Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today I welcome author Albert Isaac who writes science fiction as well as humorous essays on life. His novels are Endless and its follow-up Utopia Revisited, which he recently published.
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In this novel, Astronaut Kyle Lucas Metheny becomes an unlikely savior when his experimental flight goes terribly wrong. He awakes in a strange and unfamiliar future and learns he is there to fulfill a prophecy.
I must make full disclosure here. Back in 2005, Albert and I both lived in the same north Florida town and both were in transitions in our life. Albert had lost his job to downsizing and had just written his first novel. I was in the process of a divorce and starting a new job as editor of two magazines. We didn’t know one another until Albert showed up at one of my book signings. I tell him he came and never left. I hired him as a reporter and columnist for the magazines. Later, when I left to take another job, he replaced me as editor at Tower Publications in Gainesville. He’s still there, and thankfully, he’s still writing. He’s recently compiled some of his columns in the book Life So Far.
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Hello, Albert. It’s wonderful you could visit today and talk about your life as a writer. When did you first discover your voice as a writer?
I was very young, maybe seven, when I wrote my first ‘book,’ Billy and his Bellybutton. It was a great hit with my parents and grandparents. I believe I made three issues (still have one!). Truth be told, my voice has changed since then.
That’s great, and I’m happy to hear you still have a copy. You wrote that book, but most of us take longer to actually call ourselves a “writer” or author. When were you first able to call yourself a “writer” or “author?”
Fast-forward about forty years, and I could finally officially call myself an author, after publishing my first novel, Endless, in 2005. The book isn’t a bestseller (yet!), but it launched my writing career and led to many great things.
I remember that day you showed up at the book signing. You seemed a little baffled by what to do next. I remember that feeling after publishing my first novel. I’m glad you’ve continued. Let’s talk about writing rituals? Do you have any you’d like to share?
Some people listen to loud music while they write. Some people need absolute silence. My needs are somewhere in the middle. I’ve written comfortably in coffee shops or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office; early in morning or late at night. A lot of the writing occurs in my head as I’m driving the car, or (not) watching TV or lying in bed at night before falling asleep. I don’t have a specific ritual other than when I feel the urge to write, I jump on it. I’ve almost always had full-time work, so carving out writing time can be challenging. But when I’m in the zone, I become hyper-focused, and can produce a remarkable amount of work.
It’s amazing what can be done when the “zone” strikes. What is your vision of yourself as a writer?
I see myself as a novelist and columnist. I enjoy writing about the silly things I’ve done as a kid (and the lessons learned) as well as my life experiences as a husband, father (and now grandfather). My third book, Life So Far is a compilation of some of the columns I have written for local publications during the last five or six years.
It’s a delightful collection of essays, Albert. I found myself laughing out loud sometimes because you capture those silly little things we all do in life and then you turn it around into something positive. Rachel Carson (Silent Spring) said she never chose a subject because as a writer, the subject chose her. Describe a time when a subject chose you.
My first and second science fiction novels chose me. After losing my younger brother in an automobile accident, I began imagining a world without death. Endless sprang from that experience, back around 1978. Over the next several decades, I would go back and improve upon the original work. While I was re-working the final version, the sequel came to life. When Endless was published, I was already halfway through writing its follow-up, Utopia Revisited.
That’s an awful tragedy to endure, yet you were able to make something positive out of it. I’m sure your brother would be proud of you. Do you have particular messages or themes that you try to convey to your readers?
Hope. Humor. Positive thinking. I plan to one day write a book about the remarkable things that happen when we think (and act) in a positive manner. It is really quite remarkable. I very much look forward to writing my success story.
And I’ll look forward to reading it and applauding your success. Since you’re also a journalist, write a paragraph as a reporter writing about you for a newspaper article on up and coming authors.
“Albert Isaac knows a thing or two about death. After all, he spent five years working in a busy emergency room and another twenty working in the medical examiner’s office. But during his days dealing with the dead and dying – indeed, even years before entering these challenging occupations – he imagined a world without suffering. A world without fear. A world without death.”
Excellent. Your journalistic skills shine through! What’s next for you?
Currently in the works (available late 2014) is Life So Far, Volume II. However, for the past several years I’ve been contemplating a novel about my years working for the medical examiner’s office. Other projects have kept me occupied, but the time has come for Life in the Morgue to see the light of day, especially since there is such a great interest in this genre. Perhaps it’s also time to adopt some writing rituals!
I think you’re doing just fine without them. What knowledge have you acquired recently that might assist other writers?
Write what you know. Write first, edit second. I’ve known several writers who spend so much time re-writing their first chapter that they never finish the book. It’s easier to fix your completed story than to write a brilliant first draft.
I can’t help but edit as I go, but I don’t continue to rewrite until I’m all done. That’s good advice. Do all your books have a common theme or thread?
