Tag Archives: Mark Twain

An Interview With Joe Combs


Smashwords Interview, February 2, 2015 .

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My daughter and the sunrise. I had neither when I was on submarines.
What do you read for pleasure?
Mostly biography and autobiography, non-fiction, and I still enjoy the classics.
Hemingway, Twain, Dumas, Tolstoy I could go on, but those are my four favorite.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
The Old Man and the Sea, because I feel it is the best book I have ever read. Hemingway does more with less than any author.
Tom Sawyer, I enjoy almost anything by Mark Twain. However, I grew up on a large river and imagined Tom living in my neighborhood. That feeling made the story more personal to me.
White Fang, I felt like I was in the great outdoors, a part of the story.
Moby Dick. My parents said that before I started kindergarten I was telling anyone who would listen that when I got big I was going to sea, and I did. I have always been fascinated with the sea and it was the first nautical novel I read.
The Count of Monte Cristo, like the other books it was pure adventure. Plus it had a wronged man who was avenged.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I always try to read the works of the writers on my friends list, even the ones who write in genres I do not normally read. After that I would say word of mouth is how I find most of the books I read. Once in a while I will go to my favorite ebook retailer and do a search on my favorite genre and just see what comes up.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I like both the kindle and the nook.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
With my daughter, reading, painting, sometimes carving wood, talking with my readers on Facebook, and doing things with my friends. Lately I have been doing a lot of travel as well.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Winnie the Pooh was the first story I read on my own. It made me want to read more and more because I enjoyed the story so much.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, I do. It was an essay on how kids could help fight water pollution by pulling water hyacinths from the boat and boat trailer while their parents were putting the boat on the trailer.
By doing that they would be helping to prevent the spread of water hyacinths to bodies of water that did not already have them. I won the essay contest.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the South. North Florida a little town called Palatka to be exact, not far from St. Augustine and Jacksonville. I have always had an insatiable curiosity and enjoy history. The area I grew up in was awash with history. I was always listening to grown-ups talk about the past. So, today I approach my research in much the same way. I go to the source, people, documents, official records. And just like that small boy I show up with a thousand questions and want them all answered. Those answers always lead to even more questions. Some times I just have to stop the research and write the article or book, if I don’t I will never get anything written.
When did you first start writing?
I won my first essay contest when I was about nine years old. When I was a submarine sailor I used to write short stories at sea to entertain myself. But, I never thought of myself as a writer. When a college English professor told me I should write I laughed at her. But, about ten years later I published my first book, “Titanic, A Search For Answers,” I have been writing ever since; and I began writing full time in 2014.
Describe your desk
I write on a small 1940s maple table that has been my desk since high school. My table holds: a photo of my daughter, 3X5 cards, notepads, an assortment of pencils & pens, my dictionary, a small table lamp, my computer, the 4 or 5 books I am currently reading, and a lead crystal water pitcher.
The pitcher was my great-grandmother’s. When I was about 5 their house did not have running water, and every morning she would fill the pitcher with water from a hand pump and place it on the kitchen table so you did not have to pump water every time you wanted a glass of water. I keep that pitcher fill with water on my desk. It keeps me grounded and connected to my family.
What do your fans mean to you?
My fans are part of the writing team. One fan, Sheri, asked me if I would write an article (for my blog) about her great-great-grandfather. As it turned out, I had studied her great-great-grandfather quite a bit in my youth. He was a Marshal for Napoleon and one of my early heroes. It was a pleasure to write about him. But, the real joy came when she told me she learned things about him from my articles that she did not know.
Anyone can send me a friend request on my facebook page, and I have fans who have. Like I said, my fans are part of the team, sometimes I will ask a fan to read a draft I am working on and give me their opinion. Sometimes I’ll ask my fans what would they like to see me write about next. I enjoy research and thanks to my fans, I have learned many interesting things I might never have learned if it had not been for a request from a fan. I know all writers say this, but I really do have a great bunch of fans and have become friends with many of them.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The research is fun, but I really enjoy doing rewrites. Sounds crazy I know, but when I find a way to say the same thing with fewer words I get a feeling of accomplishment. If I can improve the meaning of a sentence while shortening it, that is joy.
Like I said, I know it sounds crazy, but it is what keeps me writing, my little brother says it is the perfectionist in me.
What’s the story behind your latest book?
A mythology I remembered from my childhood of a Roman soldier who bullied Jesus he on his way to the cross. Because of that he was cursed to walk the face of the earth until Jesus came back.
One afternoon I began thinking about all of the world events he could have witnessed, and my imagination was off.
What are you working on next?
I have two things I am working on next. A collection of short stories called, “Growing Up Southern,” and the next Cartaphilus book.
The first Cartaphilus book will be released on March 27, 2015. That book will be followed by my book about the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, which I sent to my editor in last month.
What is your writing process?
I get an idea and I play with it in my head for a while. Then when I get something that I like I’ll quickly jot down those thoughts. Then I begin to write the story in my head.
While I am writing in my head I begin to list references that I will need. Then I do an outline and write the book. The outline keeps me on track and prevents me from wandering around. Then I go back and use my references to check facts. Then I set the work aside for a while. When I come back to it, the first time I use text to voice software to listen to the book. Then I start my rewrites.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Having to learn all aspects of the business. I mean let’s face it, as an indie writer you have either no or very few people on staff. So, you need to learn to do everything. Even if you hire out aspects of the work, you need enough knowledge to be able to pick good people to hire. So, far my picks have been 100%. I have very talented people I can turn to when I need help.
How do you approach cover design?
It depends whether I am going to do the cover myself, or hire someone.
If I hire someone, I tell them what the story is and then turn them loose to come up with some ideas. It really is great working with talented people.
If I am doing the cover myself, I shoot for an idea that will be recognizable as a thumbnail and that tells the book’s story in a simple picture.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Word of mouth has been the most effective for me. There is nothing like a reader who enjoys your work to help get the word out.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Of all the retailers around the world that my books are with, only one of those is not through Smashwords. That alone would be enough, but the tools available to authors and publishers make the entire process of publishing/distributing easier and quicker than any distributor I have worked with. There are many user friendly tools that can help with each stage of the process which other distributors do not have.
What piece of advice do you have for people who want to be a writer?
Write. Writers write, if you are not writing you are not a writer. Race car drivers race cars, teachers teach, and writers write.
Even if it is only one sentence a day, write something. Just once sentence a day will give you several paragraphs by the end of the month. Do not worry what you are writing about, just write.

