Sunday, January 15, 2023

Author Interview Duane Simolke / Book Review 'The Acorn Stories'

UPDATE 3/3/2023 - this post won a Most Popular Authors Award


I'm delighted to start the new year with an author who is celebrating a special anniversary of his first book 'The Acorn Stories'. So let's start with Duane introducing himself to you:  
'I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, but now live in Lubbock, Texas. Stories always fascinated me, but in college, I also discovered a love for the words that made those stories possible.

2023 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of when The Acorn Stories was first published! Even before then, my writing had appeared in numerous journals, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, etc. Throughout the years, I’ve heard from countless people who enjoyed my writing for one reason or another. I’m grateful for that support and for the new readers who are still discovering my work. I’m also a big fan of science fiction, rock music, and food.'

A man after my own heart! He's created a tweetable for you below (tweet here):

'Texas author @DuaneSimolke writes #Fiction, #ScienceFiction, and more, with diverse casts and dashes of comedy. #WritersOfTwitter'

He has written ten books which are mostly fiction and science fiction, but he's also written in other genres, including poetry and fantasy. His first book was published in 1998 and he's an Indie author. He explains, 
'We’re discussing The Acorn Stories, my first published book. I had actually drafted two novels and various shorter works before that, though. I later edited and co-wrote a fundraising spin-off, The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer. That book includes a few characters and settings from The Acorn Stories, but some of the stories are completely unrelated to it. Acorn served more as a launching point for The Acorn Gathering.

I have no plans for revisiting Acorn, so that’s as close as it gets to a series; then again, I never know what ideas will hit me.'

I was fascinated that the spin-off was released as a fundraiser but as I'd not heard of Writers Uniting Against Cancer, I asked him to tell us more abut the charity and his decision to go this route: 
'I had lost loved ones to cancer and knew others who had as well. Reacting creatively sounded better than just feeling helpless. Other creatives who liked The Acorn Stories had contacted me previously, and I wondered about bringing some of the characters back in stories that would still work for people who never read the original. I contacted those other creatives and posted my ideas on writer sites. A few writers sent me stories they had already written. Though they didn’t have anything to do with Acorn, most of them were just too amazing to refuse. 

The finished book starts in Acorn but then reveals the lives of people in many other places. Aside from me, none of the writers knew each other, but The Acorn Gathering feels like we all authored our separate stories together. Something connective and compelling emerged. I arranged for iUniverse to publish it print-on-demand and donate the royalties to the fight against cancer. I wouldn’t try something like The Acorn Gathering again, but I’m glad I did and love how it turned out.'

Oh wow, that's such a great idea! So, what inspired Duane to write his first Acorn book?  
'An interest in the people of small towns, the ways their lives intersected, and the ways the different people spoke. I spent much of my childhood outside a small town in North Louisiana. I wrote the first couple of stories in the book while attending college in Nashville, Tennessee. Later, I moved to Texas and wrote more stories in a fictional town I named “Acorn.” West Texas became the perfect setting for the collection, and I drew from the landscape.'
It sounds like Duane's a people-watcher (as most novelists are!) so does he have a method of noting things he sees or hears for use in future works?   
'I jot down notes anywhere and later copy them in a notebook. The past few years, I’ve even taken to emailing them to myself.'

And what happens first, creating a plot from scratch and slotting in these characters/ scenes, or do the characters become the driving force and a story is created around them?
'There’s no set formula for me on how to start a story. I've used both approaches, and some of The Acorn Stories even grew from an idea I had for how to tell a story. Also, some of the stories surfaced from the ones I had already written. Characters, settings, and more called to me for revisiting.'

And 25 years is such an achievement! How does he feel about the milestone?  
'Thanks! I can’t believe The Acorn Stories has reached 25 years since its initial release! While it took quite a while to find an audience, many people all over the world have discovered it and related to it. It’s a special year for me. 
The Acorn Stories is a story collection, not a novel, but it often blurs those lines. Many of the narratives connect through overlapping characters, settings, or storylines, but I wrote each story where it could stand alone. I actually imagined and added the final story, “Acorn Pie,” after I thought the book was finished. It brings together more of those threads.

