Monday, November 21, 2011


There's no doubt about it, our Lee is a man of many talents. Here on In My "Spare" Time, he's been more than a bit absent lately, but for very good reasons. Lee's a busy writer and editor these days, and he hasn't had a lot of time to spare. He has a book out right now, and another one in the works, and about as many irons in the fire as any man can manage. 

Getting Lee to talk about himself is like trying to nail Jello to the wall. So, Your's Truly decided to sit down with the incredibly humble Mr. Houston, and talk to him about some of those writing and editing projects that are keeping him so busy he doesn't have time to post here. The interview below is the result of that conversation.

Come on in, sit down, and meet the man behind HUGH MONN Private Detective as well as various other projects.

Q: Lee, why don’t you start here by introducing yourself to our audience, talking a little about who you are as a person, and telling people what you write?

I started out life in Galveston, Texas and have migrated inland over the years to find myself now in New England. I’m old enough to know who the Beatles are, but young enough not to remember them first run.

I honorably graduated high school, attended some junior college, and earned my masters degree from the University of Life’s Hard Knocks.

Whatever I have learned about life over all that time I apply to my writing, but I like to think I’m still learning, because I certainly haven’t stopped living.

Besides my first book: Hugh Monn, Private Detective being recently published by Pro Se Press, I have done several short stories and articles both for PSP and in my capacity as Editor-In-Chief of The Free Choice E-zine (

My genres seem to be among the more adventurous: Detective Mystery, Superhero, Science Fiction, and Pulp.

Q: How did you get into writing Lee, and how long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing ever since I figured out what a writer is and does, so that would put it back around the fourth grade. But reading has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. My folks read bedtime and other stories to me when I was young and by elementary school, I discovered Comic Books. The first ‘real’ book (no interior illustrations) I read solo was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars in the fifth grade. It’s a very rare day when you will not find me with reading material in my hands at some point.

Q: As an avid reader, what kinds of books interest you?

A lot. Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Detective Mysteries. Some regular and non-fiction, depending upon the subject matter; the occasional Western, Pulp, and of course Comic Books. I haunt places wherever new or used books can be found whenever the opportunity presents itself, and unfortunately buy a lot faster than I actually have the time to read.

Q: Writers are inquisitive and creative people who often have other pastimes that might have some impact on their craft. Do you have any hobbies, interests, sidelines, or collections outside of literature that you’d like to tell us about? How do they play into your writing?

I love music, although the only instrument I can play is the stereo. But songwriting is an interesting genre because the best songwriters can tell a whole story within three to five minutes on average. I also collect baseball cards and assemble plastic models in what I laughingly call my “spare” time.

How all that has influenced my writing is that I try to have my stories as concise, detailed, and as organized as possible. Regardless of how many words it takes to tell a story, they have to be the RIGHT words, or else you’re wasting the reader’s time and risk ruining their enjoyment of your tale.

Q: Can you tell us briefly about some of the things you have in print? What is the basic concept of each storyline?

Pro Se Press has just published my first book: Hugh Monn, Private Detective. I took all the classic tenets of the detective genre and put them in a science fiction setting. Hugh is still a war veteran who is trying to earn an honest living independent of anyone else as honorably as he can, but now he does so on another planet in the far flung future in the days after Universal War 1.

I’ve also had several short stories published within the company’s previous magazines: Fantasy and Fear, Masked Gun Mystery (where Hugh got his start), and Peculiar Adventures. Another series, Wylde World, started within the pages of PA and is a project I hope to continue when the opportunity presents itself.

Q: Is there anything else in the works but not in print yet that you can talk about?

I just finished the first draft of an original superhero novel. Alpha. The title character starts off life as a lowly primitive on one world and is chosen by a scientist from another world to become a much needed champion. But there’s a lot more involved in the plot because the second half of the book takes place either in outer space or on the scientist’s home world. I’ve done a lot of research for it and the overall series, with Alpha planned out through at least the fifth book.

After I complete the second draft, for I always want to submit the best work I humanly can, then I will be starting on Hugh Monn’s next book.

There are other ideas, concepts, and projects that I hope to pursue over the course of the next year or two as well, but unfortunately I cannot discuss those in further detail at this time.

Q: We’ve all heard about writer’s block; those times when the words just won’t come forth without a fight. Do you have problems with that? If so, how do you get around it?

Unfortunately, yes. It’s like I’m at the keyboard writing up a storm and then suddenly I’m going “What now?” As to how to deal with it, a couple of rounds of Mahjongg on the PC don’t hurt.

