Today we've got something good for you, and it's been a while, so this should be fun.
We have a CHARACTER INTERVIEW!
Woo Hoo! You know it's been a while, but Paul, our guest for today, rolled up his sleeves and threw himself into the daunting task of a character interview. Now you try to imagine pinning your character down long enough to get him to answer a few questions...not an easy task. You are in for a treat.
But first...lets talk about the book, Dropping Stones.
A rising star in the world of politics, he has a city at his feet and a beautiful fiance on his arm. With a power broker behind him, he finds himself on the next rung of the ladder getting ready to take down a sitting United States Senator. But is he equipped to recognize what he has or to handle the power and the fallout when things don't go his way?
"Dropping Stones" is the story of superficial love lost and true love found, set against the backdrop of the brutal world of politics. To love someone, you must first let go of another. If you don't, you could lose it all.
I arrived at the restaurant at 6:25 and sat down at the table. I looked around the room and at the bar to see if there was a woman looking like she was waiting for someone, but I didn’t notice any. The hostess knew who I was, so I wasn’t worried about any potential confusion.
At 6:35, I noticed the hostess walking toward my table with a woman behind her. As they approached, I noticed the tips of this woman’s hair were blue and I looked around to see if there was a blue light giving her hair that tinted glow. No such luck. Her brunette hair was cut in a bob style, about shoulder length, and the last inch of it all around was blue. My date had blue hair. Mental note: kill Diane.
I stood up and managed a smile as they approached. Chelsea didn’t wait for the hostess to introduce us and put forth her hand and said, “You must be the mayor.”
I took her hand. “And you must be Chelsea. Very nice to meet you.” I turned toward the hostess, “Maria, thank you so much.”
Chelsea sat down in the booth and placed her purse next to her. In the better lighting of the booth, my suspicions were confirmed. The tips of my date’s hair were, indeed, blue.
The window at our table provided a view of the street, which still glistened from the day’s rain. A fairly steady stream of people walked by, but the cars were few so it was relatively quiet.
“I’m so sorry I’m late. I wish I had a good excuse. I just don’t,” she said.
“That’s quite alright. Just don’t let it happen again,” I joked.
“Awfully cocky of you already thinking there’s going to be a next time, mister,” she shot back.
Impressive, but her hair is still partially blue.
I chuckled. “Touche’ ”
“Oooh, and he speaks French,” she said, playfully.
“I’ve exhausted my entire French vocabulary with that last sentence, I assure you.”
Chelsea laughed, “Okay. Duly noted.”
The waitress arrived, introduced herself as Megan and handed menus to us. “What can I get you two to drink?”
“Can I just have water with lemon, please?” Chelsea asked.
“Of course. And you, sir?”
“Lemonade, please,” I quickly replied.
“We only have pink lemonade. Is that okay?”
I sighed. “Megan, have you ever seen a pink lemon?”
Megan laughed, “No, sir.”
“Then why would anyone think pink lemonade is a good idea?” I said, only half-jokingly. She continued to chuckle, but from the look on her face she wasn’t sure how she should respond. “Now, you’ve forced me to drink heavily. Bring me whatever lager you have on tap, okay?” I turned to Chelsea, “Do you mind?”
She seemed surprised by the question. “Oh...no...not at all.”
“I’ll bring those right out for you folks,” Megan said.
“Thank you, Megan,” I said.
Chelsea seized on the opportunity to bust me on the pink lemonade exchange. “OK, so mental note: he is insecure about his manhood,” she joked.
“Oh, stop it. I just don’t get pink lemonade. Just make lemonade from lemons. What’s the big deal?”
“You’re a traditionalist, I guess.”
“Are you a psychiatrist? That’s three quick psychoanalysis sessions on me in less than two minutes.”
She laughed. “Not even close. I’m much closer to being the patient than the psychiatrist…no, I’m not. Sorry, didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
Chelsea and I got down to the business of getting to know each other while we looked over the menus.
“So, what do you do?” I asked her.
“I’m a curator at the Schmidt Museum of Art.”
