Welcome to the sixty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, short story authors, poets, short story authors, bloggers, scriptwriters, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Jim Sellers. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Jim. I’d like to start by asking you how you came to be an author.
Jim: I am one of those people who loved to write fiction all his life but never seriously considered a writing career to be an option. To be honest, every published author I heard being interviewed had a proper British accent and could recite names and quote lines from books instantly; that was intimidating to an aspiring non-Brit like myself. I did work in television production for 20 years and in corporate communications since then, but it was because of a lucky event in 1994 that I realised writing was something I could do for money – and love. I am (currently) a 55 year old former single dad who feels that life’s experiences, both good and sad, are fodder for stories. I am married to a professional musician and my kids are off making good on their own.
Morgen: Hopefully giving you time to write. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres? And have you had anything published?
Jim: I have always written fiction as a writer / non-fiction as a paid communicator with the exception of two TV dramas. I have four YA books and two adult novels written, none of which have been published – yet. I have also worked up a concept for a fantasy novel but I feel I need to understand the genre better before I go there. I would like to take a broad definition of the word published to answer that. My first published works were television documentaries that I had researched and written. I also wrote two TV dramas that went into production. I published some short stories on a now defunct BBC website called “Write Stuff” and am currently writing an online serial novel (http://andthenwhatnovel.wordpress.com). I can answer the question where I was; I was at the public library with my kids when I found a copy of my story on tape. That was quite the pleasant surprise. The first time I heard the words I had written was on a TV drama. That was a thrill.
Morgen: Good old BBC. I’d recommend anyone interested in writing scripts to visit their writersroom (http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom). How much of the marketing do you do for your books or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Jim: I have been relying on social media. My work life doesn’t allow much travel. I have found LinkedIn as a tremendous source of traffic because there are so many like-minded people in the various groups. I have not found the same level of interest or traffic from Facebook or Twitter, I assume because these sites are not where people go to find things like new writing. They will latch on to your feeds once you are famous but that’s another kind of marketing. There are also online fiction sites that help generate traffic to my site such as Web Fiction Guide, but there are no substitutes for good search tags. My “brand” is going to be hard to pin down until I have published a successful (and popular) book. People brand you, as much as we want to control our image and public persona, and those brands tend to stick so making a good first impression is more than essential, it will determine your career. I want to be known as an entertaining, imaginative and visual writer. Let’s see how that works out.
Morgen: Do let me know. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Jim: Yes, I have been shortlisted and have won some second prizes. For the writer who’s trying to work his way up the perilous ladder of credibility, entering competitions and getting published in various online and print publications is essential. These baby steps are essential for the portfolio and the ego boost.
Morgen: I agree. My CV’s more crammed with what I’ve been to and the other things I’m involved in (this blog, my podcast, Radio Litopia etc) than published works but I think whatever the author can add shows the level of their passion and commitment. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jim: No, I do not have an agent right now. I want an agent – please.
Morgen: Let’s hope that one or two (or more) read this. 🙂
Jim: For adult fiction, agents are essential. I’ve been told that and I believe it after my initial attempts at getting read by publishers. For YA, outside of the US, maybe not so much unless you have a new Twilight or Harry Potter in you.
Morgen: Which you wouldn’t actually want to have as vampires are done to (pardon the pun) death – apparently angels are the next big thing. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Jim: No, not yet. If I go the self publishing route on my YA (an option) I will go e-book and POD.
Morgen: Me too, though not with YA. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Jim: Getting a writers contract for a television script was my first acceptance and the biggest one because it affirmed my status as a professional writer. Getting short stories accepted is less fun. I can assure you that getting acceptance on one of my novels would be the thrill of a lifetime.
Morgen: 🙂 Presumably then you’ve had some rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Jim: Oh yes, rejections and the now more common non-answer. You know, the roaring silence months after the submission. I go through the various stages of disappointment from denial and anger to acceptance. They (the agents) hold all the cards, I can nothing more than keep trying. The hardest ones to take are the rejections that follow the positive sounding, “Yes, I would like to read your manuscript” letters. Once you have allowed yourself to think that you may have a chance at publishing, the fall is much greater and the pain more deep. That’s when I look seriously at the story and ask what is missing? Is this worth pursuing?
