And They’re In The Stretch

I don’t use a lot of horse racing lingo in my day-to-day speech. I just never developed the depth of love and dedication that the Sport of Kings requires of its devotees, and as such only those terms and clichés most fully integrated into the English language, (or at least the bastardized version we Yanks insist upon using), have found their way into my lexicon.


And they’re in the stretch!

Probably the term that get the most play with me is “in the stretch,” which technically refers to the point in a horse race when the animals have rounded the final turn and are heading down the straight portion of the course which leads to the finish line.

Dirty dishes

In the stretch is where you want to be when the kitchen looks like this!

I catch myself saying this all the time, particularly when I’m nearing the end of a particularly odious task. This almost always means some area of housework, such as a sink bulging with dirty dishes or a mountain of foul-smelling laundry, (yes being a full-time writer carries with it these glamorous side-jobs!) As soon as I’m aware that the chore is nearing completion the thought will pop into my head, unbidden, “Hey, I’m in the stretch!”

I use the term in writing as well, for all sorts of accomplishments, large and small. When I’ve put all the ideas and action into a chapter that I intended, and all that remains is to tie things up, close off the section and set up the next, I think about being in the stretch. When the book itself has reached its climax and the story is resolved, and all that remains is to gracefully close the book out, perhaps with a bone-chilling cliff-hanger (oops, did I just drop a hint?) I naturally think, “Halleluyer, I’m in the stretch.”

Being an indie author, there is another dimension in which being in the stretch is particularly satisfying, and that of course, it when I’m nearing publication.

I’ve written more than once that all the parts of getting a book into someone’s hands after actually writing it are a lot less fun for me than the act of creation. I suppose that’s not that tough a nut for my analyst to crack. I grew up dreaming of being an author, not an editor, or cover designer, or publisher, or marketing whiz… the list of jobs involved may not be endless, but it’s a lot longer than you’d think, if you thought about such things.

Having decided to go the indie route, however, all that comes with the gig and many pairs of big-boy pants need to be pulled up repeatedly, from the point at which I type “Chapter One” to the point at which you wait by the mailbox for my latest book to arrive.

And I’ve said all that so that I can say this: Many Hidden Rooms is in the stretch.


Not much fun, but it gave me a little editing boost!

Thanks to an unexpected night of insomnia, I crawled out of bed at 3:15 am on Sunday, May 28, 2017, and edited the final four chapters. Then, before crawling back into bed in a desperate attempt to grab a few z’s before Kim’s alarm went off at 6:30, meaning I needed to pull it together and drive her to work in an hour, I synthesized the PDF file which represents the finished interior of the book, from title page to “Also by S.J. Varengo,” a total of exactly 630 printed pages.

When I clicked “save” and generated the finished PDF, I said, aloud, “I’m in the stretch!”

Then last night, while Kimmy was on the phone with her sister, I snuck into the office and finalized the cover. I’d already done the bulk of the design, but I gained about 10 pages of text in the editing process (I know, I know, editing is supposed to be a paring down to the essentials and the page count should decrease. I told you I’m a bad editor, and besides I always find better ways to say things during the drudge), and so I needed to reformat my gutter size. (I’m telling you, man, the things you have to worry about!) I also made two very minor changes to the back cover (reduced the font size on one section and added the front cover photo credit).

When I clicked “export” and generated the finished PDF of that, I thought “Holy [add your Robin-the-Boy-Wonder expletive here], I am definitely in the stretch now!”


My brother on prom night, 100 years ago.

What remains? Uploading these two finished elements to the publisher, waiting for them to approve everything on their end and notify me of same, then one final check of the proof. Once I approve it, the book is done… finito… ready for human consumption.

All this means that I’ve finished ahead of deadline, and the book will, no ifs ands or buts, be released on Theodore C. Varengo’s 46th birthday.

And that is very good news.


Owning Music: The Audio Equivalent of the Steam Locomotive


One of the unfortunate things about having a blog is the tendency to get locked in, a little bit, topic-wise. I have two that I maintain, more or less. One is my gracefully aging humor blog, and the other is the SJV-Author site, established, ostensibly, to talk about writing.

