Thursday, October 22, 2015

'Confessions of a Writer' tag, 2015

Yep, I got tagged for this by the graceful and amazing Annelisa Christensen, a friend of many years whom I've never actually met thanks to the realities of cross-Atlantic and cross-continental distance.

Father and son
In her own "Confessions," Annelisa wrote wonderfully of how we met through blog comments, and how we became writing buddies through a shared off-season NaNoWriMo a few years back. What she didn't tell you is how she supported me with friendship through one of the toughest times of my life, or how grateful I've been for her friendship over these years, even though we've never actually spoken or conversed outside of words on the screen. (Yes, I appropriated her hair color for a character in "Fortunate Consolation." I think she knows this.)

So, without further ado...

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?

I first started writing in the summer before my senior year of high school. Just as all of those grade-school and high-school aspirations of being a Senior, the Band President, and a BMOC in love with my high-school sweetheart were about to come to fruition, it all came to the proverbial crashing halt, as my father's employer decided to relocate everyone in his entire division from Minnesota to Kansas.

For me, that move left me demoted from popular (if geeky) and respected (in band and student-council circles) fixture to suddenly solitary "new kid" trying to find his way in a brand-new environment. It quashed quite a few childhood dreams, and changed my life in ways that still follow me around today. Of course I wanted to keep in touch with my friends "back home," but because I couldn't afford long-distance phone charges and the Internet didn't yet exist, my only method of doing so was to write letters.

I was probably writing a letter every couple of days back then, all handwritten on the backs of unused advertising flyers I'd appropriated from my part-time job at the local K-Mart. Those letters became my biggest comfort in those days, and the more letters I wrote, the more responses I received. And to my great surprise, my friends actually  enjoyed the way they were written. My only complaint? My brain was composing sentences far more quickly than I could write them down by hand. So with hand-writing them simply too slow (and with my handwriting terrible anyway), I taught myself to compose right at the keyboard, on my father's noisy and grindy electric typewriter, and began cranking out those letters at a hunt-and-peck rate of about 40 words per minute.

C. 1985, with both the XMas electric and the C-64.
Those same friend who enjoyed my handwritten flyer-backs were again surprised to receive "formally typed" letters from me and kept on writing back, except for that forever-love high-school sweetheart who sent me a "Dear John" letter all of three months after I left town. That Xmas, the only gift I really wanted was an electric typewriter of my own, and Santa (in the form of my parents) came through, trading in my dad's grindy for a Sears model with built-in correction tape. So the letters kept going.

Somewhere along the line I discovered how much I enjoyed that writing, enough to want to make a living doing it. I enrolled in college the next Fall, with all of that letter-writing paying off in the form of being able to procrastinate on my English 105 writing assignments, start them the morning they were due, compose them at the typewriter keyboard, and still get an A-grade. From there, journalism school, a swap of the Sears typewriter for a Commodore 64 computer with word-processing software and a series of dot-matrix printers (this was 1985), a J-School degree four years later, and eventual employment in corporate web-based communications until I went freelance right before my son arrived.

So I can't say I always wanted to be a writer. But I can say a bad situation helped me to discover writing, and I've been enjoying and pursuing it as a vocation in one form or another ever since.

What genre do you write?

Oh, I hate to feel limited to genre. :) Professionally I've done (and still do) everything from journalism to public relations to web design and business communications; getting paid to write is awesome, regardless of the form. For fun I've done four off-season NaNoWriMos, succeeding in three. Genres on my "to try" list include science fiction, memoir, thinly veiled fantasy based on real-world events, and others. And while my latest effort is a novel that falls into the category of literary fiction, someday I'd love to write a picaresque. And finding a collaborator would be wonderful.

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?

My work-in-progress closest to completion is my novel "Davey's Savior," which began as an off-season NaNoWriMo effort back in 2009. Taking place over four days in an isolated California beach town, "DS" explores a lot of issues important to me, including solo fatherhood, forced isolation, misplaced faith, and most of all the power of a father's love. In "DS," a random event set in motion years earlier threatens the hiding place of a fugitive father and his very young son Davey, while the subsequent interventions of a fundamentalist coffee-shop owner and a marine biologist leave the reader wondering, "Who will be Davey's savior?"

(If it's not completely obvious, I haven't really figured out the best elevator-speech tagline for "Davey's Savior" yet. But everyone who's read it in beta form has come away satisfied and emotionally moved, so despite its convoluted description I believe the novel itself to be on the right track.)

I've invested several months of 2015 in a stem-to-stern revision, completed in July, and am about to embark upon what I hope to be the final revision. Wish me luck, and watch for me on Amazon by next summer.

Other works in my WIP files include "Fortunate Consolation," (magical realism) in which a father and son touring Chicago meet the goddess of Fate; "American Journey," (literary fiction) the tale of a cross-country drive while the airplanes were grounded in the days after 9/11, "Lifeboat," (science fiction) the story of a spaceship-full of teenagers en route to a new planet after the Earth becomes uninhabitable, where some begin to display amazing powers through genetic modification. So I have plenty to do. See why I hate being limited to genre?

What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?

The first piece of fiction I wrote for review by anybody at all was a short story in my first college fiction-writing class, titled "Spring Again." At only about three pages double-spaced in length, it was the story of an old man struggling through a crowd so he could sit on a park bench and meet his deceased wife once again. I didn't think much of it, having written it at 2 a.m. the day it was due. But I felt better after one classmate defended it publicly, saying how much emotion the story brought to him and ending his comment with, "If you can do all of that in three pages, you're doing something right." The cool thing is how that defending classmate is now a published novelist with more than a dozen books to his credit.

