welcomes as our guest, Gerald (Jerry) DiPego. Jerry has written over thirty screenplays including Sharky’s Machine, Message in a Bottle, Phenomenon, The Forgotten, and Words and Pictures.

His five novels include thrillers and the coming-of-age story, Cheevey, which he considers his best novel. Last year his play, 154 and Paradise, was produced at Santa Barbara’s Center Stage. His most recent work Write!: Find the Truth in Your Fiction has just been published.

Good day Jerry and thanks for participating in our interview.

Norm: How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Jerry: I was an early reader, swept up by adventure stories I read and saw on film, captured by these stories and taken away.  It was a kind of magic to me and, by age 12, I was asking myself and the universe “I wonder if I could MAKE this magic, If I could BE the storyteller, and I started, and that exploration of my imagination keeps me going even today.

Norm: What do you think is the future of reading/writing?

Jerry: People are driven to write and to read, to paint and to see paintings, to compose and listen to music, and I believe all of these arts and audiences will change only in form, but the ovens will keep baking and the people will keep happily devouring.

Norm: In your opinion, what is the most difficult part of the writing process? As a follow up, what did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?

Jerry: Most useful to me was the inspiration of great writing, seeing the art flower at its best, reading, watching plays and films that moved me and  drove me on to create.  The least useful were ‘rules.’ There can be no rules for any kind of art, no limitations on what could be.

Norm: In your novels and screenplays, which character was the easiest to write? Most difficult?

Jerry: I wrote a thriller called Keeper of the City, and the Chicago detective was someone who came together more easily for me.  The killer in this novel was a real challenge because I was determined to make him just as rich and complex, with humor and kindness mixing with the horror and psychosis. I think he ended up feeling real and human.

Norm: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

Jerry: The surprise that is humbling and gratifying comes when you see that your work is actually affecting the lives of people, when that letter from a reader finally reaches you, or you mention a title of a book you’ve written, and a stranger responds, and you see that what you created out of your imagination has engaged and captured another soul.

Norm: What do you think most characterizes your writing?

Jerry: At first I was characterized as having a ‘human touch’ and creating characters (even women!) who felt very real. This seemed surprising then, and people took note, and I have built and improved on that, because I’m gripped by the human condition and strive to stay true to that precious human truth - even in fiction.  We want to believe, want to be engaged and follow these characters along the map of the story.

Norm: What is your secret in keeping the intensity of the plot throughout your novels?

Jerry: I believe it’s important to know what’s at stake every moment, on every page. I keep track of the conflict and sink into the reader’s place and feel my way toward heightening the tension, raising the stakes as I move on -- even in a very internal book, like my novel, Cheevey, which was a coming of age of a 20-year-old young man.  The emotional stakes were high.

Norm: Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

Jerry: Victor Hugo taught me, in a quite early read, that the ‘classics’ did not have to be stuffy or feel ‘old’ or staid.  There is so much humor and pathos and drama and adventure in  The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Kurt Vonnegut taught me that you can break the “rules”, you can go where no one has gone, as in Slaughterhouse 5 where his character becomes ‘unstuck in time.’ Then there was the raw power of Steinbeck and the emotional storms of Kazantzakis and Zorba the Greek where the reader is laughing aloud -- and in the next chapter welling up with tears.

Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

Jerry: I grew up in rural Illinois, where it’s so flat we name each little hill ‘cause we have no mountains.  I like saying that when you'd climb one of those hills you could see so far, nothing stopped your sight or your imagination.  I was happy in my solitude, walking and playing in the fields and fantasizing like mad.  My family didn’t really understand my fascination for reading and writing, but they loved me, and that is so freeing.  

Norm: What helps you focus when you write? Do you find it easy reading back your own work?

Jerry:  Nothing is easy about writing, yet I love it.  It truly makes me happy.  I love slipping into that imagination zone, and I need no help staying there.  I come out when I’m hungry -- or the phone rings.  I read some of my work aloud to my wife, and it helps in the sharing, but also helps in the hearing of it.  She only fell asleep once.

Norm: Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan?

Jerry: I’m looser now than when I started, but I still need to create a plan.  I don’t think you can write with full emotion if you don’t know where you're going or what the ending is.  I don’t mean I have to know the details, but I do have to know the the emotion I’m going to end on -- and what is says, what it means.

Norm: What motivated you to write Write!: Find the Truth in Your Fiction?

Jerry: When I stepped back and thought about it, I could see a system, a method involved in my writing toward that ‘human truth’.  I call it ‘emotional realism,’ and I thought this would help writers find the way to making it all ‘feel real.’  The reader wants to engage with your people and care about them so you have to fashion these characters with great care -- and I present samples and exercises to help the readers of my book achieve that same method

Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

Jerry: The goal was the presenting this method of human truth in all its forms, in creating characters and plot and bringing the reader inside, deep inside the story.  It was a real challenge to articulate all that I had learned by doing, all that had become habitual to me. When I really studied my work, the system of building that fictional ‘reality’ became more evident, and I do believe I have presented that -- and in a personal and conversational style.

Norm: Could you briefly tell us a little about the book?

Jerry: By using samples of my novels and screenplays, I show the reader how and why I made all the choices involved.  Writing a book or film or play is a journey of a thousand choices -- each character you form: how old? what level of education? extrovert? Introvert? how do they look? how do they sound?  how do they cross a room?  Plus story and setting choices and tone, and should it be told in first person, in third?  What works best for this story?  It’s a dense forest of choices, and WRITE! Find the Truth in Your Fiction is a guide-book through the woods.

Norm: What projects are you working on at the present?

Jerry: I have just pulled a novel manuscript off the shelf, one that was never published. I want to see if I can make it really sing now, with everything I’ve learned in the last fifteen years since I wrote it.  A good challenge, I think.  I’m excited.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your work?

Jerry: It’s all there on MY WEBSITE:   And they can sample my blogs there, too.

Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?

Jerry:  Norm, the writers who are going to last are the writers who can’t imagine not writing. It’s not a choice to them, or to me.  It’s like breathing -- and that’s what gives you the persistence and the will to learn and improve and go on, and go on.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.