AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES D. SANDERSON
I had the great pleasure being on the Tony Angelo radio show last Saturday, and I wanted to share some of the things we talked about (and have added some other things we didn’t talk about). If you have any comments or questions of your own, please add them in the comments below.
Why do you write?
A person must be crazy to want to write, and I mean that literally. When I was a kid my Dad was such an overbearing and dynamic force in my life – and I don’t mean to say he was abusive, really – that I couldn’t seem to find a voice for myself. When he argued with my mother I remember scrunching down into the corner of my bedroom and making myself very tiny. Then, when I learned to write, my writing was very tiny as well. People still comment on it today. My script is almost microscopic and all pinched together. It was as if I was trying to express myself but I didn’t really want anyone to be able to see what I was trying to say. So, I guess to keep expressing myself, I had to write.
How do you come up with story ideas and characters?
It takes me a long time to come up with story ideas – and I mean years – and they almost always come from character. Characters develop from people I know, or from my own experience, but I don’t believe any of my characters are based on real people. They are more like composite people. Then, when I know my character, I begin to wonder how they would act or react in this situation or that. The story usually emerges from that.
When and how do you write?
I have the great luxury now of being a full-time writer, but if I’m not careful my time can go away just as fast as anyone else’s. I usually blog ‘The Angelic Mysteries’ – my novel coming out in August - on Monday. Then I work on the next chapter of my latest novel on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then on Thursday I blog ‘Literary Greatness’, which is my blog about great authors, literature, books, and writing. I promote my work online anytime I get a minute. For the modern author, marketing and promotion must be part of the writing process.
What authors inspire you?
I have a library full of authors I refer back to often. Tolstoy. Dostoevsky. Hemingway. Faulkner. Steinbeck. Melville. The complete Shakespeare. Henry James. Of course any I don’t have right on the shelf I can usually find online now. That is a great benefit of reading classic literature – you can usually get it free or very cheap on the library giveaway shelf or the used bookstore or online.
What are you working on now?
‘The Angelic Mysteries’ is a novel about a man who meets a woman who believes herself to be an angel. They are being pursued around Europe by a psychopath she believes in an anti-angel – an angel from hell. It is a thriller and a love story, but also a novel of ideas: about the thin line between sanity and insanity. It’s due out August 18th.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
Oh goodness, there is no time limit. ‘The Angelic Mysteries’ came out in a limited edition literary paperback in 1994. I have been working on it off and on ever since. The edition due out in August is my final draft however.
What is your next project?
I have been working on a series of short stories about nonviolent direct action as it has been used around the world, and the collection, as yet untitled, is due out in the spring (March 2012). Meanwhile some of them are being published in small press magazines.
How long have you been writing?
Well, as I said about being a kid hiding out in my bedroom from the fights my parents had, I began to write stories almost as soon as I could write. I remember my twelfth year in particular. I always read classic literature too, so I was considered somewhat weird by my young friends.
How does your background influence your work?
I know I have always wanted to be a writer, and the fact that I read classic literature from an early age has had the most influence on my work. Whenever I read I am making mental notes about how this or that style or technique might be useful to my work in the future. I believe that novels should express great ideas because the written word is just too important to waste on only entertainment.
How do you research?
Plain old library time. Of course it is a lot easier to get books now through inter library loans and so on, and I use the internet extensively. A writer simply must use the internet to help with research. There is no reason for a writer to miss some important detail.
Give some facts and juicy tidbits about your work.
(Laughs). I don’t know how juicy it is, but when I was writing ‘American Masters’ I came to the chapter about our American State Papers as Literature. It occurred to me that Benjamin Franklin, because he had access to his own printing press, was able to go directly to his readers with his story. Who knows what would be known of him today if he had had to go through some convoluted publishing process to get his work out. In France especially he was able to influence people directly with his writing. I think we authors need to start looking for ways to write directly to our readers. Of course the internet is making great strides at helping us do that.
What are you reading now?
I am reading ‘Anna Karenina’ for the umpteenth time. It is really my favorite novel. On my shelf are also ‘Middlemarch’ and ‘Vanity Fair’, which are also long reads. So, I’ve got my reading time mapped out for me for quite a while.
Do you have any concluding remarks?
Only that we writers need to hear from our readers. If you are reading a blog or are meeting an author on Facebook or wherever, don’t be afraid to speak out and say what you think about our work or about reading and writing in general. (Be kind, but be real). We are just breaking into the idea of being able to speak directly with our readers, and we need to know what you are thinking. It will help us create our future works and it will keep us honest about why we’re writing, and who we’re writing for. I would love your feedback at either of my blog sites: Literary Greatness - www.jamesdsanderson.blogspot.com or www.theangelicmysteries.blogspot.com. You may also look for me on Facebook (James D. Sanderson).
Thank you Jim for sharing this great interview with us!