But making people laugh and talking about the books I pen are not the only things that crawl through the twisted cavern that is my mind. Sometimes I think about other things! Sometimes it’s twisted caverns!

So, what do I do? I know I’m probably going to crack wise at least a little. Do I post it on the humor blog? I’m writing it, so is it out of place on the author’s blog? Do I launch a third blog called “Stuff That Doesn’t Fit Thematically with My Other Two Blogs?” This last is tempting, but no.

I’ve decided to solve this high moral dilemma by posting it to both blogs, knowing in advance that my Facebook followers are going to call me bad names, because they’ll get a notification about each and they’ll say, “Dude, how many times are you going to tell us about the same thing?”

Twice, I guess.

The Meat

Alright, here we go, kids.

I say “kids,” because anyone younger than 30 or so may have a little trouble relating, because I’m going to talk about music. And no, I’m not going to launch into a tirade about my music vs. your music. That was my dad’s gig. He pretty much thought everything after Benny Goodman was crap. To make a point, in the 1970’s I started listening to Benny, though he refused to listen to the Beatles. He did bring me home a Monkee’s album from the thrift store once, though, so that was progress I suppose.

What I’m talking about today is a little more ethereal: the concept of “owning” music.


Passing into the mist.

With the advent of subscription music services and streaming music services and services that bring you to services that stream and/or subscribe you, the need for owning a physical copy of an artist’s music is passing into the mist. I heard someone say on TV that our kids and grand-kids will think the fact that we owned music will be insane. My daughter, for example, subscribes to Apple Music. When she wants to hear something, just about anything, she types in an artist or an album title, and wham! She has it. Sometimes to delightful comic effect, such as when we took my six-year-old niece to see the Trolls movie, and upon getting back in the car, my daughter downloaded the soundtrack, so that every song that came out of her “radio” for the duration of the ride was from that movie, much to my niece’s amazement. “Your radio is broken on Trolls!” was her reaction. “This is crazy!”

It is, a little.

I suppose there is a liberating experience in knowing you can listen to whatever you want whenever you want to do it.

But I grew up holding my music in my hands.

Originally, we held big old vinyl record albums, their dark black flesh beautiful to behold, their cover art large and legible, a whopping 12″ x 12″! If there was a lyric sheet insert or liner notes you didn’t need a magnifying glass. New records had a distinctive scent, like new car smell only completely different and for a lot less money.

The first album I ever bought for myself was “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. It was followed by a couple thousand others. I think the last album I bought was “So” by Peter Gabriel. By then albums were already passé, as the compact disc had arrived.

I have always considered myself something of an audiophile, which is just a nice word for “music snob.” It mattered to me that the music not only was good, but sounded good when I listened to it. To that end, the CD was a godsend. Sound quality was head and shoulders above vinyl, even the special edition discs that were touted as being sonically superior. I actually only sprang for one of those. It was “Abbey Road” by the Beatles, and when I dropped the needle on it I convinced myself that I could tell the difference from my old copy, which had cost me about ten dollars less.

Then I got the CD and realized I’d never really heard the album before.

The first compact disc I ever bought was [gulp] Journey’s greatest hits. I was married by then and was not the sole arbiter of musical taste in the household anymore, so… compromise.

The SECOND CD I bought was “Dark Side of the Moon.” I still have this disc, and whenever we’ve moved and I’ve set up my sound system, this is always the first album that gets played. It’s tradition. Like Benny Goodman. The Journey CD got lost, and has not been replaced.

As so often is the case when one begins to attain a significant collection of years, I tend, in certain areas anyhow, to like things my way. So, I still like compact discs, and I do not subscribe to any music services. I like taking the disc out of the jewel case, or with your more environmentally conscious performers the 100% biodegradable cardboard container, which will decompose one day, leaving the 100% chemical CD behind. I like pulling out the little booklet and straining to read the liner notes and the lyrics.

I liked records even better for everything except the sound. They used to even come with posters sometimes. The aforementioned “Dark Side” had something like fifty of them. I had a copy of “Chicago at Carnegie Hall” that had a poster so huge it covered almost all of one of my bedroom walls. We’ve lost that with CD’s, and no streaming music gives you posters or liner notes or lyrics or even cover art. Well, okay, maybe cover art in a one-inch square rendering on your device’s screen, but dude! It’s not the same.