Ah, art museum…The hair makes a little more sense now.
“Oh, very nice. How long have you been there?”
“Just started my fifth year.”
“Congratulations. You must enjoy the work.”
“If I didn’t have to pay my electric bill, I’d work for free.”
“I love hearing that. It’s so important to enjoy what you do for a living.”
“It definitely is. Do you enjoy what you do?”
“It is my calling, I’m convinced,” I said, proudly.
“Good for you.” She paused before continuing, “Now, you’re really the mayor of the city,
I wasn’t sure if she was joking or not. “Guilty as charged.”
“You may not want to use that phrase from what I hear about politicians.”
I chuckled. “Sadly, you’re right. I’m trying to be a different kind of politician, I guess. At least, I hope.”
“Well, then, good for you. Do you live in the city?”
Do I live in the city?!? Is she serious? How is it possible that someone doesn’t know something that basic?
“Um, yeah…that’s kind of a pre-requisite for the job.”
“Oh, is that how it works? I didn’t realize that.”
For the love of all that is sacred and pure, what am I doing here with this flake?
“Yes, you need to be a resident of the town, city, school district, state, etcetera that you want to lead.”
“Oh, okay. Sorry. Politics has never been my thing.”
“Do you vote?”
“I voted once when I turned eighteen. On my birthday, my father made me sign up to vote in exchange for tuition money. I haven’t voted since.”
“May I ask why you don’t vote?”
“I don’t know. I watch the news and these politicians never seem to do anything right. They’re all just yelling at each other and calling each other names. They’re all just a bunch of buttheads, if you ask me.”
“Well, I would hope not all of us are buttheads,” I said sternly but not harshly.
She realized what she implied and put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, I’m sorry.” Then she tapped my hand and continued, “Not you. I’m sure you’re wonderful.”
We both just concentrated on the menu for a while. I knew what I wanted, but I continued to look at the menu to avoid more uncomfortable conversation. Diane will pay for this.
The waitress came back for our order. “Are you two ready to order?”
“I believe we are, Megan. Chelsea?”
“You guys have the best seafood, so I’m going to have the scallops.”
“Very good. And you sir?”
“The New York strip, please. Rare. I want to hear it ‘moo’ when I cut it, okay?” Out of
the corner of my eye, I watched for Chelsea’s reaction. She recoiled a bit. Sarah would have had the steak, too.
I grabbed Chelsea’s menu, placed it on top of mine and handed them to the waitress.
“Thank you, Megan.”
The time between our placing of our order and the arrival of dinner seemed like a painful eternity. I really had no interest in talking to this non-Sarah person. I tried to be polite, but all the topics of conversation that Sarah and I breezed through were just closed roads for Chelsea and me. And the detours were awkward.
When our dinners finally arrived, Chelsea and I continued talking about our backgrounds and all the usual stuff. Nothing really deep, though, since we didn’t have much in common.
There came a lull in the conversation. I turned my head and stared out the window. I shouldn’t be here. I should be with Sarah. She’s out there somewhere and I should be with her. Not here. This woman is keeping me from being with Sarah.
Every car that passed by may have been carrying Sarah somewhere. People walked past the window and I looked for Sarah in each group of them. I lost track of time and how long I was staring out the window, but it was long enough for Chelsea to notice.
“See anything you like?” she asked.
Her voice shocked me out of the stare.
“I’m sorry, Sarah,” I said.
She was playfully forgiving. “Oops. No, no. I’m Chelsea.”
I felt terrible. I shut my eyes and shook my head, “I am so sorry, Chelsea.”
“That’s okay. Is Sarah the ex-girlfriend?”
“Oh, I see,” she said.
I shouldn’t have corrected her. It served no purpose. I should have let it go.
There was another uncomfortable pause in the conversation, probably for the need for her to digest the ‘fiance’’ thing. I tried to think of a way to make up for calling her Sarah, but my mind failed me.
“I love these scallops. I don’t know what they do to them here, but they are the best,” she said, trying to get away from the last topic. “I guess I love just about all seafood.”
