close

author

Between The Sheets

Yoav Blum

YoavBlumFeatured3

In our ongoing feature Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with author Yoav Blum about the recent English translation of his debut novel The Coincidence Makers,” how it all began with a daydream, and why he hopes his best work is still to come.

TrunkSpace: “The Coincidence Makers” was recently released in English. With it being your debut novel, what emotions were you juggling with leading up to that moment? Is it difficult putting so much of yourself into something and then releasing it into the world?
Blum: It is always surprising to find how exciting and frightening it is to know someone is letting fragments of you inside their head. “The Coincidence Makers” was originally published in Hebrew in 2011, and I have published two more books since then. The publication of the English version is also a throwback to the self I was seven years ago, and it causes me to re-examine the book, and wonder if I would have written it the same way today, being who I am now.

TrunkSpace: Prior to “The Coincidence Makers” you were working in short stories. When you first decided to move to long-form storytelling, did you have to adjust your process? What changed between the writer you were then to the writer you are since completing the book?
Blum: I found out that when I’m writing a book, I’m diving much deeper into myself. A short story will almost always be the way I planned it, but I only know what a book is about after finishing it, observing it “from the outside,” finding out its true personality. I still like to write in “small bits” of time, but the fact that the writing process takes months (and even more) allows another layer of self to emerge.

TrunkSpace: The story focuses on three people who work for a secret organization that manufactures what appears to be random coincidences. It’s a great concept and one that many writers will be cursing themselves over for not having come up with it themselves. How long has it been gestating in your mind and what was the real world coincidence that sparked the idea?
Blum: It started from daydreaming, as always. I read a book about the mind-body problem, and it started a series of thoughts. How do decisions created in an entirely spiritual world (by God) create a new thing in the physical world? I wrote a short story about some “middle-men” as a way to contemplate that. Then, after some time, I decided to develop this short story into a book, and this time it became more extensive and dealt with free will vs. destiny, the way we make decisions, and, of course, love…

TrunkSpace: As you look back at the work, what are you most proud of when it comes to “The Coincidence Makers?”
Blum: It was a work of passion, from a clueless mind that had no idea if someone will ever read it, and he wrote it anyway. I like that in my past self. It was also a very private text, sometimes, and the fact that other people found themselves in it keeps bringing me joy.

TrunkSpace: There’s a great genre swirl going on in your book. Readers really do get a little bit of everything by the time they finish the last page. Was that a conscious creative game plan on your part when you first started putting it together?
Blum: In a nutshell, I wanted to write a book I would love to read, and I wanted to put in it what I liked in books – whatever genre they are. So I wrote to myself, not trying to aim to a particular genre, as long as the small reader in my head was satisfied, that was enough.

TrunkSpace: You wrote your first book when you were six years old, which based on the description, sounded a bit like a comic book given the art element. Any desire to take your skill set to the sequential pages of the comic book medium?
Blum: I think about that sometimes. That would be cool. One of my short stories in the past was written initially to be turned into a comic, but it didn’t happen. I can’t really draw, so if there is someone out there that would like to cooperate in creating a graphic novel – even based on TCM itself – that can be very interesting.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Blum: I’m not sure I fully discovered it yet. The writer that wrote TCM almost a decade ago is different from who I am today. I hope my best and sharpest book is somewhere in the future, and not in the past. Also, I want my voice to be fluid, and to change with time, the same way I change.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Blum: When I’m inside it, it is a labor of love but for some reason it is still always hard to start. After I convince myself to start, I can be “in the zone” many times, but the convincing part is the hard part… there is always something else to do, isn’t it?

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Blum: Each book was a different process. But if I try to generalize it – I gather notes and ideas for an extended period, months or more, and try to see if some broader idea comes out. I try to define what is my starting point – my “what if,” and to see how I can dive into this “what if.” The actual writing is most of the time defined in advance – I sit down intending to write a particular chapter or scene. I sometimes listen to music I choose that can help for that specific scene. From time to time I stop and look at what I have and make sure the way I walk leads to where I want to get.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Blum: Yes, but I try to do it without hurting the flow. There will be a few rounds of self-editing after finishing the first draft anyway before I would dare show it to anyone.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Blum: I never feel that the manuscript is “finished.” There is always more editing to be done, and you just have to stop somewhere, or you will edit yourself to oblivion. I try not to read my books after publishing them, as I know that most of the time I would ask myself – “who the hell wrote that?”

