Interview Q & A
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E. Randall Floyd receives hundreds of letters and emails each month from readers and fans. Most want to know about upcoming books and speaking engagements. While he would like to personally acknowledge each and every contact, that's an impossibility, given his 10-hour-per-day writing and teaching chores. "My books answer more questions about what's going on inside my head than I could ever hope to articulate," he notes.
Following is a list of some of the most commonly asked questions from fans:
Q: If there was one word to describe you personally, what would it be?
Q: You don't like crowds?
A: No. It isn't that I don't like people; it's just that I don't know how to act around large groups of them in one place. Besides that, I'm extremely claustrophobic.
A: I don't go to grocery stores or shopping malls. No taxis or buses. I really do hate to fly. If there's a movie I want to see, I wait until it's been out a while or just wait until it comes out on DVD. My wife is a lay reader at church. I have only seen her perform services once. I dread parties, graduation days, weddings and going to concerts.
Q: Have you talked to a doctor about this?
A: Yes. They all say it's just in my head. Isn't everything?
Q: What two things are you most passionate about?
A: Writing and history.
Q: Anything else?
A: Rain. I love rain. And anything remotely Mozart.
Q: On the subject of music, what's your two favorite rock groups?
A: The Beatles and The Byrds. But the Moody Blues rank a close second. And then there are the Bee Gees--the old Bee Gees. They wrote some of the best music in the history of rock before they did all that jive disco crap back in the late 1970s. I have all their old albums.
A: Don Williams and Hank Snow. Anything bluegrass.
Q: Who are your favorite Classical composers?
A: We can start with the Germans and really stop there. Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Teleman, Bach, Brahms, Handel.
Q: Favorite movies?
A: Dr. Zhivago, hands down. I've seen it a dozen times in English, twice in German. I wanted to move to Russia and marry Julie Christie. Zulu ranks a close second. Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers cracks me up. Gods and Generals makes me cry.
Q: Now for some really personal stuff: Where were you born, and where do you now call home?
A. I was born on a tobacco farm in south Georgia and grew up in and around Baxley, the county seat of rural Appling County, the "Turpentine Capital of the World." My grandfather, Felix Eason Tillman, fought in the Spanish-American War, something I'm proud of. I kept his uniform in a trunk until some cousin stole it. My uncle, Henry Curtis Tillman, was a poet and farmer/philosopher who greatly influenced the way I learned to think and write. Except for my stints abroad teaching, I have lived in Augusta for the past 30 years.
Q: When did you start writing?
A: Grade school. Used to churn out these god-awful little short stories, most of them scary. My teachers would have me stand up and read them to the class. The kids loved it, because that meant they didn't have to take lecture notes. One of my favorites in the seventh grade was: The Many Lives of Dr. Jacque--something about werewolves and mad scientists in London. I wrote some pretty bad poetry too.
Q: Do you consider yourself a poet?
A: Some have commented favorably about some of my stuff. I have several volumes I'm waiting one day to publish. Allen Ginsberg, T.S. Elliot, Leonard Cohen kind of stuff.
Q: What motivated you to write?
A: Like I said, I grew up in a family of storytellers. My grandparents lived in the wilderness. They were true pioneers in their time. Dark woods. No electricity. No paved roads. Bears, wildcats screaming all night around the house, that sort of thing. They worked hard, then after "the boys"--my uncles-- came in from the field at sundown and washed up, they'd all sit around the fireplace and roll their smokes and swap "booger" stories. I was little, but I remember all that--the smell of turpentine and dried sweat and rolled up tobacco and all those scary little tales. Those were magical times. My grandmother--"Aunt Molly" everybody called her--was the best storyteller. She loved her Old Navy and Peach snuff. She could spit that stuff into the fireplace from 10 paces.
Q: Who was the one individual who inspired you most?
