How did you come up with the title Beyond the Precipice for your book?
I wanted a title that nailed the content of the book but also had a deeper or dual meaning. Beyond the Precipice is both physical and metaphorical. The double-meaning idea was inspired by the book and movie The Other Side of the Mountain, based on the true story of champion skier Jill Kinmont, who became paralyzed after a near-fatal accident a year before the 1956 Winter Olympics and had to find a new way to live after the life-altering event.
What is “the precipice”?
The dictionary defines precipice as 1. “a cliff with a vertical, nearly vertical, or overhanging face,” and 2. “a situation of great peril.”
In the physical sense, Bret’s life takes a sharp turn for the worse after a mountain accident kills his father. In the metaphorical sense, Bret stands on the precipice of his future. The decisions he makes on this threshold of adulthood will determine how his life unfolds. If he has faith in himself as well as in those who try to help him, will he fly? Can he confront, process, and move beyond the past that haunts him?
The past chased him to this figurative cliff edge, but now he has run out of time and ground. His life has hit a fork in the air: he will either fall or leap beyond. The result depends on whether he can master himself in time, and trust once more.
Are you a musician? How important is music to your story in Beyond the Precipice?
Yes, I am a musician. I’ve recently returned to classical guitar, and over the course of my life I’ve played eight instruments from the keyboard, string, and wind families, which is a broad spectrum. Am I Bret? Not by a long shot. But music is something of a food group for me.
As for importance to the story, a reader can substitute any passion for music, and the logistics are the same. That’s what makes the story universal. But in the specific sense, music is the personal element I bring to give the book its own flavour, unique character, and living element.
Do you write to music? If so, to what artists or genres?
No, I need silence to hear my own words in my head, and music, which commands attention of its own, is a distraction. But most of my scenes, conflicts, or main story line are generated while listening to music. Beyond the Precipice was created to a vast array of genres–Classical, Rock, Symphonic Metal, New Age, Electronic, World Music, Celtic, Theatre, and Folk–that range from dark to beautiful. (Playlist)
What inspired you to become a writer?
Michael Hope, assistant principal bassoon for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, states about music: “I actually didn’t choose music. Music chose me.” Similarly, I didn’t choose writing. Writing chose me, back around the time I developed conscious memory, around age two. Consequently, I write 24/7, consciously or unconsciously observing my environment through the lens of a writer, selecting and reworking characters, motives, emotions, conflicts, and plots.
I’ve found that age and experience are an advantage, and adversity writes a better novel.
Where do you get your ideas? Do you have any tips for writers?
Everything—absolutely everything—is fodder. Writing is like building with Lego®. You take the blocks of humanity and recombine them to make new structures, tell new stories. Or a novel is a sculpture. It is the recycled clay of the human condition crafted with unique detail. I start with characters and emotion, and build motives and plot around that emotion.
Tips for writers? Here are 14 of them: “14 Tips to Inspire Your Writing.”
What books or movies is Beyond the Precipice similar to?
Beyond the Precipice has overtones (no pun intended) of Dead Poets Society, Stand By Me, Lion King, Amadeus, Good Will Hunting, and a few others.
Why do readers find your protagonist Bret a compelling character to care about?
Perhaps because, even though Bret is gifted on many fronts, he has character flaws. He is conflicted, damaged by his childhood, and undervalues every aspect of himself. Giftedness for him is a sentence, not an advantage. His friend Scott sees how far he could take his musical talents and his better looks, but Bret has more pressing things to worry about. He tries hard but stumbles like the rest of us, if not more. He struggles through a difficult youth with the goal of doing some good in the world, even vindicating himself. His heart is in the right place, but he is all too aware that just by being himself, he has already hurt people.
When Nicole and the Willoughby family enter his life, he does not want his life to affect or hurt them, but the striking contrast between Nicole’s family and his own drive him to a breaking point. How he handles this and the decisions he makes at this time determine his future. His family difficulties, the responsibilities that come with adulthood, and his struggle to find his path in life are relatable.
Did you write Beyond the Precipice to entertain readers? To teach? To deliver a message?
I wrote Beyond the Precipice because it had many messages—issues I had studied, observed, and harboured much of my life in one form or another. I hoped to illuminate what young adults such as Bret, and older adults such as Kyra, his mother, face in our society because of attitudes and beliefs about human potential, money, and education. It is a complex story of character, revolving around social and family dynamics and values, and incorporates the psychology of grief, guilt, rejection, and abuse against a backdrop of the life-giving power of unconditional love, forgiveness, and the importance of being be true to oneself. It is a dark story, but readers find the hope within.
Beyond the Precipice is not the light read it appears to be, and requires some life experience to fully appreciate. Certain readers identify with the family and career dynamics of Bret’s life, or have even faced their own death situations. They range in age from thirteen to over seventy, and each group defines a different message in terms of what the story means to them. In the end, it’s up to the reader to decide what to take from the story.
Why do you write in your chosen genre(s)? – or – Is there a central message you are trying to get across in all your writing?
Although I grew up with science fiction and preferred adventure and outdoor survival stories (e.g., Lost in the Barrens) as a child, the bulk of my writing falls under literary interpretive fiction/psychological suspense and revolves around themes of social and family dynamics and struggles.
I balance the tragedies in my books with hope, and in some cases, my supporting characters provide little known or used solutions that go a long way toward helping younger adults, if applied. For that I thank my parents’ insights.
In my interview with award-winning Texas author Patty Wiseman, I state, “When I wrote my novel, Beyond the Precipice, it became clear to me that my parents’ attitudes toward supporting education and investing in people had a profound effect on me—a legacy I’ve carried forward with my own four children.”
In “A Writer’s Journey,” guest article for highly recommended UK proofreader Louise Harnby, I write, “… as time went on, I incorporated a number of messages I had about the complex world of family dynamics, unconditional love, aspirations of kids as they grow into adults, human error, guilt, and forgiveness. Beyond the Precipice became the book’s title, which has a meaning both physical and metaphorical. The novel also unveils the unfortunate reality of how money determines whether a young person disappears into obscurity or goes on to live a full, successful life—and that sometimes we simply can’t do it on our own; we need the help of others who believe in us.”
Druyan, a fantasy adventure novel that is still in progress, is quite different from Beyond the Precipice, but still contains my values about education, loyalty, and the inner strength a person possesses when someone in early life believed in him or her.
What other writing have you done?
I have written guest blogs about writing and published articles about parenting, education, travel, how-to, and business.
In the fiction world, my darker short-shorts, sci-fi, and paranormal stories appear here, along with a few articles. More recently, I was lured by a contest to try my hand at children’s and teen’s writing, and my first attempt, “Peace Giver,” became one of the featured stories of the month on Storybird.
What are you working on next?
Beyond the Music is in progress, but its completion is delayed by the upcoming Second Edition of Beyond the Precipice. The first draft of Druyan, a fantasy adventure that has been far easier to write than the Beyond books, is nearly complete and ready for revision, beta reading, professional editing, and production. More recently, the novelette Ironclad has taken form and is about half written.
Over the years, I had written a collection of parenting/educator articles that I would like to adapt for a non-fiction book. Chapters would include material from “The Awesomeness of Teens: 10 Tips For Parents,” “The Forgotten Years: Upper Elementary, Grades Five and Six,” “Can Your Child Picture Time?” (early to mid-elementary), “Nip It Now and Avert the Dragon” (toddlers), and “Bank On It” (teaching children about money).
Finally: Mozart or Beethoven?
Apples and oranges. Can’t compare.
Short stories, articles, and other writing links appear under page tabs.