Interview With Author Vern Turner

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

My full name is Vernon Turner, but Vern Turner is much more alliterative. I am a retired engineer (industrial) and science educator (College; secondary public schools) living in Denver, CO. I am married to a retired attorney named Elaine. My achievements include having climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, breaking 80 on the golf course after my 65th birthday and getting several books published. I’ve taught 6th grade science and anatomy in medical school. I’ve walked on the Great Wall of China and trod on some of the newest real estate in the world on the Big Island of Hawai’i. I’ve lived in six states and enjoyed the best parts of each one. I enjoy fishing and watching most sports.

My first books were self-published compendia from my political columns that I wrote for two newspapers. They are available on Amazon.com. I have five novels currently available on my website, www.vernturner.com. The Bert Waller series is a story of a seemingly ordinary mid-western young man who goes through a difficult childhood and coming-of-age experiences (Meadows and Minefields), finally marrying his high school sweetheart just a week to late to keep from being drafted into the Army. The year is 1965. The sequel, A Hero’s Journey, follows Bert through his years as a combat medic in the U.S. Army serving in Viet Nam where his wounded and receives medals for valor. He works as an innovating engineer and eventually becomes a science educator only to have to revisit his war experience while disrupting a school shooting in his own classroom.

The Sonya Keller trilogy begins with The Ten Arms of Durga. Sonya is an abused teenage girl who runs for her life and is taken in my the family of a retired Navy SEAL. She grows into a role of crime fighter and martial arts expert who wreaks vengeance on her tormentors. As the action/adventure saga proceeds through Demon Slayer and The Medalist, Sonya’s extraordinary athleticism allows her to star in college track and field and eventually in an Olympics in South Africa. Along the way, she breaks up a white supremacy network in her home state and avenges the murder of her best friend by that group. Finally, Sonya Keller is elected to the U.S. Senate and, after the legislative success that accompany her five Olympic medals, she is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

My sixth novel, The Immigrant’s Grandson, is now in edit with Savant Books and Publishing. This story covers three generations that begin on the frozen steppes of Ukraine with the patriarch emigrating to America in the early 20th century. His expanding family endures the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War. The “grandson” grows into a solid citizen and scientist and becomes a key participant in NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon. We anticipate its release this year.

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

Bert Waller’s story has many elements of my own early years, education and lifetime experiences. His heroic adventures, however, are fictional, though based on many real experiences from veterans who fought in Viet Nam. Bert’s pursuit of his advanced degree and eventual teaching career are loosely based on my own experiences and those of colleagues I’ve known from various walks of life over the five decades of my adulthood .

The Sonya Keller trilogy is pure fiction, but her experiences are ripped from the pages of today’s society and its struggle with racism, drugs, poverty and corruption. I created this powerful super athlete from whole cloth. Using the stories of athletes from the past, Sonya is head and shoulders above her peers of her time much like Mildred “Babe” Didrickson and Herman “Babe” Ruth. She uses that power and subsequent platform of fame to directly affect the social fabric of our country. As you might anticipate, there is plenty of social messaging that accompanies the incredible actions of Sonya Keller.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I’ve always enjoyed writing. What and how I write has evolved since high school where I won the American Legion Essay contest for our county. As an industrial engineer, I was required to write many technical reports, operator instructions and presentations. As a graduate student at San Diego State University, my professors taught me how to construct and clearly state highly complex research papers for scientific publication.

I now have the luxury of being as freely creative as I want. I’ve discovered that drawing from the thousands of books, papers and reports that I’ve read, and the movies I’ve seen have opened many doors for plot development, character creation and colorful description. Sorry for the run-on sentence. My editor may be watching. I know it might sound trite, but it just sort of pours out. That all said, I think the mental discipline required for writing detailed pieces, over the years, has helped my dive down into that part of my mind and its imagination to create the stories I have so far.

The trick is to get it all down on “paper”, then edit the hell out of it to make it coherent and into a great story.

# How do you deal with creative block?

I don’t know. I haven’t had any “blockage” with creativity

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

The technical mistakes include verb/subject issues, wrong verb tenses, lame adjectives and poor punctuation and grammatical errors. That’s why Hemingway once said that the few times that he was sober was when he was editing. Removing myself from authorship to edit takes practice and discipline. Each time I do it, I make the manuscript better. Daniel Janik is now providing me a “graduate course” in editing for publication. Frankly, it’s a blast to be this far down the road of life and still be a “grasshopper” when it comes to developing as an author.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

For me, the title just sort of “comes to me”. My latest manuscript, The Foursome, for example, started out with the clunky title, I Taught Her to Play Golf. I was 3/4 through writing it before the current title emerged. The Sonya Keller titles were my first real struggle. I created this astonishing character, Sonya, who could do all these things. I searched for mythical beings and discovered Vishnu’s consort Durga, the woman with ten arms filled with weapons. Perfect! After that the stories dictated the titles.