Sadly, when Kim and I moved into our apartment, after seventeen years in a three-bedroom house, I had to finally let go of my record collection. There was no room to store it at the new place, and although I still own a turntable I don’t really own an honest-to-Pete stereo system anymore. I listen to CD’s in the living room through our Blu-ray player, which gives me the added dimension of surround sound, or in my office on a self-contained RCA stereo that was my mom’s then my bro’s and eventually mine. It has an aux input, but the turntable needs a pre-amp to be heard, so, ultimately, it was a lost cause.

wall art

Both great albums, both great covers.

The good news is I gave the entire collection (minus a handful of albums that I just could not let go, two of which are now wall art), to my brother-in-law who does have a sound system which allows him to enjoy them. Sadly, however, he’s sold off, or attempted to sell off, a significant portion of the collection. I didn’t put any stipulations on his ownership of the records, so they’re his to do with as he see fit, but I’ve been to two garage sales where he’s had several hundred offered for sale, and I always want to wrap my arms around them and bring them back home.

But I stay strong.

There is probably something inherently wrong with wanting to possess so much music. My CD collection is far larger than my album collection was. It probably speaks to a deeply ingrained Capitalist running-dog mentality, which while once again in vogue is nonetheless unsavory. There are children in war-torn nations who probably own no more than a handful of CD’s. As my kids used to say when they were little and still functionally illiterate, I have these many:


That’s just the rock music collection. This is the jazz collection:


The classical music collection is currently in six plastic totes waiting for me to build them their own rack.


Pay no attention to the Temptations peeking out of the bin on the right. The bulk of this is classical music.

My daughter’s music collection takes up considerably less real estate. In fact she can fit it in her purse.

As owned music passes into the same mist that claimed the vinyl album [ed. Note: vinyl is making something of a comeback, but in a way that makes my former audiophile snootiness seem boorish, they actually advertise the weight of the album now, as if more grams means better music!] and the remotely-housed digital file becomes the gold standard, I wonder what will become of the music I’ve collected when I pass, in two hundred years. Will my kids have to go to garage sales and thrift stores to locate a CD player in order to listen? Or will they just rent a couple of dumpsters and toss them?

I think at my funeral I’m going to be a pain in the rear and request that someone track down a high-quality turntable, an ass-kicking amplifier, and a set of gigantic, liquid-cooled speakers, and play a record over my lifeless hulk. And since, technically, it will be the first music played at my new home, it will have to be “Dark Side of the Moon.”

Got. To. Be.

Editing Nightmares

I’ve probably mentioned it in passing, (I’ve actually whined about it repeatedly), but I hate editing. I get that, especially for the impoverished indie writer, it’s a necessary evil, part of the gig, just another bump in the road, [add your cliché here]. I get it.

editing nightmare01

Me, last night. That’s hemlock in the cup.

But it still sucks. Last night, while I was honoring my commitment to perfect three chapters per day, I realized that I had stumbled across a major error regarding the age of a wizard.

You see, wizard-kind on the planet Quadar are a long-lived bunch. They aren’t really even considered to be grownups until they’re over 100. Well this one fellow, who is a fairly important figure in the second book, is said in Chapter 9 to be in the neighborhood of 500-years-old, but much later in the book a conversation implies that he has to be far older, (nearly 1000). Again, him being that old is not a problem. Parnasus, the First-Elder of the wizard race, is well over that mark, AND his mom is still alive, so being 1000 is fine. I just have to correct the first mention of his age. No biggie.

But in a way it is, because it’s that sort of glaring mistake that is one of the things about editing that gives me hives. Am I really that senile?

Granted, remembering what happened on page 150 of a 650 page book is not always easy, especially during the first draft’s creation. But I’ve reworked this entire book five times now, and this is the first time I’ve noticed that the guy is both 500 and 1000. A pretty good trick, if you can pull it off.

tressida beatle

Tressida would have looked good as a Moptop!

