I have to ask, why do you use the E. in your name?
(Laughing) I was named after my grandfather, Eugene Collier Cropp. I don't want the name to be forgotten. Besides, it makes my name sound more official. Don't you think?
(Smiling) Okay. Sorry, I just had to ask. What is the most common question you get asked about your book?
Believe it or not, everyone's first question is, Who is your publisher? It's a strange question, I think. Since most people only know the names of one or two publishers. But that's the number one question I get asked. The second one is, Is it a true story?
In a lot of ways, the story is very much true. I took pieces from here and moved them there. I changed some things in the timeline, but the message I attempted to deliver is something I experienced.
What message are you trying to deliver?
That it's never too late. My mother and I waited until right down to the wire to sort out our differences, and to this day she remains the greatest influence in my life. She was a remarkable woman. Had she died in a car wreck or some sudden event, we would have both gone to our graves holding a lot of unsettled emotions between us.
Then why is the book being marketed as a novel, and not a memoir, if so much of it is true?
Some of the book is most definitely a novel, in the truest sense of the word. I imagined a great deal of the book. I took the liberty of having my team accomplish things on the baseball field that we never did in real life. We were competent, and had a shot at winning the state championship that year. But the fact is, we didn't. We lost in the semi-finals of American Legion.
Did you really play a baseball game the night of your mother's death?
Absolutely. It was one of the greatest games I have ever played. I went nine innings on the mound and was relieved only for the last out of the game; which ironically, was a ground ball hit to me at third base.
So what next? I mean if the book is mostly true, and you are Corey Wails, then what does Corey do next?
You'll have to read the next book. (Smiling.) Actually, the second book is also a novel, but follows my real life very closely. Corey goes from North Carolina, on a motorcycle, all the way to Alaska. It's a trip of introspection, as he tries to make some sense of all that has happened. Most of the book is set in the Bering Sea of Alaska, where Corey works as a deckhand.
Why do you think people would want to read about you or your life? What is so unique or special about your experiences that you feel they are worthy of a book?
That's an excellent question, and one I have asked myself a thousand times. I don't think there is anything so special about me or my life that people would want to read about. But my books aren't about me, per say. They are about the message I am trying to deliver within the pages. The first stage of deciding what book I want to write, is deciding what message I want to deliver. Without a message, there is no book. And that message, or meaning, has to be something universal; something everyone can relate to. In the case of The Time Keeper, the dialogue and emotion exchanged between my mother and I while she was dying is something a lot of people have experienced in their life, or will experience at some point in the future. I just happen to be a writer, and could put it down on paper for other people to learn or gain from it.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
What was the first thing you wrote?
The Time Keeper. I have never kept any journals or anything like that. I have kept everything in my head for all these years. And I read and read. It wasn't until four years ago that I started putting my own thoughts on paper.
Was it tough? I mean, after knowing you wanted to be a writer for so long, but never writing anything, was it hard when you finally started?
It's very hard work. Any writer will tell you that. But it's just like anything else, if you like what you're doing, it doesn't always seem like work. The good thing is, the more you write, the easier it becomes.
What is your favorite thing about writing? You told me before the interview that you write every day. What do you write about, and do you need some kind of inspiration?
I like to create characters and have those characters do things on their own. It's a hard concept to explain, but when my writing is coming out fluidly, I am hardly the one in charge of the characters. They move by themselves. I simply do the typing. It's like reading a book, but the pages are blank and I fill them in. I don't start with an outline or a rigidly defined plot. I let the characters build the story.
That sounds bizarre. (Smiling)
There's a reason the great writers, like Norman Mailer, have written books about writing with titles like, The Spooky Art. But I guess everyone has their own style. That is mine-to let the story move without me being in the way. I don't accomplish that all the time, but when I do, writing is a phenomenal experience.
So what are you writing now? More novels, short stories? Have you finished any other books?
I have two other books completed. One of them is about five fraternity brothers spending a summer break from college in Aspen, Colorado. That book is called istory. I have almost completed the sequel to The Time Keeper, and I have a third book about a group of hackers who steal stock quotes from the stock exchange and are trading on sure bets. That one is called Frontrunners.
I suppose all these books have a message.
Yes. The fraternity brothers on the road is about the X-generation's place in American history. We were a misunderstood generation that are now accomplishing a lot of good things. That is what I have tried to convey in istory. It's the most bizarre history book you will ever read. The premise being that every generation has been misunderstood by the generations that came before them. The message in Frontrunners is about the current trends of mingling corporate business with government interests. I think it is a topic worth exploring, given all the scandals that have been uncovered in the past few years.
It sounds like no two books are alike. Are you worried that each book will have a different audience? How will you ever make a niche for yourself ?
I consider myself an artist, so I have to create whatever is foremost in my mind. To me that is art. If I go looking for a best seller or a niche market, I will lose the art. I wouldn't do very well like that. I read something a long time ago that I like to remember now and then. It was said by James Michener- no matter the topic, if you write it well, it will find a market, or it will create one of its own. Something like that. I can't say if I am a good writer or not, but I do try and I try hard. I spend a lot of time in the review process with my books. I give a lot of books out and take criticism, so by the time you see something I have written, it's been read by a lot of people and has generated some interest.
Is that what you did with The Time Keeper?
Absolutely. The Time Keeper was read by more than a hundred people before the first printing. Some liked it and some did not. I received feedback along the way that helped me make it a better book and a better story.
Do you change things in your writing when someone says they don't like this or that?
Only if I get the same comment from three different people. Then I know I have something that needs some work. It's funny. You know what I have found-the writing I think is some of my best work, is always highlighted in red with notes like, Doesn't make sense, and Is this really important to the story? (Laughing) It's a good thing I don't rely on myself for all my editing.
I have one last question for you. What is the best thing that has come from The Time Keeper so far? I mean, what has created the deepest impression or left you feeling good about the book and where it is headed?
So many good things have already happened. I have received letters in the mail from people telling me how much the story meant to them, and how they related to the characters and what they went through. But one event definitely stands out-I was at the beach a few weeks ago, when a woman approached me. I recognized her from the book signing I did in Wilmington. She introduced herself and told me that since reading The Time Keeper, she has been trying harder to get along with her son. That small comment was worth a thousand words. That is why I write and that is why I wrote The Time Keeper. If nothing else comes of my first novel, the years of work have already been worth it. Not just because of that one comment, but because of all of them. With a little luck, The Time Keeper might be read by a lot of people who can benefit from its message. I feel like everything ahead of me now is just a bonus.