16 August 2009

Author Interview: T. L. Gould, Part One

It's finally here!  The long-awaited interview with self-published author T. L. Gould.  So without further ado....

Name: Terry L. Gould
Location: U.S.
Book: How Can You Mend This Purple Heart?

JLL: Tell us a little bit about Terry Gould - the regular guy, not the author.

TLG: The regular guy. Not much to talk about here. My childhood has had a tremendous influence on me throughout my adult life. We lived in very poor rural towns across and up and down Missouri, but through our childhood imaginations, we were oblivious to our “poverty.” During some periods the only food on the table was potatoes from the garden and oatmeal in every conceivable soup. We actually ate oatmeal for dinner quite a few times. This has given me such an incredible appreciation for all the people and places I have experienced throughout life. I despise greed and hoarding.

The police showed up at our house one evening and my dad was arrested and taken to jail when I was four years old. That had a tremendous impact on me for a long time. Still does. I carried around a total of distrust for authority, both because my dad left us and because the police took him away. I’m still untrusting and suspicious of the motives and agendas behind a lot of “power figures.”

I spent almost twenty-five years working for Fortune 500 companies in a variety of marketing and advertising positions. It was a great experience, with lots of travel to places I never dreamed of seeing, but it also changed me in ways that I regret. Without even knowing it, I became “corporatized.” You know, the stiff, button-down white collar, MBA know it all. It’s taken me nearly six years to rid myself of the rigid, “blue suit” personality with its dog-eat-dog commandments. I never really conformed to the corporate politics that stifle real creativity and thinking. Guess that’s why I changed jobs and companies every three or four years.

I’ve been in and out of the hospital so many times, due to accidents and surgeries, I should be presented with an honorary medical degree.

I love sports. Still playing ice hockey (two of the hospital visits) and play golf when I can. Not real good at either one.

Family: Married thirty years to the most intelligent, caring and supportive woman anyone could imagine. Spend lots of time with our daughter and her two children, ages one and five. Kids are so innocent and open-minded. I try to learn from them every day.

Last but not least, I believe if you’re going to tell your story, then tell it like it was. Don’t sugar coat it or wrap it with inhibitions or shyness. If you were a dope smoking, pill popping, anti-war peacenik, then say it and be proud of it. Don’t change who you were just fit who you wish you would have been. In the long run, it doesn’t feel good.

JLL: Has writing always been a hobby or passion, or is it a talent you only recently discovered?

TLG: Writing has been a step-child passion of mine. I wrote essays and short stories in high school that were considered “very good.” A couple of them were actually submitted by teachers for publication in the local paper.

During my twelve weeks in boot camp for the Navy, I made extra spending money writing love letters for guys to send home to their girlfriends or wives.

My writing ability helped me tremendously in getting through college. Term papers and writing assignments came pretty easy. I even made a little money “ghost” writing a few times.

Then it was off to work for twenty some odd years.

So, now I have adopted the stepchild writer in me and made it a full-fledged sibling.

JLL: Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books?

TLG: For whatever reasons, excuses, I don’t read much. I’ve read a lot of business books, but haven’t turned a page on one of those in more than ten years. I now find them boring and full of look-at-me types.

I used to love Mark Twain. The last book I finished was The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman and I’m currently reading Eragon, by Christopher Paolini.

JLL: I ask my Aspiring Authors these questions, so let me give them to you, too. When it comes to your writing….Either/Or:

  • Pen and paper, or computer screen? The majority of my writing time is spent at the keyboard. I only write down on paper the “Aha” moments. I’ve tried the legal pad and pencil, but get bored and distracted too easily.
  • Plotster (outlines, scene cards, etc.) or Pantster (writing by the seat of your pants)? I am definitely a seat of the pants writer. Outlines, scene cards, character notes…they are all too remindful of my “business days.” In my own humble opinion, that sort of structured process takes a lot of the creativity away.
  • Music on, or off? On line Sirius XM is a god send.
  • Solitude, or surrounded by people, sounds, things? By nature, I am a total people person. I need human contact. But in order for me to write, solitude is a necessary evil. I get tucked away in a little room with no windows, just the music, and a whole day can go by while I lose myself in two, three or four chapters. Then there are days when the words “hermit” and “recluse” keep repeating themselves on the screen and I know it’s time to get out.
  • Cleanest first draft possible, or screw grammar/spelling/punctuation and fix it later?  I’ve tried both. For whatever reason, contrary to my personality, the cleaner the first draft the happier I am. I don’t know how much good writing time I have wasted making all those damn corrections as I go. I tried to participate in the online nanowrimo where you write a fifty thousand word ms in thirty days. The spelling, grammar, punctuation, plot, character, etc. are of no concern. Just sit and write whatever comes out. I made it to 1,500 words. I wish I could just open up and let if fly, but I can’t.
  • Slave to the whimsy of your muse, or writing like it’s your job, even when you don’t feel like it?  I am shackled to my new-found passion. I can’t wait to sit down and poke out a sentence, a paragraph, a page. When I do get away from the keyboard, I find people staring back at me in contempt while I make mental notes of their features, movements and mannerisms and how I might use them for a character or scene. And I don’t even realize I’m doing it. It’s fun and scary.
JLL: Why did you decide to write Purple Heart?