It begs the question: what other trauma awaits? Did I forget my main character’s name half-way through the book, and instead of Cerah, did I start calling her Miley? Do I describe Slurr as wearing a pair of Kanye’s shoes? Did I forget Cerah’s home continent was called Illyria, and start saying she was from Asbury Park, New Jersey? Did I accidentally copy the entire text of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” into chapter 20? Did I imply that the golden queen dragon, Tressida, was in fact one of the original Beatles?

There’s no telling what sort of madness I’m capable of!

The good news, if that term can be used it all in a blog entry about editing, is that I have kept my three-chapters-a-day promise to myself, and am now 1/3 of the way finished. Also, the cover design is just about done, barring any back cover blurb changes, or if I am offered a free photo shoot from Annie Leibovitz, and suddenly have a new picture to slot in. (Annie, if you’re reading this, CALL ME!) So there is progress. But 1/3 finished is a long way from all the way finished. I know intellectually that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but I can’t really see it yet, and this tunnel is dark, and something just ran across my foot, and it smells like hobo urine in here.

Additional Thanks To Craig Hart


Maybe if Craig looked like this we could have gotten some real numbers!

It seems like I’m always thanking this guy for something, and today I must do so again. Craig included a link in his newsletter to the fun little interview we did a while back. Within hours that post had well over a hundred views, and in the days since it’s approached two hundred. That’s more than anything I’ve ever written except for the Things To Laugh About post where I made a joke about Amy Winehouse and Linsday Lohan having a “who dies first” competition, which got (honest to God) over 30,000 views when Amy died exactly 20 days later. So I suppose I should really be thanking her. And, no, Craig, I’m not asking you to die so that our interview can go viral. I could never ask something like that. I mean… no! I just couldn’t!

Could I?

So, Scott, Whatcha Been Doin’?

Oh, well, thanks for asking. How very considerate of you. I’d tell you, but I’d much rather talk about you! How is everything going? How do your hopes and dreams stand today? Did that annoying rash ever clear up?

Ok, I guess you’re not answering any questions today. So I may as well go ahead and talk about me after all.

Here some of the things I’ve been up to:


I’ve been buying roses for my wife. Today is her birthday, and I know how much she loves flowers, so I just went out and bought some.

Can you even believe how thoughtful I am?

Oh, by the way, don’t look at the one guy with the droopy head. He’s self-conscious. You know, because he’s droopy and all.

Now, listen. If you didn’t buy roses for your wife on her birthday, I’m not trying to say I’m better than you or anything, (I totally am), I’m just saying that’s what I did. (And you didn’t). That’s all I’m saying. Nuff said.

cdsI’ve also been organizing my jazz cd collection. This is what it looked like when I was all finished. Yes, it does extend from the floor all the way to the ceiling, and yes, that is Mr. John Lennon standing guard over it. Don’t let his peace sign fool ya. He’ll cut you if you mess with my jazz.

The jazz collection is housed in my office (hence the unruly mob of books waiting for the arrival of a new bookshelf to give them a forever home. The file cabinets are just fostering them for now.) That’s because I like to listen to jazz while I write. Not much singing, (other peoples’ words distract me when I’m working,) but tons of music to get the juices flowing.

Why is John Lennon guarding the jazz cd’s instead of the two shelves of rock cd’s in the living room, you ask? Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe Miles Davis guards the rock collection. And maybe Mozart guards the reggae while Sly and Robbie watch over the classical. Anything’s possible with me. I’m a wildcard.

Oh! And I almost forgot. I’m writing a book! In fact, today, just before I came to the library to write this drivel, I completed section one of the third Cerah book. Eleven chapters, 56,355 words, 127 pages. And what can I tell you about it, you ask? (Boy for someone who didn’t want to answer any of my questions you’re sure asking a lot of them!)

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of detail I can give you because you haven’t read the second book yet, which totally sets up the action of the third. Of course, that’s not really your fault, since the second book in the series, Many Hidden Rooms, hasn’t been released yet. I can tell you it’s exciting, action-packed, and introduces you to some new characters who may, possibly, blow your mind. The writing process has taken the story in directions that have caught me off guard, and I’m the guy writing the durn thing. So imagine what you’ll experience.

