What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
I’ve never claimed to be completely sane. In fact, I think the most important attributes for a writer have very little to do with remaining sane. For me, writing is about breathing life into a story, building a world at your fingertips, and making things – both great and terrible things – happen to the denizens of your newly minted world. You have to appreciate, motivate, and second guess your characters. You are required to constantly motivated them toward their goals yet set every imaginable obstacle in the way of those goals. It’s hard to imagine anyone being sane for very long in a profession like this.
What a writer needs are imagination, heart, and determination. You have to be able to create characters and worlds that other people want to read about. You need to give your creations purpose, drive, and meaning to their lives – regardless how short. It’s not easy to create a character, then kill them off – it’s even worse when you actually like that character. No sane person would wish harm on likable characters… none but the writer. And you not only have to make them likable, and make their end meaningful, but you are required to be there at the end, and you have to keep writing until it’s over.
So, yeah, I think it has very little to do with being sane.
How do you begin a new project? Are you a plotter (outliner) or a pantser (free-writer)?
I’m a total pantser. Normally, I’ll build a project around a phrase or a line I can’t get out of my head. I’ll let it roll around for a while, gathering more lines and thoughts to it, letting it sculpt itself into something more of an idea than just a line or a title, then I’ll try it out.
I tend to write at something until it loses steam, or I can’t follow the thread of the story anymore. Then I know I’ve run the idea out as far as it is going to go. Sometimes, that’s enough to get through a story – sometimes even a novel – but most times, I need to let the idea ruminate some more so I can figure out how to finish it.
Have you ever tried writing outside of your “comfort zone”? If so, what were the results?
I’ve dabbled, but I haven’t finished anything outside the paranormal/horror genre. At least, not anything I’ve released. I think all of my stories, regardless of genre, would end up going the same way. Because while I try to write horror stories, I really write love stories where horrific things happen. So, if I actually did write a love story, it’d probably just be a horror story with a love theme. Who knows.
Are the names of the characters in your writing important? What about the titles? How do you choose them?
Names are incredibly important. In so many cultures, names carry incredible power with them. Imagine being yourself with a different name – how weird would that be? I couldn’t be anything other than Andy. It would be like wearing someone else’s skin.
So even though some of the names in my stories are bland, they’re still incredibly important. I want those characters to feel like their namesakes. I want a Lucas to act like the Lucas’ I have met in life. If I want a Steve in my story, I have to make sure I’m writing for a Steve – not Stephen, or Steven, or Stefan, or Stevie. That name has power and personality in it.
Most of my characters are named that way – reflective of their personality without a whole lot of secret meaning behind it.
House of Thirteen is the exception. Each name is chosen carefully for each character, many of their names a spoiler to the character’s arc.
The titles, sadly, don’t have such deep meanings. Usually, they are a boiled-down major device in the story, wrapped up in a phrase that I think sounds pretty cool.
To what extent is your fiction or poetry autobiographical? Have you ever seen yourself as a character in one of your stories or poems and, has that been a help or a hindrance?
The themes in my stories are all parts of the great wide world that I want to explore within myself. All of my stories share a mixture of three themes: identity, mortality, and love.
Because I have spent my life trying to figure out who I am so I can live my best life, but I haven’t gotten there yet, so my characters often wrestle with their own personalities and identities so I can see what it is like from another vantage point and maybe I’ll get closer to my own solution. The same with love. Who doesn’t wrestle with love – and so many kinds of love. That frustrating but endless love you have for family – especially siblings, crazy as they may drive you; the flippant love you have for friends that may not be for always; the forged love that you have for people who will always be in your heart, no matter what; that elusive love you search for until you find The One; the unfathomable love we have for our closest companions – that love that carries on, even after they’ve gone.
And of course – mortality. Because I don’t know what is waiting for me on the other side of that great veil, so I ponder it here while there is time to. It grants me the opportunity to make my peace while there is time, and remind myself to live my good life while there is still time to.
Who are your favorite authors? Please list a few and their titles, so we can go look for them at our local library!
Oh, man… okay, off the top of my head:
Dean Koontz – Odd Thomas (series)
Daniel Waters – Generation Dead (series)
Stephen King – Night Shift, Needful things, Pet Sematary
Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere, Stardust, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett)
Jim Butcher – Dresden Files (series)
Douglas Adams – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (series)
Terry Brooks – Magic Kingdom of Landover (series)
Terry Pratchett – Discworld (series – I recommend starting with Colour of Magic, Eric, and Mort), Good Omens
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to mention three of my very favorite indie author books:
Better Boxed & Forgotten by Andrew Lark
Lockdown by Samie Sands
An Appointment with Fear by Chad Lee Erway
I hope that’s enough to keep you busy for a bit. If you need more, let me know.