“I enjoy most of it…except oysters,” I said, relieved. “I just can’t do oysters. Do you have a favorite?” I asked, only too happy to join her in her quest to put the topic of ex’s behind us.
“That’s an easy one: lobster. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoy lobster. If I’m ever on death row, I’m going to request lobster for my last meal.”
I laughed. “Death row, huh? That’s for murderers. Should I be worried?”
She looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “As long as you never call me Sarah, again, I think we’re good.”
Boy, she packed a lot into that response. She’s good.
Our conversation improved a bit throughout the rest of the dinner and dessert and coffee afterwards. It was still mostly just polite conversation, though. We couldn’t talk politics and we couldn’t talk art. We wandered aimlessly through favorite music and movies, the weather for a third time, then hobbies and our mutual friendship with Diane. At no stop along the way did we find much common ground. I went for the ‘Hail Mary’ and tried to liven things up with a little bold humor.
“Okay, so you’re one of those high-falutin art people. Help me understand something. Why is Picasso thought to be so good? I mean all the people in his paintings have these silly triangle noses. And in some paintings, he put two eyes on the same side of a person’s face. I mean, it seems like he couldn’t even get the basics down.”
Chelsea had just taken a sip of water and had to fight to hold it in. She began laughing hard, but had a mouth full of food and water. Tears started to form in her eyes. She started waving her hand in front of her face, trying to tell me something. Then she pointed to her mouth and waved again. I couldn’t help but to start laughing with her. She then pointed at me and then covered her eyes and I finally realized what she was trying to tell me. Before I could turn my head or get my hand over my eyes, she took her napkin, covered her mouth with it and gently emptied her mouth into the napkin.
It didn’t stop her laughter, though, nor mine. In fact, we seemed to feed off each other and our laughter intensified. She lied down on her side in the booth, still laughing.
She finally composed herself enough and sat back up, wiping tears from her eyes. She reached into her purse and pulled out her cell phone. “I’m sorry. I know this is like one of the ten rudest things a person can do, but I have to text a girl I work with to remind me to tell her about this. I’m sorry,” she said before bursting out laughing, again.
Okay, now I get the feeling I’m being laughed at.
“That was the funniest assessment of Picasso and his work that I ever heard,” she said, her laughter finally coming to an end.
“Well, that’s just one of the services I provide,” I said.
The shared laughter seemed to go a long way in breaking the ice that still remained.
Still nursing our coffees, we talked a bit, but I wanted to get on with the evening. I asked her if she’d like to go for a drink somewhere. She seemed completely uninterested in that and suggested just staying at the restaurant and having one at our table. Yeah, I don’t feel it, either. We’re being nice, but we both know this isn’t going anywhere. Hopefully, we’ll go back to her place, have some fun and be on our merry, separate ways.
We stayed at the restaurant until ten before getting up from the table and walking toward the door. We got to the hostesses’ stand and I asked her to wait for a moment. I saw the busboy, Oliver, and approached him. I pulled a ten-dollar bill from my pocket and shook his hand with it in my hand.
“I love your work ethic, Oliver. Keep making your mom proud, OK?”
He smiled and said, “Thank you, Mayor, but you don’t have to…”
“That’s just for you, ok?”
“Thank you, sir.”
I made my way back to Chelsea and thanked her for waiting.
“Who was that?“ she asked.
“His mom works at city hall. She comes here to work three or four nights a week, too, to make ends meet. Her useless husband was a drug addict and drained their life savings and destroyed her credit, before she finally kicked him out. Oliver hands over just about all of his paycheck to his mom. I feel bad for him. He’s a good kid. He works hard, but doesn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his labor, you know what I mean?”
“That was so nice of you.”
“Well, I started out as a busboy, too, so I have that whole ‘simpatico’ thing going with him.”
We were making our way through the lobby to the exit door when Chelsea burst out laughing again, grabbing my arm to steady herself.
“What now?” I asked.
She composed herself and pointed to the far wall. “That’s a Picasso reprint hanging on that wall.”
I stopped, turned and looked at the painting. “See what I mean?” I said. She laughed again.
