Welcome to the five hundred and sixty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with memoirist and novelist Jim Wygant. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Jim. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Jim: I think I might answer those questions in reverse order. I have always had writing in mind. I was even the student librarian in primary school. I took a literature degree in college because nothing else made any sense to me at the time, and I worked for a few years as a journalist. I wrote a novel, now lost, when I was in my 20s and received some encouragement from an editor at a large publishing house, but nobody bought it. I continued to write fiction while earning a living as a polygraph examiner for criminal defence attorneys. After I retired, I wrote three more novels, “The Spy’s Demise”, “Jessica’s Tune”, and “No Away”, which came out in 2012. I’ve also written a memoir, “Confessions of a Lie Detector: Years of Theft, Sex, and Murder”. That one is based upon my experiences working with people accused of committing crimes. I have lived most of my life in Oregon, although I have travelled extensively and relied upon my travels and internet information to write about locations other than where I live. Well, I guess I’ve even told you something about myself, so we can move on.
Morgen: 🙂 What a shame about your first novel. To have encouragement from a publisher is fantastic, and you kept going. And isn’t it great having all the information we do just a mouse click, or two, away. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Jim: My first published novel, “The Spy’s Demise” is about a KGB spy who tries to quit the profession during the collapse of the Soviet Union. I suppose it’s kind of a spy thriller, although I was intrigued by the concepts of loyalty and betrayal and tried to avoid anything unrealistic. “Jessica’s Tune” was a sequel, set fifteen years later, and was more of a mystery. The memoir, “Confessions of a Lie Detector” was mostly true crime stories. And the 2012 novel, “No Away” is set a few years in the future and is post-apocalyptic, although it dwells on concepts of personal guilt and responsibility. So I guess there is no single genre that my interests fit.
Morgen: I’m that same. I write a bit of everything, although I’m settling in to the contemporary crime genre more than anything else. You mentioned the encouragement you received early on and you’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Jim: I am self-published, in the sense that I formed my own publishing company, Lycetta Press. I do all of my own formatting and design, found a printer and distributor, and do my own promotion and advertising. After sending out countless queries and manuscripts, and getting odd responses, I finally realized that I was smarter and more motivated than the people to whom I was sending stuff, who essentially did not want to take risks and were oriented toward repeating the success of something already on somebody’s best seller list. I concluded that if they could get something published when they chose to, I ought to be able to do the same. It has worked well for me, but it is definitely not for everyone.
Morgen: “odd responses” That’s funny. Everyone’s so wary these days of spending money they don’t have that it’s easier not to take the risks. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Jim: All of my books are available in Kindle eBook format, which I prepare myself. I don’t do other eBook formats, which is partly because it’s a nuisance to re-format the same book to meet different standards, and because I participate in an Amazon program that limits that anyway. I don’t own a Kindle and consequently don’t pack any eBook reader around. I still like the feel of a paper book.
Morgen: Almost everyone I’ve spoken to does, although they say (and I agree) that it’s great having the option. I have an iPad so read mostly on there, although I do have the Kindle application for my computer so sometimes prefer the bigger screen. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Jim: I suppose my favourite character is the one I last wrote about, which is now the protagonist from “No Away”. I would love to see that book made into a film. The character has elements of both good and evil, and struggles to overcome his evil side. An actor would have to be someone who didn’t come across as too confident, maybe somebody like Jim Carrey, casting against type. I thought he was great in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”.
Morgen: He was great. I think it had mixed reviews (and I liked it better the second time I saw it) but I’m a Kate Winslet fan too. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Jim: Since I design the covers and dream up the titles, I have sole authority, although I always run my ideas past my wife and a few friends. I have difficulty with titles and usually start with possibilities that are too obvious and have already been used by somebody else. “No Away” is taken from a line in the text. I like designing the covers, which usually go through several iterations before reaching a final stage. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but I’ve seen lots of covers that were considerably worse than mine. While the front cover is important, in the sense that it needs to spark interest, the back cover has the information that a potential reader wants, so it’s equally important in a different way.
Morgen: The great thing about having a blog, being on Facebook, Twitter etc. is having so many people who will give their opinions – I put a selection of covers for my debut novel on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/the-serial-daters-shopping-list-novel and had feedback there and on social networking to help me get to the finished cover (in the footer of this interview). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Jim: Nothing right now. I gather ideas, keep notes, save copies of news stories. After I complete a work I regard it as the last piece of writing I will do, but something else always seems to surface.