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Jim: My current project is my serial novel, And then What? That is nearing the halfway mark. I am rewriting another novel about three middle-aged men on a road trip. I spent the last few weeks rebuilding a website and submitting my YA materials to publishers. For fun I have also enrolled in a Masters level creative writing course.
Morgen: Wow, so do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Jim: I write every day for my work, academic stuff and some web and magazine articles as well as reports and research material. For my fiction writing, I am always thinking about a project but I find I prefer to write when I have something clearly worked out. Then I’m obsessive. The most I have written in a day is 5,000 words, but on average I do 2,500 to 3,000 on a typical writing day.
Morgen: That’s great! A novel in no time. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Jim: Writers block is inevitable, it’s serious but it can be overcome. In my opinion, the Block is caused buy one’s brain losing any inspiration to write. Either the story or writing itself has crossed into the side of the brain that regards it as a chore, like doing taxes. The only cure for the Block is finding a way to be inspired by the story again, which can be a challenge if you have a deadline. Back up and look for the point in which you got lost and start from there. Otherwise put it in a drawer and let it age. I have a filing cabinet full of those.
Morgen: Mine are in ring binders. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Jim: I have tried plotting but I find I lose the fun of it or I feel too restricted when it comes to the writing. I love discovery writing, it’s a challenge but the rewards are wonderful. I do map out the main points that I need to hit along the way and try to establish as much as I can about the characters but even those can change as I write.
Morgen: Speaking of which , how do you create your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Jim: Every day I observe people, their characteristics, their habits, the way they talk and behave around others. They become character types, something I can draw on, dress and put in the part I want them to play. The beauty of this is they are already formed, not so much I can’t alter them, but I have an image, a voice and a mannerism in my head as I write. The name I try to keep generic to age, nationality and occupation. A man from New York is more likely to be called Ira than someone from Dallas, for example. A woman in her 60’s may be called Lilith or Edna but if she is 20 she more likely to be an Ashley or Brittany.
Morgen: Names do make a difference. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Jim: I belong to a writers group who are very supportive and we read each other’s material. If I want a specific reaction, such as someone who is not a writer or has any attachment to my feelings, there are a few people I know casually who will read and give me an honest opinion. Ultimately I prefer an editor but they can be expensive – and brutal.
Morgen: And probably vital. 😦 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Jim: To me a story is like a meteor striking an established area of stable objects, such as memories. I love to read and I enjoy knowing things, mostly so I can have a stockpile of facts in my head for when the space rock strikes and creates a combination that becomes a story. If that makes any sense. Before I start typing anything, I have to have the story conceptualised in my head and a clear idea of why I want to write it. There are times when the need to write something comes from somewhere else, like a challenge or a sense of frustration. My serial is an example of that; I wanted to force myself to create a story and impose a type of deadline on myself. I am posting it chapter by chapter as I write and if it flops I have failed. Like sky diving without the death part.
Morgen: But less breezy. 🙂 That’s brave doing a chapter at a time – I’d say marketing is key to something like that. Getting someone to your site once is hard, getting them to come back must be harder… and not because of the quality but it’s easy to forget. 😦 Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Jim: I only put the writing on the computer but I map out the story on paper. I have recently started using Excel spreadsheets to chart the plot points my novel because of the flexibility it gives me. I don’t do index cards.
Morgen: I have loads but tend not to use them. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Jim: I pretty well use whatever seems natural for the story. I’ve used them all and find each one has its own benefits. The only exception would be the third-person omniscient, I prefer when the narrator knows nothing more than the person he is referring to.
Morgen: And especially when s/he’s unreliable. 🙂 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Jim: Sadly yes, some of them are pretty good and, should I rise to the level of the brand name author I will release them. I have one story about a kid (20’s) who is a completely worthless bum but manages to inherit over $500 million and grows a conscience.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Jim: Favourite part: creating, conceptualizing, writing, having people enjoy the stories. Least favourite: rewrites, rejections, writing blocks and having to go to back to work or bed at the exact point the block disappears.
