My guest today goes under the name of Ruff Bear in most places though, as so many of us do, he has another name for those boring administrative things that aren’t nearly as much fun as being a creator of truth and beauty. Sadly Facebook doesn’t have much truck with truth and beauty and insists on the workaday name so I’ve invited Bear to my blog so he can talk about the real him for a while.
Can you tell me a little about yourself? For instance, do you have to have a day job as well as being a writer?
I have been writing since I was a teenager and had my first work, a poem, published when I was 17. Although encouraged by my writing instructors, I was uneasy about the difficulties of establishing a writing career. I spent over 30 years working in higher education as a professor of political science and a student success specialist. In June 2014, I decided to fulfill my teenage dream and become a fulltime writer.
When you aren’t writing, is there any other creative activity you enjoy? Have you ever written about it?
I enjoy gardening, cooking, travelling, reading books on world history, working out, and submission wrestling. I have written about travel and have a work in progress about the adult wrestling culture.
What are you reading? Can you recommend something that you wished you’d written yourself?
I am finishing up a collection of short stories and novellas by Robert Heinlein. I read half of it and then switched to Neil MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation. I wish I could have written anything by Doris Lessing or Gabriel García Márquez. She blows me away with her range and he blows me away with his imagination.
In that crucial inspiration stage of a new story which comes first? Plot, situation or character?
Usually character comes first but sometimes I think of a situation I really want to explore. I never know what the plot is until I start writing.
Do your characters arrive fully fledged and ready to fly or do they develop as you work with them? Do you have a crisp mental picture of them or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?
I know my characters completely the minute they set foot in the story. Well, maybe I don’t know their latest colonoscopy results.
Is there any genre you would love to write, ditto one you would avoid like a rattlesnake?
Eventually I am going to get around to erotica in the D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller sense. I can’t see myself writing horror, crime, or anything with a lot of blood and violence. I admire 19th century horror novels like Frankenstein and Dracula, but the horror isn’t the creatures but how people reacted to them.
I feel very alive when I visit deserts, but desertification is one of many problems facing the world due to climate change, inaction and greed. I wanted to tell a story about the consequences of that inaction and how it could lead to the near destruction of humanity. As someone in love with world history, I wanted to write about cycles in history but projected into the future. As a political scientist, I am drawn to study political change movements, the social contract and empires. I practice Taoism and wanted to create characters that reflected the promises and cautions of that philosophy.
Do you find there to be a lot of structural differences between a relationship driven story and one where the romance is a sub plot?
A relationship driven story almost has to be episodic and removes the opportunity to develop a lot of intertwining themes. Even sub plots have to tie into the main relationship. Romance or relationships as sub plots add layers or help explore themes creating a richer story.
When writing series, what measures do you take to keep track of those annoying little details – eye colour, car type, name of ex-spouse’s dog – that are so easy to drop into text and so easy to forget about?
I do one reading that is solely to insure continuity and reveal repetitious descriptions. It drives me crazy that even the best television series will do things like mention a sibling and then next season say the character is an only child.
Put together your ideal team of men/women – drawing from all and any walks of life, fictional or non-fictional – who you would want to come to your rescue if menaced by muggers/alligators/fundamentalists?
Calvin and Hobbes. They always come up with some way to deal with adversity by ignoring convention, usually by creating a distraction that stops anyone else in his tracks. And I have seen film of a leopard hunting and killing a crocodile in water near the riverbank; tigers are larger than leopards and alligators are smaller than crocodiles, so Hobbes can handle them.
Villains are incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. The cruel sea. The serial killer. The society itself. Your hero’s inner demons. What sort of villains do you prize?
Devious men (devious women are never villains), indecisiveness and inaction in the face of crisis, social norms and customs that have lost their meaning, active engagement in any of the Seven Cardinal Sins except lust.
What are you working on at the moment? Can you discuss it or do you prefer to keep it a secret until it’s finished.
