Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - Jason Vikse


Today's interview is with Canadian author Jason Vikse


Welcome to Creativity@Work, Jason.

1. When did you first start writing?

All through high school I toyed with the idea of writing, but – as teenagers are wont to do – never gave it enough attention or effort to really make a go of it. It wasn’t until four years later, in 2008, that I schooled myself to sit down and peck away at an idea for a Dr. Suess-esque epic poem. I wrote off-and-on for nine months before it was finished: my first completed story. It’s been eight years since then – and many more stories – but Cat Got Your Tongue? (currently featured in Fictions of Questionable Length: A Short Story Collection) will always have a special place in my heart.

2. What are your books about? Are you self / traditionally published or hybrid?

I currently have six books out there engaging readers: two are contemporary humour, one is a short story collection with an eclectic mix of tales, and the other three are the proud members of a youth fantasy trilogy, The Keeper Chronicles. All of them have been self-published.

One of my favourite things about being self-published is the freedom that I have to genre-hop if I so choose. I can let my own creative spark, and the demands of my readers, decide what I write next.

3. What led to your love for literature? Any favorite books / teachers / writing mentors?

I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest childhood memories take place in the reading nooks of my local library, where bookish volunteers held up the day’s story while a circle of eager children impatiently bounced up and down, waiting for her to turn the page. Ever since then, storytelling has been a massive part of my life, thanks in no small part to some encouraging teachers I had in high school. Even now, when I’m not writing, I can frequently be found treading the boards of a local theatre company or two, often as a performer, usually as a director. Storytelling is in my blood, it seems, for better or for worse. And the more stories I read, hear, or see, the more I want to tell. It’s a vicious creative cycle!

4. What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you write by hand / type / dictate?

I am a huge fan of outlining. I need to know where a story is going and how it’s going to get there if I want to be the one to set it down onto paper. If I can feel confident that the destination is clear to me, then I can allow myself the freedom of discovering some new twists and turns on the way. Although I know many authors prefer to work without one, an outline is the only way I know the story will end the way it needs to. I wrote one of my books without a full outline, and regretted it. The number of rewrites required to mould the journey into a proper storyline was ridiculous. Now, I have a complete chapter-by-chapter outline before I ever set my fingers to the keyboard. That isn’t to say that a story can’t still surprise me, quite the contrary. But I find it helpful to know which new twists fit and which ones are non-starters right away.

5. What's your editing process?

After I finish the first draft of a book, I tend to leave it alone for a little while, using that time to work on outlines or story ideas for upcoming books. Then, once it’s out of my mind, I come back to it with fresh eyes and give it some tough love. I liken the first draft to sketching the shape of a sculpture on a block of stone and the second draft to actually applying the chisel. It’s a matter of cleaning up the word vomit and seeing if a proper story lies underneath. After that, the manuscript goes to some other eyes, some who read it as a book and look for plot holes, and others who get out their microscopes and attack the grammar, spelling, clarity, etc. Their input gets included in the next draft, then two or three more edits take it to publication.

6. Any favorite apps / software / technology for writing?

When I start, it’s often just me, a pad of paper, a pen, and a park. Random, jotted ideas and sketches that would make a doctor’s handwriting blush get played around with until they start to form a single thought. After that, it’s straight to the laptop. Now, I may be old-fashioned but I still haven’t abandoned Word. Many of my author friends have been crying at me to try something like InDesign, but old dogs…

7. What did you find most useful in learning to write?

That’s easy. Reading. Reading is the most useful way to learn to write. No one can teach you like the masters, and you can learn what not to do from bad writers just as easily as you can learn what to do from the good ones. Want to be a better writer? Be a better reader.

8. Who or what inspires you? Where / how do you get your book ideas?

Anything. Everything. Some days, nothing. A lot of my ideas come from “What If?” questions that come to me as I’m walking around during the day. Sometimes there will be a word, or a phrase, or a sentence that strikes me as worth exploring. At least two of my books have come about because I thought of the title and said, “Now that sounds like an interesting book. I’d read that.” And so I wrote The Lazy Postman as well as The Munsen Street Drive-In Theatre (& Tie Factory).

9. When in the day do you usually write? For how long?

Late morning and late at night are my times to shine. But if I’m on a roll, I’ll write through the day, leaving food, water, sleep, and other necessities for “later.” I try to do a few hours a day when I’m working on a project, but if the muses are awake, I don’t limit myself.

10. Do you have a writing routine / schedule? Any specific rituals?

Silence. My ritual is absolute silence, if that can be called a ritual. I envy those who can write with music playing or while people are talking in the background. Unfortunately, my mind can only live in one world at a time, and when I’m writing it needs to inhabit the world I’m creating and no other.

11. Describe your desk / writing corner / favorite writing spot.

My writing desk is generally clear of debris and distractions, and faces either a window or a blank wall, depending on which country I’m living in at the time. Some might see that as cold or uninspiring, but I find that the blanker the canvas in front of me, the more intently my imagination can focus on what I’m creating.