But seriously, the best advice I can give is to just find something else to do for a bit while still staying creatively active. Proof read what you’ve already done. Do research for a project. Think about whatever it is you’ll be working on after you finish the current project.

Worse case scenario, just take a short break, like pausing for lunch. Then come back to it later refreshed and raring to go.

Q: A lot of writers seem to struggle with getting into a working groove. Often that involves a mindset and some set of personal rituals. Any interesting habits or quirky little things you need to do in order to mentally prepare yourself for a writing session?

Well, sometimes I wake up in either the middle of the night or for the day with an idea or sequence that I just have to jot down before I lose it. Between the dreams and my thoughts in general, I ‘hear’ everything like an old time radio drama. All the characters, their tone of voice, their mood, emotional state, etc. It’s always a race to transcribe everything.

Otherwise I usually don’t start until after breakfast, and like having music playing low in the background to keep me company and set the tone for that writing session, depending upon what I’m working on at the moment.

Q: Do you have any particular style or format that you prefer to write in?

Not really. I’m comfortable with both first and third person, depending upon the project. Like a lot of detective stories, Hugh Monn is definitely first person while Alpha is in third. There’s trade offs to both. With first person, you can do more personal stuff with your lead/title character since you’re telling the whole story from their perspective while in third person, you can do more foreshadowing and scenes not involving your lead to make the tale larger in scope because you’re not limited to just one point of view.

I would love to get more involved in comic books than just as a reader, but unfortunately that has yet to work out. I keep winding up at startup companies that never seem to get past the “Wouldn’t it be nice if…?” stage and never publish anything before they fold.

Q: Is there any part of writing you aren't comfortable with or even dread?

I need to stretch myself and write more period pieces.

My fear is that no matter how much research I do, I’ll get some minute detail wrong and ruin the story for a reader who knows that era better than I do.

The closest I have come to writing a period piece is the short story “Y-239”, which appeared in the first issue of Pro Se’s Peculiar Adventures. I won’t give away the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but it does give the story a nice twist.

Q: How has being a published author affected you? What, if anything, changed in your life when you first saw your byline on a story or your name on a novel cover?

I have heard author Derrick Ferguson compare the sensation to witnessing the birth of your first child and cannot think of a better analogy myself. To see something you have created out amongst the public…

A short story within an overall publication is one thing, but since Hugh Monn, Private Detective is my first BOOK, when I first saw the jpeg for David Russell’s painted cover, that was a totally unbelievable, mind blowing experience. I kept expecting to wake up any second and discover it was all just a dream. So if I am sleeping, please honor the “Do Not Disturb” sign.

As for what has changed, I have actually started signing autographs and been to conventions as an honored guest instead of just another fan.

I went to the inaugural Pulp Ark convention in 2011 and plan to attend PA 2 in 2012. And if anyone else would like to invite me to anything…

Q: Writing these days—at least for the small independent publications or for the burgeoning self-publishing field—seems to involve a lot of business savvy and self-promotion. Any tips on how to market what you write if you’re working outside the mainstream publishing world?

In the past, I have always been too modest for my own good and preferred to let my work speak for itself. In today’s market, you not only have to toot your own horn, but be able to play every instrument in the orchestra as well.

I’m learning to speak up for myself more and at least let people know when something I wrote is available.

The new technology has allowed the development of the “Print on Demand” sales approach, allowing publishers to keep their overhead and operating costs down, so thankfully that gives budding young writers more chances to have their submissions considered, for the Big Publishers have gotten to the point where they have to be more cautious in taking a chance on a new author before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves. But in this Catch 22 situation, how do you prove yourself without getting published?

The Internet plays a big part of any advertising campaign nowadays, so blog whenever and wherever you can, but always be polite!

Yet also remember this: you are trying to not only build a professional reputation, but relations with your potential readership as well. No matter how much you hype something, it still has to be the best you can do or else you will lose readers fast, regardless of how good the next book might be.

Q: Today’s amazing technology makes a lot of interesting things available to writers. Do you enjoy writing in this age of electronics or do you prefer a more traditional approach to the craft? If you do use today’s technology, in what way does that affect your writing?

I love my PC and there are a lot of good programs and online sites for writers to use. Cutting and pasting in Microsoft Word saves me a lot of rewriting at times when I want to change passages around to see if they will work better in a different arrangement, although I will be the first to admit that it’s also very easy to get distracted by the Internet.

