What kind of writing do you do and where can people find you?
I write fiction for Young and New Adults (teens and 20-somethings). When I’m feeling pretentious, I describe my current project—a werewolf trilogy set in the backwoods of Arkansas—as Southern Gothic Magical Realism, but when I’m feeling like I want people to actually read it, I call it Rural Fantasy with elements of Paranormal Romance.
My first novel, Chicken, will be published on July 29, 2014 through Asymmetrical Press, and its companion The Natural State will follow in 2015. These two books are closely connected, but they can also stand alone. Chicken is more of a YA novel, while The Natural State is more for the NA crowd. But anyone who wants to understand the as-yet-untitled third book will have to read them both.
I also share personal essays (I call them scrolls) on my blog, Unbridled Existence. You can also find some of my free short stories there if you nose around.
When did you first start writing (or when did you first start writing seriously)?
As a kid, I was always writing knock-off stories about books that I loved, like Where the Red Fern Grows and The Black Stallion. I started (but never finished) writing a mostly original fantasy novel as a pre-teen, and my grandmother bought me a subscription to Writer’s Digest.
By the time I was sixteen, I had written a 364-page historical romantic thriller with the help of my thirteen-year-old cousin. It was called Titanic: Fatal Voyage and it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. My parents made me let a local children’s book author read it. She took it very seriously and gave me real advice on how to make it better, and I don’t think I appreciated it enough back then because I was just horribly embarrassed for an adult to read my descriptions of kissing. But in retrospect, I realize how lucky I was to have someone take me that seriously, and that’s something I’d like to pay forward in the future for teen writers.
What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?
I just want to tell good stories that give my readers what the Internet calls “feels”.
I’m not nearly as interested in critical or commercial success as I am in one day reading fanfiction based on something I wrote. That’s my dream. To me, that’s the highest compliment a writer can get. You write something that someone else loves so much that they just have to write about it too. They have to continue the story, or look at it from a different angle, or imagine what it would have been like if these characters fell in love instead, or maybe take them and introduce them to characters from another fandom. I don’t want my readers to just get lost in my worlds for a few hours. I want them to move in and feel like they belong because that’s what fiction did for me as a kid, and still does for me even now as an adult.
What is your proudest moment as a writer thus far?
Getting over my fear of reading my work out loud. It was something I thought I’d never be able to do, because I’m a very shy person and I hate being in front of people, but my college’s creative writing department hosts a lot of student readings, and over the last two years I’ve learned to just get up there and do it. I’m not the best at it. I sweat every time. My eyes water and it looks like I’m making myself cry. It’s really very awful, but I do it whenever there’s a chance because it also makes me feel kind of high. Not from the attention, but from the sense of personal connection. You get to hear someone laugh at that joke you worked so hard on, or you get to feel people collectively holding their breath when you read something intense… it makes my stories feel more real to me, and I think that helps me turn around and make them more real for my readers.
Describe your writing process. Do you start in a notebook and move it to the computer? Are there particular apps you can’t write without?
No notebooks. It hurts my hand to write more than a few paragraphs, and it hurts my head to try and figure out what those paragraphs even said. As for apps, I find that RainyMood can really help soothe my brain when I can’t settle down and get “into character” so to speak.
I don’t really have a writing process. I don’t write every day, which some people will tell you is The Only Way. Maybe it’s the fastest way to finish something, but finishing isn’t the point, telling the right story is the point, and you don’t always know the whole story when you start. Writing is maybe 20% physically writing, and 80% daydreaming and listening to your characters. If I have a writing process at all, it’s driving around aimlessly, listening to the sort of music my characters would listen to, and waiting for them to tell me what they would do next. Then I go home and listen to the same music to trigger my memory of the stuff I came up with in the car.
Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t write every day, just that you shouldn’t listen to anyone who says real writers write every day. Some do, some don’t. I’m going to try to write every day on the next novel, but I’m also not going to beat myself up if it doesn’t always happen.
Describe your publishing process. What host and platform (Ghost, Squarespace, WordPress, etc) are you using and why?
I publish extremely sporadically on my blog. I’m aiming to do better this year, but I find it difficult to go back and forth between the fiction and non-fiction parts of my brain.
I use a WordPress blog, and the story behind that is that the guy who designed the original version of UE set it up that way. I have a new theme now, but it’s the same backstage as it’s always been. I’ve dabbled with other platforms, but I always come back to the original.
What are some goals you set when you first started out that you’ve been able to accomplish? How did you go about accomplishing them?
First, I just wanted to be a good writer, and pardon my lack of false humility, but I am a good writer, and how I accomplished that is as complicated an answer as how I survived to be thirty because who I am and how I write are pretty well tied up in each other. But I think if you want to be a good writer, the best place to start is by reading. And don’t start with a list of the high school English classics or some blogger’s list of books you have to read before you die. Read what you like. Books that make you think are important, but as a writer, books that make you feel are even more so. The caveat here is that you need to keep an open mind about what it is you like.
Second, I wanted to be a published writer, and that’s going to happen this summer, and honestly that was a lot of luck. I started blogging about minimalism in 2010, and that’s how I met Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists. I was living in Austin at the time, and when he came down for SXSW in 2011, we met up and had tacos and walked around downtown and talked about our love for fiction. A few months later, he asked me to contribute a short story to his self-published collection, and then in 2012, he asked me if I’d be interested in signing with Asymmetrical, the indie press he started with Ryan Nicodemus and Colin Wright. If I hadn’t accomplished my first goal of being a good writer, that wouldn’t have happened, but after that it was mostly a case of making the right connection.
If you were starting today, what are some things you’d do differently?
Well, something stupid I did when I started blogging was get caught up in the “quit your job, make a fortune online” thing, and so I quit my job and that was a really big mistake. Don’t quit your job unless it is legitimately harming your physical or mental health. I mean, don’t quit until you have something else lined up because when you are unemployed and wondering how to pay your rent and pretending not to hear the collector’s phone calls… it will be a thousand times harder to write than it ever was when you were just tired and cranky from your job.
What is one tip, trick or app you think every writer should know/use?
If you write fiction, make a list of set-ups and pay-offs. This is different from an outline which only covers the story beats. I didn’t do this on Chicken, and most of my revising process has involved paying off the set-ups I forgot about or setting up the pay-offs I forgot to set up. Think of Chekhov’s old advice that if you show a gun in Act I, it better go off in Act 3. You tell a joke in Chapter 2 and you want to ironically echo that joke in Chapter 23? Write it down. Mention a character in Chapter 4 who needs to play a part in Chapter 30? Write it down. You will forget these things, and you will want to hit yourself in the head with the hammer you should have mentioned on page one.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer who hopes to attract a larger readership and earn their first dollar?
Stop hoping for those things.
Write because you want one person to feel something.
If that one person feels something, she’ll tell her two best friends, and if they feel something, they’ll tell their friends, and so on and so on and so on. But if you try to write for all of those people at once, you’ll never get anywhere because it’s impossible to craft something that will make everyone feel something.