Where did the story idea for Someone to Watch Over come from?

The story was inspired by my father’s unexpected passing, an event I called upon in the book to set Lennie and John on their journey of reconnection. My mom and four siblings asked me to write and deliver dad’s eulogy. It was an emotionally overwhelming time. I began to question whether I could do it. I mean, how could I adequately capture the span of his life when, I realized too late, I didn’t feel like I really knew him—and I mean all of him. That is, I knew him only as Dad. But he had a whole life of hopes and dreams before I or my brother and sisters came along. I began to wonder what those years were like for him. Did the years unfold the way he thought they would? There were so many basic questions I never thought to ask about his life because I was busy building my own. I suppose like most people, I always thought there would be more time to talk with him about the part of his life I never knew. But I never got the chance.

Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?
My nose was always in a book as a kid. I won a blue ribbon in a writing competition in sixth grade, so that felt pretty good! Then I started writing poetry in high school, which I had always intended to turn into songs as a member of a rock band I was in at the time. But I never did, so now I have a big bag of old poetry in my music room closet. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school. I was working on a loading dock in the hundred-degree Florida heat, and that taught me what I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life. I recalled the natural kind of joy I felt when writing, so I went back to school to study journalism, and I worked my way up on a couple of magazine staffs until I was the editor at the University of Florida magazine. There, we did a piece on a faculty member in the English department, a Southern grit lit writer named Harry Crews, who helped define that genre. He was a fascinating guy who sat on his front porch and wrote in longhand on a legal pad. He got me thinking about trying narrative fiction.

How did you learn screenwriting or how to write a novel?

After graduating from the University of Florida, I worked as a magazine writer and editor. Then, I had a chance to write my first screenplay after my wife and I moved to Athens, Georgia, which was produced as a feature film called Captiva Island, which featured Academy Award-winning actor Ernest Borgnine. I had never written a screenplay before. So, I approached it based on an understanding of music theory, which I had taken in college. I write and play music, and I sensed parallels between songwriting and storytelling, both of which create emotional experiences rooted in expectations and defying those expectations. There are structures and movement, set-ups and resolves. It was great that the film had international appeal. It was distributed in 36 countries, was translated into four languages and aired domestically on HBO Family, Showtime, and Starz.

After Captiva Island, I began to study the screenplay narrative form, which is essentially the three-act structure of most films. And, it turns out, it can generally apply to novels as well. Knowing screenwriting helped immensely writing the book because I was able to transition the story’s three-act, screenplay structure into a different literary form built on the same structure. And I worked with a wonderful editor who helped me transition from thinking as a screenwriter to thinking as a novelist. There’s a huge difference between the two literary forms: screenplays are written from the outside-in, and novels are written from the inside-out. I thought writing screenplays was hard and, no doubt, it has its challenges because of the necessary economy of language and time restrictions, but writing this first novel was a heavy lift. In a screenplay, you’re painting visual impressions with a broad brush, but in a novel you have to paint every little piece of the canvas.

How long did it take you to write Someone to Watch Over?

The story actually began its life as a screenplay I wrote living in Athens, Georgia, where I was working as a freelance writer. The script had won or had top finishes at an array of industry and film festival writing competitions, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting Program.

I wanted the eyes of Southern readers on it because it’s set in the South, and I wanted to make sure it resonated in its authenticity. I entered it in screenwriting competitions at the Nashville Film Festival, the Asheville Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival, Worldfest-Charleston and the Charleston International Film Festival, where it either earned the Best Screenplay award or had a top finish.

The story seemed to consistently resonate with judging panels, so I thought perhaps I had a strong tale to tell and should present it to a larger audience of readers. I decided to write Someone to Watch Over as a novel based on what turned out to be the screenplay’s solid three-act structure. It was a great outline to work from, and I wrote a number of drafts of the book, honing it into the form of a novel.