Thursday, May 24, 2012

Author Interview: Richard Sharp-Author of The Duke Don't Dance

Richard Sharp. Author of The Duke Don’t Dance

Tell me a little about yourself, your family and who you are.
I am a member of America’s "Silent Generation," the generation born too late to participate in World War II, but before the post-war baby boom. Born in 1941into a farming family who had migrated to rural Colorado from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, I traveled east as a young adult to receive degrees from Harvard and Princeton Universities. My writing is enriched from career experiences across America and in some four dozen countries, spanning the Vietnam War era through the present. Following years in the Washington, DC area, with assignments mainly in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the former Soviet Union, I now reside in Charlotte, North Carolina, having reduced my professional travels to “bucket list” opportunities only, after realizing that in 2009-2010,my hours spent on airplanes or in airports added up to well over one full month. My wife was also a world traveler with a career in the Smithsonian Institution. I have two adult children and two adult stepchildren.
When did you start your writing career? 
My career was largely in international development and transport consulting, involving continuous non-fiction authoring of reports, written testimony on legal/regulatory matters and technical papers, as well as co-authoring one Federal agency history. My fiction writing began in 2001 with two unpublished historical novels. The first deals with the gradual assimilation of a German-speaking frontier family into American culture from its arrival prior to the Revolution through the end of the Civil War. The second follows the history of one character, a boy in the first novel, set mostly in post-Civil War Missouri and Panama during the ill-fated French canal project. Due to my intense professional career, I deferred publication of those novels. Due to the reception of my current novel, The Duke Don’t Dance, I expect to publish both later this year.
Who is your favorite author? Do you have a Role model?
This may be surprising to most who have read The Duke Don’t Dance. While my work has been compared (quite over-the-top) to Henry James, Joseph Heller and Evelyn Waugh, my greatest influence by far actually has been Isabel Allende, particularly her work up through Paula. She greatly informs my treatment of female protagonists and inspires my interest in the evolution of personalities and generations over time.
Apart from Allende, I’d say Bertolt Brecht and Joseph Heller are role models to an extent.

What was your first sale as an author? 

An paperback sold in February 2012 to an unknown customer.  

Do you have a critique group or beta readers? 

Not really, though I’ll expose my partial work to family and friends.

In your writing style are you a pantser or plotter?
I’m more of a seat-of-the pants “panster,” but there is some structure to my madness. I always start with a central inspiration and write around that, For The Duke Don’t Dance, it was the enigmatic graffiti of the title found in an office men’ s room. For Jacob’s Cellar, it was the cellar of that title. For Time is the Oven, a kind of anti-Western, it was the historical fact that Frank James, elder brother of Jesse, was a Shakespeare buff.

I always start writing around that initial concept, whether it comes in the beginning, as in Jacob’s Cellar, or later in the novel, as in the other two books. The concept provides a time and place anchor that is then elaborated through accurate historical milestones and the emergence of the protagonists interacting within the time frame. The conclusion, driven by the evolution of my characters over the passage of time, is a late development, never the starting point.
How do you choose your story?
My novels (the three above and any yet to be written) are all about time; how the protagonists cope with experiences over which they have little control. The first came out of some curiosity about my own family’s history during the great changes that occurred in nineteenth century America, the present novel on the immense changes that occurred in my own generation’s lifetime. The second novel (following on the first, but not really a sequel) concentrated on a couple of pivotal decades of change, as will my next (see below).
Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers?

To me, it is important that the protagonists not give a damn about what the reader thinks of them. The characters in a novel should never be pleading to the reader to love them or think they’re cool. If protagonists are to seem like real people, they simply can’t care that some omniscient narrator is polishing up their image or alter their dialog so that all of the things that one wishes one had said are said. Sometimes that approach tests the reader a bit at the outset until they get into the stream of what’s going on. But my protagonists don’t care and neither do I. In the end, I think that makes for a better story.
How do you react to a bad review or rejection? 
No novel is going to appeal to everyone, so as long as I’m getting a preponderance of favorable reviews I don’t care that much about the unfavorable ones. I like a 4 of 5 from a respected independent source more than a 5 of 5 from someone who may be hoping for reciprocity. A good review from outside of my target demographic is as rewarding as a somewhat more favorable one from someone I expect to like the novel.
I am completely unfazed by rejections from Indie reviewers, as everyone should be. They are horribly oversaturated with requests and it is very difficult to communicate the tone of a novel if you don’t have a track record in a specific genre. My work is literary fiction/historical fiction, a segment of the market where disdain for Indie writers is stronger than in most other genres. I respond with a mild level of contempt for reviewers who reject Indies simply because they are Indies, even though I recognize that Indie books contain a higher percentage of truly awful works than mainstream publishers release. They at least screen out much of the painfully bad in favor of the mind-numbingly mediocre. Writing is not for the thin-skinned. Speak softly and carry a big ego.
Do you have any further Books or Plans in the work?
Yes. In addition to the historical novels noted above, I am in the early stages of a novel entitled Crystal Ships that will be set in the 1960s and 1970s, but is not a generational tale like The Duke Don’t Dance. Its inspiration is an ancient Irish legend and the old Doors song loosely based on it. It reflects my personal disagreement with Emerson. Life is not about the journey or the destination – it’s about the vessels that take you through it, the visions and inspirations, the crystal ships.
How can your fans and readers find you, do you have a web page or blog?
Currently, I also have a presence on, and, plus facebook.

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