Name: Richard Paolinelli
Where are you from: I was born in Turlock, California the same day that the city announced it had reached the 10,000 mark in population. Since no one else stepped forward to claim the title I officially announced that I was Turlock’s “Citizen 10k”.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc.:
I’m married with two children and one incredible grandson. I recently retired from a 20+ year sportswriting career (with a couple of awards as mementos hanging on my office wall to show for it) and began focusing on becoming a novelist. My education is a combination of traditional college with a Master’s degree from the School of Hard Knocks.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
There is a lot to tell. I was part of a wonderful project called Beyond Watson, an anthology of 12 original Sherlock Holmes stories written by a great group of writers that was just released. Betrayals, the sequel to Reservations, is in final editing and will be released this fall. I am trying to complete a biography, Perfection’s Arbiter, on Babe Pinelli, who was a National League umpire, in time to be released in October on the 60th anniversary of the only perfect game in World Series history, a game that Pinelli was the home plate umpire for. And finally, I have my second sci-fi novel, Escaping Infinity, about halfway completed.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I actually started out as a freelance writer/photographer in 1984, was the lead writer for the first two issues of Seadragon, a comic book series, in 1986 and got my first full-time job as a sports writer in 1991. As for why, as a child our family’s business had us moving all over the western United States and I would occupy my time in the back seat of the car as we drove to our next destination by jotting down stories in a notebook. It just kind of morphed from there into a career.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I got my first freelance assignment, writing about a meteor crater in Odessa, Texas.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I had succeeded as a journalist and I wanted to prove to myself that I could be just as good, if not better, as a writer of fiction.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I draw up a very basic outline for the story and create the characters and their back stories. I write the opening chapter, so I know where I’m coming from, and then I write the final chapter, so I know where I’m heading to. After that it is just getting from point A to point B in 60-90,000 words.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
With Maelstrom I borrowed it from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Into The Maelstrom” because I’ve always loved that word. Reservations was fairly easy as the story is set around the three Indian Reservations around Gallup, NM and Betrayals is pretty much the theme for the entire book. With From The Fields, which is a sports non-fiction about high school football in my home town, I chose that to pay homage to the early days of the football program at Turlock High in the 1920s. Most of the players back then were farm kids who had to work around their farm chores to practice and play. They literally came in “from the fields” every day.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
To some extent, my fiction stories all seem to have redemption as a central theme, even the Del Rio series has that theme, that Reservations and Betrayals are part of, although it takes four books to get there. I’ve always believed that no matter how far someone has fallen they can always find a way to come back and shine brightly.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Reservations has quite a lot of realism in it as it is set in Gallup, NM and I lived and worked there for about four years. I covered a lot of events on the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi reservations and got to know a lot about the culture and the people there. While the story itself is fictional, people who are familiar with the area will recognize a lot of the places and one or two events that events in my book are based on.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
The Bible firstly from my early upbringing. Frank Herbert’s Dune for sci-fi story telling at its best. David McCullough’s John Adams, not only for its historical content but as a primer in how to write narrative non-fiction, which I used when writing From The Fields, and finally Jack McDevitt’s Time Travelers Never Die. It was the first McDevitt book I had ever read and in discovering all of his other works I noticed that he was the same age when he wrote his first published novel, A Talent For War, as I was when I found Time Travelers Never Die. It inspired me to give fiction writing one more shot at age 47 and I am very glad I did. It was understandably incredible for me to be a part of the Beyond Watson project as Jack was one of the other contributing writers. As far as a mentor, fiction wise, I’d have to say Jheri Fleet many, many years ago. Sadly I’ve lost touch with her over the years but I took a writing course that she taught and I am still using a lot of what I learned from her to this day. So Jheri, if you are out there and reading this, thank you.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
There are two, Ryter Rong and Gibson Michaels, who you interviewed recently. Ryter recently publish, Ireland Calls My Name, and while I am not a huge fan of historical fiction/romance/fantasy I found it to be a very compelling story and a reminder that not all slaves brought to America came from Africa, there were more than a few white Irish slaves too. I look forward to reading her next work. I’ve known Gibson for several years and when he wrote his Sentience Trilogy I had the privilege of being one of the first to read it pre-release. I loved the “those that fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it” theme in the trilogy as well as the fact that sometimes the most savage animal in the universe is mankind. I recently read the first half of his next project and I think sci-fi fans will like what he has in store for them. As far as my favorite author, I really can’t pick just one. Frank Hebert, Jack McDevitt, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe and Louis L’Amour are my top five in no particular order and they have all influenced me as a writer in one way or another. All five are masters at world-creating and compelling story telling.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I’ve had a lot of support from many people but I’m going to single out Ron Sarhad. Ron’s help and support was incredible and invaluable in researching and promoting From The Fields. Without him I don’t think the book would have been as good or as successful.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Oh god, yes. I’ve been writing in one way or another for a living for over 30 years now.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not really. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’m going to give you the opening chapter of Escaping Infinity (disregard the banging sound you are hearing as it is just my agent smashing her head on her desk and asking why I didn’t use a sample from Betrayals instead, lol):
Molten lava – an angry mixture of red, orange and yellow – flowed out from large cracks in the blackened rock only to quickly cool and set in the piercing cold of deep space. This barren planet, a mere ninety million miles from its parent star, had no atmosphere to trap the warmth of the sun and protect it from the harsh, unforgiving vacuum.