12. Do you ever get writers' block? What are some ways you get around it?

We all do. If I’m stuck in a story, that generally means that I’ve taken the characters somewhere they don’t want to go. So, I leave them alone for a little while and take a look at the other projects I’ve got simmering. I play with an upcoming outline or abandon my office altogether and go watch a movie or see a play or take a walk or use public transit. After a little while (sometimes a big while) the reason the story isn’t moving forward will become clear, whether because I’m no longer overthinking it, or because I’ve seen something that sparks an idea, or because I’ve finally put two and two together. Then it’s back to work!

13. Do you now, or did you ever have any day jobs? Did they add to or detract from your writing?

I don’t find that day jobs detract from my writing. If anything, interacting with others can give me more ideas and inspiration for my current or next adventure on the page. However, day jobs absolutely take up valuable time that could be used to write. So it’s a trade-off, I find.

14. How do you make the time to write?

I sacrifice sleep.

15. How much research do you do? What kind?

That’s very dependent on the book I’m working on. With fantasy books, many of the rules are my own to make up. Cultures, languages, objects, etc. are all up for grabs. However, when writing in the real world there are certain facts one has to get right. I generally research as I go, as I’ve not yet written a book that took place in setting I’m overwhelmingly unfamiliar with. Should that day ever come, I’m sure I would invest a fair amount of time and effort into getting the details right.

16. How much marketing do you do? Which platforms are you most active on? 

Ah, marketing… the artist’s nemesis. In truth, whatever amount of marketing I do, I could certainly do more, and do it better. I make attempts at using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, but I find my attentions continually dragged away from the marketing challenges and back to the creative process. If anyone knows of a solution for this problem, I’m all ears!

17. What's the most fun aspect of marketing? The most challenging?

For me, the most fun part about marketing is the joy of sharing your work with a prospective audience. Not selling it, but introducing it to the world. It’s something (hopefully) that you are proud of and eager for others to see and enjoy. The biggest challenge I face is trying to sell myself. I would much rather be behind the scenes working on my next project than trying to convince the public that I’ve created something that is not only worthy of their time, but also is more worthy of it than the hundreds of thousands of other books on the market. I worked in book sales for over eight years; I didn’t like the hard sell then and I don’t like it much now.

18. What project are you working on now?

I’ve just published a comedy/mystery entitled The Munsen Street Drive-In Theatre (& Tie Factory) and I’m currently working on no less than two projects, with a number of completed outlines waiting in the wings. The first is a new contemporary novel, the details of which are highly classified! The other is a new collection of short stories that take place in the fantasy world I created for The Keeper Chronicles trilogy. It will likely be ready for publication by this summer (2016).

19. What books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

I try to be as eclectic as possible with my bookshelf, although it can be like pulling teeth to get me to read non-fiction (I do try to fit in a few each year). I just finished reading The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber, as well as Charles E. Gannon’s Tales of the Terran Republic trilogy, a sci-fi epic all about the political and intelligential repercussions of first contact. I’m currently reading and enjoying Station Eleven, the New York Times Best-Seller by Emily St. John Mandel, with Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale looming nearby, awaiting its turn.


Bio:

J.R. Vikse is a Canadian author, who, after years of creating stories using nothing but his imagination and superfluous piles of Lego, finally decided to try his hand at writing them down. Whether it works out or not is up to you. He was an early reader, since there wasn't ever much else to do during Canadian winters, but he didn't get into serious writing until his 20s. Jason wrote his first short story in 2008, and has pecked away at the keyboard ever since. He published his first book, The Lazy Postman, in May of 2012, and always has more projects on the go than he probably should. 

When he isn't writing - which isn't often - he can be found onstage, where he employs other forms of story-telling as a director and actor, mostly in the genre of musical theatre. He has directed or performed in seventeen productions in three countries over the past eight years.

He currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.


The Munsen Street Drive-In Theatre (& Tie Factory)

Newly-minted reporter and life-long film buff Odelia Kennicot wants nothing more than to be an investigative journalist. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anything worth investigating in the humdrum town of Ridgewood. Until now.
When Odelia starts spending her evenings at the Munsen Street Drive-In Theatre, she meets Wil Nash, an irritable babysitter with a chip on his shoulder and a potential story in his pocket. Wil suspects that there is more going on at the drive-in than meets the eye and Odelia jumps at the chance to write a real story for a change. But what starts out as a routine investigation soon takes an unexpected and baffling turn.

Shadowy organisations, coded messages, and government conspiracies are all upcoming features at the Munsen Street Drive-In Theatre, where Odelia sets out on the investigation of her life, armed with nothing more than her wits and the encouragement of the oddball movie-goers around her.

Full of quirky characters and unexpected twists, this hilarious new mystery from the author of The Lazy Postman will keep you guessing and coming back for more as you join Odelia in puzzling out: What is really going on at the Munsen Street Drive-In Theatre?


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