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Blum: As I said, I don’t like to discuss things I work on before I feel they are ready to be exposed. I try to experiment with different kinds of writing at the moment, and there is work with the publications of TCM in many languages. But hopefully, TCM will not be the last of my books to be published in English.

“The Coincidence Makers” is available now from St. Martin’s Press.

 

read more
Between The Sheets

Thomas Pierce

ThomasPierce_BetweenTheSheets

In our ongoing feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with Thomas Pierce to discuss his new novel “The Afterlives,the reason he wanted to write about death in a very particular way, and why you’ll never catch him writing in his pajamas.

TrunkSpace: “The Afterlives” tackles a lot of heavy themes that most people have thought about at some point in their lives, either consciously or through some kind of late night internal discussion with themselves. When you set out to write the book, was the goal to create something that was, at least in terms of theme, universally relatable?
Pierce: Creating something that was universally relatable was never really a goal, per se, but I’ll be very pleased if this book resonates with people, late at night or otherwise, and especially if the story has any sort of impact on the way people think about their own lives and deaths. I can say that I was interested in writing about death – or about what’s next – in a way that wasn’t morose or gloomy but also not overly hopeful or certain. I wanted to write a book that was both reverent and irreverent.

TrunkSpace: When the core concept of the book first planted its seed in your mind, was the character Jim Byrd different from who we ultimately go on a journey with today? What was Jim’s creative discovery like and did you “find him” right away?
Pierce: I was working on a different novel four years ago, but then my wife and I had our first child and I was having a tough time staying connected to that project. Also I was pretty exhausted all the time. So I began to jot down fragments and lines, as they occurred to me, and eventually I realized those pieces all shared a similar sensibility and perspective that really interested me. That became Jim’s voice, ultimately. I created him from the inside-out. Aspects of his biography evolved and changed, but his essence was always the same. From the beginning he was the sort of person who wished the sky would break open and the universe would reveal its true nature to him. He was always a seeker – but an affable one.

TrunkSpace: You’re now only a few days away from the release of “The Afterlives” to the masses. When you put so much of yourself into a project like this, both creatively and personally, is it daunting to then completely relinquish control of it?
Pierce: Definitely. The book and I now go our separate ways. But this divorce is amicable.

TrunkSpace: Early reviews of the book have been wonderful thus far. Has that peer acceptance brought about a different sense of accomplishment than you could perhaps feel should the same feedback come from a consumer audience?
Pierce: Thank you! I’m grateful for every reader and every good review. That being said, I’d really love to reach a point as a writer and as a human where my mood is not at the mercy of a review or other people’s reactions. Positive or negative. It seems like it might be important to my overall mental health, long-term, as a maker of things, that I not let my sense of accomplishment or worth hinge on criticism or praise. I’m not there yet, but I’m really trying. A work-in-progress.

TrunkSpace: As you look back over your own personal journey with “The Afterlives,” what is a moment that will stick with you and that you’ll carry with you throughout the rest of your career?
Pierce: I narrated the audiobook, and I’d been in the recording booth for a few days when I reached a passage in the novel that is particularly sad. Without going into detail, it’s a plot point that I’d really struggled with – how to render it most effectively – and for all that technical struggling I’d somehow stopped experiencing it on an emotional level. It’s almost like I’d been watching an edit of a film without the score, paying attention only to the transitions and the lighting and whether the actors were hitting their marks. But reading it aloud, for whatever reason, I got the full effect. Suddenly I could hear the orchestra swell underneath the crucial scene. It was a little overwhelming. My family lost someone really important to us while I was working on this book, and I think that loss was encoded into the story at a certain level. So much of what I was thinking and feeling and experiencing over the last couple of years became enshrined in this book, even if obliquely so, and I don’t think I fully appreciated that until then, there in the studio.