Now if you haven’t read the first book, A Dark Clock, that is pretty much your fault, because it’s available on various and sundry sites and in a variety of formats. So, yeah, that one’s on you. But this error is not something that can’t be corrected. If you go to my Purchase Books page, you can do just that. Buy A Dark Clock, meet Cerah, Slurr, Kern and Parnasus, and discover the magical world of Quadar. Then, when book two does drop, you’ll be foaming at the mouth to find out what happens.

Literally. Foaming. At. The. Mouth.

One last word about Many Hidden Rooms. I’ve been indicating for a while that I was anticipating a summer release date. Well, I’ve narrowed that down a bit. I thought that since I dedicated the book to my late brother, it would be kind of poetic to release it on what would have been his 46th birthday, and since he had the foresight to be born in the summer, that kind of works out nicely. So if all goes well, book two of the Tale of Cerah of Quadar will be available on June 24th.

That means I need to get the final edit finished, (my least favorite part of the process,) and get the cover designed in time for that date.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing, that’s what I’m currently doing, and that’s what I’m going to be doing for the foreseeable future.

Next time can we talk about you, please?

The Interview That Will Change The Direction In Which The Earth Spins



Author Craig Hart, seen here using a new app which allows you to order a contract hit online.

Craig A. Hart is the award-winning author of over two books. I kid, I kid. He’s written several novels, including his debut, Becoming Moon, and his current adventure-thriller Shelby Alexander series, of which the third book, Serenity Avenged was released on April 28.


I’ve featured his work on this blog previously, but I recently was able to wrangle him into doing an interview. [Ed. note: people don’t wrangle enough anymore.] 

It is with considerable guilty pleasure that I present the interview in its entirety.

Interview With Craig A. Hart – So-Called Writer

S.J. Varengo: I’d like to begin by thanking Mr. Hart for agreeing to this interview, as it will really class up the place, and it will be nice to talk with a writer whose books people actually read. So, Craig. I thought we’d start with some current events, then move to a few questions about writing in general, before concluding with a full, 100-question medieval agrarian history.

Craig Hart: Awesome! Because I just happen to have recently read a three-volume set on that very subject by famed historian A. Grarian. I took a lot of notes, just in case you gave a quiz today. My wife thought I was wasting my time. Ha! This will show her. 

serenity avenged

Q: Is it fair that even his COVERS are awesome? A: NO!

SJV: You’ve just released your third book in the Serenity series, Serenity Avenged. Congratulations! Tell us a little about what’s happening to Shelby Alexander this time.

CH: He joins a circus and gets eaten by a monkey. Okay, so that was in the rough draft. In the published version, Shelby travels downstate (Michigan) to be with his daughter during a pregnancy crisis. While there, he discovers his ex-wife, who won’t go the hell away, has gotten herself entangled with a local crime boss. Lots of bullets fly, folks get shot up, Shelby gets up to some fun heroics, and then joins a circus and gets eaten by a monkey.

SJV: I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s asked you this, but what’s up with the town of Serenity, MI? For a small town, it seems to be the crime capital of the Milky Way.

CH: It is literally the crime capital of the Milky Way. It’s on the welcome sign as you drive into town, so visitors can’t say they weren’t warned. But yeah. I’ve thought the same thing about pretty much every crime series—book or TV—that has a recurring character. “What are the odds all these things happen to the same person in a (relatively) short span of time?” I think that’s what some lecturer somewhere might call “the willing suspension of disbelief.”

SJV: Yeah, I always thought Jack Bauer from the TV show 24 was just about the unluckiest bastard who ever lived until I met Shelby. In Serenity Avenged you moved the action out of Serenity itself to the city of Grand Rapids. Did that give you a sense, as a writer, of being able to spread your wings a little?

CH: I suppose it did, and I didn’t care for it. I like being in Serenity, although the life expectancy there is rather low on the average. It was set in Grand Rapids for a couple of different reasons. First, there was the pregnancy crisis, which no med center in Serenity would be able to handle. The closest high-grade facility to Serenity is in GR. (I think their NICU is Level 4.) So the story containing the pregnancy took place there by necessity. The second reason is because I grew up in GR and wanted to set at least one Serenity book there.