But you also have to remember that no matter how good they are, these are still just tools. No matter how good your PC’s writing program may be, don’t trust the spell check function completely on spelling and grammar, for it does not allow for creative and poetic license. I once tried writing a story with a character named Kat, and spell check kept changing it to Cat.

I started my writing career with just pen and paper and various reference books. From there I worked my way up to a manual typewriter before acquiring my first computer.

I honestly feel that a writer should be able to write no matter what the circumstances. After all, what if you need to work on your current project in the middle of a power outage or if you’re nowhere near your PC when an idea hits?

And I keep all my old reference books because websites are updated all the time, so you run the risk of information getting lost. Doing so certainly helps when you are writing something about either a specific place or time.

Q: Lee, you have also worked as an editor as well as a writer. Can you tell us about some of that work? Generally what an editor does and the different kinds of editing you’ve done?

I feel the editor has the final responsibility to make sure whatever is being published is the best it can be, but basically it comes down to what you are editing.

As Editor-In-Chief of The Free Choice E-zine, I have the final say and responsibility on everything that gets posted. I try to explain every decision to the staff when questioned so they understand where I’m coming from at any given moment.

If I’m just proofreading something, I make a note of all my changes and send the story back to the writer as suggestions. I do that a lot with my friend and writing buddy Nancy Hansen. We trade material back and forth all the time because a fresh perspective usually results in one of us catching a mistake the other might have made on what we’re working on, and thus that always makes the final manuscript better.

I recently co-edited Raye Knight: Spellbound, a comic book miniseries for its writer-creator Victoria Pagac, which is still available from Indy Planet. Comic books are a result of many creative people pooling their talents, so you have to review everything from the first page of the script to the last panel of the finished art.

And when it comes to proofreading my own material, I’m an even worse nitpicking perfectionist.

Q: How do those two components of the publishing field—writing and editing—differ? Where are they similar?

In every case, you not only have to think about how the material looks at the moment, but what the finished product will look like to the readers.

As a writer, it is always at least the SECOND draft of any manuscript that I’m turning in for consideration. But at some point you have to consider the work “done” and submit it. Otherwise you’ll still be working on your very first story when you’re ninety!

Yet while the editor does have the final say, you have to remember that it’s not a dictatorship. You cannot make change just for the sake of doing so. Any altering of the work has to be done with the objective of making the story better.

Q: What kind of things have you learned from editing that you didn’t know as a writer, and vice versa?

Different publishers have different rules. Most refer to them as Standard and Practices. Yet what may be acceptable to one may not be approved by another.

I tried submitting a modern day private eye story once with no luck whatsoever. One publisher told me it was acceptable for the hero to carry a gun, but he should never actually use it while another wanted to know why there were no deaths despite the fact that the private eye got caught in the middle of a shootout in the same story.

That’s why I gave Hugh Monn a Nuke 653 Rechargeable. The most he does with it is stun people.

I feel that writers should be able to tell any moment of a story without getting too graphic. If there’s been a murder, you don’t need to see all the blood and guts to convey that fact. If there’s a romance, you don’t have to convey all the intimate details of a private moment.

After all, your book might initially get sold to its intended audience, but you have no idea what will happen to that copy afterwards, which is why I personally prefer to stay within the PG to PG-13 spectrum of story telling. There are too many tales of “concerned parental groups” out there as it is.

Q: I’m sure we have other aspiring authors out there. What advice would you give them?

First off, save everything. An idea that might not be good now could be a gem tomorrow. That private eye story I mentioned earlier is now part of the first Hugh Monn book.

But above all: DON’T GIVE UP! Unfortunately, that is a lot easier said than done.
If I bothered to save them all, I could wallpaper my whole office with all the rejection slips I received over the years and know how depressing it can be to think you have turned in your best possible work, only to have someone you never met in person reject it without a second thought.

Q: Where can potential readers find your work?

Hugh Monn, Private Detective is available through either Amazon by title search or through Create Space via the following link:

Alpha will be out in 2012, and all the magazines are still available from Pro Se Press at

Q: Any parting thoughts or words of wisdom you’d like to share with us?

Keep reading and learning, no matter what your age. Hang on to your hopes and aspirations, for our dreams are what makes us who we are. Yesterday’s curious child could be tomorrow’s astronaut, writer, or world leader.

Thank you for your time Lee!

My pleasure! Thanks for talking with me.

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