Despite the diverse cast and experimental moments, it’s my most mainstream book and the one I suggest for readers who want to sample my work. Acorn might remind them of their home town or introduce them to someone they wish they could meet in real life.'
And if he were to write this book now, being so much more experienced, would he do anything differently?
'I’ve made minor, sentence-level tweaks to it over the years, but I never wanted to change more than that. I’m sure I would write a much different book now. I’ve learned a lot about life and writing since then, but I’m afraid I would make it less experimental and set it the present, instead of the nineties. I was at the right time of my life to write The Acorn Stories.' 
And what about reviews - does he read them and how does he find them?
'I always read them and try to learn from them. Some hurt, honestly, and some people make cruel comments within reviews. However, most of the ones I receive are simply reactions to the work that help readers decide if they would want to give the book a try. I usually enjoy hearing those reactions.'
What does Duane enjoy the most about writing? 
'The revision. My early drafts tend to include a lot of summary and rush through the scenes. I like going back and exploring those scenes more, adding more dialogue, physical details, and conflict.'
Gosh, I think that's a first time that's been said to me! So what about the hardest part?
'Too much book promotion's already out there. It’s like screaming into an echo chamber. The actual writing is fun and engaging.'
How does Duane select the names of his characters? 
'For my fiction, I try out different names until I find one that seems to fit the character, like parents naming a baby. For scifi and fantasy, I create original names but then try to make them easy to pronounce and remember.'

If he could go back in time, what would he tell his younger writing self?
'Don’t bother with lyric writing, because you have no musical talent. Focus on writing in narrative form and developing your characters. During my teens and early twenties, I wasted a lot of time trying to break into the music business as a songwriter, which wasn’t an option for someone who only wrote the lyrics and had no way of performing them. Guitar lessons and vocal lessons didn’t help me.

Still, I majored in English, with a focus on literature. From a practical standpoint, I probably should have majored in journalism or technical writing, but I love books and always will.'

I ended the interview asking about what he's writing now:  
'I’m currently writing a science fiction novel, so I’m in a completely different genre from The Acorn Stories.'
That is different! Are there any sci-fi authors who have inspired him? 
'H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Edgar Rice Burroughs helped me fall in love with books; I had mostly read comics before reading them. I later discovered other amazing science fiction writers, but those three influenced and inspired me in my early writing. I prefer watching or reading science fiction or fantasy, but I also like good stories in general.'

Hear, hear!  Before we ended, I asked Duane for a tweet that promotes The Acorn Stories (tweet here):

'When the sky was falling, they found each other in one special town. Discover @DuaneSimolke’s #TheAcornStories. #BookTwitter'

And an extract of one of his favourite parts of the book (tweet here)(From the closing story, “Acorn Pie.”)

'People tell me a little more than they should. Well, a lot more than they should. Actually, people tell me way too much. Or they say too many things where I can hear them, which is just the same as telling me, as far as I'm concerned.'


I was looking forward to reading this book as short stories mean you can dip in and out (which is great for a hectic lifestyle!) and it was also set in small town America, so I was pretty sure it would be quite different from the UK!

The first thing I loved about the book was Duane's writing style - it's so accessible and entertaining. I was instantly sucked into the worlds of our protagonists, and they are so varied, but that's the joy of this book. You have no idea who you're going to meet next - some you love, others you hate. There are a wide range of ages, sexes and backgrounds - just as in a real rural town - and by the end, I almost felt like I was living in the fictional Acorn too!

Now, it's tricky chatting about short stories without giving away spoilers, but what I will say is that you'll meet a diverse group of 'real' people, each facing their own (and very different) challenges. You will get caught up in their stories and go through the whole gamut of emotions. I swung from sad to happy, angry to laughing out loud - Duane really does make you feel for his characters which is such a skill when you consider the word count for each story. 

He doesn't shy away from tough subjects either but what makes this book stand out from others is the clever way he ties the tales together, their stories interweaving because they all live in the same small town (so of course their lives will intersect at some points). It makes the whole book cohesive and it's a very clever idea. 

I'd definitely recommend buying this book, it's a fascinating study of people living in small towns and very enjoyable to read. If you'd like to find out more the author, please visit Duane's links below: