Posts Tagged ‘writing advice’

Erin McGraw, author of Joy

I’ve had the good fortune to learn from a variety of different authors. And sometimes they’ve had the bad fortune–I mean, they’ve been kind enough to teach me in person instead of through the medium of a book. Recently, I had the good fortune to go and listen to one of my professors, Dr. Erin McGraw, do a reading of her new book Joy (which is also my next read, by the way) at the bookstore near me. We got to talking afterwards, and I asked if she wouldn’t mind letting me interview her.

This is the resulting interview. Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary people of manners, let me introduce Erin McGraw!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the show, Erin. Please tell us something about yourself and your published works.

Erin McGraw: I’ve written seven books of fiction, three novels and four story collections.  Whenever I’m writing stories, I’m convinced that novels are easier.  When I’m bogged down in a novel, I long to be writing stories.

RU: Your latest book is Joy, a collection of 53 short stories. Please tell us how the project came about and what sort of stories are inside the collection.

EM: Joy happened largely by accident.  I had just retired and finished two novels back to back, and I was tired.  I thought I was writing tiny little stories—3-4 pages—just to keep in practice until I could figure out what my next book was going to be.  It took embarrassingly long to realize that these tiny little stories were the next book.

The stories are dramatic monologues, meaning that the main character steps out of their life to directly address the reader, explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing.  Since these are people acting as their own defense attorneys, they often lie.  That’s what makes things interesting.

RU: Obviously, there are a number of different voices within Joy. Did you do any sort of research for any of the voices you wrote?

EM: I researched almost all of them to some degree.  The ones that come from actual people, like Ava Gardner or Patsy Cline’s dresser, required that I read books to get the facts and background right, but even a story from the point of view of a nameless songwriter wannabe required that I look up some of the facts of the songwriting business, to make sure I got my guy right.  It only takes a paragraph or so before I start feeling responsibility toward my characters, and I want to treat them with respect.

RU: Were there any voices you tried to write but couldn’t? What were the reasons?

EM: I tried for a year and a half to write a story about a man who searched out his spirit animal on the internet.  People do this all the time, I reasoned; it should be easy.  And funny.  But the story stubbornly refused to get funny or easy, and eventually I parked it in my ever-growing “Undead” file, where I put things that I can’t get right but still seem like good ideas.  Maybe I’ll get this one right someday.

It’s funny, right?  Going to the internet to find your spirit animal?

RU: I think so. I mean, it’s trusting an algorithm created by interns and programmers to tell you something profound about yourself. Says something about the people who use it, I’m sure.
Anyway, you also taught for a number of years at Ohio State University. Were any of the stories in Joy based on your teaching experiences?

EM: Not any teaching experiences, no, but a lot of the stories exist, at least in my mind, in central Ohio.  I lived in Columbus for 15 years, and 10 years before that in Cincinnati, so I spent a lot of time thinking about Ohio and pondering its aggrieved status as a fly-over state.  Recent politics have changed that some, which I think is a good thing.

Joy by Erin McGraw

RU: What’s next for you? Are you working on any projects now?

EM: I’ve got a few more very short stories; I think they’re the leftover energy from finishing Joy.  A new project has floated to the front of my mind, but I’m superstitious about talking about things too early.  If it happens, it will be another book with a lot of voices.  I like to hear people talk.  It gives me a break from my own company.

RU: What are you reading these days?

EU: I’ve been on a tear for two years reading about the socio-economic divide in the U.S., and I’m still reading those.  Also books about the development of a recognizable U.S. cuisine, a subject of ongoing interest to me.  Also a superb book about climbing vines.  Don’t laugh.  It’s good.

RU: What is advice you would give to other writers, regardless of background or experience?

EM: The advice I was given by my teacher, John L’Heureux, regarding character:  Complicate the motive.  Simplify the action.

RU: I’ll have to meditate on that one a bit. Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a little while and could only take three books with you, which would you take?

Since they would have to be books I could bear to read over and over, the first would be Eliot’s Four Quartets.  Then King Lear, which I’ve never known well enough.  Then the collected Emily Dickinson.  She wrote enough to hold me for quite a while, in case the rescue ship gets held up.

RU: Ah, King Lear. That was an interesting read. Anyway, thanks for joining us, Erin. I hope you’ll join us again someday soon.

If you would like to check out and maybe get signed copies of Joy, you can click on this link. I’ll be checking it out myself very soon. And if you would like to know more about Erin McGraw and her work, check out her website here.

If you would like to see some of the other interviews I’ve been lucky enough to do, click on my Interviews page to check those authors out. And if you yourself are an author with a book you’d like to promote, send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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Author Jason Stokes in an adorable photo with one of his cats.

