When did you start writing? What prompted you to give it a go?

I only started writing with any intentional of getting published a few years ago. I always enjoyed writing, or, to be more specific, I enjoyed the creative aspect of coming up with ideas. I never gave much thought to doing anything with it. Then one day I had an idea I particularly liked and sat down and wrote a novel, or the biggest part of a novel. Like many people who have never written much except in school, I thought the hardest part of writing was coming up with a good story idea; once you had a good story in mind it should be relatively easy to write it down. Well, no, it’s not quite that easy. The novel I wrote, as far as the writing itself was concerned, was awful. I still have that novel written in longhand in a dozen or so notebooks somewhere. I can’t even bare the thought of rereading it. Someday I might try to go back and redo it (I still think the storyline is good, and original), but I’m in no hurry.

Anyway, I decided that if I were going to do any more writing of a serious nature I better learn more about the craft. So that's basically what I’ve been doing. Writing and more writing. Trying out different things, different genres, different approaches. I have had only a few things published so far; I really haven't submitted all that much. I'm still working to be a good writer, not just someone who writes.

Who are some of your influences?

That’s a tough question. I’m sure I’ve been influences by any number of authors, but I didn’t really think about it much at the time. Some of the ones that I can actually point to as being influential as far as fiction is concerned include W. Somerset Maugham, Raymond Chandler, Poe, Thomas Wolfe, Carson McCullers, and the short stories of Ernest Hemingway and a host of others as I've always enjoyed short stories. I also like Sherlock Holmes stories, and to a lesser degree Agatha Christie, and those may have been of some influence on the mystery stories I’ve written.

Who is your favorite fictional character and why? What types of personalities do you best relate to?

That's another tough question. I don't have a favorite in mind. I think I relate to the type of character who is a bit of a loner, or at least goes his own way; who is maybe searching for something (even though he might not know what); a character pursuing something that's more understandable to himself than others; a character who is willing to take calculated risks. I know he's not fictional, but if he were I might have said Thoreau. Walden has always been a favorite of mine. Some of Hemingway's characters might fit the bill, as would some of those by Jack London, Raymond Chandler, Jack Schaefer, Thomas Wolfe, and even Maugham (the main characters in Of Human Bondage and The Razor's Edge comes to mind).

Tell me a little about your day job in engineering. How does it jive with your writing? Is it a creative draw or boost? Does it give you free time to write?

Unfortunately, there is little in the way of a symbiotic relationship between my work in engineering and writing. I work for a major structural engineering firm (literally, billions of dollars of construction every year), and while the projects can be interesting and impressive in a certain way, I don’t find the work very fulfilling creatively. Another 20-story office building? Yawn. I used to work more in the architectural field, but switched over to structural engineering some years ago (it’s a long story). Still, my job is relatively secure, and I make a reasonable amount of money (enough that I plan on retiring early in a few years), so I can afford what I need and don’t have to spend my free time fretting over such things.

Over the years I have learned that a job can take all your time and energy if you let it, so I try not to let my job do that. I’m one of those people who has to have a fairly large amount of time alone (as does my cat) and time to work on the things I enjoy, and that’s also a factor in how I try to conduct my life. On Friday nights, after a long workweek, I often go home and turn into a vegetable. I don’t want to go out with friends, or even answer the phone.

Retiring: Tell me something that you plan to do or would like to do in retirement, something that your friend's wouldn't expect out of you.

Write, paint, fish, walk in the woods, maybe volunteer at either a school or the local art museum (I went through their volunteer training program a few years ago but decided I really couldn't make the time commitment), build a house, travel a little, be lazy . . . be really lazy. There's probably nothing I could do that would surprise my friends all that much; most of them are well aware that I follow the beat of my own drummer . . . even though I sometimes think my drummer is either drunk or half nuts.

What would you like to write, but haven't tried? Any plans to try? What are you currently working on?

I’ve at least tired my hand at most of the genres and types of writing that I’m interested in, so I don’t see myself expanding in a new direction very much. I would like to try a novel again since most of my work so far as been short stories (both general fiction and different genres), children’s stories, plays, and screenplays. I keep putting it on my “to do” list but haven’t done much towards it so far. Some day . . . maybe.

I’m currently working on a novella for the Black Orchid story contest. I also did a number of children’s stories during the summer and submitted them to major publishers (I also have a number of other children’s stories that I have not submitted anywhere, or didn't quite finish). I probably need to go back and see if any of these stories can be improved and possibly resubmit them somewhere else. The usual time to wait for a reply for a children’s story is four to six months and it’s coming up on that time frame. I find that letting a story "age" often allows a writer to see the story with fresh eyes. It like the writer is just "too close" when he or she is first writing it; later they're able to see their own work more objectively.

What is it about children's stories that you're drawn to? Do you try to teach a lesson? Why or why not?

It's partially a matter of remembering when I was a kid and loved to hear or read a story, and partially because I like children and like to make them smile. Generally I don't set out to tell a lesson, but it often happens. For example, one of the story I wrote last summer was about a kid who wants a new bike but his mother can't afford it. Instead he's given a rusty old bike by one of his neighbors. At first he's disappointed, but then all of his friends pitch in and help him to shine up the bike until it's as good as new. The old bike is actually a rare and expensive bike worth many times what a typical new bike would cost and the boy is offered a lot of money for it but the boy won't sell it because now it's special for more reasons than just being a great bike. In the end, it turns out that having good friends is better than even the best new bicycle. I didn't set out to tell a story with a moral; it just happened to work out that way. I did make a point of NOT adding a good lecture at the end about the importance of friendships (it was tempting to do so); I wanted the story to carry the message by itself. If a reader found that message in the story, great; if not, then I hope they enjoyed the story anyway. By the way, I submitted that story to a well-known children's publisher but haven't heard back from them . . . so it might have been a great story anyway. I think I'll resubmit it somewhere early next year.