Published 2015-02-02.

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Our Voice


"Lev Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana", 19...

“Lev Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana”, 1908, the first color photo portrait in Russia Français : « Léon Tolstoï à Iasnaïa Poliana », 1908, le premier portrait photographique en couleur en Russie. Suomi: “Leo Tolstoi Jasnaja Poljanassa”, 1908. Ensimmäinen Venäjällä otettu värimuotokuva. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been blessed in my life to have the opportunity to travel the world, and quite literally sail the seven seas. I seen so many interesting places, and met so many wonderful people. I have learned much in all my travels, and have cherished each experience, and each teacher. One of the things I have learned my travels; in the entire world, there is only one thing made by the hand of man that is truly infinite. My library. I purchased yet another new book this week.

I may have grown up poor in the Deep South, but I learned early on poverty would only hold me back if I allowed it too. As a small boy; I sailed on the whaler Pequod, raced dog sleds in Alaska, whitewashed a fence in Missouri, and captured Spanish treasures ships with Captain Edward Teach onboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Some of the places I read about as a boy, I visited as a man.

This week, while I should have been working on my article, I was enjoying the latest edition of my always-expanding library, Invented Voices by Donald Newlove. Invented Voices is a book of dialogue from some of the world’s greatest movies, plays, scripts, poems, and novels. While in my moment of solitude, I remembered what I liked about many of the scenes Mr. Newlove shared. It was the originality and honesty of those dialogues. Dialogues from artists, for these people are more than authors, of people like Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Anne Tyler, Stephen Crane, Leo Tolstoy, and so many more. To be sure, the originality and honesty is that of the author’s. More important, the originality and honesty is that of the characters. In each of these works, we came to know people like Captain Ahab and Elizabeth Bennet, just as surely, as if we had been properly introduced to them.

I also remembered reading the intro to a book by an independent author, someone I had never heard of before. The first sentence stated that this book was written in the style of “Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, and James Patterson.” No, I did not download the book, even though it did have a catchy title. Although, I do have to admit, I almost downloaded the book just to see how you could combine these three styles.

In the classics (and soon to be classics), the character is as real, and as original as you or me. The author stepped back and allowed the character to speak their own words, in their own voice. If Hemingway had written in the style of Mark Twain the old man in The Old Man and the Sea, would have been contrived, forced, and false. The words and thoughts would not have been those of the old man, but of Ernest himself trying to be Mark Twain. The author is merely the soapbox the character stands upon to shout their words to the world. When I want to read Ernest Hemingway, I read Ernest Hemingway. When I want to read Stephen King, I read Stephen King. When I want to read Scott (http://wp.me/IYiO) or Sheri (http://wp.me/P2IjCG-2), I read Scott or Sheri.

Each person, throughout all time, has a voice that is unique and their own. It does not matter if that person is you, Tom Sawyer, or me. Each of us is at our best when we allow our true voice to come out. But, we cannot make others into our own image, they too have to speak out in their own voice. As authors, when we write “in the style of …,” we have reduced ourselves to a mere copy. We do the same when we act as we believe others would have us act; when we suppress our dreams, our desires, and our passions. We do the same to others when we try to influence them to “be what they should be.” Why would you read something written “in the style of Mark Twain” when you merely need to pick up Tom Sawyer? I won’t. The same is true of our lives, and the lives of others.

Succeed in life, be honest, be an original, be you!

Cover of "The Old Man and The Sea"

Cover of The Old Man and The Sea

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