faces (me included) is forcing himself to hunch over the keyboard every single day and just bang it out whether he feels like it or not.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Finishing. And moving on to the next project because by the time I’m done with a piece, I’m sick to death of it.
What are you working on next?
Once I finish L’homme Theroux, I think the next step is to change gears for a few days and decompress a little before diving into number two. I have a lot of my old stuff that either never saw the light of day for various reasons or the rights have reverted back to me and I would like to do something with them. At first, I considered putting them together in an anthology, but organizing them into something resembling order will be far more of a nightmare than I want to take on. Since I have a terribly annoying habit of creating titles that pique interest, I might just publish them on Smashwords as freebies as an exercise in platform building.
Additionally, I have a substantial backlog of academic type pieces I wrote for college, such as my undergrad capstone project, two Masters Theses, and a plethora of thoroughly researched shorter pieces that I never bothered to publish while in school. Hell, I never even attended any of the graduations.
All I wanted was the transcript and to have it done. I was disgusted with the process, the people, and the institution. I came away feeling could have received the same education from watching four years of the History Channel.
When my diploma arrived in the mail (because I couldn’t stand another minute on campus to collect it), my wife wanted to frame it and hang it in my office. I was so sick of it all that I threatened to set the diploma on fire is she displayed it. I was intemperate in my youth. I’ve mellowed since then. Now, I’m just ornery.
If you’ve never participated in this special brand of purgatory that is completing a thesis, your college will desire, and possibly require, you to pay a ton of money you don’t have for a one-off, hardcover printing that judging from price is gold bound in unicorn skin, which they will promptly take from your possession with a short ceremony officiated by the History Dean’s Secretary’s Assistant, a Hare Krishna complete with orange robe, and the homeless guy who washes windshields in the student parking lot and solemnly place it in what is euphemistically called the “student research section,” which in reality is a bottom shelf facing a wall in the far corner of the student library next to the Ark of the Covenant and Hitler’s handwritten first draft of Mein Kampf. I guess I’m still a little bitter.
Anyway, Carlos wasn’t up for that silliness and skipped it. Now, fast forward a generation, and publishing no longer requires a tangible storage medium. This is where Smashwords come in. I worked like a rented mule to find research, and in some cases conduct my own, on arcane topics that were not in vogue with my peers. The pang of regret at unintentionally hoarding this information has come over me occasionally, but the traditional way never made sense. Making this collection discoverable, and thus citable, via publishing on Smashwords makes perfect sense. Other than the three Theses, I am not sure if any of it qualifies as peer reviewed, but I will leave it to the researcher to determine its suitability to his purpose.
What is the hardest thing you have ever had to write?
I have no idea how common this experience is, but the most difficult bit of writing I ever had to do came very recently when I killed off a character for the first time. It was the damndest thing. My father’s obituary was a snap. My grandfather’s eulogy was a pleasure. The short story about my grandmother dying from the perspective of the ten-year-old boy I was at the time? A cake walk. Writing a police report for a double murder-suicide? All in a day’s work. An after Action Report for turning some asshole into a pink cloud of mist? That’s worth making the video a screensaver.
Yet, there I sat. A guy who has traveled the word doing things OTHER PEOPLE write novels about and knee deep in MY novel having trouble snuffing this chick. It absolutely had to be done to move the plot along and make the story work. I was actually stalling by finding a dozen other things that had to be done right then, so I could put off doing the deed. Eventually I thought, “If I’m killing her off, I might as well break some other hearts doing it to make it worthwhile.”
Five gut-wrenching hours later, she wasn’t dead, but she was on her way. It was absolute poetry. The reason she wasn’t cooling to room temperature was that I needed her to linger a bit for some more character development and to introduce a couple new characters.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I never intended to be one. I went the traditional route with some small tastes of success over several genres; slogans for bumper stickers, a little local newspaper reporting, a few short-stories on various themes, a satire piece that was published in, of all places, Mother Jones (Thank you for the contributor copies, but if you knew me, you would realize I was serious), and even some gay erotica, which to this heterosexual’s shock paid very well in comparison to all the other stuff I was writing.
After years of slowly building my paltry C.V., I had my fill of being rejected. I was never told once that I suck. If the turn-down was anything more than the standard rejection slip, it was a note saying, “I freaking loved it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit our current direction.” Or they were out of space or time or money. I had so many near-misses with laudatory comments that I stopped saving them because I filled up the shoe box that held them and didn’t see the point of starting another because I had proven my point to myself. So I simply stopped writing for a decade before discovering both electronic publishing and Smashwords. Now, it’s game on.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
That remains to be seen, but I have high hopes.
What do your fans mean to you?
Writers are story tellers, and as such, fans are the reason we do it. Without an audience, there’s no point in telling the story. In gratitude to my fans, I host a big dinner party every year. I invite all of them. I call it “Thanksgiving,” and since I have a china service for twelve, everybody can eat at the same time without having to resort to paper plates.