What’s the best part about writing?

Feeling words flow onto the screen at high speed, when I'm in the zone; having others tell me they were moved to tears over something I wrote, especially if I myself got misty while writing it.

Summer 2015, next to the Discovery.
What’s the worst part about writing?

Slogging through the slow pace of careful but necessary revisions; the pain of cutting favorite sections; the excruciating pain of waiting for feedback; finding a really bone-headed error in something I've already sent out.

What’s the name of your favorite character and why?

From other's fiction? Ignatius J. Reilly from "A Confederacy of Dunces" remains the most vivid character I've read.

From my own? Hard to say, but I'm fond of all the characters I put into "Davey's Savior," except one.

How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

Not counting professional work, I try to set aside two hours a day to write. I try to be finished with my fiction writing before 7 a.m. each day, so I can get it out of my system and focus during the day on everything else I'm supposed to be doing. As the full-time father of a special-needs son, it's critical that my days are kept as flexible as possible so I can attend to whatever issues may arise, from school challenges and homework to household care and just plain old "Dad Duty." Oh, and I have to get my freelance business-writing work done during the day as well, to earn my meager income. Gotta eat, you know.

So early mornings are my best time to write, and coffee is definitely my friend.

Did you go to college for writing?

Not directly, but my love of writing was a critical factor in seeking a journalism degree. And I did take three levels of Fiction Writing as an undergrad and one year in graduate school before mid-1990s family issues put the kibosh on that effort. The good news is the skills don't leave you.

What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?

What bothers me most is failing to catch any of those in my own work before sending it along to someone else. I tend to be a harsher critic of myself than of others, unless they've made their error on a road sign or somewhere similarly public.

What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?

"Get your ass in the chair and keep going."

What advice would you give to another writer?

I'd repeat the often-given advice that "Everything is fixable except a blank page." I'd add that momentum is more important than inspiration. Therefore, keep going.

This might become the cover for Davey's Savior.
What are your favorite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?

I don't really have any favorite writing sites, unfortunately. Writing for me has become such a solitary endeavor that I find myself perpetually seeking writing communities and almost always coming away disappointed.

With one exception, that is. I'm finding good information about the writing craft and a modicum of community through the #1lineWed hashtag on Twitter. Ironic that a character-limited resource could be my best source of writing community, no?

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?

I don't get out much. ;) My life is consumed almost entirely by fatherhood, and yes, there are reasons for that. When I can, I enjoy photography, stargazing and planet spotting, and I'm a fan of the movies. I also make the world's best chocolate-chip cookies. Seriously.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

Outside of rereading my own manuscripts and beta-reading for a few people, I haven't read as much for myself in recent years; see above re fatherhood. That said, my son and I made a point to read Andy Weir's "The Martian" together, with the goal of getting through it before the movie hit theaters. We met our goal with a couple of days to spare. (And yes, during my out-loud readings, I censored Weir's frequent F-bombs. I'm by no means a prude, but my son is only 11.)

What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?


What is your favorite book or series of all time?

If you're going to make me choose, I'll say "Mother Night" by Kurt Vonnegut. If you're not going to make me choose. I'll add "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann, "The Shipping News" by Annie Proulx, "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams, and "The Lorax" to the list. Add nonfiction, and I'll say Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World."

Who is your favorite author?

Kurt Vonnegut.

What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?

Two early-morning coffee-fueled hours per day, invested in (a) the hopefully final edit of "Davey's Savior," (b) another stem-to-stern rewrite of one of my WIPs above, and (c) plugging away on a memoir about full-time fatherhood while perhaps working on "American Journey." Curiously, I find having multiple projects going on at once to be helpful; it at least eliminates idleness as an excuse. My overall goal is to have a couple of works on hand for a book signing, to coincide with my 50th birthday next summer.

Where else can we find you online?

I haven't maintained a blog in quite some time, as I found the energy invested in keeping it up was (for me) better invested in "Davey's Savior" and other works. But I know blogging is an important part of self-marketing for authors, so this post notwithstanding I'll probably have to revive it at some point. In the meantime, the remains of my old blog remain right here at

I tweet, snark, subtweet and play hashtag games on Twitter @savage_news.
I Facebook at
I have Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn accounts as well, but I'm rarely out there.

I wish I had people to tag. (See above re "don't get out much," "seeking writing community," etc.) So I'll merely reflect this back to Ms. Christensen, along with my gratitude. Thanks for inviting me to play, Annelisa!


Annelisa said...

Wonderful and fascinating read, Tim! And thank you so much for your kind words...your friendship carried me through some equally tough years. It's about time we met! (Aiming to use book-signing or something similar as an excuse to come over there if ever I can! :-D )
Really enjoyed getting to know more about your writing side, and your younger days. I'm sure you have a million untold stories yet! :-)
Love the picture of the bridge - is that the actual one in Davey's Savior ? It'd look good on the cover!
Don't worry about not tagging anyone. I'll make up for it by tagging some more! Lol :-D

Savage said...

That is indeed the Avila Beach pier, Annelisa. I took that shot last November, around the same time that my son was burying his shoes. (Never saw one of the shoes again, alas...)