I'm excited to interview Steven James, a best-selling author I'll meet this coming May. Let's pretend we're sitting on a cool patio. Yes, I said pretend since Oklahoma is sweltering. On the wrought-iron table sits a pitcher of iced tea and several glasses. Ice tinkles in glasses and pitcher as tears of cool sweat bead on the clear sides.
I take a cold sip and ask, "How did/does your history and home background affect your writing?"
When I was a kid my uncle would always pull the kids aside and tell us a story during family gatherings. This instilled in me a great love of stories. I became addicted to reading short stories as a teenager and eventually realized I had a lot of my own stories to tell. So, Uncle Rich played a big part. And so did Stephen King.
I nod because we all can find someone who helped "push" us toward writing. Steve, will you tell us something about your educational background that has made you a better, or more caring, writer.
In the late 90’s I got a Master’s Degree in Storytelling. (Yes, that’s for real.) For two years it forced me to think about stories—what makes a good story, how to tell a better story, and what actually worked in the stories I’d already written. I’m not sure that college degrees by themselves really benefit anyone, but going through the program, meeting other storytellers and writers, and working on my thesis on telling personal stories really gave my writing and storytelling a boost.
Authors are often asked when they started writing or what triggered their interest in writing. I like to know that, also, but I would especially like to know what keeps you writing.
As I mentioned earlier, part of my love of stories came from my uncle. As far as keeping me writing, one motivation is eating. Unless I sell my stories we can’t buy groceries. I don’t mean to sound trite, it’s just the way it is. Secondly, when I don’t write, stories itch away inside of my head, I get cranky and I’m not very fun to be with. So really it’s best for everyone if I spend a good chunk of each day working on my next project.
Oh, yes, those stories and characters running around in our heads. What inspires you to write?
God. Beauty. The world. Marvel. Sometimes a big bag of Cheetos and a small shot of cognac.
Personally I take my Cheetos with a can of Pepsi Max. *grin* I know some writers outline. Others, like the late Tony Hillerman, don’t. Do you have a particular writing process or technique that you use, if so, what?
I think one of the biggest mistakes writers make is outlining. When I write I try to listen to the story. I’m constantly asking myself what would naturally happen next, reworking what I’ve done in light of the new discoveries that I make, and letting the characters develop over the course of the writing project. So for me it’s organic. If I try to outline or plan too much it ends up straight-jacketing the story.
Ah, a man after my own heart. Outlining has always muddled my writing.
I know you make many appearances, such as at the OWFI conference in 2012. Do those take away from your writing, or do they, perhaps, add something?
I enjoy and have always enjoyed speaking engagements. It’s great to get out of my basement once in a while and see that there are real people out there in the world. Packing, unpacking, traveling does chew away at my writing time, but it’s healthy for me to go speak at a conference at least once a month, or I go a little stir crazy. I’m sure my wife would agree with me.
I know from personal experience that your writing does better a reader, but does writing help better you as a person? How?
Writers have an obligation to the truth. All great novels tackle the important aspects of human nature. and I’ve found that that means being honest both about the grace and hope in the world, and also the grief and pain. It’s not easy to keep your eyes open in both the directions of beauty and of tragedy, but I think when we do that, we grow as people and become more of who we were meant to be.
What advice would you have for a new author?
Don’t become a writer if you can possibly avoid it. If you were shaped to tell stories, you’ll never be happy until you share them with the world, but if you try to write stories just because you think it would be a cool way to make a living, you’ll never write the stories the world needs to hear.
Any other comments?
Thanks for giving me a chance to share. Best wishes!
Thank you, Steve, for visiting with us. I look forward to meeting you in person at the OWFI conference May 4-5, 2012. I’ll be the one who stands around all the baskets in the atrium, the silent auction called BasketWars.
Steven James' newest novel is The Queen. I can hardly wait to read it. To learn more about Steven James, go to the following links: