Confessions of a Writer Tag

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?

I don’t remember a point where I was not making up stories and writing. I was a voracious reader until college, then reading significantly tapered off. The first thing I remember writing was a short story, an X-Files fanfiction, for a third grade class. I made a laughable attempt at writing a novel in fifth grade, then a less laughable attempt my sophomore year of college. I actually finished that one. It was a disaster. I’m sure I could re-write it into decent shape, but the plot holes are more like tar pits. I also wrote three screenplays, all of which were fairly decent. I should probably pitch those somewhere.

Throughout this time, though, I always wrote, and always wanted to be published, but I never said aloud that I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t an end-all be-all career plan, and I always associated writer = career, as opposed to writer = hobby. Even now that I’m on the verge of being published, I don’t think I could stay sane if I didn’t have a dayjob to manage my time.

What genre do you write?

It appears that suspense thrillers and crime dramas are the easiest for me to convert from imagination to pen-on-paper. Everything I have finished (save for one family drama) has been a thriller. However, I have notebooks, Post-its, and the memo app on my phone filled with plot ideas for YA dystopias, fantasies, horrors, historical romances, erotica, and even a rom-com or two. I think after my current project, I will devote myself to a historical romance I’ve been kicking around. It was a shower idea, so you know it’s good.
Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?

I am currently working on an epic project called My Name Is Not Heather Stokes. It started as a collection of short stories, then turned into a trilogy, and now it looks like it’s going to be a six book series with novellas and short stories sprinkled in. It is a cat-and-mouse suspense thriller about a serial rapist/murderer and the disturbing relationships he establishes with his victims, the families of his victims, and the team investigating him.

I started this project last September, almost a year to the day I finished the final draft of the first novel, Colossus (I’m on line edits at this point – so close, yet so far!). I’ve shared a bit of how it came to be, but I might share the entire odyssey on a later blog.
What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?

I mentioned above that the first piece I recall writing was an X-Files fanfiction. This is actually a silly story. I don’t remember what the assignment was, or if it was specific beyond “Write a short story,” but I was in Ms. Spagnola’s third grade class. I was crazy about the X-Files, particularly Eugene Victor Tooms, the liver-eating serial killer of the first season. I remember a few details, such as it involved an orphan girl who had a cat and cobra, and she could talk to animals. I tried to hide the fact that it was a fanfiction by calling Mulder and Scully “Fox” and “Dana.” I think it ran much longer than the assignment was supposed to be.
What’s the best part about writing?

I love the quotation from Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” That’s the point, right there. It’s more like a movie I want to see and I play it in my mind. Sometimes it’s so delicious or thrilling, I have to share it with others.

That’s the best part: Imagining something so good, you feel like you’re going to burst if you don’t share it. You hum like you’ve had too much coffee.
What’s the worst part about writing?

All-consuming anxiety. If you’re not worried that people won’t like it, perhaps you should become a salesman. As a writer, I can get over anything but my fear of how it’s going to be received. I already know that Colossus isn’t going to go over well. It appeals to an extremely narrow audience, and I’m going to get a lot of shit from people reading it who didn’t acknowledge the trigger warning that says “TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT.”

There are also dry spells. Those hurt. Not periods of writer’s block, but periods where you are unable to write for life reasons, although you are constantly kicking around plots in the back of your head. For me, this was from summer 2008 until autumn 2012. I finally started writing again when I moved from Virginia to Florida. The urge to write eats at you like an addiction. You ache for it, but any attempt to put pencil to paper was superficial and didn’t stick. These dry spells sabotage your progress and may destroy your dreams.
What’s the name of your favourite character and why?

I say that my favorite character is Wren Chares. He’s a Greek who emigrated to the US with his mother soon after WWII. He embodies professionalism and work ethic, but prejudice and a single mistake brings his life – everything he has worked for – crashing down. He is the lynch-pin for everything. I modelled his character after James Callis after seeing him in Eureka and Battlestar Galactica. 

But that is a lie. I just don’t want to admit that Avery Rhodes, notorious rapist and murderer, is my favorite character. Antagonists are usually my favorite character. (Rhodes, of course, is not his real name. His name changes depending on what point of the plot we are in. He is Rhodes in Atlanta.) The project started with the invention of his character and developed as I fleshed him out. I invented an elaborate, tragic history for him, then a focused and equally-tragic future. I modelled Rhodes after James Purefoy after seeing him in HBO’s Rome.
How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

I don’t have a set amount of time, although I should. I write the most while I’m at work, and that time (8am-4:30pm) is broken up by, you know, actual work. I get very little done while I’m at home.
Did you go to college for writing?

Not exactly. I went to Mercer University to study English Literature, Secondary Education, and German Language and Literature. All three of those helps me hone my craft (especially German Literature), but it wasn’t like studying creative writing.

I would LOVE to get my MFA in creative writing, though. There are three universities in Georgia that offer it: UGA, Georgia State, and Georgia College & State University (not to be confused with either of the previous institutions).

However, I’m concerned it might crush my voice while it tightens my focus, and I’ve heard that MFA programs are horrible for most genre writers, more focused on literary fiction.
What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?

Grammatical errors. I taught English-Language Arts for three years. I am relentless, even though I’m not perfect.
What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?

“Git ‘er done.” Wait, that’s not right…

But it is. Neil Gaiman says that the key is to finish what you start, and that is very true, and probably what kept me going for Colossus.

My first novel was so horrible because I never considered that it may require being re-written. I never considered it might need to be revised. However, when I joined the Twitter community, I started to use the resources other writers were posting. I learned quickly that writing is about 40% writing and 60% re-writing. It’s exhausting work, and it gets old fast, but it is 100% necessary.
What advice would you give to another writer?

Finish what you start, as stated above. I have dozens of manila envelopes of projects I started, projects I loved, but I just fizzled out. I’ll return to a couple of those later.

Also, read. I discovered recently that my 12-year-old niece is writing a novel. She has not had any formal teaching on proper formatting or advanced grammar, like how to insert a quotation within a quotation, or how to make a plural possessive, but she learned those structures from reading. The more you read, whether it is for entertainment or to study the craft, the easier it is to write.
What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?

For encouragement, I follow @TheUnNovelist. I actually get mobile notifications for when they post.

I think the most useful tool I’ve encountered was #1lineWed. I am horrible at keeping up with blogs, but this activity has built a writing community, and I tend to read a lot of articles they post. I should blog about this later.

The bloggers I refer to most often are Nat Russo (for writing and promotion tips), Susan Spann (for interesting legal advice related to writing and publishing), and Just Publishing (mostly for the nuts and bolts of publication).
Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?

I love weightlifting. Surprise! I want to join a CrossFit gym, but they’re really expensive. My dad has a little gym set up at his house, so when we lived there, I worked out almost every day and we went to Kennesaw Mountain on the weekends. I haven’t worked out in such a long time now that we’ve moved.

I also make greeting cards using construction paper and the card-board supports found in calendars and other packaging. I write “A Jettester Production” on the backs with a little cockscomb hat.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

Savage Season by Joe Lansdale. It’s hilarious. The chemistry between the characters is realistic, and the protagonist seems so average, it’s easy to sympathize with him, to imagine yourself in his shoes, yet he’s still engaging. The plot kept me enthralled. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.
What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?

Interstellar.  I’m a huge supporter of the Next Giant Leap (AKA The “Get Your Ass to Mars” initiative). The premise of the movie was believable, the characters were well-developed, and you really cared about what happened to them.
What is your favourite book or series of all time?

Watership Down by Richard Adams. My grandmother gave me this book and I didn’t read it for years, but when I finally did, I loved it so much, I re-read it every year for several years. The story is so engaging and you really love the core characters, you really hate the villains – both shallow and vicious, and it has some components that make the plot completely unpredictable.
Who is your favourite author?

Alice Hoffman. When people describe her style as “whimsical,” they are 100% accurate. She writes characters that you love and engage with, even if you are nothing like them. She manipulates structures and time lines in suspenseful and thrilling fashions. Her hyperbolic images are just magical. Practical Magic and Local Girls are both novels I have read over and over again. If I hadn’t loaned my copy of The River King to a student, I would have re-read it a million times by now as well.
What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?

Publication! Whoo-hoo! My publisher, Moran Publishing, and I are looking at mid-November for the eBook release and mid-December for the hardcopy release.

At the same time, I will revise Phoenix Rising, which is a prequel in novella form.

Most of Two Guns – the second My Name Is Not Heather Stokes novel – is written, so I should finish the first draft of that by the end of the year as well.
Where else can we find you online?

I have an author Facebook!  (I also have a personal Facebook, but that is reserved for people I know IRL)

http://www.facebook.com/JettimusMaximus

The first few chapters of each book will be posted on my sister WordPress:

http://mynameisnotheatherstokes.wordpress.com/

And if you don’t know me on Twitter:

@JettimusMaximus

Consider yourselves tagged:

To make finding the questions easier, here they are:

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?
What genre do you write?
Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?
What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?
What’s the best part about writing?
What’s the worst part about writing?
What’s the name of your favourite character and why?
How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
Did you go to college for writing?
What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?
What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
What advice would you give to another writer?
What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?
Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
What is your favourite book or series of all time?
Who is your favourite author?
What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?
Where else can we find you online?

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