At least, it didn’t have an atmosphere any more.
It had once been a thriving world of seas, deserts, forests and plains. It had been filled with a nearly uncountable variety of life surviving in climates that run from one extreme of frigid cold to another of blistering heat. The life forms that had called this planet home ranged from the microscopic to a dominant species on the cusp on greatness and ready to take the final step into space to join all of the other civilizations across the universe.
Millions of years of evolution and progress had brought them to this day and it was all consumed in an inferno they could never have imagined, all of it gone in less than a minute as time had been measured on their world.
Nothing left now but a lifeless ball of rock, bleeding lava from cracks in its core and from every volcano, some dormant for millennia, that had now become active. What little water was left – the planet’s surface had once been two-thirds water – had collected into poisonous, radioactive pools in the deepest craters and had quickly frozen solid. If that water were to return to its unfrozen state it would barely cover one percent of the surface now.
The planet’s death throes had reached out to leave their mark on its lone companion moon. Already cratered by eons of meteor impacts, the moon now showed several fracture lines running in great zigzag patterns across its face. The moon was still ringing, the dust on its surface vibrating as if being sifted through a giant screen, from the impact of the shock wave that had struck it full on.
The ringing would eventually subside and the moon would hold together and not shatter to become a set of rings around the planet, but it would forever bear the marks of its companion’s demise.
Just outside the moon’s orbit, which had been increased by the shock wave so it would now take three more of the planet’s days than it had before, a fleet of eight spaceships – black and sleek despite their massive size – sat silently watching the grim scene.
Seven of them were clustered together in formation. The eighth, which served as the fleet’s flagship, had taken up station a few thousand miles closer to the dead planet.
The bridge of that flagship – perched atop the command pod that rested at the back of the ship’s lengthy cylindrical hull, connecting the ship’s two sweeping wings which housed its engines – was as quiet as the grave.
How fitting, the ship’s commander thought to himself as he stared out the bridge’s main view screen, for this is truly a grave we are visiting and the corpse’s murderers are its only mourners.
The commander had visited this planet many times during his travels and never once failed to find something new to marvel at, especially the life forms that called this place home. He had never seen its like anywhere else in the universe. All gone now, snuffed out in a searing flash of heat and fire the planet had never before seen. Destroyed and by his order.
A gasping, choking sound interrupted the silence, the sound one makes when trying to breathe in past the tears. Desperately trying not to become a sob, then a wail and then a never-ending scream. He tore his gaze away from the horror on the view screen and looked down and to his left at the source of the sound.
It was his Navigator, barely older than the Commander’s youngest child, tears still streaming down his face as he gazed at the screen. These were the young hands that had set the course that had brought them here. The Commander gently laid his hand on the child’s shoulder – he thought of every member of his crew as his children – and felt the initial flinch and the trembling.
“This was not your fault,” the Commander said in a soft, soothing tone. “The order was mine. As is the all of the blame for it.”
It was true, although he could not blame the child for not believing it. The Commander had ordered the course change and the Navigator had dutifully entered it. But instead of exiting from hyperspace at a safe distance from the planet, all eight ships and exited directly within the atmosphere of the planet. They had quickly passed through and back into space but the energy released by their appearance had ignited the atmosphere, searing away everything from the surface, boiling away every drop of water from the oceans and blasted the upper layers of the atmosphere into space, forming the shock wave that had dramatically impacted its moon. The wave of heat and radiation reached out destroyed the artificial satellites that orbited the planet, instantly killing all of the creatures that inhabited some of them.
“It wasn’t your fault,” the Commander repeated softly.