A. My uncle, Henry Curtis Tillman. He never became famous or rich, but he was a great writer and poet laureate of South Georgia. Some compared his works and his life to Byron Herbert Reese, the poet from the North Georgia mountains. As a little boy, I'd follow Uncle Curt into the woods and we'd find an old log and sit in the shade and munch on huckleberries and silently watch nature for hours. He knew everything there was to know about plants and animals. He taught me how to "chip" boxes and "grunt" for worms for fishing. I remember he lived in a small, modest home, and there was this porch he'd converted into a kind of study. The walls were lined with books. I'd never seen so many books! Poetry, history, biographies, everything. But the thing I found most fascinating was his old Royal typewriter. The effect that old machine had on me was indescribable.It was mesmerizing--to know what that old machine could create with just a few press of the keys.
Q: Where all have you lived?
A: Germany, Iraq, St. Simons Island, the mountains of North Georgia and western North Carolina. Augusta has been home for the past three decades. My spiritual home is in the mountains, while Anne's is down at her ancestral home at St. Simons.
Q: What was your favorite job?
A: That's hard to say. I've been fortunate to have done so many wonderful things in my life. In the seventh grade, I worked for an old German sign painter/artist. His name was Walter Arntzen, but everybody called him "Dutchy." He taught me so much about art and life, what it was like to live in Berlin as a Jew during Hitler's time, how he escaped by swimming across an ice-crusted river to freedom. Also enjoyed working as a bag-boy in my Uncle Bill's little grocery store in Baxley. I was only 16 then, and I remember stocking shelves and listening to this new British group called The Beatles jamming on the radio.
Seriously, my favorite real job was probably working as a reporter for United Press International in Bonn, Germany. I got to meet and interview so many famous people, mostly politicians and statesmen. Three of my favorites were Gunter Grass, Indira Ghandi and Erich von Daeniken. I was very young then--about 23, and had a lot to learn about journalism. I lived on the Venusburg, across the street from the federal chancellor, who was Willy Brandt at the time. Just down the street was the home of Karl Schiller, the finance minister. I'll never forget walking to work early each morning, through the dark woods down the steep slopes of the Venusburg, knee-deep in snow, down to the streetcar, which I'd catch, then go on to the Tulpenfeld, the government complex where our office was located. My office overlooked the Rhine River. How can you beat that? Down the hall were the offices of Tass, the Soviet news agency, and Tanjug, Agence France, the New York Times, Associated Press and others. Back then, there was so much political turmoil, lots of demonstrations in the streets by radical youth. Part of my job was to follow these young dissenters around and report on what they were up to. Those days the Baader-Meinhoff Gang was active, and other Red Cell factions. Bonn was the federal capital of Germany back then. It was a beautiful city, the home of Beethoven, for goodness sake!
My next favorite job was teaching at the American University of Iraq in Kurdistan. It was such a rush to wake up every morning and know that a few miles away in any direction were dusty ruins thousands of years old--Khorsabad, Nineveh, Ur, Babylon, Uruk. Iran was just over the mountains to the east, Turkey two hours to the north. As a historian living in the land the Greeks called Mesopotamia, this was the ultimate, baby!
Q: So, what was your least favorite job?
A: Working in a fish factory on St. Simons Island the summer after I graduated from high school. At the end of my first day, I went home, burned my clothes--including a new London Fog windbreaker--and never went back.
Q: What about your marriage? Do you have any children?
A: I married far above my pay grade--twice! My first marriage was to a lovely, dark-eyed Bavarian fraulein named Hannelore. Things didn't work out, but I give her credit for hanging in with me as I developed my rickety journalism career. We have two gorgeous children--Nina and Gregor. Today, Nina lives in Texas with her French-born husband, an engineer. Gregor lives in North Carolina with his wonderful wife, Rachel.
