Thursday, July 23, 2015

Interview with Alan A. Winter, author of Island Bluffs

Title: Island Buffs
Author: Alan A. Winter
Publisher: KBPublishing
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Format: Kindle/Paperback

 Island Bluffs is a story of love, forgiveness, and understanding the dark side of the human spirit. It explores the age-old question: are children accountable for the sins of their parents and grandparents? Carly Mason is a successful New York City forensic dentist. She and her widower husband, Gabe Berk, are trying to start a family. Thinking they had exhausted the options by consulting with all of Manhattan’s fertility experts, Carly and Gabe learn of an eccentric scientist who runs an exclusive clinic. The doctor commits to helping the couple conceive the baby they so desperately want, but only if they agree to what seems like an outrageous stipulation; Carly must carry twins, one biological and one that she is a surrogate for. Once the twins are born Carly has to surrender the non-biological twin to the doctor at birth, no questions asked. Further, should the old doctor die before Carly gives birth, she has to agree to give the baby the name chosen by the doctor. As required for treatment, Carly and Gabe move into a new house, which is within thirty minutes of the clinic. They soon discover that their new home and town, Island Bluffs, are far from ordinary. Carly and Gabe feel eyes spying on them at every turn. Gabe’s father, Yehuda, hears strange noises that only he can hear. Megan, Gabe’s rebellious sixteen-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, is attracted to the son of a Neo-Nazi. The mysteries continue to deepen as a scavenger ship appears on nearby waters searching for sunken treasure along with glimpses of a lone swimmer lumbering through the waves of Barnegat Bay. Island Bluffs is a present-day town bound to the past by horrible secrets and pacts made long ago. Keeping secrets buried as some had hoped was no longer an option for the Berks. Their new and some thought long-forgotten home made that impossible by putting them squarely in the middle of it all. When the truths are revealed, the shocking twists and turns will challenge the very notions of what is right and wrong.