SJV: I have to be honest. I’m a huge fan of the character Mack. He’s totally badass, but you’ve made him vulnerable as well. I guess there’s no question there. God! I suck at this! Maybe I can come back… I know. Tell us more about Mack.

CH: Mack is pretty much me. Totally based on me. Well, I did add in a few things, such as being heroic, good with firearms, tough, and a reliable friend. Otherwise, totally me. Mack serves as a friendly foil to Shelby. He keeps him honest. I left him out of book two and readers seemed to really miss him. I know I did, anyway. My favorite parts of the books to write are the interactions between Shelby and Mack because they sound a lot like conversations I might have with my own real-life versions of Mack.

SJV: You’re getting ready to start work on the fourth book in the series. In advance of that, you sent your mailing list an opportunity to take a survey and offer some opinions about what might happen. Anything you can tell us about the sort of feedback you’ve gotten?

CH: I did get this one great response that said, “These are the best books ever written. And I’m not just saying this because I’m your mom. Signed, Your Mom.”

SJV: Kinda warms your heart.

CH: But there were some other good ones too. I can tell you one thing: there is one character people want dead, like, yesterday. I can’t say who, because it would give away something in the next book.

SJV: Speaking of that, one of the questions you asked in the survey was if someone was killed in the upcoming book, who should it be? Since “absolutely everybody” wasn’t an option, I’m sure you’ve gotten some interesting responses. But that’s not my question. Since Mack was one of the options, would you send me the home address of anyone who selects him, so that I can “re-educate” them?

CH: Two people did select Mack, but they were in the vast minority. I will be happy to send you their address and you’re welcome to have at them as soon as Frankie and the boys get done. If there’s anything left. [Ed. note: refer to picture above.]

murder filesSJV: You also have a story featured in a new collection of short fiction called The Murder Files. In my personal experience, I’ve found murdering with files to be extremely difficult, no matter how raspy, so hat’s off right away. Can we get a teaser about the story?

CH: Murdering with files is tedious work. Also, it’s difficult to get the victim to stand still long enough to be filed to death. They always have things to do and people to see. Not that I have personally filed anyone to death, of course, although if you happen to know of a good file wholesaler, pass my info along, would ya? The story is about a guy who has tried to go straight, but gets drawn back in by an “offer he can’t refuse.” Yeah, I know. It’s been done. But there’s a twist at the end that I think makes it interesting.

SJV: Alright, let’s move to some slightly broader questions. Many of the folks who follow my blog are writers, and I’m sure they’d be interested in hearing some of your thoughts on the craft itself. Let’s start with a fun topic: writing locations. Having followed you on Facebook for several years, I know that you often write in locations other than home, coffee houses, cafés, even the occasional library, (which is where much of my work gets done). Where is your favorite place to write?

CH: I do most of my writing in libraries, especially libraries with study rooms. Study rooms are great, because it keeps the plebes away. And I get fewer angry looks when I burst into loud guffaws at some particularly clever scene I just wrote.

SJV: If you get one with windows they can gawk at you, and enterprising librarians can put a sign outside that says: “American Author: Endangered Species.”  Do you have a ritual you go through to prepare for a writing session? In my case I usually crack open a beer, put some jazz on the stereo, and if I’m feeling particularly frisky I light some incense to get the juices flowing. How about you?


conversational craig

So good he can actually interview himself!

CH: I don’t really have a ritual. And here’s why: I don’t always like the act of writing. Sometimes I do, but just as often I don’t. And I can ALWAYS find something else to do. The weight of “knowing” that I am going to write for 3-4 hours is often too heavy a burden for me, so I end up having to trick myself into writing. “Oh,” I tell myself, “I’m just going to open my laptop and check Facebook, maybe play a game.” Then I ease open Microsoft Word and before my mind can catch on, I dive into the manuscript. Having a ritual would tip off my brain that it’s going to be asked to do some actual work.