What do you read on a weekly basis? (Newspapers, blogs, magazines, etc…) Why do you chose those sources?

I usually glance at the morning paper, and read a number of special interest magazines (writing, ancient coins, financial, home design). I don’t read blogs unless someone posts a link to a blog with a bit of information I might be interested in. I just don’t have much interest in transient reading; that is, reading something that I would forget all about in a week or two, or which does not provide me with solid information or entertainment. That’s why I just scan the newspapers. I really don’t care what a New York Times columnist’s opinion is of the auto bailout or George Bush or Timbuktu. There's too many good books I'll never have time to read; I don't think I'm missing anything by not reading about another train wreck (to take a nod from Thoreau).

My main reading is books, either nonfiction or fiction. I guess I read about 60% nonfiction and 40% fiction. Some of my nonfiction interests are house design, history, nature, biography, and, of course, writing. I subscribe to The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Script, and a couple of other magazines devoted to writing, as well as read books about writing.

Whose biography do you find most compelling and why?

I assume you mean the person whose biography it is, rather than who has written the best biography. In that case, Robert E. Lee. A few years ago I made it 3/4 of the way through the Lee biography by Douglas Southall Freeman (the four volume set), and I've read other biographies of Lee as well. Some of the other biographies I've read and which have stayed with me include those of Churchill; Teddy Roosevelt; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; and many painters, writers, and historical characters

Has living in TN influenced your music choices? In what way? Have you always lived there? If no, where else?

I don’t really think it has. My dad was a big country music fan and when I was little we would go to a lot of their shows. I got to meet a lot of the performers who were “big names” at that time; back then it was easier to meet them. You basically just walked up and said, “Hi, I enjoyed the show.”

When I got a little older I was a rock music fan as were 98% of my friends. I like groups like the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, the Stones, that sort of thing. Of course, Nashville is the home of country and gospel music, but most people don’t know that Nashville has a world-class symphony orchestra, or that it was once a center of soul and R&B (less so now).

Living in Nashville, I’ve met or become friends with a few of the people who are well-known now (Keith Urban probably being the biggest name among them). We try to keep that sort of thing low-key here. If someone who lives in Nashville sees a “star” in a restaurant or store, the acceptable thing to do is to leave them alone. Of course, tourists are not expected to follow this "rule".

I have lived in Tennessee most of my life, except for a time when I was going to college. I like living in Tennessee; I love the rolling hills and mountains, the lakes and rivers, the hardwood forests, and, for the most part, the way of life here. It's not perfect, but then no place is. I would like to spend a year in Europe some time, especially around the northern Mediterranean (southern France, Italy, Greece, Spain). I don't really enjoy traveling when I'm just going somewhere for a week.

Tell me about someone who changed your life. In what way? How do you feel about that person, now?

Well, I could say my parents, who not only changed my life but created it. Instead, I'm mention one person who was been important to me--my best friend Cheryl. We have been friends for over twenty years; we have seen each other through good times and bad. Even though we have different interests about some things, we always enjoy sharing time together. We have never intentionally hurt each other. She knows if she calls tonight and needs me I'll be there; if I call and need her (as I very much did one time), she'll be there for me. A true friend is worth their weight in gold. I think Cheryl and I have a very special relationship. Oh, my other "best friend" is Melissa (so much so that we refer to ourselves as "big brother" and "little sister", My wedding gift to her was her wedding dress. I think I've said enough about friends however; I'll save this for another time.

I know you like to cook, so describe for me your favorite meal. And why? Who do you like to cook for?

I don’t know that I would say I like to cook so much as I don’t mind it and it can be fun at times. I like to be able to go home and cook anything I want. Here lately my favorite meal has been a big pot of chili! I don’t know that I really have a favorite meal (other than the always popular steak, burger, and pizza). Basic southern cooking and Italian are probably my favorite types of food, but I like a variety of other ways of cooking. In the past couple of years I’ve become a bigger fan of Middle Eastern/Northern African cooking (but don’t ask me to name many dishes just yet).

Cook for? Ha! I’m a single guy -- I take women out to expensive restaurants. My female friends have no qualms about letting a guy buy them dinner, trust me. ;-)

You've mentioned that you enjoy art. Who are some of the artists that you're drawn to (ha!) And why? Have you ever tried throwing a brush to canvas? Why or why not? And with what result?

I like the old masters (Rembrandt in particular), the Impressionist, and art of ancient times. I’m less interest in “modern art”.

I have tried both watercolor and oil painting, but I’ve done more drawing than painting. When I worked in architecture I was often the guy who did the presentation drawings for a proposed building; this was done using a number of varying techniques. If I had more free time I would probably do more drawing and painting than I do now. It’s hard to fit everything into one’s life.

One comment. People will sometimes talk about being “in the zone”, a sort of effortless, subconscious mindset while doing something, whether it's writing, or drawing, or playing music. When I’m doing a drawing I can easily get “in the zone” very quickly. I have had this happen when I was writing from time to time, but much less so, and not as fully or as intently as when drawing.

And last but not least: Why is Alleycat your user name?

My last name actually is Alley (as a few people already know), so Alleycat has always been a natural nickname for me. When the Internet came along and I was always needing a username, I just choose Alleycat. I’m alleycat on probably a dozen forums. Oh, and I do have a cat; a Russian Blue named Anna.