It was an old building in disrepair. No one would know we were there. The clicking of my boots on the 70's tile flooring was far from stealthy. He knew when I approached the room with no hint of surprise. I wondered if he counted my steps and knew from my stride how tall I was, whether I was a man or a woman, and if I was mean or gentle. The door creaked as I opened it carefully to monitor my subject. Only emergency lights were on and the room was dimly lit. I had to fix that. If I was going to meet my match, I had to look him in the eye.
[click the overhead light on, move the chair aside]
His books reflect a brilliant mind. I had to know more. Like...what makes him tick? What secrets does he NOT want us to know? The Grey Man series gives us insight into John Cronin, the ornery law man. Rimworld is about sci-fi on a whole new level. And then...there is Calexit.
"Good evening, Mr. Curtis. Hope no one was too rough on you. I have several questions I would like to ask you. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Whiskey? A fine micro-brew, perhaps?"
"I'm fine. Let's get on with this."
"Ok, then. No need for introductions and pleasantries. I'm familiar with you and you know what I let you know about me. We're somewhat on the same page. Where do you get your ideas? Are they drawn from real life experiences and people or total imagination?"
"Most of them are based in reality. Or at least reality as 'I' know it... Like the characters, they are composites of incidents that may roughly resemble real life."
"Ah. The famous Curtis riddles. What do you mean by 'reality as I know it'?"
"Yes, I know. But what do you mean? Describe some of your reality."
"You wouldn't understand."
"Well, then just entertain me."
"Getting words out of you is going to be a task, eh? That's Ok. I'm used to people playing hardball. Does writing making you energized or send you into exhaustion?"
"It depends... Writing I enjoy, editing and roofpreading drive me nuts!"
"Roofpreading? What is roofpreading? A new term? Is it a device? An operational tactic?"
"Proofreading. Damn Auto Correct!"
"Mr. Curtis, we are chatting. Auto Correct does not apply."
"It's my reality."
"Well, keep roofpreading a secret then. We will get the codes!"
[slams The Grey Man Twilight down on the table]
Do you ever get writer's block? What do you do to overcome it if you do?"
"I always have more than one book going at a time. If I get stuck on one, I will switch gears and move to another book until the muse decides to come back and play in the right place."
"Seriously? How do you do that without hurting your brain? My mind can multitask, but several authorship works at once? You need more captains to man those ships."
"I'm retired. I write. I shoot guns. I attend things."
"Attend 'things'. Like gardening? Animals?"
"I 'attend things' not 'attend to things".
"Semantics.The Grey Man series is set in a western culture. Why western law enforcement? What brought you to that setting while planning your series?"
"Growing up spending summers in that part of the country, and a lifelong respect for law enforcement. And I know a number of old retired Deputy Sheriffs... :-)."
"What does colon, dash, parenthesis mean? Is it a secret code?"
"It's a smiley face with a nose."
"I realize that when I look at it. But when you speak it, it makes no sense. Why would you say that? Why wouldn't you just smile?"
"Because you emailed me these questions.We aren't really having this conversation."
"But I'm talking to you now. Oh, I get it. Spy stuff. Right. Right."
[groans, rolls eyes]
"Your Rimworld series is a fascinating series. It reminds me of The Twilight Zone in the new century mixed with a new spin. How did this come to be your creation and what inspired it?"
"Actually, it was a challenge from LawDog and Peter Grant. They wanted me to branch out. Hence the Rimworld short story, from a maintainer's point of view. And I spent a dozen years working around and with some brilliant scientists at various Applied Physics and Applied Research Laboratories. So I try to mix in the possible with things that I've never seen 'covered' in science fiction. I try my best not to do handwavium, but go for the art of 'possible'. And do a lot of research."
"Research. Tell me more about that. He must have been a good dog if you named him LawDog. Followed the rules. I don't get how he challenged you, though. At least, I am assuming it is a boy dog. How did you interview a dog? Do you have to ask it yes and no questions? Do you have this on video? Is it part of the laboratories?"
"Ok, So now we get to the laboratories. Interesting. What goes on in there?"
"No, it's not. You are just telling me that so you don't have to talk about it."
"I just don't really want to answer your questions."
"Come on, Mr. Curtis."
"It's Ok. I will find out another way. I am quite intrigued by Calexit. We certainly cannot brush off the unique problems going on in California. Did the Jefferson Movement have anything to do with this take off? Or is is all your political twist close to plausible reality?"
"Sadly, the Jefferson Movement is a small 'logical' part of it. The rest is based on logical extensions of what is currently happening in California today, based on the past fifteen years of actions by various administrations (and I was stationed out there three times, twice in the 1970's, again in the late 1980's, and I worked out of California in 1997-1998."
[shaking my head]
"Do you think someone could be a writer if they don't have a passion or emotion for life, writing, stories, or reading?"
"I really don't have a good answer... People can and often do have strange passions, in strange directions that take them down much different paths than their careers might predict."
"Hey, stay on track. We are not talking about my life. This is about you. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Why or why not? Are there any secret works out there from JL Curtis?"
[Mr. Curtis laughs out loud]
"No I haven't. I figure JL is enough of a pseudonym."
"How do you select the names of your characters?"
"Random name generator, or for different ethnicities, name lists from the web."
"Huh, interesting. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?"
"Editing and roofpreading. For 30+ years, I wrote technical documents and test plan documents. Grammar and punctuation are NOT strong suits in those. Now days, it takes almost as long to do those two editing steps as the actual writing. I am blessed with excellent alpha and beta readers who are NOT shy about criticism, and I relish that. They deserve a lot of the credit for the quality of the books!"
"Aha! You mention it again. Is roofpreading where you throw someone off the building if they don't tell you what you need to know? You read them on the roof? Is it Chinese accent for roof pleading? Like pleading for their life? On the roof? Dangling?"
"I have no idea what you are saying."
"I just typed it really fast. It's supposed to be proofreading. I hate proofreading! Are all of you this hard headed? There is nothing secret here. It is proofreading!!!!"
"I was waiting for the Sgt. Hans Schulz to come out in you...'I know nossink!'"
"Is this almost over?"
"I will break you, JL Curtis."
"I know. That's what I'm afraid of."
"Do you feel gut wrenching pain when you have to cut something out of your books? Do you save it for another time and table the idea?"
"I never throw anything away. I save it in a pieces/parts file. I may have to file off the serial numbers, or change characters, but those bits can come in handy. The SASS segment in book 5 was actually written in 2015! It took three years to find a home."
"Where are those secret files kept? The password?"
"What secret files?"
"The pieces you keep. With the stuff. The bits! When you were in Area 51, did you touch the alien bodies? Do they feel like alligator skin or spongy? Are their eyes really that big?"
"What? Area 51 has nothing to do with this. The files. On my computer. They are not secret files. They are parts I don't use on one book and might on another."
"So you say. But it came from your head, right? Do you Google yourself? Why or why not? Do you ever look around the internet to see what people are saying about your books?"
"Not really. I get plenty of direct feedback, both positive and negative directly from the readers. Occasionally, friends will point out reviews, especially the one stars! Those tend to actually sell more books!!!"
"Well, if you are so passionate about one stars, I will give you a few under some fake profiles.Do you pay attention to your reviews? Have you gotten a negative one? Well, I assume so, if you like the one stars. If so, how did that affect you?"
"I generally look at the trends. There are always people who will not like what you write. Or feel they have the right to pick it apart for (insert reason here). I figure if 75% of the readers like it, I'm good. "
"75%? That's a C. You have to do better than that. You are a man of few words, Mr. Curtis. Anything you would like to add?"