The wife of my destiny--Anne Shelander Floyd--grew up at the beach, riding horses and enjoying a high level of culture I could only read about in historical romances (Think: Eugenia Price, who was a personal friend of Anne's!). Of Swedish descent, Anne graduated with a BA degree in Art History from Hollins University and an MA in History/Museum Studies at State University of New York's Graduate School program at Cooperstown. Anne's great-grandfather, who immigrated to St. Simons Island from Michigan in the late 1800s, was a pioneer in helping develop St. Simons Island and other small barrier isles along the Georgia coast. Before we married, her grandmother, the family's formidable matriarch, cornered me one day and--aware of my modest teaching salary--smiled and said: "Don't worry. Anne loves beautiful things; but she doesn't require them." We have one son, Rand, who loves history and music about as much as his mother does. He is studying to become a medical doctor at Georgetown University.
Q: Sounds like Anne is the love of your life. How did you two meet?
A: That was a romantic adventure all by itself. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I wrote features for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One day, I happened to be staying at my brother's beach house, which happened to be next door to the Lighthouse Museum, where Anne worked as the new director/curator. The moment I laid eyes on her--tall and lithe and blonde--something turned over inside. I knew I had to get to know this young woman. The sooner, the better. I called my editor and asked if he'd like to see a personality profile on the museum's new young curator. He said yes. Next thing I knew, my article graced the cover of Dixie Living, the Sunday feature section of the AJC back then, in full color. It took me about a year to get a date with her. She finally caved. It took me another year to pluck up the courage to propose. She said yes to that, too.
Q: So, you and Anne have one son, Rand. Is that short for Randall?
A: Edward Randall Floyd Jr. In Augusta, he attended Episcopal Day School, then graduated from Aquinas High School. He majored in Bio-chemistry and German at the University of the South, then earned a Master's Degree at Georgetown University before starting his medical studies at that university's School of Medicine.
Q: Does he write, too?
A: He should be writing books. He's that good. And he's a far superior historian than I'll ever be. How many eight-year-old's read Thucydides or embark on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? He's an excellent fencer, Classical pianist and enjoys scuba diving.
Q: How many books have you written?
A: That depends on how they are counted. Most of my titles have been reprinted by various publishers under different titles. For example, an imprint of Barnes and Noble has reprinted several of my best-selling titles in casebound (hardback). As of this writing, I think it's 17.
Q: Of all your books, which is your favorite?
A: Again, that's hard to answer. My first book was called Great Southern Mysteries, published by August House Publishers. Sentimentally, I suppose that is my favorite book--because it was my first published title. My most successful book has been The Good, the Bad and the Mad: Weird People in American History. The book I worked hardest on is Deep in the Heart, a novel about the Civil War based on letters left behind by a Georgia foot-soldier who went off to serve on the killing fields of Virginia with Robert E. Lee.
Q: What has been your happiest moment--your greatest achievement?
A: By far, my happiest moment was December 13, 1986--the day I married Anne at Lovely Lane Chapel on St. Simons Island. The second was July 31, 1991, the birth of our son. The third was in 1989 when I received a publishing contract for my first book--along with an advance check for $3000! I will also be eternally grateful to the American University of Iraq for hiring me to teach history. As a historian, living and working in Iraq--the "land between the rivers" (Tigris and Euphrates) which the Greeks called "Mesopotamia" was the crowning event of my academic career.
Q: Was it safe living and teaching in Iraq?
A: Up to a point. Faculty and staff were provided transportation and security details whenever we traveled beyond the campus. The peshmerga guarded us day and night. Those guys were fantastic! Back then, all we had to worry about was al-Qaida. ISIS came along later.
Q: If iraq was so great, why did you come back home?
A: Health issues. My wife needed hip replacement surgery and I needed a spinal fusion operation. We decided it was too risky to go back, not with the deteriorating political situation and outburst of ISIS. Augusta University offered me a full-time teaching position, which I gladly accepted. These days my writing keeps me busy, so I only teach part-time.
Q: The book publishing business has changed a lot since your first book was published in 1989. Any comments?
