About Richard Gazala

Richard Gazala
Richard Gazala was born in Ohio, in 1960. When he was very young, his family moved to Beirut, Lebanon, where he lived until forced out of the country in 1975 by the Lebanese Civil War. After leaving Beirut, he completed his secondary education in Boston, Massachusetts, and London, England. While residing in Lebanon and England he traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and Europe, learning Arabic and French. He attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he earned both a Bachelor of Arts in political science, and a Juris Doctorate. Gazala has practiced law for over twenty years in Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, as both a trial and corporate attorney, and is a member of the bar of the United States Supreme Court. He currently lives in Vienna, Virginia.

Richard Cornered and Forced to Answer Questions

Who are you?

Ah, one of my favorites. The Who. Released in 1978, as I recall.

No, I mean tell us about yourself, your background.

Oh. Well, I worked as a radio DJ and in a record store while I was in college and law school, so my misinterpretation of your first question took me back there. I was born in Ohio, where my father worked in the oil industry. He changed jobs and was transferred abroad, so I grew up in Lebanon until we left because of the civil war. After that I lived in Massachusetts, then back overseas to graduate high school in London. I went to college and law school in Nashville. I moved to Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., in the early nineties, and have lived here since. I practice law, and when I’m not doing that I coach youth sports, follow the Red Sox and the Buckeyes, cook magnificently, work out feverishly because I eat a lot of my magnificent cooking, and read and write a lot.

Trace the arc for us, DJ to lawyer to author. Are they connected in your mind?

I see them as different facets of the same diamond, if you will. At their core, all those things are about communicating a story. I’d play a record on the air and regale my listeners with some juicy tidbit about the band or the singer to make the song resonate more deeply than it otherwise might. When I did late night shifts, I liked to put together a series of songs by different bands and let the tempos and lyrics play off one another to set a mood, not unlike setting a scene in a story. Practicing law, especially when I litigated, was all about weaving often disparate facts into a compelling true story for a judge or jury. As I see it, writing novels calls upon many of the same skills I honed behind microphones and in courtrooms.

Why do you write?

It’s a compulsion. I love the power of words and stories. Words always have been good to me, and I’m good to them. I enjoy making them fly or crawl, scream or whisper for me in the service of telling a good story. Something I’ve always appreciated in good writing is the author’s deliberate choice of words to engage all the reader’s senses in making the story come to life. I’ve heard that called showing, rather than telling, the reader what’s happening. A dispassionate recitation of facts might advance a plot, but it will never make a reader squirm in her seat or outrage her or make her smile, cry or gasp. To me writing’s about achieving reciprocity between author and reader. I want my reader to feel something like what I felt when I finally got the words right. I read somewhere a while ago there are only seven distinct plotlines for any story, such as man versus man, man versus nature, good versus evil, etc. I write because I admire the way the right words at the right time can make those otherwise staid plotlines into new, different and exciting stories.

When do you write?

A better question is, when do I not write? A writer is almost always writing, whether or not his fingers happen to be rapping against a keyboard at any particular moment. I always carry a pen to scratch thoughts and ideas onto whatever scrap of paper’s in reach. If I can’t find something to write on I send myself voice mails. If you mean when do my fingertips coax sentences and paragraphs and chapters from keyboards, that usually happens during waning afternoons or late nights. No question my best writing likes to come out at night.

Who and what are your influences?

Everybody and everything. The best cure for so-called writer’s block is to venture out often into the world and look around, listen to life and give it a sharp poke with a pointed stick now and again. Inspiration comes from everywhere. A snippet of overheard conversation, provocative words on a faded T-shirt, pungent smells at a dusty construction site, getting unjustly tossed out of a bar for allegedly egregious behavior which I’ll deny to the end of my days, anything. That said, the person who most fervently urged me to develop my writing talents was my mother, who was a very good writer herself. The author who most enthralls me is Edgar Allan Poe.

Do you outline your novels, or make them up as you go along?

Yes.

Funny man. How do you do your research?

The Internet’s where I start. If I’m trying to get a sense of a place I’ve never been before, I try to go there. For example, the novel I’m currently writing is set in New Orleans. I went to Mardi Gras several times in the 1980s, but I’ve not been to New Orleans since Katrina, so I’m going back to see what it’s like now. If I’m creating a character with a job I don’t know very well, I try to find people who’ve done that kind of work and pick their brains. A major character in Blood of the Moon is a retired astronaut, and I have the good fortune of happening to know a retired space shuttle astronaut who has been outrageously generous in rendering me less than utterly ignorant about astronauts and astronautics. The bottom line is if there’s a reasonably legal way somehow to taste for myself what I’m writing about without risking irreparable injury and/or incarceration, I do it.

Why do you choose to publish independently?