That much was true. The course the Navigator had input had been perfectly correct. But the Nav computer had failed to flag a small star near their new course that was collapsing into a black hole. The change in gravitational pull was slight, but just enough to change the exit point.
Instead of exiting hyperspace well behind the moon where they could observe the planet safe from detection all eight ships had exited a mere fifteen miles above the surface of the planet. In mere seconds they had passed through the atmosphere and back into space but the damage had been done. The commander supposed it could be considered no small miracle that the same forces that had ignited the atmosphere, boiled the oceans into vapor and cracked the planet’s core in several places hadn’t ripped the ships to pieces as well.
They had discovered the error only after the tragedy when nothing could be done to prevent it. Discovering the reason why the computer had failed would take a great deal of time.
Little good that knowledge will do for the dead below, the Commander thought bitterly as he returned his gaze to the screen. The planet’s lone natural satellite began to rise from behind the planet. He had witnessed this event many times in his past visits, the moon slipping above the horizon and passing through the atmosphere as if swimming through water before exiting out to shine bright and clear on the surface below.
Now, with no atmospheric distortion to transit through, the sight of the visibly scarred moon rising now struck the Commander as utterly obscene.
An entire career of exploration and discovery, all that I have accomplished and learned, he thought as he kept his eyes on the screen in a sort of self-imposed punishment, and this will be my legacy. Planet-killer.
His second-in-command, who had served with him for ten cycles now and was long overdue for his own command, quietly entered the bridge and approached his commander. His eyes could not help but look at the screen. With an effort he pulled them away from the terrible scene and softly spoke to the Commander.
“They have all arrived on board and are waiting for you below, Sir,” he said.
They would be the commanders of the other seven ships in the fleet. They had all transported over to the flagship to meet with their fleet commander in light of the tragedy. The Commander nodded as he turned away from the screen, catching the downward glance from his second directed at the shaken navigator. It was a questioning look, asking if the boy should be relieved of his post.
No, the commander’s quick shake of the head answered. Pull him off the bridge now and you send the message that we blame him for this. Leave him at his station and let him know his crew and his commanding officers stand with him.
The entire exchange was swift and silent, the two had served together too long to need words. They both knew the pain the other was feeling and both knew they would set aside the pain and the grief for later and do their duty.
The Commander strode for the exit to meet with his colleagues and try to decide what they should do next. He already knew they could not undo the carnage. Temporal travel was a proven possibility. But it was also proven that an attempt to undo an event of this magnitude would result in even more damage to the fabric of time and space. Not only would the inhabitants of this planet still die, but many other planets would likely suffer the same fate.
They would try to find a way, but the sad truth might be they would not be able to find any possible way to make this right.
“Sir,” his Communications officer called out before he could exit the bridge. “Should we send a report back home?”
“Not yet.” He replied after a moment. “Let us wait until we decide if there is anything we can do here first. Then we will send them a full report.”
“Yes, Sir,” she acknowledged. “Sir, I……”
Her voice drifted off as she was unable to finds the words to express her feelings. Her commander understood all too well.
“I know,” he said softly. “Carry on.”
With a final glance back at his bridge, seeing his second quietly speaking with the stricken navigator, offering what comfort he could, the Commander stepped off of bridge and entered the transport tube to take him to his meeting with the other commanders. They could discuss the matter to infinity for all the good it would do them, but in his heart he knew they would never be able to find a way to might it right.
What had begun as a grand final mission for one of their civilization’s greatest explorers, a first-ever voyage to the very center of the known universe, had ended almost as soon as it had begun. This innocent detour had been intended to show those under his command why they were out here. To find new life.
This planet had been his career’s greatest achievement, even though he’d likely never live long enough to see his world make official contact with it. He had discovered it during one of his first expeditions and in an area of the galaxy that many had written off as completely barren of intelligent life. They were forbidden from contacting the planet’s inhabitant’s until they had reached a certain level of technological advance and, despite just beginning landings on its moon, this planet wasn’t quite there yet.
So they observed unnoticed, which became increasingly harder to do with each passing visit and the Commander wasn’t convinced they hadn’t been spotted that first time by the crew of the craft landing on the moon, as the young species struggled through the growing pains every civilization faced. Most made it, some did not. So the explorers settled in to watch from afar, hoping for and eagerly awaiting the day when they could step out of hiding and officially welcome their new brothers and sisters.
And now that day would never come.