A: I truly lament the old days--the time when an author spent a fortune on query letters and, if lucky, would be asked to submit sample chapters or a complete manuscript, hard-bound, with a self-stamped return envelope to some over-worked and under-paid acquisitions editor in faraway New York City or Chicago for review. Some publishers still work that way, but, thanks (or no-thanks, depending on which way you look at it) to digital technology, the new publishing business model favors the tech-savvy writers. No longer does an author have the luxury of "holing up" in some quaint attic or live like a recluse on a deserted island. These days, in order to get published, the writer must convince a publisher willing to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars for a book that he or she has what it takes to get recognized and noticed--to get out there and work his ass off promoting their work--interviews, book signings, speaking events, whatever it takes to make the book sell through. I've done hundreds of radio and TV interviews, sometimes six in one day. It's no fun getting up at 2 o'clock in the morning for a 10-minute interview out of Los Angeles, but that's necessary if you want to play this game. I've done as many as 3 talks in a single day. The point is, there's no room for introverts or faint of heart in this business anymore! I hate to sound pessimistic, but becoming a successful author requires as much if not more grit, moxie and creativity than it does literary talent.
Q: Any advice for budding young authors?
A: Yes. Writing is a business, just like representing clients in a court of law or selling cars. To be successful, you need some kind of plan. I've always heard how important it is for your authors to think of a niche or area and focus on that specialty. The reasoning was: if you want to write romance books, write romance books. Same thing with cook books or horror. That way you can develop a fan base, and keep going. But, to be perfectly honest, I just write what I like to write about, and that's it. I've never much been one to listen to other peoples' advice, anyway. And please, don't waste your time on books that try to tell you how to write or going to trade shows and literary events that end up costing you a fortune. Occasionally, it's possible to land a deal that way. But, my suggestion is, if you want to be a writer, you need to write. Writing is not easy. It's hard work. Four hours at the keyboard has been compared to ten hours in a coal mine. It's that kind of drain and strain, both physical and emotional. To be successful, you have to force yourself to sit down and write. Those precious words won't magically appear on their own! When speaking to writing groups, I often remind them of a comment attributed to J.D. Salinger before an audience of starry-eyed writer wannabees: "If you want to be a writer, what are you doing here listening to my jabber? You should be home writing!"
Q: What do you like to read about, who who are some of your favorite authors?
A: History--anything about history, but especially the Vikings, American Civil War period, Pre-Roman Britain, the Middle Ages, Native Americans and anything about the ancient Near East. Really enjoyed Tony Horwitz's A Voyage Long and Strange. Shows how an honest and terrific writer can bring history to life without an academic background.
This is probably the point where I should lie like some in the "high culture" crowd and brag about all the "serious" literature I devour while sipping Chardonnay between episodes of Downton Abbey. The truth is, these days, when I sit down with a fiction book I prefer to have my senses slammed and jolted by some of the really good horror writers. Stephen King comes to mind, even though I strongly disagree with his wacky politics, Dean Koontz and John Saul also come to mind, along with the late James Herbert. My favorite all-time storyteller was H.P. Lovecraft. His heavy, over-bearing way with words was atrocious, but the imagery he created was something truly amazing and ever-lasting. Also liked Lord Dunsany, Robert Block, August Durleth, Clifford Simak, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and most of the old "Lovecraft Circle" of pulp fiction writers who toiled for pennies for Weird Tales back in the 1930s-1950s. Those who want to write should read--and memorize--Hemingway and Steinbeck. If you live in the South and have blocks of time, read Faulkner.
Q: What are some of the new books you're working on?
A: Writers don't normally like to talk about a project they're working on until it's finished and off to the publishers. Bad luck. Let's just say I'll be busy for a long time--or until the angels have had enough. (Hint: The Dark Side of History (May 2018); Into Thin Air (July 2018); and High Moon on the Marsh (Spring 2019), my long-awaited novel about the Civil War.
Shanadar Cave (Iraq)
One of the oldest prehistoric occupation sites in the world. Remains of Neanderthal dwellers have been found here dating back 80,000 years. Significance: Flowers found in a grave suggest these ancient humans mourned for the dead, believed to be the first in human history.