A few years ago a gentleman named Marc McCutcheon wrote a book called Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That? He mentioned some fairly off-putting statistics regarding so-called “traditional” publishing of fiction by new authors. McCutcheon wrote that about 50,000 new books are published annually, of which less than 4000 are fiction. More daunting yet, only 120 fiction releases each year are first novels by “new” authors. Keep in mind, those numbers aren’t fresh enough to account for the continuing shrinkage in fiction publishing over the past few years, and particularly since our most recent international financial apocalypse. Does that mean books and authors unpublished by traditional publishing houses are unworthy of attention? No. It means that like the broken business model traditional record companies are begrudgingly abandoning, traditional publishing’s business model is deeply flawed in the age of Web 2.0. Consequently, I’m disinterested in according self-proclaimed authority figures in a dying business model unwarranted power over my value as an author, and I’m unconvinced their interposal between my readers and me is of substantive worth. The simple fact is online distribution and interactivity integral to the independent publishing model means authors can now reach their readers more easily and meaningfully, and vice-versa, than at any time since the dawn of man. I’ve heard it called Publishing 2.0, and I embrace it.

How would you describe your muse?

Depends on her mood. If she’s being good to me, then I would describe her in the most glowing terms you can possibly imagine. If she’s being surly and uncooperative, or if she just plain abandons me for reasons unknown and unknowable, then my description of her would be unfit for inclusion in a wholesome family interview like this one. Truth be told, there have been many midnights I’ve had to get on my knees and beseech her from the depths of my soul to shine her light on a paragraph or some piece of dialogue or a character’s motivation, or even a major plot twist. She can be unduly fickle. Still, she always comes back to me sooner or later.

She sounds like a keeper. How did you come up with the idea for Blood of the Moon?

At the time I started writing the book, I was caring for my elderly, widowed mother. I was losing her slowly but very certainly to Alzheimer’s disease. Watching her fade from me a little more each day with nothing I could do to stop it was the most gut wrenching, debilitating experience of my life. When her condition worsened to the point I had to hire people to help with her care, I read even more voraciously than I usually do to find some respite from the hurt and anger I felt at being powerless to help her. I came across a fascinating nonfiction book detailing Soviet research into the origins and nature of petroleum. The Soviet scientists cited in that book espoused opinions about oil wildly divergent from those I was taught growing up. I also read a lot about oligopolistic practices in the early English coal industry, and about the gasoline combustion engine and the machinations by which it came to virtually obliterate competing electronic technologies in the nascent American automotive business. My mother’s illness, and the reading I was doing at the time, gelled into the ideas underlying Blood of the Moon.

That sounds intriguing. What are you writing next?

Something different and darker. It’s a psychological thriller, with a working title of Triad. The story’s about a shattered man in New Orleans unwittingly stumbling toward redemption by confronting a serial killer. The idea for the story came to me when I was exploring online societies like World of Warcraft and Second Life after I stumbled on the concept of trizophenia in a 2007 report by the British Association of Dramatherapists. The report defined “trizophenia” as a kind of triple split disassociating a person’s mind, spirit and body from one another so that at the same time he thinks one way, feels another, and acts in still another. Something like a self-conflicted internal trialogue. Fascinating stuff. I still have lots of work to do on the novel, but I know where it’s going and how it ends, and I’m having fun writing it.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Reading and writing are as inextricably intertwined as inhaling and exhaling. Never stop breathing. And do it over and over again, with a good editor who’ll never lie to you. My third draft of Blood on the Moon was better than my first, and my seventh was better than my third. At some point, you’ll finish a draft and be absolutely dead certain your research and writing finally have come together so completely another rewrite’s not going to make your story any better. That’s your second-to-last draft.

Besides reading and writing, what else do you do for fun?

I like traveling. I enjoy sports, weightlifting, and beating the hell out of the heavy bag I keep in my basement. I’m addicted to all kinds of music. Did I mention I cook magnificently? And I avoid things I don’t like. There’s a lot of fun to be had in that, if you do it right and well.

You’re an author, so I have to ask what are your favorite books?

I have lots of favorite books. I read the same way I listen to music, open to pretty much anything. It’s hard to get bored that way. To attempt an answer to your question, I savor almost anything by the good Doctor Hunter S. Thompson. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. I have a book containing all of the scripts from the old Monty Python TV shows, and that’s always amusing. The book Vincent Bugliosi wrote about the Manson Family, Helter Skelter. Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men, Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries. And while it’s not a book, “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe never fails to move me. There’s more, but too many more to list now.

We’re almost done. My last question is, do you have anything you’d like to say to your readers?

Sure. You know, buying my books in bulk can solve a lot of problems around the house. Several cartons of them arranged under a tin roof can make a reasonably serviceable garden shed in dry climates. Buy one for every door in your home and you’ll never want for doorstops. Is that over the top? I can’t ever tell. No, in all seriousness, thank you for being my readers. I truly appreciate all of you. I write to entertain you and give you a pleasurable escape from your daily toils and troubles. I hope it’s working, and you enjoy what I write and come back for more.
“If I could dig down deep in my heart
Feelings would flood on the page
Would it satisfy ya?
Would it slide on by ya?
Would you think the boy's insane?” Mick Jagger

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