TrunkSpace: Did you learn anything about yourself as a writer in the process of working on “The Afterlives” that perhaps you hadn’t seen or considered in your prior creative endeavors?
Pierce: I’m not sure if this is because of the book or if it’s something that has happened to me in conjunction with it, but I’ve learned in recent years to take my work both more and less seriously. More seriously because I understand we only have so much time together on this planet. Less seriously because – well, same reason actually.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Pierce: I’m not sure I’ve found it yet! I joke, sort of. Rather than a voice I might be more comfortable saying that I have over the last decade developed a certain sensibility. But I’m still refining that sensibility, and the confidence comes and goes.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Pierce: Depends on the day. Or maybe it’s always a little bit of both. If I’m deep into a story, I really love it. I love disappearing into it. I also love coming up with new ideas while I’m in the shower or on a run. Problem-solving. Writing while not writing.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Pierce: I can work most places, though I tend to stick close to home these days. I have a desk there with pictures of things I like to look at and a window over the desk. When I’m smart, I turn off the internet. I like to listen to music. I like having the dog at or near my feet. I like “clocking in.” I’ve always appreciated that anecdote about Cheever putting on a coat and tie before going down to his desk in the basement. No tie for me but I never write in pajamas.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Pierce: I circle back constantly and rewrite. Each day I like to re-type much of what I wrote the previous day as a way of sharpening and clarifying but also as a way of reentering the story. Sometimes it’s like trying to fall back into a dream you didn’t want to wake from. You have to convince yourself again that it all makes perfect sense.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Pierce: I don’t think I’m particularly hard on myself as a writer. Except maybe: I always wish I could fit more life and more ideas into a story. I never feel quite satisfied that it’s all there.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Pierce: I’ll have a new short story out in Oxford American this spring. It is one of a handful of connected stories I’ve been working on over the last few years. I’m hoping to put together another collection soon. I have a novel I’m slowly moving forward with and an idea for another one. I’m also adapting one of my stories into a screenplay for Fox Searchlight.

The Afterlives” is available now from Riverhead Books.

read more
Between The Sheets

Diane Rios

DianeRios_BetweenTheSheets

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with Diane Rios to discuss her new novel “Bridge of the Gods: The Silver Mountain Series, Book One,the fantastical draw of fantasy, and how working in the world’s largest independent book store inspired her on multiple levels.

TrunkSpace: Your debut novel, “Bridge of the Gods: The Silver Mountain Series, Book One,” was released on August 15. What emotions were you experiencing leading up to the release of the book? Was it a mix of excitement and nervousness?
Rios: Yes, both! Also joy and relief! It being my first novel I had no idea how it would be received, and it’s a bit of a leap of faith to throw yourself out there like that! Especially being such a fan of middle grade literature – I did not want to let my literary heroes down, or my friends or their children! Thanks to some very encouraging reviews I am feeling a lot better, and the joy and excitement are taking over.

TrunkSpace: What was the journey like for you in terms of the first creative spark that gave birth to The Silver Mountain Series to where you physically held a copy in your hands? How long was it? How difficult of a journey was it, if at all?
Rios: I always wanted to write a middle grade novel, because I LOVED middle grade novels when I was a middle grader. They were my best friends for years, and those friends never left me. That was the initial “creative spark” – those books. L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books, the Little House on the Prairie Books, the Cricket in Times Square series, the Narnia books, Beatrix Potter’s stories and Marguerite Henry’s books, among others, all took me to worlds I wanted to live in forever. Also, I was absolutely crazy for horses and anything to do with horses. As I grew, those passions remained, and when I got a job working at Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland I was in middle reader heaven.

For three years I worked in every room of the store, which is the size of an entire city block, and my favorite of course was the Rose Room, or the children’s room. There I shelved new and used and out-of-print children’s books of all kinds. Caldecott winners, Newberry winners, Coretta Scott King award winners. Middle readers, Young Adult, fantasy, poetry, biography – and my favorite, horse stories. I rebuilt my personal collection of best-book-friends from childhood, and my imagination was definitely sparked to finally write my own story.

“Bridge of the Gods” took four years to complete. The original manuscript was around 170,000 words, over 60 chapters long, and I decided it worked much better as two books, so “Bridge of the Gods” is Book One of the series, and Book Two is obviously already written. When I discovered She Writes Press through my mother, it seemed the perfect way to publish and I submitted. After being accepted I began the editing process, which lasted about six months. Six months after that – the book arrived on my doorstep in a big cardboard box. A thrill to open!!! All told, from submission to doorstep was about one year.

TrunkSpace: As a new author looking to build a readership, what are the biggest hurdles you face? How does “Bridge of the Gods: The Silver Mountain Series, Book One” go from being published to being read?
Rios: My biggest challenge as a new author is to get reviews. I need to connect with my readers and ask them to help support the book by leaving reviews everywhere they can – on Amazon, on Goodreads, or any blog or article they see it mentioned. As a consumer, I know how important reviews are – I rely on them myself! I hope the media attention the book has gotten so far is enough to excite people to read the book, and if they like it I would be THRILLED if they could take a second to leave a review, and recommend by word of mouth. I love getting book recommendations from my friends!