Morgen: Oh no, you can’t say that! Of course if you don’t enjoy writing then that’s one thing but I don’t get that impression. One of my Monday night poets finds the writing process tortuous but loves the end result enough to keep going. There are often so many obstacles that it’s easy to give up if the passion’s not there. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Jim: When I am working on a book I write every day, including weekends, usually a couple hours. I don’t have problems with writer’s block. I revise as I write the first draft, and then the next day I begin by reading and further revising what I did on the previous day, which eases me back into the process. When all is finished I let it steep for a few weeks then read and revise the entire manuscript. And then another break, followed by a final revision. Often by the time I get to the final revision I have developed a broader sense of what needs to be added or changed or removed.
Morgen: I’m the same. We all need time away from a project to see it clearly. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Jim: I don’t write a plot outline, but before I ever begin writing I have made extensive notes and have a clear mental concept of what I want to say and where I want the story to go. I tend to think of plotting in the classical sense, so I want to know how the protagonist is going to change and why. The details I work out in the writing process. I also keep notes on the characters, including some personal history, so I don’t make continuity errors.
Morgen: That’s one of the things I find hard with writing novels (I’m on my sixth but have written 300+ short stories) so whenever I write something that I think I’m likely to repeat or refer to later I jot it in a notes document. There will always be eagle-eyed readers out there who spot something amiss. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Jim: I suppose all writers base their characters on themselves and the people they know. What else could we do? I make a conscious effort to avoid stereotypes and to have my characters act and react in credible ways. Sometimes I hear a character telling me that he or she would not say or do something I intended to write, so I have to find an alternative. My characters all seem to have imperfections. As for names, I’m not very imaginative, but I’m also one of those people who can’t remember the names of people I’ve just met.
Morgen: Me too. Apparently if you say it back to them that helps (good to meet you, Jim). 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Jim: I do a lot of editing, and I am ruthless. I am not at all reluctant to chop out something or add a few paragraphs to capitalize on some plot point. My rule is: if I have to hesitate while reading, it needs revision. Over the several months it takes me to complete something, I try to read my work as though somebody else had written it.
Morgen: That’s a good rule. Do you have to do much research?
Jim: I have researched each of my books, usually using the abundant resources on the Internet. Even fiction demands that the author gets his facts right. Readers are quick to spot factual errors.
Morgen: They do indeed, and some are right (one who challenged Alexander McCall Smith) and some wrong (Simon Scarrow). 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Jim: All of my work is in third person, except for the memoir, which was obviously in first person. I don’t like reading fiction in first or second person, so I’m not a good candidate to try writing that way.
Morgen: You have to want to write it and reading improves writing so it makes sense to stick to what you read. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Jim: I have written both short stories and poetry, which are available in Kindle eBook format. The short stories are collected in a book called “White Buffalo”, and the poetry is in “Gossamer Afternoons”. However, I haven’t done any new short stories or poetry for several years and don’t expect to.
Morgen: That’s a shame (I’m a big short story fan) although with poetry I only write it for specific projects. Again it comes down to reading (I don’t read poetry) and writing what you want to write (for me a mix of novels and short stories). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Jim: Don’t we all? I have some old work that needs so much revision I will probably never get to it.
Morgen: I have had some say they haven’t but usually because they haven’t written much and have sent everything out (and some have had them all accepted). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Jim: I’ve had tons of rejections from literary agents and publishers, many of whom have been kind enough to request manuscripts, but most of whom never bothered to answer a query. I never regard rejections as relevant. Publishing is a business, and the people who are buying writers’ work want to buy something they’re confident they can profit from. It’s a subjective judgement. Beyond that, the days of small, risk-taking, independent publishers are long gone. It’s all big business now, except for those of us who have chosen to enter the market on a small scale.
Morgen: It is, sadly. Many publishers rely on the big names when taking on the smaller ones and unless it’s a sure-fire winner that doesn’t happen often enough. Do you enter competitions?
Jim: I don’t enter competitions. Most charge a fee and can be regarded as little more than a scam. Some are virtually selling “awards.” The whole competition thing is unpleasant to regard.
Morgen: You do have to be careful. I very rarely enter competitions either (and only legitimate ones) because I write for the blog, eBooks or magazine / website submissions but I like themed competitions as they get me writing something new which I then have to do with as I wish if I don’t get anywhere. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jim: I don’t have an agent, but I do think they are vital for most writers. However, it is now virtually impossible to connect directly with a publisher without an agent. Obtaining an agent is the classic “Catch-22”: you need to have published to get an agent, but agents won’t take you unless you’ve been published. Yossarian, where are you when we need you?
Morgen: It’s true, and agents are finding it hard these days, with some becoming publishers. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Jim: It varies. I’ve used a variety of techniques, including postings on LinkedIn and Facebook, YouTube, Google Ads, direct emails, and newspaper ads.
