Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jim Morris - Guest Author

Welcome fellow Kindle Press author Jim Morris whose debut novel, What Lies Within, was released June 2 (which is not to say he is a newbie writer). He says of himself that he is dedicated, obsessive, curious, kind, and flawed. His writing is tight, tense, surprising, engaging, and interesting. I found his answers interesting, especially those I didn’t agree with—that makes for an interesting conversation.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

The beauty of writing, I think, is that it can be done anywhere. It’s true, I do best in my own room with my desk set up the way I like it. But I’ve also had my pad of paper and jotted things down in restaurants or on airplanes. My best venue is a quiet place with music in the background, (but music without lyrics.)

What makes a great short story?

A great short story is one that starts with that first awesome line that just hooks you in. I admit, I’m not a huge fan of the stories that are only slice-of-life; I like to be grabbed by the lapel and taken somewhere. I grew up on Ray Bradbury’s short stories, so he’s where I set the bar. Take me, move me, awe me! (I published a trio of my own short stories Abraham Lincoln Must Die, so readers can always judge if I’m keeping my own standards!)

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

I’m not at the level where I make my living from writing, so I have to fit it in between my other freelance jobs. So, I write at odd times: sometimes in the mornings, other times at night; or sometimes for a half-hour in between gigs if I’m working remotely from home. I try not to be too neurotic about where/when I write lest it give me excuses not to write. Coffee, though always helps!

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I try to read a book a week, but I often fail at that quota. It averages to about two a month, and I read the whole gamut from poetry to biographies, and everything in between. I purposely avoid books that are too close to my genre when I’m writing in it; I just don’t want to be unduly influenced by something, even unconsciously; on the flip side, I don’t want to be deterred if I read someone who is better (which is often!) The great book I loved most recently was “Beautiful Ruins.” It’s a style I could never write, but wish I did. [As an aside, that’s always an interesting thing: accepting the writer you are, and the way you write versus the writer you wished you were.]

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?
I didn’t think I regularly employed any themes in my writing, but after a few books, I have started to see a pattern. I didn’t do it consciously, but I focus a lot on identity – who are we versus who we say we are; what were the forces that shaped us and can we overcome them? I wonder what that says about me?

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

I come from a screenwriting background, so I continue to learn and grow in how to extend and really deep-dive into a scene. In screenwriting, the prose is very basic and just blocks of dialogue; it was a change and challenge in a novel to flesh out the sights, sounds and texture of what’s happening on the page, to tickle the readers’ imaginations. In film, the scenes are fast and from an omniscient POV. Writing novels, it’s required me to really breathe more into a scene, rather than worrying about pace so much.

What motivates you to write?

I wish I knew so then I could turn the damn motivation switch off! Seriously, being a writer is like having a kind of disease – one that you can’t get rid of. It’s a horrible career choice and financially risky; it’s not like the world is waiting with bated breath for my next novel; and the rejection is staggering. Who in their right mind would ever choose to be a writer? It requires such an odd mix of sensitivity, yet at the same time having thick skin; humble while being egotistical (otherwise, why believe that anyone would want to read whatever you’ve written?) It’s not a choice, and never has been. Believe me, I wish I could quit this thing!

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Ray Bradbury, because he was “my first.” I gobbled up his short story collections. His words weren’t just words, they were like magic made of ink. He really showed me that words colliding on a page could take you anywhere.

Ernest Hemingway: I read him during my 20’s, which somehow seems an appropriate age to read him. I loved most of all “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” He taught me that words didn’t need to be fancy or pretty - that just putting the right words next to each other, however simple, would add up, the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

And finally, and this may be a cheat, but Rod Serling. True, he wasn’t a novelist, but watching the “Twilight Zone” taught me more about dialogue, tension and pacing than almost anything else. And it still holds up! How many things can you say that about? Every New Year’s, my wife and I watch the marathon with a glass of wine.

In case that was too much of a cheat, I’ll finish with a poet, Stephen Dobyns, especially his earlier work. He writes in kind of a loose prose style. I like poetry because it really focuses on the words, and the rhythm of words. (I am nowhere near as “fluid” in my writing as I’d like, but poetry reminds me to be aware of how the words sound.)

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

“Quit.” It’s valuable because if you can quit, then you’re not really a writer. You’re dabbling. No judgments there – I dabble in things all the time. Tango dancing, gardening, but if you have no choice but to write, then you keep writing, and you keep getting better, even with all the doors slamming in your face. And one day, you actually say to yourself, ‘Hey, this draft ain’t too bad.’ And then you go back to the page and keep going.

You can find out more about Jim Morris and his writing at 

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Here's a quick blurb for What Lies Within:

"You’re going to die"

A single text message and Shelley Marano’s world is upended. A normal high school senior, Shelley discovers she is adopted. She goes on a journey to uncover her past, only to find she was part of a horrific experiment to test the theory of nature versus nurture. In a culture of violence committed by young people, she may be one of these killers. With the lives of her and her friends in the balance, one thing is certain: she will never be the same.


2 comments:

  1. I think your comment about the requirement for a combination of sensitivity and thick skin is dead on. Getting the skin to the necessary thickness is the tricky part.

    I laughed when I read that you "want to quit this thing!" Wonder if there's a twelve-step program for writers?

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    1. I agree with you Allan about that interesting combination. I have found that being (rhetorically) beaten frequently can put calluses on or leave you raw and it's pretty much your choice which you choose.

      I do disagree with Jim's proposition that if you can quit you are not a writer. I do believe I am a writer, but have so many interests if I could not write I would find another avenue of sharing with the larger world.

      ~ Jim

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