- Guest Author -
Today I welcome a guy I first met via Internet discussions about publishing. Liked him then, like him now. Why, because he's a no-nonsense bloke - James Strait. Welcome, Jim ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
This may sound pretentious, but it’s how I feel about my life; I’ll die a success due to how my children have turned out. I was born to be a dad, and I excelled at it. However, as far as my non-parenting roles, I’m a retired aviator, rabid cyclist, and newly minted writer. The writing began serendipitously.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
My retirement from flying airplanes for a living happened as a function of my having a stroke. Needing something to do with the rest of my life I decided to go into talk radio (at age 58). Once established as an “on air” voice I began to interview a host of interesting folk. One of those interviews was with the originators of the “Weird” title series of books, which started with Weird New Jersey.
We laughed ourselves simple during the interview and afterwards began to correspond. At the time (2006) they needed someone to write Weird Missouri. Having grown up in Missouri I was the perfect candidate. Long story short, I was soon in Missouri for eight weeks, drove 8,500 miles in-state, visited hundreds of venues, interviewed hundreds of weird folk, took 2,700 photographs, and them came back to my Pennsylvania based homestead and wrote the book in four months.
3. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I’ve always been creative, but never ventured into the artistic realm while pursuing my aviation career. However, I did write technical manuals, was the architect of many checklists, and was always there with a creative solution to a problem.
The commonality with writing stories is that both involve problem solving. Humans are born engineers, and crafting a story is a form of literary engineering. I enjoy spontaneous writing, and then making it all make sense even though my reckless abandon creates dead-ends. A dead end is an opportunity to engineer a way out.
4. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Other writers. I freely admit to knowing little about the process of writing, but I find that every other author is an expert. I learned during forty years of aviation to run hard and fast from anyone claiming to be an expert.
5. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
First I was a joyous kid growing up in rural Missouri. After childhood I became a Special Forces soldier, and it was there that my obsession with all things happening in the sky took purchase of my psyche. My adult path found me making 3,000 skydives; flying over 100 different makes, models and type of aircraft, gaining over 13,500 flying hours. I also did work for the military as a civilian contractor. Of course I was also a fanatical long distance runner averaging 100 miles per week all during my first three decades of adulthood.
6. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Doing the grunt work first. There is no substitute for first person research. As an example, if a story is in Weird Missouri, I have first hand knowledge of the topic and participants. But Weird Missouri is a hybrid genre. It’s a travel guide containing destinations that are both real and whimsical. There is much weird lore in the book, but it is lore that I gained knowledge of by hands on research.
Conversely, my second book, “Déjà vu All Over Again”, required only two specific points of research (I needed to research the weight of the International Space Station (1,000,000 pounds) and where over the earth the Space Shuttle would have to initiated a de-orbit burn in order to land at Rogers Dry Lakebed west of Edwards AFB). So to date, I think my biggest writing achievement is creating a complex and technically accurate story doing only five minutes of research.
7. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’ve stalled out with two projects. Actually, one is done, ready to publish, but I doubt that I’ll do such. The reason is that part of the story required that I write a modern Declaration of Independence, and I’m more than a little embarrassed to publish such an effort. I’m also 90% done with a screenplay (my first), but have lost interest. I instead ride my bike and pretend that I’ll someday finish.
Also, I’m working on a children’s book, one inspired by my granddaughter…one that I’ll have to finish or face the wrath of my oldest daughter.
8. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Single moms (women are clearly the superior gender), my grandchildren, my wife of 34 years, soldiers, and all people that seek their greatness…regardless of station in life.
9. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I’ve written fiction, non-fiction, and a blended genre of both. I’d like to write a meaningful non-fiction book, but as I write this answer I’m reminded the phrase “I’d like to” is actually code for, never. I better start researching Raymond Burr tonight!
10. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
11. When I first started writing was new stuff from me. I was full of energy and was under contract to get it all done in one calendar year. It took me six months. My advice is to jump in with both feet and not look back. When I’m writing a fictional story I literally do not look back as I write. I blast through the story and work out continuity issues during edit and re-write. I did the same while writing Weird Missouri, but I was under contract to submit chapters on a schedule, so I had to self-check as I went.
Bottom line is to not question your self. Let your inner voice out and go forth boldly!
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Had you asked me this question a year ago, I’d have answered, no. However, I’m not writing now, thus, I’m blocked. But it’s a form of blockage that has nothing to do with creating a story line…it’s more to do with motivation. I’m working on that problem…trying to engineer my way back to a place of high creative energy!
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
No…I write at all hours of the day and night, and in many locations. If I had a routine it would feel like a job.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
No…but I guess I do find myself writing most often in front of the television, with it keeping me company. I hear it as background clutter, which helps with the 24/7 ringing in my ears (tinnitus). I know most would find it distracting, but for me it’s some perverse form of impersonal companionship.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Having published…knowing my work is in the Library of Congress. I never anticipated being published author, to it’s like icing on life’s cake.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
John D. MacDonald. He was prolific and wrote fast paced stories where flawed good guys saved the day.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
“I never saw that ending coming.”
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
OMG…where do I start? Actually, I like to think that any honest commentary is complimentary. It reveals that they read my work. I think the goal of literature is to move the reader off of dead centre. Love it, hate it, just don’t be unmoved by it.
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Yes, of course. No matter what you write, from what point of view you write, the story is about the author. Thus, all of our life experiences translate into our stories.
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Family, first, last, always. But, I also love that I was born into the most magical moment in the human timeline. A time when my homeland could accomplish anything. It made growing up in 1950’s America very special. Even though we’ve painted ourselves into many impossible corners, I still love all that America represents.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes and no. Weird Missouri was published traditionally and benefited from an entire team of publishing professionals. However, my second book is self-published and it was a torturous process to copy edit. A paid professional will edit any future books.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
I don’t have perfect days, but I enjoy what I get. After all, just waking up alive makes for a pretty good day!
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
My wife of 34 years.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Leaders? The last American leader was Dwight Eisenhower, all “leaders” since Ike, have been political puppets. But if I had a chance to speak to Eisenhower I’d say, “thank you for creating so many fine highways!”
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I want to hit forty miles per hour on my bike on the flats, but I’ll settle for 38!
26. WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
I’m not a believer. But the five publications I’d want to take wherever it is that we go when the ticker stops are all issues of Mad Magazine, an English dictionary, all issues of Aviation Week, a functional Google type search engine, and all known quotes by Mark Twain.
27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Yes, I see myself in all of them. It’s the “Catch 22” or being an author, we are what we write.
28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
The entire planet frustrates me…publishing can get in line!
29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
I’m on a confused hiatus, is that quitting?
30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
Weird Missouri, because having recently interviewed them I could relate to the faces and stories.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
I don’t think I can give an answer that will satisfy any reader. Maybe find success in completing the process.
32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I hope they feel different than when they started…just don’t be unmoved.
33. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
For me too much. I’d leave it to the pro’s next time. I hired a graphics guy to follow my lead for the cover of Déjà vu All Over Again, and the cover is sorely lacking. My bad! However, Weird Missouri’s cover was out of my hands, and it shows!
34. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
Be an anonymous savior of our planet. Hey, dream big!
35. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
This is a question that can only be answered in book form. Suffice it to say that if you’re a self-published author writing the book was only 1% of the work. Marketing and promoting is a full time job, and better left to paid professionals. Thus, have some serious money set aside for professional marketing, or, plan on your book selling the industry standard 200 copies.
37. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Simplicity is the secret to elegance. Keep the process uncluttered and simple…and never doubt your self. Naysayers begone!