Persona Non Grata by Stephen Stirling – Author Interview

persona non

 

Persona non grata coverPersona Non Grata

Paladin Smith is just that—a paladin, a chivalrous knight, a heroic champion, a defender of a noble cause. In spite of his callous exterior, he’ll never abandon a woman he perceives to be in distress— especially this one. Trust me. Our Mr. Smith fully intends to rescue Victoria Grant.”

Paladin Smith seems to be an ordinary high school history teacher—and LDS seminary instructor. But Paladin’s checkered past comes back to haunt him when an unexpected visitor shows up in his classroom with news about a former student, Victoria Grant, who’s all grown up—and in trouble.

Now Paladin is going to Crimea, in former Soviet Russia, with an uncomplicated task: find Victoria Grant and bring her home. But when his simple mission thrusts him headlong into an international conspiracy and a countdown to invasion, Paladin finds himself on a collision course with the American embassy, the royalty of Crimea, and the powers of Eastern Europe.

Dive into a world of corrupt diplomats and ambitious tyrants as Paladin follows the Spirit to not only rescue an old friend, but also to save a free people from the jaws of dictatorship. Paladin Smith and Victoria Grant are about to change the world.

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StephenAuthor Stephen J. Stirling

Stephen J. Stirling was born in Los Angeles, California and grew up in the Southeast LA semi-ghetto of Huntington Park. Graduating from high school in 1970, he received a scholarship to Brigham Young University at the age of 17. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism in 1976, and then spent the next few years wandering America in search of adventure. Interspersed through his college career and days on the road, he served a mission in Chile and taught for 8 years as an early morning seminary teacher. Settling briefly in Chicago, he entered the profession of advertising, a field in which he ultimately held many positions with companies from the Mid West to the Pacific Coast. He eventually planted roots in Orange County, California, where he established Stirling Communications and spent 15 years as a freelance copywriter, scriptwriter, and video producer. In 1994 he was hired by the Church Educational System and relocated with his family to Gilbert, Arizona, where he has fulfilled a lifelong dream of teaching released-time seminary for the past 20 years. He and his wife, Diane, were married in 1981 and are the parents of five children – Jennifer, Lindsey, Brooke, Marina, and Vladimir. Brother Stirling is the author of several books, including The Ultimate Catalogue and Shedding Light on the Dark Side.

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Interview

If you could travel in a Time Machine would you go back to the past or into the future?

The past.  It intrigues me and there are glimpses of beauty there that I would like to experience first-hand.  In addition, I know what to expect from the past.  I have no idea what to expect from the future. (Or, better said, I have an idea of what to expect from the future – and it doesn’t look pretty.)  Now, I might like to take a quick look at the future, just for curiosity’s sake.  But all things considered, I try to relate with time as my father taught me.  “Learn from the past, live in the present, and prepare as best you can for the future.”


If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would you choose?

Wow!  Let me see, I would invite Abraham Lincoln, the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith, Saint Augustine, Wolfgang Mozart and C.S. Lewis.  I might also set a place for Mark Twain – just to keep conversation lively.  I would serve hamburgers.

 

When you were little, what did you want to be when you “grew up”?

When I was little, I always wanted to become a writer – seriously.  I always had a story in my head.  When I was a teenager I decided to become a seminary teacher.  I’ve had the opportunity now to have both dreams fulfilled.

 

Tell us about your family.

My wife, Diane, is my most trusted source of feedback and the best editor I know.  My oldest daughter, Jennifer, was a championship runner and is a world-class orchestra trumpet player. My youngest, Brooke, is a budding author, and the most talented creative writer I have read.  Another daughter, Marina, is an innovative acrylic artist.  My son, Vladimir, has many personal gifts.  My middle daughter is hip-hop violinist, and YouTube sensation, Lindsey Stirling.  They are all good, kind people.  But it is a challenge to keep up in a family of such high achievers.

 

What are the top 3 things on your bucket list?

I have surprisingly accomplished most of the items on my bucket list.  A few remain.  I would like to visit the Holy Land.  I want to take my wife on a mission to Africa.  I hope to retire to my farm in Missouri.  And I still dream of writing a screenplay for a major motion picture.  (That’s four isn’t it?  Oh, well, it’s a big bucket.)
What is one book everyone should read?

Everybody on the planet should read Lord of the Rings – all three volumes.  It’s a must.

 

What is the happiest moment in your life so far.

I was pretty elated on my wedding day.  That may be the biggest.  Close on its heels (and tied for second and third place) were, (1) the morning I was hired to teach seminary, and (2) the day I learned that Persona Non Grata was to be published.  Honest.
Which do you like writing best – fiction or non-fiction?

Well, fiction.  My last book, written in 1013 was Shedding Light on the Dark Side.  It was a non-fiction book on the nature and reality of Satan.  The subject matter itself was ponderous, and the book needed to be well-documented.  It was written in a voice that the reader to enjoy, but had to be constructed cautiously.  Now Persona Non Grata is another story.  As a novel, it still had to be carefully researched, but the medium gave me plenty of latitude to play god and take the story creatively where I wanted it to go.  Writing a novel was fun.  All things considered, Shedding Light was probably the more important book, but Persona Non Grata is still the project I always wanted to write and publish.

 

Please tell us in one sentence only, describe your book?

Persona Non Grata is a blend of political intrigue, international action, and miraculous power set in a world of danger where it is possible for one man to stand up for something – and change history.
Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.