Only then, in the privacy of the tube and away from the sight of his crew, did he finally allow his head to bow, his shoulders to sag and openly wept for all that they had destroyed.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Getting the entire story as I see it in my head translated fully and properly onto the screen I see in front of my eyes.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I do some travelling. For example, I will be in Sedona, Arizona in September. But I was recently diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and flying is extremely painful for me so I only fly when absolutely needed. Driving long distances is also very difficult so I am limited to events within a certain range. I did travel back to my home town of Turlock, for a book signing of, From The Fields, there was no way I’d miss that. Fortunately I’ve been able to do a lot of radio shows that I can call into from the comfort of my office chair and online interviews such as this one to help make up for the limited personal appearances.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
With the exception of Beyond Watson, I have designed all of the covers for my books. Part of my newspaper experience was as an editor where I learned layout and photoshop. It has proven useful in designing my covers and I enjoy the challenge of creating a cover to catch people’s interest.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
With From The Fields the research was the hardest. Once I had all of the information compiled and the interviews done the writing part was very easy. With the fiction titles it has been in making sure I keep the story well-paced while still developing the characters fully. A well-planned plot and three-dimensional characters are both needed to make a book succeed. With Reservations, I knew I was on track with a great story when my beta reader chewed me out for something that happens to one of the major characters. His reaction was as if it had happened to a close friend or family member and not to a fictional character. That he had become so emotionally invested in the character and the story is what you want to see happen with every reader of your story.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead.
If the Del Rio series ever made it to the big screen I would love to see Luke Evans play Jack Del Rio. I think he could not only pull it off but he looks a lot like the Del Rio I see in my head when I am writing the character.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Develop a VERY thick skin. Not everyone is going to like your work. It doesn’t make them evil and it doesn’t mean you stink as a writer. Not everyone has the same tastes and some folks like to be unnecessarily harsh with their criticisms. You also have to be prepared to be a target when you put your work and yourself out there in the public domain. Some folks will feel the need to dump a 1-star review on your book, even though they haven’t read a single word of it, simply because you hold a different opinion than theirs on a totally unrelated subject. It comes with the territory but never let that stop you from writing.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for your investment of your time and money in reading my book. I hope I was able to entertain you and I hope to do the same with every book I write.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just finished Jack McDevitt’s Thunderbird and I am anxiously awaiting the release of Navigators of Dune by Brian Hebert and Kevin Anderson this fall.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I don’t recall the title but it was a children’s story set in pre-1776 colonial America. It was about a boy and his very young sister who survived an Indian attack on their home while their father was away hunting. Their mother died in the attack and the two children escaped and had to survive in the woods, avoiding the pursuing Indians until their father returned and saved them. Kind of dark for a kids book but it really stuck with me.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
A well-told joke and watching my grandson at play make me laugh. The stupidity of the human race when we get so hung up on what are really insignificant issues in the greater picture of life that lead to needless suffering makes me cry.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would like to meet and why?
There are two men I’d really want to meet. Poe is the first just to talk shop while John Adams is the other. I am fascinated with what drove him to be both a Revolutionary and also be capable of defending in court the soldiers of a nation that he was coming to dislike so greatly. Not many these days have the courage of one’s convictions to separate personal animas from devotion to duty and honor like that.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Why didn’t I take the blue pill? (If you’ve seen The Matrix, you’ll know why.)
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
They are more interests than actual hobbies as I don’t really have that much spare time to devote to them to make them hobbies. I like to play golf and bowl (when my back issues allow, which isn’t very often), I unwind by playing on my PS3 and read a little and I break out the telescope when the marine layer pulls back enough to allow some star-gazing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I was a big fan of NCIS but after this season I doubt I’ll watch it (killed off all my favorite characters and NCIS without DiNozzo is not NCIS) and I’ve gotten into Penny Dreadful on Showtime. But aside from some sports events, Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen on Food Network and occasional documentaries on Discovery and Science channel I don’t watch much TV. Film wise I watch a lot of sci-fi and mystery-thrillers.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music:
Chile Rellenos, tacos and cheese enchiladas. Purple is my favorite color and am pretty eclectic in my music. I’ll switch between classical, pop and hard rock in a heartbeat.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Astronaut or astronomer. I’ve always been fascinated with the space beyond our little blue/green ball.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
My website is: www.richardpaolinelli.com and I have a blog on Goodreads that is probably covered in cobwebs as I just don’t have time to blog every day or even every week. You can find me on Twitter @rdpaolinelli (that is about as close to regular blogging as I will ever get and fair warning, if you are easily offended, avoid my twitter feed, lol) and my Facebook page is www.facebook.com/RichardPaolinelli1964/ and that is my author Facebook page. I have a personal facebook page but that is reserved for family and very close friends.