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I’m not a full-time writer; I hold my doctorate in educational leadership with a post-doc certificate in online teaching and learning. I work online with faculty and students at the master’s and doctoral level. My current passion is screenplay writing, so my day involves adding to one of my two works-in-progress. Screenplay writing is, in my opinion, even more meticulous than novel or short story writing. I do it in short spurts as the ideas come. For promotion, I tend to leave it to my publisher or do a little word of mouth. Working full-time doesn’t leave me much time to focus on all that promotion requires.
AR Neal.jpg


SP: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. First, tell me how and why you got into writing fiction? How long have you been doing it? And how do you go about creating a story? Elaborate here.


AR: I’ve been writing since elementary school. My first entre into the world of fiction was through a contest put on by our local electric company. I wrote something about a space toaster as I recall and won an honorable mention. The contest was co-sponsored by one of the banks in town and the prizes involved some bank-themed goodies and cake, as well as our names and stories in the company newsletter. After that, I dabbled in poetry and took several writing courses. I was an English minor during my undergraduate years, with a focus on creative writing. It wasn’t until many years later that I self-published a novella, a collection of short stories, and then worked with a publisher for the first time. That book, ‘After’, is now self-published as the contract ended about two years ago or so and I retained the rights to it. I then worked with Black Bedsheet Books to publish ‘Life in the Floating City’ and most recently with Black Opal Books to publish ‘Knowing Abbie’.


SP: Tell me about the protagonist and antagonist of your latest book. What are their goals in the story?


AR: Great question! Abbie, the primary protagonist, is a business owner in Philadelphia who is an unfortunate victim of circumstance. However, it allows her to reconnect with the second protagonist in the story, Dave, who is trying to build a new name for himself as an artist to get away from a difficult past. Readers don’t know precisely who the antagonist is until later in the story, so I’ll leave it at that so there aren’t any spoilers.


SP: Which do you prefer, character driven stories or plot driven stories and why should readers care? Which do you write?


AR: I would say both character and plot are vital to a good story. If the characters are too bland to care about (or their blandness isn’t a character trait and the reader is annoyed enough to want to see what happens to them!) or if the plot doesn’t drive forward, what’s the point?


SP: Tell me about your story point of view preferences, tense preferences, and any other thing of interest to you along these lines as we delve further into the mechanics of creating a story.


AR: I’m learning more about the value of verb tense in writing, particularly as I develop my screenplays. There is a school of thought about past tense being a mainstay for books and I think it’s likely a leftover from academic writing. One of the things we often tell students when they are writing academic papers is that they are referring to works that already exist and therefore, past tense is necessary to describe them: ‘Author So and So wrote …’ is typical for published research articles. In writing classes, we’re often taught that it’s difficult to maintain present tense in fiction in a way that makes sense. I’ve found that to be true and only use present tense for short stories or micro-fiction. However, in screenplays, the action is always offered in present tense because of the planned visual form.


SP: What are your all-time favorite books – top three? Why? Don’t skimp here. Explore it with us? Tell us what genre they are. Who is your favorite author, if different from your favorite book?


AR: Only three? I’m kidding of course (well, not really – I do have a library!). My favorite author is Ray Bradbury, even though not all my favorite books are his. If I had to narrow to just three books, I’d say Bradbury’s ‘Golden Apples of the Sun’ (science fiction), Hoban’s ‘The Mouse and His Child’ (children’s literature), and Brockmeier’s ‘The Brief History of the Dead’ (fantasy/adventure). It’s difficulty to narrow down to just one Bradbury book, but ‘Golden Apples’ was one of the first I read of his collected stories and it just stuck with me. ‘The Mouse and His Child’, although identified as a children’s book, was one that I referenced in my dissertation; Hoban explored some very deep philosophical themes in the text, but it was accessible to all ages. Brockmeier’s book captured my attention because of the cover (a coat on a hanger being held open by two hands). I didn’t know what it was about when I bought it! However, the speculative fiction aspects of the book captured me, and I’ve read it several times over the years.