Which three authors (alive or dead) would you most like invite to a dinner party and what would you like to talk about?
In order to avoid having a disaster of a dinner party, where I’m either disappointed by my own expectations, or left in rapt silence trying not to admit defeat in the face of these fantastic writers, I’m going to select authors outside my usual genres, but fascinating people and excellent writers nonetheless:
Alan Alda (non-fiction, humor) – Alan is known for his humor, clever observations, and wit. He’s taken those talents and turned out a number of fascinating reads.
Glen Weldon (non-fiction, comics) – Best known for his amazing talent for writing NPR comic reviews, Glen has also written a book on Batman and on Superman.
Vincent Price (non-fiction, cooking, art) – While best known for his classic horror films, Vincent is a worldly chef, and a renowned art critic. I can only imagine it’d be a fascinating conversation.
How do you react to a negative review of one of your manuscripts?
If it is a beta-read, or an editor’s critique, then I know they have the story’s best interests at heart and I need to consider their suggestions and whether or not those changes mean for a better story. It doesn’t matter if I come up with all of the ideas or not, if it is something that makes the story better, I need to take it into consideration and put my own selfish feelings aside.
If it is a review on a published work, I try not to let it get to me. I don’t kid myself – the first time I read a negative review, it upsets me. I go through all the motions: they just don’t understand what I am doing, they don’t get my art, they don’t see my vision. The truth is: you can’t argue with critics. Mostly because they’re all on the internet and you literally can’t find them to argue with them. But beyond that, it’s just not worth it. Not everyone is going to like your writing. Not everyone is going to “get” your writing. Look past the wording and try to find the criticisms you can work with. Is there something you can take away from the review to make your writing better? Do it. Every review is an opportunity if you are willing to put your feelings aside.
Do you ever use your writing as therapy, to either work out an issue, punish a perpetrator from your real life, or fantasize about what you could have done differently? If so, give us one example of how this manifested in your manuscript.
As I said earlier, all of my writing explores themes of identity, mortality, and love. I have a million opportunities to “redo” the mistakes in my life or prepare for opportunities to come. I have a chance to re-imagine myself in someone else’s shoes for a while – no surgery, no falsified documents, nothing illegal.
Every writing experiment is its own therapy, and while sweet literary revenge seems like such an obvious answer, when it comes right down to it, I just don’t despise anyone enough to dedicate that much time to them. If I don’t like you, the last thing I want to do is think more about you to write some kind of horrible story involving you. That’s more punishment for me than its worth.
On the other hand, sometimes writing is an opportunity to relive moments that you’ve lost – or maybe to add moments that never got to happen. Another day playing with your favorite pet; maybe one more adventure with a friend you don’t talk have anymore… who wouldn’t want that opportunity?
But mostly, I use my stories to work out the things in my own head, and to explore the possibilities this world has to offer, even if I’m afraid to take up those possibilities.
What is your best advice for beginning writers?
Well, my “best” advice is subjective. You might not think it’s the best advice, so let’s just call it advice: Write. Write everything. It doesn’t matter if the idea is silly, or stupid, or embarrassing, write it down, and then write as much of it as you can. Outline it. Plot it. Develop it. Write down every idea and never throw any of them away. Keep them in your email, or in Dropbox, or stored on pieces of folded up paper in a shoebox under your bed. Just know where they are and how to find them again.
Because you get ideas – especially when you’re mostly asleep or driving – and you think “oh man, that’s a great idea! I’ll never forget that one!” but guess what? The good ideas never stick around unless you make them, so you have to tie them down to a document so you can keep them until you’re ready to develop them fully.
Here’s the catch though: while you should write down all your ideas, when it comes to actually writing: only write when you want, or when you’re ready to. I know, a lot of people say “write every day” and that’s good advice for some people. Other people, like myself, can’t do anything every day. Writing every day is a fast way for me to not want to write ever again. And I know that means that I’m not going to be as prolific as other writers, because I’m not working at the same pace. I’m okay with that.
You should set a pace for yourself that makes you happy. If writing a poem once a year makes you happy, do that. If writing all the time makes you happy, do that – but try to make time for other things to. You have to have experiences to write from, and you can’t have those experiences if you are always caught up in your writing.
So, write. And live. And just be happy.
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