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Between The Sheets

Christopher J. Yates

ChristopherJYates_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 Christopher J. Yates to discuss his new novel “Grist Mill Road,” why he likes to discover story elements organically, and how two pints can fuel the creative fire.

TrunkSpace: Your new book Grist Mill Roadwas recently released to the public. When you finish a work and walk away from it in a creative sense, do you also have to walk away in personal sense? Is it difficult to put so much of yourself into something and then put it in the hands of the universe?
Yates: I wish I could walk away from it. But then there are interviews and articles to write, so if you walk away too far you might not be able to answer questions to your best. After my first book, “Black Chalk” was released, I think it took me two or three months to walk away.

TrunkSpace: When youre sitting down to write a new book like Grist Mill Road,how much preparation goes into the genre aspect of what youre working on? In the planning stage, do you also track the thrill ride moments, or do those come out later in the process as the story takes shape in your mind?
Yates: I put absolutely ZERO planning into it. “Grist Mill Road” begins with a horrific crime. A teenage boy ties a teenage girl to a tree and shoots her over and over again with a BB gun. I had no idea for two years why this had happened and was beginning to panic. One day the idea just popped into my head. I prefer to do it that way, organically, rather than taking moves from the drama writing playbook, which bores me beyond tears.

TrunkSpace: As you look back at the work, what are you most proud of when it comes to Grist Mill Road?
Yates: I’m most proud of the language. Most people read books for the plot, and I think I’ve written a great plot. But when I read, I read for language, for voice. I always know within five pages whether or not I’m going to like a novel just from the sense of style, tone and language.

TrunkSpace: What did you learn about yourself as a writer in the process of working on the book? They say that the second time is a charmis the second book a charm as well?
Yates: We will see if the second time’s a charm. The novel’s just come out and I’m very nervous about sales. What I’ve learned about myself is that I didn’t learn from the first novel to try and relax about sales.

TrunkSpace: You discovered you would become a published author a day before turning 40. Some people feel that theyve missed their moment to pursue their dreams, but you seem like a perfect example of it never being too late to swing for the fences. Was it daunting for you to take that first step in pursuing your writing or was it an easy decision to make?
Yates: So the first step was when I turned 30. It took me 10 years of steps to get published. No, it’s never too late. Arguably it might get harder, but as a survivor of two unpublished novels and over 50 rejections for my “third” novel (“Black Chalk”), which not only got published but did very well, I can assure you it’s never too late. Persist.

TrunkSpace: You also studied law. As an author working in the thriller space, have you found yourself being able to tap into that part of your education when crafting elements of your novels?
Yates: Studying law was about learning how to fashion a coherent argument. I think a good plot is very similar to a coherent argument.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Yates: Maybe five or six years. My voice was considered “promising” with those first two novels that never got published. But “promising” wasn’t good enough. You have to get to “polished”. I buffed away for a long time.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Yates: Oh, on the good days, hell yes, it’s like you’re flying. Everything else in the world seems very small and far away, there’s just you and the words, it’s the best. And some days it’s just a grind, a labor. Editing can be laborious (although some writers love to edit). I guess my favorite thing is when I write a paragraph and I know I’m not going to change a single word.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Yates: Everyone’s different, you have to find your conditions. Mine involve writing in the morning until maybe 2 p.m. when I take the dog for a walk. I’ve very rarely done good work in the afternoon – although occasionally two pints in a bar (and NO MORE than two), can stir something up again.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Yates: Absolutely. I self-edit hard, over and over again. Unless I’ve been flying!

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Yates: I have a very intense fear of getting something wrong factually. I refuse to make shit up unless I know for certain it is true/possible/not a huge pile of horse shit.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Yates: I’m afraid I’m going to be coy about this. I have 15,000 words of something I love, I hate, I love, I hate… but if people want to read something after they’ve read my fiction, there are a lot of essays about writing on my website.

“Grist Mill Road” is available now from Picador USA.

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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.

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