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Q&A


The following comes from an interview I did with Dan Heching from Young Adult Magazine.

Please give me a favorite ONE SENTENCE excerpt from the book (Cadillac Chronicles) that you feel is most representative of the work?

A: "Lying is for parents you already know." This is the main character, Alex Riley, thinking he's about to meet his father for the first time, wondering how to explain Lester's presence. He decides to tell his father the truth.

What made you decide to start writing?

A: In 1999, I started writing a memoir, which later became Hammerhead 84 (published in 2005). I felt driven to write that book to expose the oppressive nature of modern psychiatry. And I thought that would be the end of it—just write the memoir and continue my day job as a psychologist. But I realized how much I enjoyed the actual process of writing, particularly the creative aspects of building characters and painting scenes.

Tell us a little bit about your latest work (Cadillac Chronicles).

A: Sixteen year-old Alex Riley's top priority in life is to find his long-absent father. But Alex's mother, Patricia, has a knack for sabotaging his plans. With the aid of an adopt-a-senior program, she takes in an elderly black man, Lester Bray, to live in the room next to Alex's. This has to be about the most ridiculous thing she's ever done. But, surprisingly, the old man turns out to be a refreshing change from life with mom. In fact, if an opposite personality of Patricia existed, Lester would be it. And she can't stand him. On the morning of his eviction, Lester absconds with Alex on a road trip from Albany, New York to Fort Lauderdale in search of Alex's father. At its heart, Cadillac Chronicles is a coming-of-age adventure crossed with end-of-life poignancy.

What are some of the qualities in your latest work that set it/you apart from what's currently out there on the young adult market?

A: I won't pretend to know the whole slew of YA offerings, but there's clearly a shortage of realistic "boy books." Sometimes it feels as if the biggie publishing houses have given up on the coming-of-age male reader. From a purely business perspective, maybe they should. Boys aren't known for their reading appetite. But I think if we give them stories they can truly connect with, we just might lure them in and grow the demand. That's one small way to improve the planet.

Can you describe the path to getting this work published? What were the challenges? What was easy about it?

A: Well, nothing about it was easy. It took about six months to write the first draft, another six months of editing and then about eight months to land my first agent. She couldn't sell the book in the shape it was in and I wasn't willing to make the changes she suggested. So we parted ways. Another year or so passed before I finally warmed to her ideas. That's when I found my current agent, Anna Olswanger, who has an impeccable sense for narrative detail. Still, given the slow market for boy books, it took another year to land a deal. So the big keyword lessons to be learned are—repeat after me— flexibility and persistence.

What were your specific influences for this book? Road trip films, literature, more of one or the other?

A: All the way back to ninth grade English with Huck Finn and Great Expectations, I've loved stories that involve compelling intergenerational relationships. And, yes, I do love road trips. They break up the day-to-day expectations for what's possible in life. Because, really, we are chained by our own expectations. I also enjoy stories about fatherhood and the quest for meaning in this ridiculous world. A couple of big influences here are Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

If you could cast the Dream Film Adaptation of your work, who would you cast?

A: Don't think for a minute I haven't pondered this one. Actually, I'm not sure who would play Alex—maybe Justin Bieber (if he could lose the permanent smile). But casting Lester—that's easy: Morgan Freeman. He's actually the man I channeled while writing Lester (except for the content on pages 129-130, which I'm sure is completely inaccurate). So, Mr. Freeman, if you're reading this, call me. And no, this is not another Driving Miss Daisy.

If you hadn't become an author, what path would your career have perhaps taken?

A: In my case, the question is a little backwards. I've been a psychologist since 1995, and I enjoy the work (well, let's just say most of the time). Writing feels a lot more rewarding for the soul, but not so much for the bank account. I have a wife, two sons and a mortgage—you get the point. So I remain a part-time author, dreaming of the day I can write full time.