Life. I didn’t plan it that way, but the first two books are about the consequences of living forever, and my collection of columns is entitled Life So Far. Of course, the first two are science fiction books, and the most recent is about things that have actually happened to me. Life. My life.
We’ve talked about your messages, but what kinds of techniques do you like to use in your writing?
One night when I was stuck on a chapter, I jumped on to the middle of the story. On another occasion I decided to write the ending. Both of these techniques were useful because now I knew where the story was going. I could foreshadow upcoming events. I could pace my writing. I’ve also made outlines and sketched out timelines to be sure I stayed consistent. Sometimes the story flows so fast I can barely keep up with the inner dialogue; a character appears from thin air, complete with a name and a face, and takes the story in a completely unexpected direction. I have to ask myself, “Who’s writing this thing?” And you’d best not stop to edit – you just need to keep on transcribing.
You’re right(write) about that. We never quite know where we’re going to be taken. I’m amazed at authors that spend so much time outlining before writing. I never do that. Let’s talk about reviews. We all get them, but what’s the best thing said about one of your books by a reviewer?
“This science fiction novel truly validates the human soul. Readers quickly escape into a world where people of the twenty-sixth century live beyond 500 years but in doing so have surrendered to the siren song of technology (the grand elixir).”
What’s your one sentence pitch for Utopia Revisited?
An exciting peak into the future where everybody lives forever – almost everybody – and a stark reminder of the consequences of surrendering one’s freedom to technology.
How did you choose the title of Utopia Revisited? Has it been the title from the very beginning?
I tried to find a title that hasn’t been used too much. This was not the original title by any means, and I went through a dozen or more different ideas before finally settling on Utopia Revisited.
How long do you estimate it took you to take the book from an idea to a finished, published?
Eight years. Which seems crazy because I had written well over half of it by 2005. But life gets hectic. I never expected to take so long but I had a lot of new ideas that would have not been included had I rushed through just to hit one of my many self-imposed deadlines.
Sometimes that happens. My work in progress was started in 2006, and then, life happened. Is the book traditionally or self-published? Why did you choose one over the other?
Self-published. Part of the delay in publication was waiting to hear from a traditional publisher. When it was turned down (which, while disappointing, was not surprising) it took the wind out of my sails for about a year. I didn’t want to wait any longer and self-publishing put a book in my hand (and in online bookstores) within a matter of days.
Been there, buddy. I dropped out for awhile, too. Then I saw the revolution in publishing and decided to become a part of it. I’m glad you have, too. What is the message conveyed in Utopia Revisited?
The importance of individuality, free thinking and fully experiencing all that life has to offer – even the bad.
What is the best thing someone could say about this book?
Exciting. Thrilling. Imaginative. Story telling at its best!
Those are great comments. Explain how this book was conceived in your imagination.
While finishing Endless, the floodgates to my imagination flew open. As a follow-up, I wanted a novel that could address some unanswered questions, but that would also stand on its own. I was able to tell the back story through the eyes of a stranger from the past. You don’t have to read the first book to understand the second.
What type of research did you do in the writing of this book?
Not much. I fact checked some concepts but, being a work of science fiction, I had the luxury of using my crazy imagination.
Who or what is the antagonist in Utopia Revisited? Did you enjoy creating this character?
There were several antagonists – including a machine – and it was fun creating them. I even brought back the primary antagonist from the first novel.
Without giving us a spoiler, tell us a little bit about your favorite scene in Utopia Revisited.
My second favorite scene (can’t tell you the first) is a sequence of events where our antagonists catch up with our heroes and some serious conflict ensues. I had to switch back and forth between many simultaneous scenes – often very short – to tell the story in a fast-paced, exciting manner. I think it works. It does for me, anyway. But I’m biased.
Where do you write?
Typically in my home office on a desktop computer. However, I’ve been known to write anywhere on my laptop, from the recliner in front of TV to a cabin in the mountains.
What do you do during your down time?
Vacation with my family. Listen to music. Ride my motorcycle. Daydream. Bicycle with my boy. And watch WAY too much TV.
What book are you reading right now?
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – an Inquiry Into Values, by Robert M. Pirsig.
That’s a great book. Do you set your books in the place you live?
Part of Utopia Revisited takes place in my hometown of Miami. Naturally, all of my columns are set where I’ve lived (or vacationed).
About Albert: Albert Isaac is a writer and editor living in north central Florida. Albert studied English, journalism, music and film at the University of Florida, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He then followed the next most logical career path of any well-intentioned English graduate and went to work for the Medical Examiner’s Office and stayed twenty years. However, within him the writer remained and in his spare time he re-wrote a story he had started years before. In 2005, he published Endless. Albert is editor-in-chief for Tower Publications.
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