SP: What do you find is the most difficult thing about writing fiction? The easiest thing? Elaborate.


AR: I would say that the easiest is the writing itself, so long as the muse is flowing. The toughest is the times the muse decides to flow – usually in the middle of the night when I either don’t have the energy to grab a notebook or am too tired to think on it! (SP side note: Love this answer. It’s as though there is a split personality thing going on – Muse and AR)


SP: Tell me about your travels. Where is an interesting place you’ve been? Do you travel to research your stories, or is research important to you for your stories?


AR: My work is all online, so I don’t feel the need to necessarily go anywhere, other than the internet, for research purposes for my stories. I’ve used all sorts of websites to gather information for my science fiction stories as well as I’ve pulled photos and maps as well.


SP: What kind of stories do you refuse to read?


AR: I’m not a fan of romance novels or texts that have more sex than anything else, so I don’t read those.


SP: Finally, the most important question – DC or Marvel? Or does that even matter to you? What is your favorite comic book character ever? If none, just make something up!


AR: Oh, that’s easy – Marvel! The movies anyway, since they tend to hold up better than DC. I haven’t ever been a real comic book fan but do enjoy a bit of manga/anime now and again. One of my favorites is RahXephon. I loved the golem (aliens) and the connection between all the various characters. I re-watch the anime every few years from start all through.


Pick up AR’s work at the sites mentioned earlier, and, by all means, when you’re finished reading write a short review and post it to Amazon and other places like GoodReads.


EXCERPT from Knowing Abbie:


Nancy stretched and wrinkled her nose at the breakfast tray. She was still on a mechanical soft diet. Everything tasted the same but looked like Technicolor pudding. Michelle, her morning nurse on the step-down floor, finished taking her vitals. “You are doing so well, Nancy. I hear from the night crew that you have been working your crutches?”

“I like to walk, and after three weeks in this place, I’m stir crazy. The doc said I could as long as I was careful.” Nancy had begged the doctor to let her use the crutches outside of therapy, and it had worked.

Michelle smiled. “At this rate, we might be able to get you out of that leg cast sooner than expected.” She made a few notes and winked. “And I saw that face. When the doctor sees these vitals, he might let you have some meals with more substance, too.”

“That would be good,” Nancy said.

Michelle put the clipboard back in its place by the door. “Nancy, the hospital social worker is here to meet with you. Do you feel up to it?” Nancy nodded, and Michelle opened the door. “Come in, Sharon. Nancy, you have a great day, and I’ll check on you later.”

“Thank you, Michelle,” Nancy replied as the social worker entered and she realized that she knew the diminutive woman.

“Hello, Ms. Labaro, I’m Sharon Lewis-Green, one of Hahnemann’s social workers. I wanted to take a bit of time to talk with you about what brought you here.”

“I know you,” Nancy said. “Mazda Miata, hard apple on tap. Pull up a chair.” Nancy owned 1300, a supper club in Center City with an ever-increasing clientele. Sharon was a regular on Friday nights.

Sharon blushed. “Yes, you have a good memory.” She smiled as she sat, and became business-like as she consulted a stack of notes. “So, you were in ICU from the sixth through the fourteenth and have been on the step-down from the fourteenth until now. Do you know what happened to bring you here?”

Nancy frowned and crossed her arms tightly. “I remember a feeling of falling, but I have no idea how I ended up on that side of City Hall. I live in Rittenhouse Plaza and decided to take a walk to Dunkin Donuts.

“The one near Temple’s Center City campus?”

Nancy shook her head. “No. That one opens at seven. I was out early, and the one on the east side of City Hall is open twenty-four hours. It was such a beautiful morning. Anyway, I changed my mind and went to the Fifteenth Street Station instead. There’s a guy there who sells bean pies to the early crowd, and I had a taste for one.”

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