So I'm guessing you'd like that character interview about now, but I will ask you to hang on a little longer, and let's take a moment to find out a little about Paul.
Born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, Paul Cwalina is the grandson of immigrant coalminers. By day, he is a financial advisor and an economics geek, who is also a committed political junkie.
Citing Ernest Hemingway's "Farewell to Arms" as the spark that ignited his desire to write, the author is now turning his long-dormant passion and hobby into a way to tell a story to the world.
Paul lives with his wife and children in Drums, Pennsylvania.
We are going to move into our interview, and learn a little more about Paul Cwalina and his novel. (Now would be a good time to grab a cup of coco and throw another log on the fire. Go on, I'll wait.)
Could you share a little about yourself and what led you to become a writer?
Ever since I was a kid, I seemed to have a natural knack for writing. In high school and college, teachers/professors were holding up my writing work as examples of very good writing to the rest of the class. My parents always encouraged me to pursue writing as a profession, but I was young and stupid and thought to myself, ‘You can’t make money writing’. So I went to college and got a degree in marketing and have been in the business world in some form or another since.
My love of writing never left me and I would write short stories, essays and long ‘letters to the editor’ in my spare time. I kept them to myself, for the most part. It was more or less a self-serving hobby. There were also times in my career when public relations was part of my responsibilities, so I was writing press releases and marketing copy, thereby getting my ‘fix’ of writing.
About ten years ago, I wrote a short story that I shared with some friends and family and the reaction I got was overwhelming. That was really the beginning of thinking about actually earning money from writing. Then a couple years ago, I connected with a childhood friend on Facebook who is a published Christian author, and I thought, ‘I wonder if I could write a full novel.’ My first thought was to try to expand the short story I had written into a novel, but quickly abandoned that idea. I moved on to another idea I had for a short story and decided to focus on making it a novel rather than a short story. That story became ‘Dropping Stones’. It always amazes me how authors have this love of writing shoved back behind an old clock on a shelf somewhere, and how it manifests itself over the years. The important thing is, you finally took it down, dusted it off and set it free for all to see. Good for you.
Do you write full time? How much of your life is set aside for writing?
No. I am a full-time financial advisor, but as soon as my novel and its sequel become major motion pictures, I will make writing my full-time profession. Haha, OK, I'll go to your premier if you come to mine!
Most of my writing happens on weekends, but I have learned to write as I am moved, whenever and wherever that is. So, if I am in my office and a scene comes to me, I will write it immediately. I use the memo app on my phone when pen and paper aren’t handy, or call myself and leave a voice mail with the thought/idea that I don’t want to lose or forget.
Could you tell us a little about your novel?
Yes, but I would much prefer that you read it. :) I am so going to borrow that one.
‘Dropping Stones’ follows a young, big city mayor through the challenges of his first term in office, both professional and personal. In the beginning of the novel, he has the golden touch --- an overwhelming election victory, the attention of a power broker that has big plans for his career, and a beautiful finance that would be the ideal political wife as he climbed the ladder.
His character flaws --- self-absorption and an inability to forgive --- are exposed when his personal life begins to unravel, which leads to his professional life unravelling, as well.
There are three main characters and there is a broader theme to each character. There are Christian themes and symbolism throughout the novel, but I don’t think it would qualify as a Christian novel.
It is written in first person in order to put the reader into the mind of the main character/narrator.
Would you take us on a brief tour of your novel and the world you’ve created?
The bulk of the novel takes place in a fictional big city, with a couple chapters spent in St. Croix.
Where does the inspiration for you main character and story come from?
Ernest Hemingway said, “Write about what you know.” I think that is one of the simplest, yet best pieces of advice for which any writer could ask.
I have been a political junkie since my 20’s and served a term on a school board, so I drew from my own experience and personality for the main character.
What is the message behind the story? Was it something you specifically wrote a story around or did it develop as your characters came to life?
The underlying themes of the story are forgiveness and redemption. Both of those themes were in my mind as I began writing the story, but the way they developed in the story was quite organic.
