Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Same Six Questions - Charlie & Diane Winger

Hello and welcome to another edition of The Same Six Questions! Today, we've got a little change of pace. Charlie and Diane Winger bring to us their nonfiction writing. Welcome!

Thanks, Andy! We live in western Colorado and are authors of recreational guidebooks that reflect our passion for hiking, climbing, camping, traveling, and spending as much time outdoors as possible. Recently, we took the plunge into self-publishing with Charlie's highly-adventurous autobiography. We're both retired computer geeks who refuse to act our age.

The (Sorta) Same Six Questions

1. Have you published a book yet?

Yes, after going the traditional route on our 3 guidebooks, we opted to self-publish Charlie's autobiography, Two Shadows - The inspirational story of one man's triumph over adversity. We wanted the editorial control that we knew we wouldn't have through a traditional publisher, and felt that Diane's experience in publicizing our earlier books, along with her proofreading experience, made it feasible to self-publish.

Charlie originally conceived of Two Shadows as being a fictional account based on his adventurous life. After a surprising incident when he was traveling to Canada for an ice climbing adventure, but was refused entry due to a felony conviction 50 years earlier (yes, that's 50 as in "half a century"), followed by two life-changing events, we agreed that his story should be told "straight up" as a memoir.

This autobiographical book is filled with Charlie's adventures during 35 years of mountaineering, climbing rock & ice, and world travel. People who have met Charlie, attended one of his slideshows, or read our guidebooks will recognize his knack for telling stories. Some are hair-raising, some are a little crazy, and some will have you laughing out loud.

Two Shadows is about more than climbing. It is the story of a boy who grew up in an atmosphere of neglect and abuse. He made numerous bad choices in life which resulted in his being sentenced to prison at age eighteen. While incarcerated, Charlie turned his life around. Upon his release, he began a successful career in information technology. He also discovered a passion for the mountains, and went on to climb peaks all around the world, as well as literally hundreds of summits within the United States.

Two Shadows is available through The Winger Bookstore, as well as through major booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

2. When did you know you wanted to be travel writers?

While we've both dabbled in writing things like technical articles and articles about our climbing adventures, we didn't really think of ourselves as "travel writers" until a local small publisher asked us to write a guidebook on climbing peaks in Colorado. We convinced them to let us change the topic to cover the highpoints of the 50 states, which worked out beautifully since we had recently decided that we wanted to climb (or visit -- the highpoint of Kansas is hard to classify as a "climb") each of those highpoints anyway. Traveling and compiling all the information turned out to be great fun, and collaborating on writing the book was an enjoyable adventure of its own.

Another publisher -- more suited to adventure travel -- picked us up and we talked them into letting us write guidebooks about other places we loved to visit. Fortunately, that publisher also enjoyed our humorous writing style and gave us free rein to keep the books fun and to express our own personalities in our writing. There was a lot of work involved, but we had a blast working on the books.

3. What was your first lengthy piece of writing (say, >1000 words)? What was it about? When did you write it? Do you still have it?

Charlie has been writing short stories for decades, many of which he thought might morph into chapters for a fictional version of Two Shadows. Many of these accounts dealt with his experiences in prison as a young man, but paled in comparison to the real events. Some of these may be tucked away in filing cabinets stored in our garage, but probably only if they were misfiled.

Diane played around with writing and badly-illustrating stories geared toward children while she was still just a child herself. She realized long ago that she is not an artist, and disposed of those early attempts by the time she was in high school. However, she is pretty darn handy with creating graphics like maps and diagrams -- just no snuggly bunny rabbits. Her first published work was a technical article on programming techniques and graphical user interfaces. Fortunately, she's lightened up her writing since that time.

4. When was your first indication, "I can do this (write)"?

Perhaps the true "I can do this" realization was not so much grasping that we both could write, but realizing people would want to read what we wrote. It's hard to pinpoint a specific, first indication. We have both written short articles for newsletters and other publications, and received compliments on our writing styles and especially our clarity of describing places. In terms of writing guidebooks, clear descriptions of how to find a place, enticing explanations of why you might want to go there, and keeping the whole experience light, fun, and interesting are all crucial attributes. We believed that we could do those things very well, and our readers have confirmed that for us.

When it came to translating those writing skills to an autobiography, Charlie also called upon his many years of verbal storytelling. Transferring his chatting-around-the-campfire tales of mountain climbing into the written word was challenging at first, but soon seemed natural.

5. If you could go somewhere tomorrow, no limits, all expenses paid, where would it be?

The moon. Wouldn't that be an amazing guidebook assignment -- and we certainly couldn't ever manage that trip without all expenses being paid.

But if we were picking a place here on earth, New Zealand would be our choice. We've visited before, but would love an in-depth exploration of the gorgeous Southern Alps, the fjords, lakes, and rivers, and to re-visit the ultra-friendly towns with an eye to passing along our favorite discoveries to others. We've found that we observe so much more about a place when we're writing about it than when we are simply visiting. And thank goodness for digital cameras, since we have often taken over 1,000 photos of a place in preparation for the eventual guidebook, which may end up with only a few hundred photos in it.

Perhaps a special section on the finest restaurants in New Zealand should be included -- with photos and reviews of the meals we've sampled, of course. You did say "all expenses paid," didn't you?

6. It's a dark and stormy're alone in the house...there's a knock at the open it, look out, and proceed to scream like a little girl. What's on the doorstep?

Charlie's late Aunt Gertie, a.k.a. The Beast, wielding an axe and crowing, "Here's Johnny!"


Thanks so much for sharing with us today! For more information about the Wingers and their books, check out The Winger Bookstore, their Two Shadows Facebook page, their Amazon author page, or follow them on Twitter.

My guest on Monday will be author S.M. Boyce. See you then!


  1. Thanks for the interview! It was great fun.

    Since we corresponded, Charlie & I also published a collection of photography from his numerous expeditions all over the world, plus some adventures we enjoyed together. It's called "Because It's There - A Photographic Journey" and contains over 90 color photos of some of the most spectacular and interesting places many of us will (n)ever see.

  2. Charlie and Diane are great folks. We know them from their technology skills, but they are delightful people to know personally as well. Thanks for the interview...learned things I hadn't known about them. We will read Charlie's memoir.

    Kathy S.