A few weeks ago, I posted my review of Don Capone’s engaging comic novel Into the Sunset. Ever curious about the experiences of other writers, I invited Don to talk about about his creative process, confess his secrets to writing sex scenes and of course, most mouthwatering of all, provide a detailed menu for his favorite dinner of seduction.
I know you design children’s novelty books. How has your experience as a book designer influenced what you do as a writer?
Not much really, they are such different animals. One thing I do like to do while I'm working on a novel, though, is to design a cover for it. This gets me pumped up, makes it seem more real to me, like the book might actually exist in printed form one day. (Side note: I designed the cover of Into the Sunset.) Another thing that book design has taught me is that you really can judge a book by its cover. You can usually tell the book's genre immediately, right? But not only that—also the budget or size of the publishing company. Cheap books look cheap. This is one reason, I think, why self-publishing got off on the wrong foot. They just looked self-published. Even if the inside contained a masterpiece.
How much of Into the Sunset is “autobiographical” in spirit, if not fact? Did you do any hands-on research at retirement communities to get material?
I brought my mother to look at a bunch of these type of places, and that's where I got my idea from. Just like my lead character, Wayne, I was more enamored of the communities than my mother was. So that part was real, I think, something that appealed to me—living in a brand-new place with all these great amenities. Once I had my character there, things had to eventually go wrong, of course. That's where my imagination took over.
One place my mother and I looked at said they provided the toilet paper and light bulbs so the residents wouldn't have to worry about those things. I put that in the novel, but took it a step further by imagining the toilet paper would probably be the cheapest, one-ply available, and the resulting black market for "the good stuff" that would arise within the community because of that fact.
Your protagonist, Wayne, thinks about sex a lot—as do we all of course—and it certainly kept me turning the pages! Was it easy or hard to write the sex scenes? Do you have any tips for other authors writing sex?
The best way to write sex scenes is to just pretend that no one will ever read them. Let loose. Free yourself to write whatever you want. But, like all writing, stay away from the cliches. And just using a dirty word isn't sexy—the context that it is used is. I had to keep a comedic element to my scenes, which I think may have made it easier to write because I wasn't taking myself seriously.
I know a few readers of Into the Sunset have described the romantic relationship between a thirty-year old man and a sixty-something woman as “disturbing.” I didn’t find that to be the case at all, but did you feel you were tackling serious taboos as you wrote the novel? Did your attitude toward growing old change?
The character of Wayne himself struggles with the idea of being attracted to a much older woman. It is just so far off of his usual radar, that he wonders if something is wrong with him. But, really, what's the difference between a 60 year-old Rod Stewart dating a woman half his age (or less), and my young male character dating an older woman? Why is one acceptable and one isn't? What's so "disturbing" about it? (I actually had that comment from an agent.) I don't think I tackled a taboo, because I guess it's been done before. Anyway, that wasn't the goal of the book when I set out to write it. It just happened because it fit so naturally into the story.
I don't know if my attitude toward aging changed, but my character of Wayne definitely grows to appreciate elderly people as individual people, with histories, and wants and needs just like younger people. I think I already knew that.
Describe the writing project of your dreams (marketability doesn’t matter here)—and what is next for you as a writer?
I'd love to write an episode for "The Simpsons." Other than that, I think the best gig you can get is to write the novels you want to write, and have someone pay you to do it. And people who want to read the books, of course.
Next up I have a completed novel, Just Follow Me, for which I am now seeking an agent. It takes place in Manhattan the weekend leading up to John Lennon's murder. I am also starting on the third draft of another novel, which is very commercial in nature. I don't want to say more than that, though, because the idea is very hot and I don't want it to get ripped off.
One of my favorite erotic scenes in Into the Sunset is when Wayne and Eleanor get into his “new” car, a clunker with broken air-conditioning, for their first real date outside of the retirement community. I posted this in my review but I’ll quote it here again because it always brightens the day to read a good sex scene:
“She swept her long hair up into a bun on top of her head and pinned it tight. One long strand escaped, and my eyes followed it down the nape of her neck to her bare shoulder. Her neck was soft and white and vulnerable. Her ear looked delicious. I wanted to put whip cream on it and lick it off. I considered inviting her to try out the backseat like a couple of randy teenagers. I’d get on top and slide her dress up and remove her panties with my teeth. Or she could be on top and I would cup her breasts after freeing them from the cotton and lycra that imprisoned them. Between the hot vinyl seats, the blaring August sun, and the heat generated by our naked thrusting bodies, the Corolla would be as hot and humid as a Costa Rican rain forest. We would create our own little green-house effect. Mushrooms would sprout from the carpet. The windows would fog as the car rocked back and forth, straining its old suspension system. Afterward, a sudden thunderstorm within the interior of the car would cool our steaming naked bodies, as we lay there spent.”
So, what’s the artistic bio of this very steamy scene?
Ha! That scene is total imagination. I never created a rain forest in the back seat of my car, and until I wrote it, I never even had that fantasy. I was going for total exaggerated silliness there, to show how far gone my character is regarding his fantasy life. It also shows his immaturity, since he's still having these back seat fantasies though he is no longer a "randy teenager." Also, he has such an active fantasy life, that even though he is with a real, live woman, he still slips into fantasy mode. Reading that excerpt now I notice that the dirtiest word I used was "breast."
Name a writer (or two, living or dead) you’d like to have dinner with, one you’d most like to trade talents with, one with whom you’d most like to try out positions from the Kama Sutra, as Wayne and Eleanor did in Into the Sunset?
I'd much rather have dinner with a living writer, because I think it would be a much livelier conversation. (Insert rim shot sound effect here.) Seriously, I guess the expected answer would be one of the all-time greats—Hemingway, Dickens, Vonnegut, etc., as if you'd be able to learn their secrets. Or one of my favorites, like T.C. Boyle or John Irving. But I think I'd have to go with Stephen King. I just think he'd be friendlier and more receptive. Plus, besides writing, we could talk about rock n' roll and baseball. I can also picture him just hanging out all night, shooting the shit. (Side note here: I've been to a bunch of Boyle's readings/signings, and he is very fan-friendly. Plus he's originally from Westchester County, too—about 45 minutes north of me. So he's a close second.)
Who would I trade talents with? Probably John Irving. And he'd be able to get a lot more out of my talent than I can!
Hmmm...I think I'll pass on the Kama Sutra question!
Finally, describe a perfect meal that would be guaranteed to seduce you—at least into an intimate discussion of the writing life by candlelight, if you have other commitments that don’t allow for more!
A home-cooked meal would be a good start. Something with chicken and/or artichokes would be nice. Some red wine—but not too much, it makes me sleepy. A pot of fresh ground coffee afterward. I want to stay awake for the "writing life" conversation, which would include more showing than telling, for sure. Active voice over passive. Dangling participles. Bare infinitives. Affect versus effect. Maybe some euphemisms. Motivation. The proper story arc. And of course, everything would have to come to its inevitable ending. Wait, what are we talking about?
Words of wisdom for every writer to live by.... Thanks so much for chatting with me, Don and best of luck with your new projects.