It’s been a while, but I have a new author interview to share with everyone. This one is with an author with an extraordinary story, both in terms of the novel he’s published and his own life experiences. Allow me to introduce Jason Stokes, author of the new novel Watcher.

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the show, Jason. Please tell us about yourself and about Watcher.

Jason Stokes: My name is Jason Stokes. I am a writer and artist currently living in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Watcher is about a young woman diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis who witnesses a horrific crime via hacked webcams. Due to her own lifestyle, she is forced to make a decision between preserving her own safety and seeking justice for a woman she’s never met. In the process she finds herself against the most powerful citizens in her city and untangling a web of corruption that involves nearly everyone she meets.

RU: You wrote Watcher while taking care of your life, who has MS, and who gave a lot of input on the story. Can you tell us what that was like?

JS: It felt like it was time for a character that had the same struggles I’ve seen her go through and exposed the way caretakers in chronically ill lives support those they care about. I wanted her to have a hero she could relate to. She was invaluable, answering questions about how she would handle specific situations, helping me walk in her shoes and uncovering things I had never thought of.

RU: Did the idea for the novel evolve out of your wife’s diagnosis? Or did it influence an already-existing idea?

JS: I had an idea but It was all wrong. It was overdone and I wasn’t feeling excited by it. When I asked myself, how would she (my wife) handle this? It started to come together. I saw a story that had more depth and stakes that were higher than your average mystery/suspense story. When she (the MC)  wakes up every morning she is already at a disadvantage and it doesn’t get any easier from there.

RU: You founded the company, Gestalt Media, that published Watcher. Why go that route?

JS: Ultimately I’m a control freak but I also want to have a role in bringing forward original projects. I wanted full control over my own work and knew the stigma of self-publishing but I also know several creators and I wanted to help bring their projects to fruition. I’m currently working with an artist/writer to publish a series of offbeat comics sometime this year.

RU: On Twitter, you spoke about how a local bookstore refused to carry Watcher. Can you tell us why and how that made you feel?

JS: The store in question refused to carry Watcher because the main character has MS but I (the author) do not. Their stance is not unique. It is a trend among publishers and retail stores to insist on own voices and to refuse books by those outside of the represented  community. I felt that as my wife’s caretaker for the last six years, I have lived this as much as anyone aside from her. I wrote it with extreme care and respect and sought her input through the entire process. The fact is, there are people whose stories deserve to be told that may not be able to for whatever reason put it into words. As authors it is our responsibility to interpret and share the world. We often take ourselves out of the equation. If it’s done with respect, care and attention to the group being represented that should be enough.

I don’t think the store itself is wrong for their viewpoint. It’s their choice but I disagree with the narrow lane it provides for future literature. As I’ve said, it’s a good intent with misguided execution.

RU: I know this is tough to ask, but how are you and your wife doing these days?

JS: As well as we can. It’s a brutal disease and every day is a little worse than the last but we stay in good spirits. She’s a fighter, a true inspiration and I’m proud to stand beside her on this journey. As long as research continues we have something to look forward to. Anything can happen.

The cover for “Watcher” by Jason Stokes.

RU: That’s good. Can you tell us what your writing process is like, if you have one?

JS: I subscribe heavily to the tenets of the Snowflake theory outlined by Randy Ingermanson. Generally I will come up with a character or a situation I find appealing. Something that isn’t often seen or a new angle. Then I’ll place it in a world and find a central scene, something that brings the story to life. From there I’ll build out starting with a two or three sentence synopsis, then a few paragraphs, then a list of scenes, until the whole things appears.

RU: Are you working on anything now or have any future plans as far as writing goes?

JS: Too many things! There’s never a shortage of ideas and projects begging for time. I have another novel coming in time for Halloween. Ghost Story is the beginning of a series involving a protagonist that can see the dead on a road trip to discover more about his exceptionally unusual past.

RU: What advice would you have for other writers, no matter their background or level of experience?

JS: I’m going to quote Chuck Wendig ‘Finish your sh*t.’ You have to finish. As scary as it is. As difficult as it can seem. The real journey begins when you write ‘the end.’

RU: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you, which ones would you take?

JS: Well, I think it would be only prudent to include the Worst Case Scenario Survival Guide. Alternately the Boyscouts of America field book if it was available. Next I’d bring along Robinson Crusoe for obvious reasons and Jurassic Park because it is the single most entertaining novel I’ve ever read.

RU: Thank you for being on the show, Jason, and the best of luck to you and your wife, both with Watcher and in life.

If you would like to check out Watcher (I’ve already sent a request into my local library to order a couple copies), you can get it for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. If you’re interested in more of Jason Stokes, check him out on Twitter. I highly recommend you consider doing both.

And if you would like to be interviewed for an upcoming or recent release, either check out my Interviews page or send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see if we can’t make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!