TrunkSpace: As mentioned above, you actually used to work in a book store. Did that experience help shape you as a writer? Did it help shape your branding/marketing brain because you were able to see firsthand what connected with consumers and what didn’t?
Rios: Oh yes, Powell’s was an incredible education for me. It was my first job as a bookseller and they trained me from scratch. As you may know it is the biggest independent bookstore in the world! They have literally acres of new and used, out-of-print and rare books, and I was the luckiest girl in the world to have been able to handle them all. My job title was “Generalist” and that meant I worked in every capacity – as a cashier, at the info stands, shelving, sorting, labeling, I even got to work in the Rare Book Room!!! What a dream!!! I am a very visual, display-oriented person and LOVED Powell’s displays, and I saw how much customers were drawn to that. But that is just my marketing/branding brain, I was so influenced by my job at Powell’s in other ways too! Just the books themselves, and the amazing rooms they were in gave me no end of inspiration! Working in the Gold Room – it’s the Sci Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Graphic Novel room – I spent hours and hours up a ladder in there shelving, and I worked deep in “The Cave” (the almost-windowless-lined-with-paperbacks work-space of the Gold Room), listening to loud rock and roll while we sorted the sci fi/fantasy/romance/paranormal romance/mystery/ books off the big carts from the warehouse. It was SO much fun, so inspiring, and the PEOPLE I worked with blew me away too! As you can imagine, Powell’s is full of talent – incredible talent. Artists, writers, musicians – I was amazed on a daily basis by who I was working with. Someone ought to just start a Powell’s music label and publishing house already.

TrunkSpace: YA is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days and it seems the actual definition of it blurs based on who you ask. In your opinion, what does YA mean and who is the audience? (Not necessarily age demographic, but the profile of the reader.)
Rios: In my opinion the definition of “YA” has changed over the years. Perhaps in the early days it referred to an age group, but now I think it is incredibly inclusive. There is a lot of overlap these days between other genres like middle readers, memoirs, and fantasy. Young Adult encompasses all of those now, and it’s really cool because it opens up all these other worlds to readers of ALL ages! I mean, what age doesn’t like Harry Potter?

TrunkSpace: How important has the written word been in your life, both as a consumer and as someone with thoughts that just need to get out in a creative capacity?
Rios: Almost everything. The written word has been absolutely critical to me. My values and world view was formed in large part by the stories I read as a child, and as a young adult. My expression of my deepest feelings and instincts, the expression of any wisdom I may have acquired through my 50 years on this planet, is mostly-expressed through the written word. Writing is an outlet for everyone. It is one of the most powerful tools we all have access to. You don’t need a power cord for it, or a computer, or wi-fi access, or a phone – you only need something to write with or on. Writing is therapy, it is healing, it is love, and literacy is one of the most important issues of our time.

TrunkSpace: Readers escape in the worlds of fantasy, getting lost in the characters and their thrilling adventures. As an author of fantasy, do you find yourself getting lost in those same situations but from a different perspective?
Rios: Actually, it’s very much the same! I write what I want to read – and I edit by reading it as I would any book, which works very well for me! The terribly-written parts just jump out at me when I pretend I’m a reader reading it for the first time. It’s kind of horrifying actually – editing can be scary, but oh-so-necessary! When I finally get it just the way it should be, I know because I feel transported. I walk into the world in my head and I just…expand in it, trying to savor it, be in it, live in it. It makes me want to write more and more books just to BE in those places longer! It’s one of my favorite things when an author I love writes a long series. I’m never ready for it to be over!

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Rios: I do love the process, but I didn’t always. When I started BOG I didn’t really know what I was doing. The very first version of the manuscript was IMO very silly, and I basically re-wrote the whole thing, from a different angle. Then I re-wrote it again because it was still kind of terrible. It’s at times like these that it isn’t any fun at all, and does feel like hard work. I felt like giving up of course, I think that is a predictable stage in any difficult project. I didn’t give up because I wanted to finish it. I’m not getting any younger, and even if nothing ever happened and it was never published, at least it would be DONE. And hopefully not too embarrassing, please literary gods! So I rewrote it again until it was better, and I was happier, and then further editing made me even happier, so now that it’s done and I’ve gotten some good reviews – it’s finally fun! Phew! I think Book Two will be a lot more fun.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Rios: For me, the best time to write is in the wee hours of the morning. “Bridge of the Gods” was written almost entirely between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. I have a bit of insomnia and I go to bed at a ridiculously early hour, so believe it or not, I am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at that hour! It’s very quiet out in the world then, and nobody is up in the house so I can really immerse myself and get a lot done.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Rios: Yes, I will write it all out quickly at first – changing things here and there – and then I immediately will go through again and really edit. Then another pass usually, possibly a fourth – and it’s usually there, at least until the next day when I re-read. A little time between editing frenzies makes a HUGE difference in the end result!