SJV: I know writers on both sides of this next question. Do you map out your books in detail before sitting down to actually write? Do you know everything that’s going to happen, or do you sometimes let yourself be surprised by the direction that a story takes?

CH: I pretty much always let myself be surprised. I’m not good at outlining full books in advance, although I wish I could because I think it would make the first draft a little easier to write. I sometimes outline two or three chapters ahead just to work out a plot twist, but that’s as far as it goes. I do, however, outline what I’ve already written. This helps me keep my place in the narrative, giving me a bird’s eye view of the work-in-progress so far and keeping me firmly within the timeline.

moonSJV: I’m a “let’s see what happens” writer also. It’s made for some genuinely fun surprises. Here’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while but was just too shy. In your award-winning first novel Becoming Moon, your main character remains unnamed throughout the book. Tell us your mindset there.

CH: It’s tough to answer that fully without giving away a key point. But I’ll try to answer without answering. In most books, the main character is, well, the main character. But in Becoming Moon, he’s not the story. Sure, things focus around him, but he’s more of a catalyst, more of a metaphor than an actual character (although he is real). Secondly, I didn’t want to name him because he goes through something of a transformation and, in a way, becomes somebody else. (If any of you have read the book, you probably know what I’m talking about.) And, finally, I didn’t feel it was important to name him. In Moon, I tried to strip things down as far as I could. I don’t believe there is a single scene I could remove without scarring the landscape of the narrative; they all mean something. By not naming the character, I hoped to remove any distraction that might provide, while at the same time allowing him to stand in for a broad reading populace. In other words, this unnamed character could be anyone: you, me…anyone.

SJV: There’s a young writer in my local writer’s group who is very focused on character names. When I began reading my first novel A Dark Clock to the group he frequently asked questions like “Why did you choose that name,” or “Does that name mean something?” How do you feel about naming your characters? Do you put a lot of thought into it?

CH: It depends on the character. If it’s a throwaway character, then, no. I don’t put a lot of thought into it. With Shelby, I did spend more time mulling over name combinations. I try not to get too symbolic with names, because it can quickly become tedious. For main characters, I like choosing good, solid names, sometimes with a twist. An exception is the villain in Serenity Avenged: Darkmore. But mostly, I like to keep things basic. Two reasons. First, this series is firmly rooted in reality, so outrageous names would be difficult to pull off. Second, when I use a more unusual name, I want it to stand out. Which it wouldn’t if everyone had an equally goofy name. Now, in other genres this might work differently. Fantasy, for example, is known for its character names. You might not be able to just name someone Bob and be done with it. (Although I think that would be hilarious and awesome.) I will say this: once I hit on a name, it often will “feel” right. I won’t be able to explain why—it just does. So I go with my gut.

SJV: Totally introducing a Bob into my next Quadar book! And yeah, I dug the name Darkmore. It worked perfectly. Now, we’ve discussed this before privately, but I’d like for the readers to hear your explanation. In the first Shelby Alexander book, Serenity there was a character named Scott, who spends the entire book in prison. Have you realized how huge a mistake this was? Obviously with a name like that he should have been a far more central figure. Just sayin’.

CH: Yeah, so, you’re totally the guy in prison. Named him after you, waited to see if you’d notice. You noticed. And, yes. I now see it was a horrid mistake. I should have named this the Scott Varengo series and coughed up the royalties. Or maybe I could have named it the Scoot Varongee series and skated by on legal thin ice. Ah, well. It’s out in the great big world now. Too late!

SJV: You’re a stay-at-home father of twin toddler boys, and yet you still speak in coherent sentences. Kudos, and how has being a dad affected your writing?

CH: I don’t speak in coherent sentences, but so far I still write in semi-coherent sentences. Being a dad has been both the best and the worst thing for my writing. It has severely limited my writing time, not to mention my ability to focus on, well, anything more than episodes of old sitcoms. On the other hand, it has forced me to prioritize and ratchet up the efficiency in terms of how I use the time I have. The tough times have, I think, made me a better and more effective writer, but I still resent it.

stark and stormySJV: You and I are both huge fans of the noir detective genre, and a while back you and our mutual “friend” Paul Brand wrote a very funny satirical take on the genre called A Stark and Stormy Night, a copy of which you guys were kind enough to sign and send to me, and which I probably still have somewhere. Any plans to explore that world again?