Morgen: Has anything surprised you about the life that is writing?
Jim: How it can drag emotions, memories and raw feelings out of me. I have laughed and cried while writing my own stuff. I don’t do that when I read.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jim: Ask yourself, do you really want this? Not just the fun of writing and getting published or thinking you have some stories to tell. Ask what happens if you are successful and get published? What then? What do you really want from this? A writer has to write to deadline, travel around promoting his/her book and rejection comes at all levels. How much do you want to be a writer? There are options; you can self publish, you can print on demand, you can stick to amateur work and use your own website. Where are you weakest? You have weaknesses, everyone does, what are you prepared to do to strengthen them? There is no easy way to become a writer, a published writer, and make a living as a writer. Writing seminars, courses, author’s groups will help and are very useful but they WILL NOT make you a writer, despite what they advertisements promise. Writing should come naturally; you should be able to think of events and people in terms of stories. Even in real life, how would you explain an event (happy or tragic) that happened to you? When you meet people, do they become characters in your mind? Is life like a big movie where you sometimes are the narrator and sometimes the audience? Bottom line: If you want to write, not only after watching Julie and Julia, but really like to create stories, then do it. Do it for fun and see where it goes from there.
Morgen: Yes, it has to be a passion. What do you like to read?
Jim: Depends on my mood. Dickens, Forster, Conrad, Michael Chabon (huge fan), Neil Gaiman, Alexander McCall Smith. I enjoy historical fiction such as Ken Follett and an excellent book called Gargoyle by a Canadian author named Andrew Davidson. I also keep my copy of On Writing by Stephen King for inspiration.
Morgen: Ah, Mr King. So many people have recommended ‘On Writing’ (I hope he’s reading this :)). Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Jim: Here are some that I list on my website:
www.writingexcuses.com Writing Excuses, subscribe to their podcast
Morgen: I do and they’re great!
Jim: http://www.sff.net/odyssey Odyssey Writing Workshops, this is an annual workshop for writers but I recommend you subscribe to their podcasts. They cover most subject areas of interest to new authors, not simply Fantasy; www.phrasefinder.co.uk Phrase Finder (subscription required but worth it); www.bartleby.com/141/index.html Strunk’s Elements of Style online; http://www.writing.org/index.html Durant Imoden’s writing site; http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com useful site, primarily for Canadians; http://aaronline.org the Agent search; www.jacketflap.com Networking resources for Children and YA writers; http://absolutewrite.com/forums for those who like forums.
Morgen: I do. 🙂 In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Jim: I live in Canada, which hasn’t been as much of an issue as the fact that I don’t live in Toronto. We have grant programs for new authors but they are harder to receive when you are far removed from the centre. This can also be an issue when American or British agents want self-stamped envelopes for their submissions. The Internet has been a marvellous help in opening up the doors to these distant writing resources.
Morgen: Hasn’t it just? Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Jim: So far I have spent most of my time on LinkedIn and Absolute Write. I don’t spend a lot of time there but I have found them good resources for specific questions.
Morgen: They can be time killers. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Jim: I have put most of my work on my website: http://playandscribe.com. My professional stuff is all over the place but I am proudest of a documentary called “Life with Dad” here is the link: http://onf-nfb.gc.ca/eng/collection/film/?id=51093
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jim: Technology changes but the art of writing cannot be replicated. More people read, whether they hold a book or an electronic screen to their face or listen to the story being read, than ever before. It will be harder to live on writing alone, except for the few, but that hasn’t really changed much. Most writers I know also teach and do other work in other mediums. During my career in television I used to see people claim to be professionals because they owned the right equipment. Talent cannot be purchased; it must be inside you at the start and be nurtured (and tortured) to its full maturity.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Jim: No-one has to be a professional, published, New York Times bestselling author to enjoy writing. There is nothing wrong with writing for pleasure. Amateur means “lover of” and anyone can be a lover of writing. A lack of success does not mean you cannot write.
Morgen: I hadn’t realised about ‘lover of’ but you’re right. Thank you Jim for getting involved with these blog interviews, I’m having such a blast. 🙂
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