Author Interview: Jim Moran

Today I have another aspiring Science Fiction author interview, Jim Moran, another person like myself, attracted to the craft of Science Fiction.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

Jim: Yikes. That’s the big question, isn’t it? Two years ago, I had no ambitions for a career in writing. I never even considered the existence of such a thing. I mean, obviously such things existed. I just never had a call to think about them.

I grew up on an island in Alaska. Not . . . you know, not by myself. I wasn’t raised by wolves. There was a town there, with a stoplight and a McDonalds and everything. But I’d never really been exposed to any flavor of writing culture. No writing workshops, no conventions, not even an RPG group, really. And no prospect of driving to the next town for that kind of thing because, again: island. My youth was pretty much pre-internet, too, I didn’t so much as dial into a BBS until junior high. So while I was an avid reader, and conceptually I knew that an “author” was a thing, it was always just that: a nebulous concept that really didn’t apply to me.

Over the years, I discovered that good writing went a long way. I wrote a thank-you letter to a boot company once, and they responded with a fifty-dollar gift-certificate for another pair of boots. (They were exceptional boots.) I wrote a thousand words for this random on-line game universe, and won a hundred (Canadian) dollars. Little things like that. I never considered myself an author, just a guy who could put words together well enough to sometimes benefit from it.

Maybe some subconscious part of me always wanted to be an author, though.

An article in a Boy’s Life magazine introduced me to Applesoft BASIC when I was in the second grade. I subsequently lost my computer lab privileges for a week, because I got every computer in the lab to call one of my classmates “STOOPID”. It was a social coup for an eight year old, and I’ve been programming ever since. And a computer program certainly tells a story.

Programming scratched an ill-defined, barely-conceptualized itch. So did that gift certificate for new boots. But the itch remained.

Eventually, a Rube Goldberg series of events led me to an online community that allowed folks to give and receive critiques on early drafts. I poked around on the site for a while, read some great (and not-so-great yet) early drafts, and was content. For a little while.

I soon found that I didn’t really feel part of the community if I was just critiquing other. It was like I was dishing it out, but not taking it. I didn’t want to be that guy. So, on a whim, I started sketching out an outline of a story. Fleshed out a few characters. Dredged up a couple of motivations. In short order, I had a couple of rough chapters ready to post. Again, it was really just to have something out there, so that I could feel like I was participating. There was no real investment in it.

But the folks critiquing my stuff didn’t know that. They treated my posts as valid stuff from a valid guy pursuing a valid career. They approached my stuff more seriously than I did. Reactions were generally positive, so I just kept going.

In the process, I learned a ton. Met some great people, read some great stuff . . . really, this was my first introduction to a writer’s culture, to the grease and gears of real writing. A year, give or take, and I’m making serious revisions on my first story, Focus, which I don’t really want to call a “book” because of course it hasn’t been offered for sale anywhere yet.

And now here I am. Ambitions towards a career? So far, I’ve accepted that such a thing is something that people think about. Beyond that, I’m pretty much just making things up as I go.

I’m not sure if that answers the question.

How do you relax?

Jim: You mean, besides the whiskey? By myself, reading is a great way to relax. Or movies, computer games . . . basically, the ability to sit in one place and enjoy somebody else’s narrative for a while.

Of course, taking my wife out to a nice restaurant can certainly ease the stress. But just sitting and listening to her tell me about her day can also be relaxing. I suppose that’s just another form of enjoying somebody else’s narrative.

What do you do when somebody tells you that they hate your writing?

Jim: Well, it depends upon context.

If it’s just a random guy on the Internet, that’s to be expected. In fact, I’d think something was off if nobody said they hated my writing, not even to be ironic or countercultural. I will know that I have arrived as a writer when my writing is popular enough for random people on the Internet to tell me they hate it.

If it’s an official review somewhere, I assume the review would include reasons for the hate. If possible, I’d thank the reviewer for the insight, make notes of the issues raised, and consider them in my next project. At least, I hope I would. Some people just know how to push buttons, and I am not a perfect man. But I like to think I can be an adult in the room.

If it’s part of a larger rant “I hate your dog, your writing, your mother, your face . . .” I’d probably just punch the guy. Or laugh at him, if punching is not an option. What a loser.

If I know the person and respect that person’s opinion, I’d certainly ask for reasons why. Maybe they’d have good reasons that I might work with. Maybe it’s just not their thing. Either way, I’d accept the opinion and move on.

If everybody tells me that they hate my writing, well . . . that’s kind of a hint, isn’t it? I certainly wouldn’t stop writing. But perhaps I’d practice a bit more before I posted something else. Maybe do some reevaluation of methods, or genres, or writing styles. Maybe attend a workshop or something. Basically, I would pursue improvement, because the last thing I’ll do is stop writing entirely.

Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?

Jim: Does anybody write on anything other than a computer anymore? I’m sure there are folks out there that do, but man. Not me. I have this vague understanding that writing professionally was possible before they had things like UNDO and CUT-PASTE, but . . . come on. Crossing the Pacific Ocean was possible before airplanes, too. Progress marches on.

Are typewriter/dictation/longhand writers still a significant thing? I’ve never been plugged into a writing community until very recently, and it’s an Internet community, which is some pretty significant observation bias. So I could totally be the ignorant one here.

Okay, maybe I’m willing to admit that dictation might be fun. Voice recognition software has come a long way. I wouldn’t be very enthusiastic about revising the stream-of-conscious nonsense that comes out of my mouth, but I could see how it might work for somebody.

Longhand, though. Man. My hand is cramping up just thinking about it.

What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?

Jim: The effort’s not over yet. I’m still revising my first draft. But so far, the hardest thing for me has been addressing good criticism.

I don’t mean accepting criticism. I’ve learned an incredible amount from my critique group, and those parts that I’ve revised so far read a lot better specifically because of some of the critiques I’ve received. I’ve lucked into an exceptional bunch of folks to work with. Aside from that, I’m a programmer, and I’ve long since learned to not take code-reviews personally if I ever want to get better.

But when somebody pokes a hole in my logic, or finds a spot where I forgot to follow the rules that I’ve established, or pointed out where a motivation doesn’t work with respect to the character I’ve developed . . . resolving that issue is hard. Because now I’m not in the vanguard, leading the story down whatever path I find. Now I’ve already traversed that path. I’ve already arrived at an ending, I need to tear out something in the middle, change how somebody reacted to an impulse, yet still figure out how to reach the same conclusion. It can be hard to do without the result feeling contrived.

Normally, I can come up with a solution, and a good critique group can actually help in that regard. But a couple of times, the problem area grew to encompass thousands of words, even a chapter or more. I’ve thrown away over five thousand words because changing a character’s motivation changed their solution, which threatened to inexorably end up in either “deus ex machina” or “everybody you care about dies horribly”. (Everybody you care about in the story, I mean. I don’t think my writing is that bad.)

It can be frustrating and demotivating. In my limited experience, frustration and demotivation are two of the biggest obstacles to a successful writing endeavor.

***

Jim describes himself as a random guy on the Internet who accidentally fell into this whole “writing” thing. He is working hard at nearly every aspect of the writing endeavor, and is enjoying the challenging and rewarding journey.  He also has a blog.

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