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Rios: I criticize myself for not taking MORE time on it. I’ve heard you never feel “done” and I guess that’s true. I’m so nervous I’ll see something I really don’t like about it, something that I missed during the editing process – that I’m afraid to read it! Like an actor that doesn’t watch their own movies. That’s just the nerves talking though, it goes away, and it motivates me for Book Two.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Rios: I’m going to start editing Book Two next month! I have a working title I’ll share at a later date, but Chloe’s adventures continue with a super-exciting finish! It’s the culmination we’ve all been waiting for, and along the way you get to meet some incredible animal characters. In Book Two we meet Auberon King of the Bears, Mai the Wise Wolf, Afra the Great White Doe and King Cornix of the Ravens. Book Two will be an action-packed sequel, and hopefully will be out in 2018!

I’m also writing a collection of children’s poems called “Poems For Little People” inspired by A.A. Milne’s “When We Were Very Young” and “Now We Are Six.”

“Bridge of the Gods” is available now from She Writes Press.

read more
Between The Sheets

Jac Jemc

JacJemc_BetweenTheSheets

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with Jac Jemc to discuss her new novel “The Grip of It,” dissecting scares, and how she handles critical acclaim.

TrunkSpace: Looking at your body of work as a whole, it’s very diverse and you don’t seem beholden to any one genre. Is that important for you in your career, to not be perceived as a creator who is identified as a certain “type” of author.
Jemc: Every time I try to define what it is I do, it changes, so I guess it is important to me because it’s how I keep operating again and again. It’s less about how I want to be perceived and more about what I have to do to keep myself excited. I like to surprise myself when I’m writing and that involves trying out new methods and solving a new set of puzzles with each project.

TrunkSpace: In “The Grip of It” you tackle psychological horror. Is there joy in dissecting scares as opposed to just presenting them to readers? There’s something inherently chilling about knowing something is wrong but not knowing why. And then of course, the brain starts to paint its own picture of what’s lurking.
Jemc: I don’t know that I could write scares without letting the characters dissect them, so yes! The characters don’t want to trust what’s happening around them, so they look for reasons not to believe what it is they see or hear. Unless a person has a strong relationship to the paranormal, I imagine this is how most people would operate when they experience something that seems impossible. They’d have to convince themselves to believe what they saw/heard/felt, because they know everyone else will be skeptical of it, too. And how would you keep an experience like that to yourself?

TrunkSpace: When writing with the intention to creep out the reader, do you take the material out for a test drive and let people read it before presenting it to your editor (or the world)? We ask because not all scares are created equal. Some people jump from spiders. Some people scream over clowns. Is it important to see if the scares are working?
Jemc: Ah, for the scares, I trust my own instincts for the most part. The haunting in “The Grip of It” is of a pretty particular variety, and I had some tonal inspirations in mind: David Lynch and Shirley Jackson and first – or secondhand stories that friends have told me – usually pretty firmly rooted in the realm of the possible, but uncanny. I tested out a few passages at live readings in very nurturing environments – usually at artist residencies, where everything is understood to be a work in progress… and generally people seemed pretty creeped out, so I knew I was on the right track for what I was trying to accomplish. In later revisions, I have several trusted readers – my agent, editor and a couple friends – who I count on to give me an honest read, more for pacing and plot to make sure those scares are being put to good use.

TrunkSpace: Reading horror is one of the purest forms of getting an emotional reaction out of readers. Nothing is better than reading some terrifying verse that then makes you start looking over your shoulder. Do you hope that “The Grip of It” will force people to look over their shoulder and break away for an occasional mental break?
Jemc: It would be the greatest honor if “The Grip of It” forced people to squint a bit closer at what they trust and believe. My goal isn’t to make people paranoid in the long term, but I’m a person who enjoys being scared in a controlled way, and I hope the book finds an audience of like-minded people.