It’s fun.

 

Who or what inspired your book?
Persona Non Grata has been bouncing around in my brain in some form for years.  It’s germinal inception came from the movie, Lawrence of Arabia.  Over the years I’ve been continually impressed with the life of T.E. Lawrence and the impact one individual can make on the world.  Paladin Smith is cut from the same cloth as Lawrence, and his life moves forward with the same kind of destiny.

 

How long do you generally let a story idea ‘marinate’ in your brain before you start the book?

That’s a tough question because my mind is always marinating. (My Paladin Smith – T.E. Lawrence connection is a working example.) My approach to writing resembles Newton’s approach to invention.  When asked how he arrived at the Law of Gravity he replied, “By thinking about it all the time.”

 

Where did the title to your book come from?

Persona Non Grata is a diplomatic term.  It is Latin and means “an unacceptable or unwanted person.” Technically, the status of persona non grata withdraws from an individual any diplomatic or legal protection abroad. When our protagonist, Paladin Smith, defies the scheming leadership of Crimea as well as his own corrupt embassy, he is officially declared persona non grata – along with the warning, “You are on your own.”  “I’m never on my own,” is his reply.

 

Do your friends or enemies ever find themselves in your books?

I’m afraid so.  But the only character in the book who seems recognizable is me. I’ve been frequently accused of patterning Paladin Smith after myself.  But that’s ridiculous because Paladin is taller.

 

What’s your biggest challenge as a writer? How do you overcome it?

I think most casual writers are lazy. Only the exceptional among us really know how to work hard, and those are the ones that are successful.  Rod Serling once suggested that when you have a problem with a story, don’t leave the typewriter  until you resolve it.  That takes a tremendous amount of resolve, but it is great advice?

 

Do you prefer to write in silence or with music?

I prefer to brainstorm with music. Music creates mental images, emotions of characters and whole scenes of action.  Music is part of my creative, generative process. It sets my mind free and inspires my soul. It’s almost a form of leisure. But once the imaginative effort is done, then it’s time to turn off the stereo and get to work. And it is work.  I need silence to write.

 

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Writer’s block is another issue.  When attacked by this carnivorous beast sometimes the best thing to do is to leave.  Take a walk, get a snack, or even retire for the evening.  The important thing is to give your subconscious enough data to work on while you take a break.  Then, as Einstein put it, “the solution will politely tap you on the shoulder while you are eating an apple and say, ‘Here I am.’”  It works that way.

 

Do you write as you go or do you have the book all planned out from page 1?

I learned from scriptwriting the value of working from an outline.  It ensures both structure as well as content, yet allows enough flexibility for the story to still take on a life of its own.  That applies to fiction and non-fiction.

 

How do you go about revising/editing?

I give the finished product to my wife, Diane.  She is the best editor I know, with a great command of style as well as English grammar.  She is also merciless in her pursuit of a readable manuscript – which can make the revision process a very painful experience.
What makes your novel standout from the crowd?

Persona Non Grata is a unique fusion of political intrigue and divine intervention – the blending of action adventure with modern-day miracles.  Paladin Smith, the everyman main character, fills the role of a religious and morally-straight hero, without the hackneyed Hollywood stereotype of pious fanaticism. Persona Non Grata is an entertaining read about a man placed in an international crisis, who meets the challenge with courage and muscle – as well as faith and prayer.

 

Any other books in the works? Goals for future projects?

Actually, Persona Non Grata is the first book in a five part series. (It’s a delightful progression of adventures.)  Two sequels have already been written, and each one gets better than the last.
About how long does it take to write a book?

Persona Non Grata came together in an amazing four months.  Perhaps that is because I’ve been thinking about the concept for so long.  Even so, the final story was like nothing I‘d conceived before.  And it turned out impressively well-structured and well-expressed.  The book is a miracle.  Now the sequels have taken a little longer, but that is another ongoing story.

 

What’s one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?

Read great literature and write.  Write constantly.  Keep a personal journal.  When you don’t think you have anything meaningful to write, write anyway.  The two most important rituals I established in my life were to always have a book I was actively reading and to write every day.

 

 

This or That

TV or Movies? – Movies.  Television has become a vast wasteland.
Hot or Cold? – Cold.  You can always put more on, the you can’t always take more off.
Night owl or early bird? – It’s a question of discipline.  I would like to be an early bird, but. . .
Chocolate or Vanilla? – Duh?  Because chocolate is – chocolate!
City or Country? – Country.  Open space, fresh air, and less than 100 people per square mile.
Beach or Pool? – The beach, because you can’t surf in a pool, even in the deep end.
Cats or Dogs? – Dogs.  Their love is unconditional.
Heads or Tails? – Tails.  Always tails!
Print or Ebook? – Book.  There’s something special about the feel of pages & the smell of ink.
Text  or Talk? – Talk.  I know it’s out of vogue, but if we lose the nuance and power found in the art of conversation, we are doomed as a civilized society

 

Top Five Lists

Favorite Books

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Grapes of Wrath – by John Steinbeck

 

Favorite Movies

Casablanca

Gone With the Wind

Citizen Kane

It’s a Wonderful Life

The Quiet Man

 

Classic Characters from The Golden Age of Television

Mr. Spock from Star Trek

Lieutenant Columbo from Columbo

Archie Bunker from All in the Family

Preacher Jim from Taxi

Eddie Haskel from Leave it to Beaver