JASON M. THORNBERRY
- GUEST WRITER
AND JOURNALIST -
Today, I interview an interesting journalist and writer from Seattle, Washington.
Welcome, Jason ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
My journey as a writer has been pretty unconventional. I got my start playing the drums, studying jazz and applying that to rock and performing for a dozen years, mostly in punk and quote-unquote “indie-rock” bands. Through a lot of really hard work, my last band popular pretty quickly in my neck of Southern California. But on the eve of the release of our first album, I was assaulted by a pair of strangers in the street outside of my girlfriend’s house. They beat me into a coma—curb stomped me, is what I learned. I spent four months in the hospital, and a year in a wheelchair. And in the time that I was recuperating and learning to speak and to use the left side of my body again, I was reunited with my first love: writing. Before I was distracted by music, I wanted more than anything to be a novelist. But after music became impossible, I went back to school and wrote for online magazines.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I grew up in San Bernardino. It was and still is a pretty rough town, but I spent my summers in Newport, Oregon with my grandparents. Newport became my escape from my hometown and my home life, which was chaotic and violent. It was another world to me. And my grandmother inspired me to read and write. She was a writer. I announced to my grandparents one day that I was going to write my first book. I was ten years old.
WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
That depends on the project. When I got out of the hospital, I began working on a memoir about my injury, life I lead as a musician and my life growing up in a fractured household. I’ve since written a novel and I’m working on short fiction now. But each form (short fiction, a novel and non-fiction) has a different pace and a different way of existing inside of me before they arrive on the page.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Finding an audience is the hardest thing. But close behind that is being taken seriously by people when you tell that that’s what you do. But anyone pursuing a career in the arts is up against that. I have relatives, close relatives, who haven’t read anything that I’ve ever written. I’ve sent them articles in newspapers and magazines. Nothing.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I was a student of jazz. I studied for six years and gave lessons on the side to pay for more of my own lessons. I used to practice in my father’s garage eight hours a day.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m working primarily on short fiction at the moment.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Sometimes it can be a phrase or an interesting exchange that I had that day. Sometimes the news does, or did. Oddly enough, the current administration in America has become fertile ground for writers and satirists.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Read as much as you write. Don’t stop reading. And force yourself to adhere to a writing schedule.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I get to work before anyone else in the early morning and can get an hour in then. Evenings after work, I try to work in another hour, maybe two. And on the weekends I try to get in at least two or three hours a day. Some days, I get as many as eight.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Two places: a fairly noisy café works quite well and complete silence, late at night, at home.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Dostoevsky, because the struggles of humanity are reflected so perfectly in his characters. I love the depth he applies to his characters. You know everything about them.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
A few years ago, I wrote an article for The Stranger, a weekly newspaper in Seattle, about landlords. My argument, in the article, was that you shouldn’t have to be rich to live in Seattle. I got quite a bit of flak from readers, one of whom suggested that I was part of the problem. The reason that rents had risen so dramatically was because of Newbies like me. That hurt. I decided to stop reading the comments to the article and I’d like to extend that to reviews.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Of course. The many years that I spent trying to become a professional musician had an enormous impact on me, as well as my upbringing in San Bernardino. I saw a lot of things I wish I hadn’t as a boy. And my injury had an big impact on my writing because it changed the way that I see the world around me—for good and, I suppose, and for bad.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Reading. I love to fall headfirst into a good novel, the kind of novel (or book of short stories) that I can lose myself in for a week or two. Music is my first love. I can still lose several hours of my life in a record shop.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
A good breakfast which, of course includes large quantities of coffee. A morning spent writing and an afternoon in a bookshop that I’ve never seen before but has lots of Russian Lit and a whole section books that I’ve always wanted to read.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I plan to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing and I’m getting ready to begin the end-of-the-year application process. I’m looking for the kind of program that has a strong teaching component.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
For such a long time now, the publishing industry has been competing with video games, movies, You Tube, and the intoxicating world inside of the cell phone. I’m not frustrated by it. I’m frustrated by the reality that people don’t read as much anymore, which makes it tough to tell someone you’re a writer. As writers, we’ve all gotten that condescending look that says, ‘You’ll grow out of it.’
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
I think that every writer would probably like to see their work reimagined by someone else, especially on the screen. Then again, every movie I’ve ever seen that was based on a book that I read first, paled in comparison.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
To teach and write and have an office full of books, with a little house I can come home to. A little place where I can live out my days with my wife, reading next to one another and taking turns to walk the dog.
ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
No. As of yet, I have resisted the urge to publish my own work. But I’ve thought about it. In 2010, I finished a memoir, my first book. Had I self-published it way-back-then, put it on the Internet and tried to promote it, I would be embarrassed by it today. And, in spite of the pitfalls and limitations that some writers predict they might face if they went the “traditional route,” I think there is something to be said for not choosing to forgo the editorial process. For toughing it out and letting other people read your work and give their feedback. In the end, if your book just isn’t ready for the world, it just isn’t ready. Self-publishing can be a valuable format, but like with anything, it’s a place where the chaff can overpower the wheat.
I’ll be more specific: I know someone who self-published their first novel. They gave me a copy of it, and I was shocked to find it was full of spelling errors. That’s forever—like an impulsive tattoo.
DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Patient, kind, loving, loyal, opinionated
WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
Escapes, by Joy Williams was fantastic. Everything you could want in a book of short stories. Her work veers far from the predictable but at the same time these are traditional stories about human beings and the flawed world that we all participate in and create together. Fans of Raymond Carver (like me) will have found their new hero. Pick up anything of Joy’s.
WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
At the moment, I’m trying to be economical in my prose, so maybe something ornate and winding, like a sentence that might have come from Absalom! Absalom! I might describe a room down to the motes of dust floating in the sunlight and the flaking carcass of a dead beetle on the carpet, like Annie Dillard. Or I could try to encapsulate it all in six words: “This is the end of me.”
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Thank you, Clancy.
Clancy's comment: You are welcome, Jason. Hey, I love that shot of you as a kid. So smooth.