TrunkSpace: You have received a lot of critical acclaim for your work over the years. Does that industry attention put pressure on you to deliver in a particular way each time out?
Jemc: I’ve been thinking about that with this book because it does verge into the horror genre. If readers dig through previous work or read my writing in the future, looking for something very similar, they might be disappointed that works stretch into other areas, but I don’t think I can really be concerned with that. I will try to tell the best story I can every time, and I will hope that the work finds its best audience.

TrunkSpace: You also work in the non-fiction space. How does the process differ for you from writing something like “The Grip of It?”
Jemc: My essays are always rooted in something in the real world that I have a desire to talk about, and while it might shift and grow with drafting and revision, it is still tied to that initial idea in a pretty direct way. Writing fiction, the process feels a bit blinder. I might not realize what I’m writing about until several drafts in.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Jemc: I don’t really believe in “finding your voice.” I think a writer’s voice grows and forms as they make work, sure, but I can look back at stories I wrote as a kid and poems I wrote as a teen, and I can hear my voice. I see those obsessions beginning to form. It all exists together, and it’s always changing, thank goodness.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Jemc: It is a labor of love for sure. If you worked out the amount of money I’ve earned for my writing compared to the number of hours I’ve put in, I’d be surprised if it averaged out to more than a dollar or so an hour over the course of the past dozen years. It is hard work to be sure, and I can procrastinate which makes it feel harder. There are moments that feel easy, when the words come more swiftly, like a runner’s high, but that’s not reliable. I’ve compared writing, too, to people who say they hate running, but love the feeling of having run. Writing feels similar for me. It can be hard to sit down and do the work, but I love the feeling when the work for the day is done, even if what I got down on the page wasn’t very good. I show up every day for that feeling.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Jemc: I wake up and make coffee and read a little bit, to warm up my brain, and then I like to write right away – a word count if I’m drafting or some other measurable goal if I’m revising. If I can write until lunchtime, that’s the ideal. Most days life intrudes and this doesn’t happen, but that’s the ideal.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Jemc: Yes, though that can vary. I usually read back over the last page or so of what I’ve written as I’m drafting, before adding words, and it’s impossible for me to read over that previous work without trying to fix it up.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Jemc: I always feel like I could be better at time management, like I waste too much time lazing around the internet. I wish I could write faster.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Jemc: I’m working on a historical fiction project set in 1800s Bavaria around a king and some peripheral women in his life, and a mystery that exists between them. I have a couple stories coming out in the next few months: one in The Southwest Review and another in “Catapult Giant Book of Tiny Crimes.”

“The Grip of It: A Novel” is available now from FSG Originals.

read more
Between The Sheets

Matthew Sullivan

MatthewSullivan_BetweenTheSheets

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” author Matthew Sullivan to see how growing up in a family of eight children impacted his storytelling, how he felt upon turning in his manuscript, and where he’s hardest on himself as a writer.

TrunkSpace: You grew up in a family of eight children. Did that set the table for you to become a storyteller?
Sullivan: Most definitely. My brothers and sisters and I entertained ourselves a lot by telling stories from real-life about teachers, or camping trips, or our many misdeeds. Of course with each telling, the stories would usually gain another layer of detail or exaggeration, so there was always a joyful, one-up quality to our storytelling. The Blarney in our house was through the roof.

My brothers and I also spent a lot of time making up these elaborate, often absurd characters and had them interact with each other. We’d draw them and do voices and playacting. Some of those characters went on and on for years, like Art, and Cousin Art, and Bart—these giant guys who injected oil barrels full of heroin, only ate eclairs, and beat up everyone they interacted with. We were bizarre kids. It was the 70s.

TrunkSpace: Do any of your siblings also make a living as storytellers and if not, why do you think you were drawn towards that creative space while they were not?
Sullivan: My mom was a nurse but she also was a writer on the side. She published stories and articles and a few middle-grade novels in the 1990s, so there were always writing magazines in the bathroom, and a number of us inherited those genes.

I was child number five, right in the middle, and was a pretty quiet, observational kid, so the writing thing made sense to me. When I was little I would sometimes wander around the house just crying and crying for hours—kind of like that kid Wilder in Don DeLillo’s “White Noise.” I think it was because I wanted to be noticed, or maybe because I was just sad, and everyone would just yell at me to shut-up already. To me, that’s a precursor to the writing life: Something is wrong! And I have something to say about it! Maybe novel-writing is just an adult way of roaming around and crying?