For cover design, I depended on the publishers mostly. Yes, I searched the photo services and picked several covers that I thought might be appropriate for the books. Again, it is a kind of inspirational thing for me the author. I understand that the cover has to be catchy to the eye, but I think it should also create an expectation in the would-be reader of what’s inside. If I have any advice, it would be to just look at everything the author can find that fits the genre, and work with the publisher’s designers to make something that works. You certainly wouldn’t want a cover featuring dragsters for a story about a chess player.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

So far, I haven’t had any bad reviews or negative feedback. When/if I get any, I will consider the source and the implication. If you’ve ever read the ratings comments on Amazon, you’ll know that some of the complaints are, well, inappropriate to the product. I’ll cross that negative critique bridge when it comes my way. Frankly, I hope to sell enough books to enough people to get a good cross-section of comments and reviews going both ways.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

As I hinted above, with each story and its subsequent editing process, I feel more elements contributing to the creation of the stories. For me, I’ve learned to ponder word choices more during the first drafts. When I go back to edit, I’m seeing less revision with regard to descriptive words or sentence structure. Sometimes a semi-colon can speak volumes, and sometimes it’s in the way. It’s like I’m adding arrows to my creative quiver with each story, each edit and each publication.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The best is easiest to describe. It’s when a publisher sends you a contract after reading your manuscript. After I climbed down from the chandelier, the really hard work began; exactly the way I wanted it to be.

What has been most surprising – remember, I started out writing novels with NO experience in the publishing business – was how “selective” the business of publishing is. Since 2010, I’ve queried almost 1,700 literary agents. So far, I’ve received exactly ZERO requests from any of them to read a manuscript before saying “no”. Amazing. That’s when I learned that for those folks it’s about their perception of sales potential and less to do with story quality. The overflowing discount book bins speak volumes.

With one exception, my edit/publication processes have gone smoothly and collegially. I LOVE working with my editors and publishers. We both want our outcomes to be as good as we can make them. Once I got over the “flattery” of signing a contract the first time, the really good work began. There was a time when the rejections were building up, that I thought I was on a fool’s errand trying to get published.

The only real disappointment was with an editor who insisted on editorializing along with his copy editing. It became a little rancorous at times, but we managed to get a good book published in spite of the sniping and snide comments. I was told early on that editors weren’t supposed to be like that. It was a big surprise, but since my experience in other careers had me grounded, it turned out to be a minor bump in growing my career as an author.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

This is a really good question that my wife asked me too. I think it’s both. I’m having a lot of fun writing stories and making stuff up that adds to the plots that I create. Of course I want my readers to enjoy what I write. I don’t even think about who the audience is when I’m writing the manuscript – at first. Then, as the story emerges, I start to consider who will want to read the book. Those realizations after the start often send me back to the beginning to adjust word choices, character development or even sub-plots. With each story, this process gets better. The Foursome, for example, began with me knowing it was going to be a romantic love story and my love for the game of golf. Weaving in the social messaging into true, wholesome romance was the really challenging and fun part. I’ve just submitted the manuscript to Savant.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

Oh, I get very emotional when I’m writing. Elaine teases me about getting teary-eyed when I go back and edit an emotional scene. Sometimes the tears are streaming while I’m writing it the first time; I can’t get the words out fast enough. For action and crime facets of a story, I feel my own personal positions and feeling rise up so that I almost feel sparks between my fingers and the keyboard. So, yes. Emotions.

One of my best teachers ever emphasized writing so the audience, no matter who they were, would hear your voice. That was in high school. Sadly, the technical stuff really didn’t want my “voice”, only the facts. I write with voice. My op-ed pieces present a LOT of my voice.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

No. I just write what comes to mind. I think every author should have his or her own mind hard at work when writing. They should trust that their marvelous organ between their ears will provide an infinite number of possibilities every time – if given the chance. Mind you, depending on the story, good, solid, verifiable research is essential for believability too. If the story doesn’t have factual credibility, the book will end up in the dust bin unfinished. That’s bad for everyone. I good friend of mine who travels a lot told me about how she buys books at airports while waiting for flights. If there are “glitches” or major mistakes, she pitches it in the trash when her flight is called.

# What are your plans for future books?

I’ve learned that I write pretty good romance. But I’m also a sports geek and a student of WW II history. Today’s readers are, I think, only two generations removed from the Greatest Generation. That generation certainly carved many lessons – and omissions – into and out of our national fabric. I plan on beginning another romance soon, but with some historical aspects; a period piece perhaps.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

It depends on who you ask, of course. I am somewhat encyclopedic, but have a wry, often sardonic sense of humor. I still build model airplanes from the different eras of flight. They are not toy models, but realistic replicas often with wingspans measured in feet. My latest effort is almost complete: A Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber, the plane that won the battle of Midway.

At age 79 I still play as much golf as weather and my back allows. I don’t suffer fools too well, including myself. I am a totally committed friend for those I befriend. My joy in life is educating however I can. Call me a pedant if you like, but if you give me a chance, I’ll help you enjoy the ride.