I am ghostwriting the memoirs of a couple who have lived and traveled widely. I am finishing up the first prequel short story for The Secret History of Another Rome, researching the two sequels, and making notes for more prequel stories. I am finishing a short story about a woman protected by spirits. And I am waiting for my husband to finish the first draft of a science fiction novel we are co-authoring called Crossing Xavier.
Could we please have an excerpt of something?
From The Secret History of Another Rome (the beginning of The Fifth Moment)
Octavian’s mother told her five-year-old son they would be leaving home to live elsewhere. She said it would be a great adventure and they could spend as much time as they wanted together once they arrived. In the meantime, he spent several days with his grandmothers visiting gardens and going on drives in the open air vehicle that was fueled by used cooking oil. One evening, the entire family ate at his great grandmother’s house and stayed up late talking and amusing the child.
One day the boy’s mother instructed him to make sure he said goodbye to his friends after they were done playing in the fields. Octavian couldn’t explain why he was leaving, only that his mother said they were. It wasn’t too unusual for a family to move from a community since opportunities came and went. Still, so far in their young lives, Octavian’s friends had only seen off one other, a girl who left for the interior when her mother was needed at a family cattle ranch when her aunt could no longer manage the place alone. When he said his farewells, the boy with long, bright auburn locks did not know it would be more than two decades before he saw another person less than seventeen years old.
A few days later Octavian found two trunks sitting in the parlor near the front door. It already had been an unusual morning. Instead of giving him his usual short trousers and a shirt to wear, his mother laid out a red piece of clothing that looked like a long shirt without sleeves, an off-white, hooded robe that went down to his ankles, and a light brown leather belt. He asked her what the shirt-like thing was and she said it was a tunic. She said from now on he would be wearing these clothes. It was odd. Mother was wearing a shirt and pants.
After breakfast, the day became even stranger. They traveled some distance to the far side of Mandela beyond Table Mountain to a flat expanse with a modest, white-washed building on one side. Mother told him this was an airstrip. Sitting in the flat, dusty field was a large, metal machine that had wings like a bird, but with upturned ends. He recognized the lettering painted above the windows near the front of the long, silver tube that made up the bulk of the machine. It was Arabic: امبراطورية روما في الإسكندرية. Octavian had been learning Arabic for as long as he had been speaking English and Spanish. The elegant script said Empire of Rome at Alexandria.
Octavian had heard the Empire mentioned by his elders. They did not speak well of it for the most part. His mother, however, used maps depicting the territories of the Empire in her lessons with him. The intelligent child put the pieces together.
“Mother, are we moving to the Empire?”
“Yes, Octavian. Very good of you to sort that out by yourself. We are going to Alexandria, the capital city of the Empire. We will live there.”
“Are you ready to go into the plane.”
“Plane? Is that what that is?”
“Yes. It is an airplane, but people just call it a plane for short.”
“Like calling Michael Mike.”
“Yes,” she said. Octavian realized he probably would never see his friend Mike again. “Let’s go. I packed a lunch for us that we can eat in the plane.”
“That sounds like fun.” Octavian enjoyed picnics, but had never had one inside a machine.
Octavian and his mother climbed the stairs and entered the cabin. They were greeted by a member of the flight crew, a smiling, friendly, dark-haired woman wearing a sea green tunic who spoke English with a bit of an accent. “Welcome aboard. I am honored to meet you and travel with you to the city. Please find seats in the passenger cabin. I will speak with you momentarily.”
Octavian’s mother led him into an area in the front of the plane with six large, reclining seats covered in a durable, nubby fabric.
“Here are some blankets and pillows,” the flight assistant added. “I admit the fabric can be a bit scratchy on the seats, so you may want to cover them with one of the blankets. The pillows are a good support for your lower back, as well as your head.”
She disappeared again as Octavian and his mother settled in. His mother was just removing lunch from the bag she had brought with her when the attendant returned. “Oh, I guess they didn’t tell you we provide meals. No worries. I am sure you will be hungry again toward the end of the flight.”