  ORDER INFORMATION Island Bluffs is available for purchase at  


What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
Hands down, my proudest moment is having three sons and nurturing, watching, helping, and guiding them as they grew into fine, upstanding young men.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
The greatest influence my upbringing had on me was to foster a love of reading. Growing up, I could simply not read enough. And my greatest competition as to who read the most books when I was in grammar school was my younger sister (by two years). We would participate each summer in the contest held by the local library in Newark, NJ, as to who could read the most books during the summer vacation when we were in grade school.  My sister and I would take armfuls of books home, often twice or more times each week. We would both surpass 100 books read each summer, but my sister would always read the more than me. Reading is a key to being a good writer.
When and why did you begin writing?
On one level, I wrote all my life starting in college. I was a history major and wrote paper after paper. And while I loved history and refer to it a lot in my writing, I followed a career path in the health professions. I have had more than twenty scientific papers published and edited a scientific journal for eleven years, during which time I started writing fiction. So, yes, I’ve been writing all of my adult life in one form or another.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When it comes to writing fiction, I backed into it; it was never a goal of mine. I had once played around with what I can only describe as a Grade B, Sci-Fi horror story. I told the story to a friend of mine one day and she said that I had to write it. I didn’t know how to begin or what to do, but since I saw it as a movie in my mind, I hooked up with a screenwriter - Kyle Morris. Once I told him my story and he understood it, he wrote a movie treatment that we then refined together. When I saw how this took shape and what was entailed, I said to myself, “I can do that.” And from that point on, I started writing fiction and have not stopped.
When did you first know you could be a writer? 
I first knew I could be a writer as a result of this same movie treatment that Kyle and I crafted. We circulated it around to 9 different studios. As it turned out, one studio that we sent it to plagiarized our treatment and turned it into a movie. Rather than be angry and sue them, I was elated that they thought so highly of my story that it was worth stealing. That gave me the confidence to proceed with my career in writing. And, the movie was a flop. That’s poetic justice!
What inspires you to write and why?
I am inspired to write in order to purge the stories that are pent up inside of me. And in so doing, I love the process of writing, the challenge to express myself, the challenge to weave complex stories, that engage the reader with entertainment worthy of their value time. Writing is also cheaper than going to a therapist.
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Suspense thrillers.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book, “Someone Else’s Son,” was inspired from the fact that when viewing photos of my three sons, everyone and anyone who saw them quipped, “They can’t be brothers. None of them look alike. You must have taken the wrong one home from the hospital.” This was back in the early 1980s. Up until that time, there had not been any reported cases in the news about babies switched at birth. I was plagued by the notion of how I, or any parent, would handle discovering that they had raised the wrong child. Everyone I know tried to discourage me from writing this story because they said it couldn’t happen. My retort is that no one ever told Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov to stop writing sci-fi stories, because they couldn’t happen. Obviously writers don’t listen to others think and write what they want to . . . and I was no different. As it turned out, the week the book was published, a story broke across the nation in all the papers about two baby girls switched at birth . . . and “Someone Else’s Son” was right on the mark.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began?
Two people influenced me, both of whom I think about to this day. The first was Pam Bernstein, a literary agent at the William Morris Agency. She called me and said that she had never done this before: call a writer that she was rejecting. She wanted to meet me to insure that I would not be discouraged and stop writing. We met in her office and she was quite clear. “You may think you’re a doctor, but you are a writer and don’t ever give it up.” And I haven’t.
The second great influence was how I learned the craft of writing. I had never taking a creative writing course. And creative writing did not come naturally to me, in spite of the thousands of books I had read over my lifetime. I ended up hiring a creative writing teacher at the Columbia School of General Studies, which is Columbia University’s grad school, John Bowers. John was a successful writer, teacher, and editor. I gave him a writing sample and he said that while imagination cannot be taught – and I had the imagination - he could teach me the tricks of writing. I would be the third such student he had ever had in thirty years, and the other two had gotten published.
John and I met weekly in a coffee shop for two years. He would only allow me forty-five minutes, and I could only have black coffee, no food. Each week, he would give me a lesson, I would write forward for a chapter or two, get the pages down to him, and then we’d have the next lesson.  We did this through two complete run-throughs of “Someone Else’s Son.” When it was finished, John said, “You now have a submittable manuscript. Good luck.” That was it? He wasn’t going to me get it published? Not on your life. His job was over. As it turns out, he gave me the confidence to submit my manuscript and the first publisher who read it, accepted it.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?
I love writing. I never tire of it. Finding enough time to write is a challenge, but not my greatest challenge. My greatest challenge about writing: finding an audience.  I write for me, but I want to share those words with others. So for me, to put it another way, the greatest challenge about writing is marketing the book I just finished.
Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it?
Parts of every book are autobiographical if for no other reason than one or more of the characters will express the moral values or fears, or both, of the author. In the case of “Island Bluffs,” I learned a great deal from my characters about tolerance, about letting go of the past, about living your life forward. These are admirable values that more of us should embrace.
Do you intend to make writing a career?
I am blessed to have two careers: writing and healthcare. My situation is more special than many others because my professional career supports my writing career with both time and money. I write 30-35 hours per week, and work the same number as a healthcare provider. There is no need for me to earn a living from writing for, if I did, I am uncertain I would write more than I presently do.
Have you developed a specific writing style?
I have a distinctive style that has grown tighter through the years. I do not like flowery exposition that is glossed over by the reader. I don’t blame them for skipping sections that do not propel the story forward or elucidate something new about the protagonist. My goal is to engage with ever word and every sentence, toss in concepts (usually about history, but they could be about science) that enables the reader to learn something new and have enough twists and turns to always keep the smug reader who has “figured” it out, guessing, making them feel a bit humble. I love it when a reader says, “I didn’t see that coming.”
What is your greatest strength as a writer? 
I believe I have two strengths:  I can weave complex stories that are seemingly unrelated and make them intertwined in a most logical manner, and second, I have a good ear for now people speak. My dialogue is easy to relate to.
What is your favorite quality about yourself?
My favorite quality, if it can be called that, is my singular focus to follow my passion of writing. No matter how many walls have been built to stop me by agents and publishers (I have countless stories that would have discouraged any but the brave of heart), I just claw harder to overcome them. Simply stated, I do not know failure. I may not succeed at writing (or anything else), but I did not fail because of my good faith effort to accomplish.
What is your least favorite quality about yourself?
My least favorite quality about myself is imposing on others to get my books. I would rather leave the marketing and selling to others, but that is not the world we live in today. So while I don’t like doing it, I do so shamelessly.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why?
John Bowers, my writing mentor, is responsible for my favorite quote: “Writing is rewriting.”