Morgen: I’ve just created a couple of videos for two of my eBooks (I plan to do some for the rest) and have created a videos page on the blog on how to create them with Animoto. I’m fairly I.T. literate so they took about 20 minutes each but I’ve put, hopefully, fairly clear instructions with screenshots, including how to get them on to YouTube. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Jim: My favourite aspect is seeing my work in print. There is nothing better. My least favourite is promotion. I don’t have sufficient ego for that.
Morgen: Everyone says that… not that you don’t have a sufficient ego 🙂 but that it’s their least favourite. Well, not everyone but I’d say certainly 99%. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jim: Advice to writers? Write for your own pleasure and satisfaction. If you do that, the work will be better than what you might get from trying to write for a market.
Morgen: It will. If you’re bored of something your reader will be too. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Jim: Winston Churchill (during the War years), Lyndon Johnson (after he left office), and Jane Jacobs (when she was battling Robert Moses). Spaghetti, because it’s easy and we could spend more time talking.
Morgen: Good plan. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Jim: My wife often hears me saying “Chico and the Man”, which was the name of a TV show I never saw and for some reason has become a nonsense expression that I repeat incessantly.
Morgen: 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Jim: I publish a bi-monthly newsletter for polygraph examiners, something I’ve done for nearly 20 years.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Jim: I have dabbled in magic. Lately I have been blowing up competitors’ tanks in an online video game. Most of them are kids who don’t know how old I am.
Morgen: Wow, what fun. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Jim: I read postings from a print-on-demand group on Yahoo:
No particularly helpful book comes to mind. There are lots of them.
Morgen: There certainly are and I’ve created a page of some of the ones recommended in these interviews (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-other-peoples/writing-related). I will add more (when I have time to go through all the interviews :)). Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Jim: I am on Facebook and LinkedIn. I think they both have limited value for book promotion, since a writer is often exposing his or her work to other writers rather than readers.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jim: I am worried. We don’t read as deeply as we once did. I’m not talking about how much we read, but the quality of what we read. Many books are now like elevator music. We are too oriented to smart phones and instant everything. Reading needs to be more relaxed, and society seems to be moving away from that. I am now reading a 900-page novel by William Gaddis, published in 1955, and everyone to whom I mention that expresses dismay, even though it’s an extraordinary book.
Morgen: Wow. I’m the other end of the scale; the thinner the better (although I used to devour Stephen King doorstops… back in the day (my teens) when I had time (we used to be friends once… that’s time and I, not Stephen King and I, sadly :)). Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Jim: The best place is my web site: www.jimwygant.com.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Jim: No, but thanks for what you’re doing. Writers need this kind of outlet.
Morgen: You’re so welcome. I started this just under 20 months ago (and celebrated 100,000 hits last week) and could never have imagined how much it would have taken off, or how many authors would want to get involved (I have over 200 more interviews booked in, up to next July, and 900+ questionnaires still to be returned). It’s a lot of work (as you can probably imagine) but I love it. Thank you very much, Jim.
Is one murder worse than another? Is mass murder worse than the killing of one person? Is the murder of a relative worse than the same act committed against a stranger? Does the method of murder make one killing worse than another? There is no answer to those questions. How bad
any murder is, how deeply we survivors feel the loss and the stain of evil, depends on how we are situated with respect to the principle actors. Someone snug in his or her home, watching the evening news, is apt to forget the murder story by the following day. The juror at the trial will never forget
it, but will feel less disturbed by it than the police officer who was first on the scene. And that officer will be less distressed than the parents or children or siblings of the deceased, the survivors.
and a synopsis of his book,s and this is of “No Away”:
Here’s all that terrible stuff you’ve heard about…
Global warming, flooding, infrastructure collapse, torture, disappearances…
For Adam Spence the world has become the worst possible nightmare… and he is being pursued by a band of men, the new protectors of “national security,” maybe working for the government, maybe not, who regard him as a grave threat. In his own mind, he is only a war veteran trying to live out of the back of a stolen pickup truck.
America reduced to a siege mentality, killers for hire, a population desperate for food, millions falling prey to disease, and all that remains are personal survival skills.
Jim Wygant’s latest novel, “No Away” follows publication of a true-crime memoir and two earlier novels. Besides writing books, Jim has worked as a polygraph examiner for criminal defence attorneys, a profession from which he is now mostly retired. Before lie detection, he bounced around several daily and weekly newspapers as an editor and reporter, and then finished that career as a reporter on a large daily.
Even earlier, he washed dishes at a YMCA cafeteria and worked as a printer’s helper at a large commercial printer. He has been a volunteer fireman and ambulance driver, has tutored immigrants in the use of English, and has taught computer classes for senior citizens. Jim and his wife, Sandy, live in Oregon but have travelled extensively.
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