“Flight?” Octavian sputtered. “This machine really uses its wings to fly?”
“Yes, dear. Do you remember a few months ago when I was away for six days? I rode in an airplane to Australia and back. I wanted to be certain I knew what it was like before we moved.”
“And I think it best if I give you something after lunch to help you sleep. Even though we will be crossing Africa instead of the southern oceans as I did, there is not much to see and becomes boring rather quickly. You have never been in a confined space like this for any length of time. I don’t want you to become over-excited or ill.”
“But I want to see things, even if it is just clouds and sky.”
“You will be awake while we finish lunch. And I promise to wake you for the last hour of the flight so you have time to see what you want to see.”
Octavian knew his mother always thought matters out carefully and would not bow to him arguing further. Besides, while they were eating, the woman in green came around to ask them to use the belts attached to the seats before takeoff. The boy wondered why they should strap themselves in if they were going to remove their clothes and wasn’t sure why removing their clothes was necessary. However, he saw his mother connecting the ends of her seat belt without stripping. He must have misunderstood.
The engines made a thundering sound. Within minutes, the plane started moving. The machine picked up speed running down the flat, dusty field. Octavian was in awe watching the trees and ground go by so quickly. Suddenly, the airfield was pulling away and the plane was climbing. The boy felt the partially eaten meal settle in his stomach. He couldn’t take his eyes off the window as the landscape became smaller. The plane banked and he could see Cape Town and its harbor, then Mandela, his home community. He could even see his great grandmother’s house set amidst the fields.
As amazing as it was, take off and climbing above the spare clouds was disorienting. Octavian decided it probably was best to relax. After lunch, he took a small red tablet. Funny, he thought. Tablet means a small pill and an electronic screen for reading and writing in English and tableta could mean both in Spanish, too. Those sorts of connections always fascinated the child. Within minutes, however, all thought slipped away and he was curled up in the seat with two blankets and three pillows.
The Secret History of Another Rome
In the mid-2600s, Ranulf becomes Supreme Pontiff of the Empire of Rome at Alexandria, a patriarchy run by priest-bureaucrats called Librarians. After twenty-two years on the throne, Ranulf’s memories flood back to him, from the time he moved to Alexandria with his mother to his present situation resulting from his choices, his training and his relationships. Ranulf’s life has been a quest for truth, not the half-truths of the Librarians and their Secret History, but an understanding of how action rather than static dogma is the path to the future. Guided by mysterious strangers from another time and his own innate curiosity, Ranulf searches for this understanding. Why do the Librarians hide facts from their ruler? What will Ranulf do as he gradually uncovers the truth? How will he respond when he finally understands?
Bear was raised in the Baltimore-Washington area. He has lived in the Albany, NY, area for 20 years. He has been writing since the age of 13 and had his first work, a poem, published at 17. Bear has worked 30 years in higher education as a professor of political science and a student success specialist. He has lived overseas in China, Hong Kong, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Bear currently works full time as a writer of plays, non-fiction, poetry and fiction. The Secret History of Another Rome is his first completed novel. He has written three full-length plays and a one-act play that is the start of another long play. Bear also writes political essays, which have been published at http://www.dailykos.com/user/Ruffbear7 and http://www.opednews.com/hkbearmcneelege. One essay was published in River & South Review’s Winter 2014 issue and a poem was published in December 2014 by Silver Birch Press in their I Am Waiting series. He is completing work on a non-fiction book on the changing definition of democracy and writing several novels and plays. Additionally, he sells blank note cards and prints featuring his original photography at http://www.bearlydesigned.com.
Bear enjoys gardening, cooking, travelling, reading books on world history, working out and wrestling. He and his spouse were married in 1996 in a Christian-Taoist ceremony in a beautiful state park. They enjoy taking care of their 95-year-old house and their three cats: Rani Dolly Lama, Buster Amarillo Spotbelly and Miss KayKay Snugglegrumps.