TLG: The story behind Purple Heart played its game on me for a long, long time. For some reason that I still cannot explain, I abandoned all connections to the hospital, my out-of-body experience, the war and my wounded friends for more than ten years following my discharge from the Navy. At some point after I met my wife, these quick, uninvited little bursts of memory would percolate through my brain and find their way into words. After telling my wife, brother and close friends about some of the experiences, through lots of laughter and tears, they kept saying “you should write a book.” I now know my retelling of those stories kept the memories alive and vivid. At some point, I realized it was a story that people should know and it was borne out of a long overdue and personal obligation I felt for the Vietnam veterans.

JLL: How long did it take you to write the book?

TLG: After retelling the story for more than ten years, I decided it was time to write the book. I started with a table of contents and zig zagged my writing through the chapters with no rhyme nor reason. That was nearly twenty years ago. I was able to focus on the story over the past three years and with the help of a terrific online crit group, ( yeah Jen!) [JLL: :-)] I got the first draft completed last year. In a general sense it took me thirty years to write. In a technical sense, probably three years.

JLL: Sometimes writers are afraid or embarrassed to “come out” to friends and family about deciding to write a book and try for publishing. Sometimes we’re afraid people around us will think we’re nuts, or we think if we tell anyone else about our endeavors, they’ll put more pressure on us to succeed than we do on ourselves (as if that’s possible!) Was any of that true for you?

TLG: I really didn’t feel any outside pressure to do a great job, or “we hope the book is as good as the story” sort of thing. A couple of good friends would chide me with “You’ll never get that damn thing written”, but that was mostly in jest and after a few beers.

I think my own expectations kept me from writing it for a long time. I mean, who am I to think I can write a good story? That sort of self-inflicted mental pressure was something I still can’t shake.

JLL: I know there are personal reasons for your wanting to publish Purple Heart, but I’ve also had the pleasure of reading some of your other writing. Do you have publishing dreams for future stories as well?

TLG: Oh yeah. That would be awesome. I would love to have my YA fantasy and YA mystery works in progress published some day. The writing is so much more fun and light hearted than Purple Heart and I think the two have a much broader market appeal. But, it’s getting the first (perfect) draft completed and I’m haven’t visited the mss in over three months. As you noted in your question, it is a dream.

JLL: As a writer, how will you measure your success? Dollars and cents? Number of copies sold? Number of different books published? Some other internal measure of satisfaction?

TLG: I need to separate this into two parts. I have to go back to the reason I wrote “Purple Heart”—it was not a story I wrote to get published, or sell so many copies or make a certain amount of money. The primary reason was to “just tell the story” so people would know what happened beyond the combat that every one sees in the movies--on which they make their judgments about Vietnam. And, it’s a story I was encouraged to write by family and friends, some of them Vietnam Veterans.

“Purple Heart” is a stand alone accomplishment for me. The day I finished typing out that last sentence was an overwhelming experience. Every emotion wrapped between the covers of that story came rushing over me. I literally sat and stared at the computer screen—crying with joy, sadness, relief and yes, a very powerful sense of accomplishment. When I started “Purple Heart” I never intended to be a “writer”, but after the joy of writing “Purple Heart” I can’t think of anything else I would rather do. So, the measure of success for “Purple Heart” was in the actual completion of the writing. Now, with my association with Veterans Airlift Command, success would be giving as much as I can to that organization through the sales of “Purple Heart”.

[JLL: From the Veterans Airlift Command website: "About the VAC The Veterans Airlift Command provides free air transportation to wounded warriors, veterans and their families for medical and other compassionate purposes through a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots."  Terry has pledged a portion of his sales from Purple Heart to benefit VAC.  Which is yet another reason for you to purchase your own copy of Purple Heart.]

The writing that I am working on now would be measured in far more different terms. I want to learn as much as I can about the craft of writing. I want to constantly improve my ability to put together a really good story. When I started “Purple Heart” I didn’t know a plot from a theme from a premise. I started reading as much as I could on the internet about how to structure, how to outline, proper verb tense and good character development techniques. I purchased a couple of books on writing—the best was Bird by Bird written by Anne Lamont. At some point, I joined a fabulous, wonderful on-line critique group. It was the luckiest day in my life during the writing of “Purple Heart”.

So now, my best measure of success would be the act of getting published—the satisfaction, that recognition by the publishing and reading universe—that would be the greatest measure of success. I don’t know about other writers, but with me, my ego gets extremely high indulgence from very low pay expectations.

CLICK HERE for part two of the interview.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the interview, where Terry shares his insight and advice about self-publishing.