At first blush, Alan is quick to say that he never intended to be a writer. But when he thinks about it, he's been writing in one form or another, for his entire adult life. In college, he wrote paper after paper for his history and literature courses. Professionally, he edited a dental journal and wrote more than twenty scientific papers. That still doesn't explain how a dentist came to write fiction!

 It started in 1982 when Alan made small talk with a patient about a sci-fi idea he had. She thought the idea was so terrific, she urged him to write a movie treatment about it. Alan dismissed her offhand. What did he know about writing movies?

 The patient persisted. Each time she would visit his office, she would demand to see the finished movie treatment. Seeing she was serious and relentless, Alan agreed to hand her a treatment. But how? He had no clue where to start. Asking other patients for guidance, Alan was introduced to a young screenwriter who agreed - for a fee - to write the treatment. They worked together, produced a treatment, and shopped it around to a number of studios. One studio took the idea (without permission or payment) and turned Alan's treatment into a movie.

 Alan experienced two revelations at the time:

 1. Rather than waste energy being litigious, be flattered that a studio felt Alan's idea was worthy of turning it into a movie. Knowing a stranger valued his creativity supported all of his future projects. 2. Collaborating with the screenwriter gave Alan the validation he needed that if and when he chose to write a book, it wouldn't be foolhardy...not that it really mattered what others thought!

 Still, Alan had no desire to write fiction. That changed in 1985. That was the year that Alan began writing his first novel, "Someone Else's Son," which was eventually published by MasterMedia, Ltd.

 What prompted Alan to write "Someone Else's Son" is a story in itself. When Alan completed his periodontal training at Columbia, he joined a prestigious Fifth Avenue periodontal practice. Day after day, the well-to-do, prominent patients asked Alan if he was old enough to be a dentist. (He looked that much younger than the two senior partners). Trying to convince the patients that he was old enough to be a dentist and, therefore, experienced enough to treat them, Alan put his two sons' pictures on the treatment room wall. When his third son was born, he added that one, too. Every few months, he updated the photos.

 But a curious thing happened on a daily basis. The patients kept asking why Alan had pictures of children on the wall. When he replied, "They're not just any children; those are my sons," no one believed him. They claimed the boys looked too dissimilar to be brothers. They joked that he must have taken the wrong one home from the hospital. Though this was not the case (at least he didn't think so), Alan wondered what he would've done had he discovered, years later, that he and his wife had brought the wrong child home from the hospital. The result was "Someone Else's Son."

 While maintaining his periodontal practice, Alan has continued to write since he first took up pen to paper, although now he is very appreciative that his mother forced him to take typing in summer school after his sophomore year of high school. Boys just didn't do that back in the '60s, but it has been an invaluable skill over the years.

 In 1999, "Snowflakes in the Sahara" was published by iUniverse. "Savior's Day," also published by iUniverse, was published in 2013 to critical acclaim. It was selected by Kirkus Reviews as a Best Book of 2013.

 "Island Bluffs," Alan's newest novel, is published by KB Publishing to excellent reviews. He is at work on his next novel, "The Legacy of Izaak Wolf," about an adolescent with Asperger's Syndrome achieves the near impossible to save his family from a surefire calamity. Alan and Lori live in his native New Jersey. They have five children and five grandchildren.  

For More Information

Visit Alan’s website.

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