Do you work from an outline or just go with the flow? If you use an outline, how detailed is it?
With ‘Dropping Stones’ I used no outline. It was very organic. Each chapter and scene was a bit of a surprise to me as I wrote them.
With the sequel, however, which I am writing now, I am working from a very high-level outline that has very little detail, just a simple sentence that tells me how the story will progress and what each chapter must accomplish.
What is the time span in your novel, weeks, months, years?
Roughly four years.
Could you tell us how you go about your research, how you ‘catalogue’ information to make it all work?
For ‘Dropping Stones’ there was no real need for research. The sequel, however, will have some scenes set in Washington DC, so I am using Google and Google Maps, as well as contacts/friends that live in or near DC.
How does this book differ from what you have written in the past?
Well, since I had only written short stories in the past, I’d say the main difference is its length. :)
Seriously, the biggest difference is the content. The short stories I had written in the past were comedies, while ‘Dropping Stones’ is a drama with some humor throughout.
How have the changes in present day publishing impacted your schedule as a writer?
As I was writing the novel, my hope was to get it published by a local Christian publisher for which my friend served as acquisition editor. Too much of the novel is secular for their taste, though, and too much of it is Christian for secular publishers. So, I discovered self-publishing and had the book on Amazon in about an hour of deciding to go that route.
With the sequel I plan to go straight to Amazon ebook once it is complete.
How do you handle marketing? Do you have a plan, a publicist or just take one day at a time?
I only published my book three months ago, so I’ve been learning some of the best practices slowly from fellow authors who have enjoyed various levels of success. I’ve learned the following so far: a) keep writing because readers like book series b) Ereader News Today and BookBub seem to be the best places to advertise, c) you have to accept selling at ‘giveaway’ prices until you are established.
Just write something...anything. Get a sentence onto paper and go from there.
Keep writing and stay true to the story you are writing. Don’t try to change it to fit in somewhere or because someone tells you they don’t like it. You have one shot at the novel/story and only you know how it should be written.
Could you tell us what you’re working on now?
I am about forty percent done with the sequel to ‘Dropping Stones’. The working title is ‘Kingmaker’ and it will pick up the story where ‘Stones’ leaves off. I am planning to release it in the Spring.
Thank you, Paul. That was very interesting. AS for you, beloved readers, NOW, we can get on with the character interview. Enjoy...
Interviewer: We just read about your first date with Chelsea. Tell us what your impressions of that evening were.
Mayor: Oh, man, all I wanted to do was to get it over with and get out of there. Diane, my assistant, set us up on this blind date, and I honestly don’t know what she was thinking. We were complete opposites. She didn’t even vote or participate in the political process and politics is my life.
Interviewer: Were you not attracted to Chelsea?
Mayor: I was...very much so. She was beautiful, but she was an artistic type and had the tips of her hair dyed blue. If you’re in politics, you can’t be seen hanging around someone like that, let alone dating a woman like that. If you want to advance and get elected to higher offices, you need a good political wife. That was Sarah. Sarah was the woman that could help me get elected. Simply dating her probably helped me get elected mayor.
Interviewer: But you continued to date Chelsea...
Mayor: Yeah, but I kept her at a distance. I was killing time, really, until Sarah came to her senses.
Interviewer: Chelsea didn’t see it that way, though, did she? She fell in love with you.
Mayor: Yeah, she did. Further and harder than I even realized. Worse, I guess I never realized how much I loved her, either. (pauses) You know, I’m getting a little uncomfortable with these questions about Chelsea. Can we please change subjects?
Interviewer: Oh, I’m sorry. Are you okay?
Mayor: Yeah. I’ll be fine.
Interviewer: Would you like a tissue?
Mayor: No, thank you. I’ll be fine.
Interviewer: Okay, let’s move on, then. Let’s talk about Sarah. You had quite a confrontation with her in your office. Can you tell us about that?
(Stands to applaud) Thank you once again, Paul. That was great.
If anyone wants to get in touch with Paul, follow him or purchase a copy of his novel, the links are listed below...along with the link to his trailer.