TrunkSpace: “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” is your debut novel. What was the journey like for you in terms of when you first came up with the concept to when you learned it would be published? Was it a long road?
Sullivan: It was a very long road, but that’s just the path I was on, so I have no regrets. The initial seeds for the story were planted in my twenties when I was working at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, but I didn’t sit down to write it until many years later. Then when I finally did, it took 3-4 years to write the first draft, and another 3-4 years to revise, and sat in a drawer for a long time in between. All that time I was raising babies, working overtime, quitting smoking, burying my mother and my sister—in other words, a lot of important things were getting between me and the page. But it worked out in the end.

TrunkSpace: Are there butterflies as you gear up to release the book to the world?
Sullivan: For sure! But then I remember how this book was sitting in a drawer for quite a while and I wasn’t sure I would ever get it out again, so I can’t help but feel overjoyed at how it turned out. And my friends and family and early readers have been really supportive of the whole thing, which also helps.

TrunkSpace: Knowing that this was your first novel, was it hard to let go of the manuscript and call it “complete” or did you want to keep tinkering?
Sullivan: By the time we reached the very last edits, I felt like it was as ready as it could be, given the writer I am right now. Of course, there’s always more to do, but it’s also refreshing to face a blank page again, to start something new and begin to apply whatever I’ve learned along the way.

TrunkSpace: What did you learn about yourself as a writer in the process of writing “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” that you hope to apply to your writing career moving forward?
Sullivan: On a level of craft, I now pay more attention to a story’s pace and structure than I ever have before, both as a writer and as a reader… it’s so important to keep things moving, even in a character-driven story. On a more personal level, I realized how necessary it is to be persistent, even when things get bumpy, and to be ready to do what it takes, no matter how time-consuming or painful, in order to create a better story.

TrunkSpace: When you’re writing a mystery novel, what is more important to establish first… the plot points or the mystery elements themselves, which we’d imagine, have to be unique to compel readers familiar with the mystery genre?
Sullivan: The initial crime needs to be imaginative and intriguing. But for me, once the initial crime and general arc are established, a lot of the steps involved in getting to a resolution come out of characters—how they behave, what motivates them or catches their attention. Plot points and clues are important, but I’m always far more interested in the people involved. After all, the characters are intertwined with the crime, so I think their personalities steer the discoveries as much as anything.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Sullivan: I really love to write. I do. There are times when I am in that creative trance and everything falls into place, but more often than not, it’s difficult, even to the point of drudgery. But that’s all part of it. Creativity is a healthy compulsion, even when it’s tough. I love it.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Sullivan: Like a lot of writers, I find I’m most productive when I get away from social media and the internet. That’s a good start. Ideally, I also try to arrange times when I can really be immersed, even if it’s only for a day. I have an old 1960s “canned-ham” travel trailer, and I sometimes will take off in it by myself, with a laptop, a bicycle, and some books, for days on end. Those are productive times. But that’s also not real life. In real life, it’s more like I grab an hour to write on a Tuesday after work and another one on Sunday night, and try to cobble together the week that way.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Sullivan: I do. I have a hard time seeing something as valuable to the story unless it’s pretty polished on a sentence level, so I’m always reworking. The downside of that, of course, is that I eventually end up deleting a lot of really polished scenes because they don’t fit the story as it evolves. Ah, well.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Sullivan: I don’t trust myself enough. Even when I like something I’ve written, there’s always a sense of doubt creeping in.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Sullivan: I have a short thriller being published any day in Joyland magazine, and an essay in Lit Hub, and some little things elsewhere. And I’m working on another literary mystery novel, this one about a woman who ends up living all alone in a strange small town in the Northwest. I’m excited to get deeper into it.

“Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” is available today from Scribner.

read more
Between The Sheets

Gian Sardar

GianSardar_BetweenTheSheets

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with “You Were Here” author Gian Sardar to discuss the panic upon hitting send, when she found her voice as a writer, and what an ideal work day would look like if she had a magic wand.

TrunkSpace: “You Were Here” is a much different book than your debut “Psychic Junkie.” With that being said, did you approach the way you wrote the book differently?
Sardar: Absolutely. “Psychic Junkie” was a true story, the life of Sarah Lassez, and though I lived most of it with her as her roommate and close friend, I still had to defer to her when it came to choices – so my writing was not only hitched to truth, but to another’s opinion. As I was writing “You Were Here,” I only answered to myself, and that freedom was both exciting and at times frightening.

