J.T. Evans stopped by to chat with us about his writing life and how he gets it all done.
KJ ~~ Tell us a little bit about yourself.
J.T. ~~ My Day Job is working as a lead software engineer on a set of international web sites that facilitate the purchase of training courses for other technical people. The nitty-gritty details are somewhat boring, so I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to what “exciting” things I get to do. The upside is that work takes me to Paris for meetings every so often. I live just outside Monument, Colorado with my wife of 16 years and my seven-year-old son. I do my best to treat writing as a profession, so I rarely (if ever) list it under “hobbies” anymore. This means my hobbies are Cub Scouts with my son, playing card/board/role-playing games, and watching hockey (I used to play).
KJ ~~ What are you working on right now?
J.T. ~~ I’m currently working on writing an urban fantasy novel while submitting some short stories to various markets. The novel is about an immortal Roman Centurion living in modern San Antonio, Texas. He works for The Ancients as a bounty hunter while searching for clues into his father’s mysterious disappearance almost two-thousand years ago. I’m hoping to make it into a series, but I’m just now starting chapter 4 of the first book. I hope to be somewhere in the late-teens in chapter count by the end of the month, done with the book by the start of February, and edit it in time for the 2015 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. It’s a hectic schedule, but I think I can pull it off.
KJ ~~ I see on your website that you have published a number of flash fiction pieces along with several short stories. For you, how does this differ than writing a novel (besides the fact that a novel probably takes a boatload more time)?
J.T. ~~ Besides the time commitment, it’s a matter of accuracy with words. Basically, it goes like this. Novels are words. Short stories are the right words. Flash fiction (and poetry) pieces are the right words in the right place. This is all probably gross oversimplification, but that’s how I approach things. If I have a powerful word with depth of meaning, I’ll use it once in a flash piece, maybe twice in a short story, and no more than once per chapter in a novel. In flash fiction, I try to use as many “kick in the gut” words as possible to amp up the pressure of the story in such a short time, but I can’t repeat those words. I also only try to explore one character, one concept, and one setting. No more than one of each of those. In short stories, I’m allowed a few more characters, but no more than two (maybe three) main characters. I also try to keep my short stories down to one setting, and around two concepts. This keeps my word count down. With novels, I let it all fly! I love world building, so that’s where my novels come into play. I get to explore (in depth and breadth) many aspects of the world through the characters’ explorations of the world.
KJ ~~You are a father, a husband, a technoguru, President of Pikes Peak writers, and a writer. How do you squeeze it all in?
J.T. ~~ There are a few factors going into play here. I have a great amount of personal discipline. It’s rare for me to waste a minute while I’m awake on something that’s not productive, but I do still schedule downtime. This prevents me from burning out. My downtime usually involves a quick TV show, reading while eating lunch, or playing with my son. Another thing that works well for me is that my corpus callosum (the bridge between the two halves of the brain) did not form properly in utero. This doesn’t impair my ability to think or act, and it has gifted with ambidexterity, and the ability to quickly shift from logical thinking (my Day Job and running Pikes Peak Writers) to creative thinking (writing). Lastly, I’ve been diagnosed with a rare mental oddity called “hyperfocus.” It’s basically the opposite of ADHD. It’s incredibly useful to be able to focus solely on my work despite being in chaotic surroundings (like at a loud coffee shop). There are some downsides to the hyperfocus, though. When I’m on a strong roll of writing, it’ll last long enough that I’ll forget to eat or take care of my body.
KJ ~~ What does a typical writing day look like for you?
J.T. ~~ For me, writing tends to happen on weekends or late in the evening. I’ll tend to wait until my son goes down for the night. At that point, I’ll stay up late and crank out some words. My peak “brain activity” hours are generally from 8PM until about 4AM. I wish I could stay up until 4AM every day, but that pesky Day Job requires me to be out the door by around 8AM each day to make it on time. On the weekends, I tend to write quite a bit on Saturdays since that is “my day” to be kid-free and do as I please. My family is generally gone Sunday mornings as well, so I’ll continue my work on that day until they get home. At that point, my wife will run about town on “her day,” and I’ll spend some good time with my son.
KJ ~~ Do you have strategies for getting past those days that are hard to write?
J.T. ~~ I’ve never had “writer’s block.” I have had scenes that I didn’t want to tackle because they made me uncomfortable to write. It could be a tender moment, something incredibly emotional, something complex in the physical realm, and so on. At this point, I’ll flip from the creative side of things to the logical and look at it from the new viewpoint. I’ll ask, “Why am I uncomfortable with this?” Once I’ve dissected the problem, I find the nugget of truth in there somewhere. Then I approach the scene from that angle and it works out well.
KJ ~~ What books or authors have influenced you the most and why?
J.T. ~~ The list is lengthy, but I’ll stick to the high points. Terry Brooks, Dennis L. McKiernan, Raymond E. Feist, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and Anne McCaffrey are high on my list because of their incredible world-building skills. However, they manage to drag out wonderful character moments from the world regardless of what is going on. This fine balance is why they make my list. I also love building new worlds in my own way, so learning lessons from these fine masters is something I strive to do.
Carol Berg, Jim Butcher, C.S. Lewis, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brent Weeks, Roger Zelazny, Saladin Ahmed, Jane Yolen, and Robert Asprin also hit the high spots on my list because of the true, raw, emotional, powerful, and exciting characters they create. However, these characters do not exist in a vacuum, so there is some world building in there as well. I aspire to create fictional people that give the reader an emotional roller coaster ride, so these are always on my shelf.
KJ ~~What are your favorite books that you have read simply for pleasure?
J.T. ~~ Interestingly, the author of my favorite book didn’t make the above list. It could be that he has not produced as much as the others. My #1 book of all time is The Long Run by Daniel Keys Moran. The characters in this futuristic, broken world are true. Not only true to themselves, but true to the world. It’s just an amazing piece of fiction. The things I tend to read for pleasure fall firmly in the fantasy and urban fantasy realms. I do branch out and read a bit of science fiction and horror, though. I rarely pick up anything else because my time is so precious to me. I just don’t know if I’d enjoy other things. I might, but I don’t know. This leads me to stick to the things I know.
KJ ~~ If you took a two-week vacation in any book or story, where would you go and who would you be?
J.T. ~~ Most of the places I read about in fiction are horrific places! Marauding orcs, horrible demons, power-hungry fae, and constant warfare tend to be the fare of what I read. I don’t want to visit any of those places at all. If I had to pick a place, it would be the multiverse that Skeeve and Aahz (and their troupe of friends) live in in the “Myth” series by Robert Asprin. There’s plenty of zany antics going on, and it all seems like so much fun.