CH: Maybe! We’ve discussed it. The issue is that each project takes a good deal of effort and some hard, cold cash to get out into the world. And the market for Stark was small. Which is a positive spin on the fact that it didn’t sell very well. I’m proud of the project and would love to go in on another, but it has fallen down the ladder of priorities for now.



Just a Coupla Homeless Guys in Grand Rapids: Craig Hart and Paul Brand on a day of rainy debauchery.

SJV: Related, any plans to work with Paul again, despite your deep, abiding hatred for one another?


CH: I plan to work very hard on continuing to hate Paul. And, yeah! I love working with Paul, because he is one of the rare people one can work with and not go Stark Raving mad (see what I did there?). I’ll work with Paul anytime, anywhere, anyhow, anyone, anyhoo. And, yes, he’s a horrid, horrid man. God, I hope he reads this.

SJV: Iffy. Pretty sure the only thing of mine he reads are the praise-heaping comments I add to his Facebook posts. I’m not going to ask you who your favorite current author is because I’d have to blush when you reveal that it’s me, so who’s your all-time favorite? Oh, wait. That’s me too. How can I frame this question so that the answer isn’t me? I know! Who’s your SECOND favorite author of all time?

CH: It’s still you, because you’re just that great. If we were to assume (shudder) that you did not exist in the writing world, however, I…well, I don’t know. I’m not sure I have a favorite author anymore. I love several for different reasons. I love Hemingway (I know, such a cliché) because he was the first to begin teaching me how to pare things down to their essence. I love Alistair MacLean because he wrote kickass books that were also clever and amusing. I love Jim Harrison because he beautifully wrote about Michigan and provided the basis for my character Nigel Moon. And there are a ton more.

SJV: Alright, it’s time to get to the issue we discussed when I asked you to do this interview, which is your being a person of interest in several sexual assault cases involving dolphins. I guess the burning question is where in Iowa are you finding all these dolphins?

CH: I realize I was going to use this forum to come clean on this issue, but on advice of my lawyers, I have decided to deny these defamatory charges. Oh, and I have the dolphins shipped in from the coast.

SJV: [sighs] Fine! In that case, let me ask a serious question about Iowa. Why do you think the Iowa City area is such a hotbed for excellent writers, (Erik Therme and M.L. Williams to name just two)? You guys have signing events where the number of writers rivals the number of attendees! What’s the secret? Is it something in the water? Dolphins maybe? Alright, the question got less serious just then, but really, why so many great writers in, frankly, such an unlikely place?

CH: Iowa City has a long literary history, due mostly to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a graduate level program at the University of Iowa, which is world-famous in both its students and instructors. Folks who have attended or taught at the Writers’ Workshop include Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, T. C. Boyle, Jane Smiley, John Irving, John Gardner, Flannery O’Connor, and a ton of others. Iowa City is currently the only city in North America to be designated a City of Literature by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). As a result, it ends up being something of a flame to writer-moths.

SJV: Let’s wrap this up with three questions about the future.

#1: How far do you see the Serenity series going?

CH: As long as people keep reading them!

#2: Any other ideas percolating in that famously shiny head of yours? (For those of you who don’t know, Craig shaved his head on St. Baldrick’s day to benefit children’s cancer research).

CH: Oh, tons. But only a few are legal.

#3: And the question I always ask when discussing the future: Where the hell are our hoverboards? The real ones, I mean, not the burst-in-flames-and-consume-you-in-fire ones that they’re calling hoverboards.

CH: Paul ate them.

SJV: Knew it! Finally, the floor is yours. Any closing remarks for our readers? (And please don’t literally take the floor, as we’ll fall through into who knows what dark passage.)

CH: I feel I should have something profound to offer anyone who made it all the way to the end of this trainwreck, but I got nothin. Except, thanks for reading this interview, and go read Scott’s stuff!

.[Ed. note: I did not have to pay Craig to say that. Well, let me clarify: I didn’t have to pay any extra. It was covered in his stardard $10,000 interview fee.]