TrunSpace: “You Were Here” gets down and dirty with some pretty heavy subject matter. Words can really paint a picture of terror for a reader and place them in the shoes of the characters within a story. Do you think about that… giving goosebumps to your readers… when you’re working on a book or a particular scene?
Sardar: Yes! For those certain scenes I can only hope I give goosebumps to my readers, because if I did, the scene was successful. I know that while writing it I spooked myself on a few occasions, as I have the unfortunate tendency to do a lot of writing around 2 or 3 AM, and let me tell you, it’s very dark then, and the house is very quiet…not always the best time to write scary scenes.

TrunkSpace: Cover art has become so eye catching and often times very complex. “You Were Here” takes a more with less approach. What was the thought process behind the design?
Sardar: I was lucky enough to have the Putnam design team on my side, and so I must credit them fully for the beautiful cover. What I love is the sense of mystery, the hazy lettering, the hints of so much more. It does such an amazing job of capturing the essence of the book – and both the time periods – in such a simple way.

TrunkSpace: Writers put so much time and energy into a book. What is the first thing you did when completing the final draft of “You Were Here” and how long was it before you started writing again?
Sardar: Honestly, the first thing I did after hitting “Send” was freak out and start reading it again. I had to force myself to walk away and not look at it, because I knew if I did I would see a dozen things on every page that needed changing. So it took physical willpower to walk away. And though I’d been excited to get back to a project I’d started while waiting for notes and edits, I definitely needed a buffer zone, so to speak, after finishing this one before diving into anything else. What helped was reading, dipping into other worlds. A book every other a day for a couple weeks was just what the doctor ordered.

TrunkSpace: With that same idea in mind, is it hard to let go of a manuscript and call it “complete” when you put so much of yourself into it?
Sardar: Yes! If you let me sneak into the printers’, I’d make changes even now. The only reason I finally considered it done was because they had to cut me off and tell me no more changes. And I don’t just mean on the sentence level, but when you’re that immersed into a world the characters stay with you and might just whisper in your ear that they’d like another scene or two. It’s definitely hard to consider it complete when it still lives within you.

TrunkSpace: What did you learn about yourself as a writer in the process of writing your first two books and how do you hope to apply that to your career moving forward?
Sardar: Trust. I learned that the answers come to me, they always do, so I just need to trust. With my fiction, not everything is figured out when I start – I have a loose outline and a lot of questions and often I know where I want to go but not how I’m getting there. I discover a lot in the writing process. But when you’ve got a blank page, it’s hard to remember that it will all, somehow, miraculously, come together. I need to keep that in mind and spend less time worrying and more time trusting.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Sardar: That’s a good question. I think it’s been there since college, but it’s certainly evolved based on my own changing view and interest in the world.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Sardar: I love writing. Nothing makes me feel more elated than when I had a good writing day. Of course sometimes questions arise about plot or character, something I need to figure or make
sure is working, and that’s when there’s anxiety involved. But even then, if I just sit down to write, whether it’s something I keep or not, I’m transported. And that’s when I need to remember to trust, that if I give myself time it will come together. I never worry about “wasted pages” that never see the light of day, because it’s the writing process I love and sometimes I just need to write to work through whatever’s got me caught, just so I can feel inspired.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Sardar: If I had a magic wand, I’d create a rainy day that starts at 4 AM and involves me writing on the couch under a blanket until about 10 AM. Of course that would involve someone else making my son breakfast and taking him to school, and since my husband is at work at 6:30 AM it’s obvious this is all fantasy. In reality I’d take just waking very, very early in the morning (3 or 4 AM), getting in a few hours of writing and then taking my son to school. Then I’d come home and read a bit, then write some more and hopefully take a short nap before picking my son back up.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Sardar: Yes. Every day, when I start writing, I back up and re-read and edit what I wrote the day prior, and once I’ve done that I start with the new material. Then, periodically, I’ll read from the beginning as well, to see how things are working. I find so much in the editing process that it helps to go back and re-examine and tweak constantly. Editing is my favorite part of writing.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Sardar: Can I say “everything”? It all depends on the day – some days are just off from the start and on those days I can do nothing right. In general though, I tend to be very critical of my dialogue, so that’s something I’m constantly examining.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Sardar: I’m about mid-way through writing another novel, but am keeping it quiet so I don’t jinx anything. (Laughter)

You Were Here, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, is available May 16.

read more