Keith A. Reynolds
Entering the world of publishing seems like a daunting task. There are nearly as many books out there as there are people to read them and more are being released every day.
In order to combat this sentiment, Lorain County Community College professor Kim Karshner brought young adult novelist Brian James to campus on Oct. 20 to speak to her classes and give a reading of his work the next day.
Brian James is a 38-year-old author who lives among the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. His first book was published in 2003 and he’s been steadily pumping out gems since then.
His works include Pure Sunshine, Zombie Blondes, and the Pirate School Series. His latest book, Life is But a Dream, was published by Macmillan.
He sat down with The Collegian during his visit to discuss the particulars of publishing and the advice he’d give to young authors.
Keith A. Reynolds:Who were your favorite authors when you were young?
Brian James: I read Watership Down and it was the first time I read a book where I felt like I could see what was going on, like I was watching a movie. And I was like, ‘Wait, is this really what happens when people read? No wonder people like to read.’ So I always point to that book as the book that sort of changed my whole idea of what books could be. When I was 16 was when I really started to write. My favorite authors then were William Burroughs, Lewis Carroll, Charles Bukowski. Those were the sort of writers that I gravitated to because I felt like they see the world like I see the world.
Imagery is one of the aspects of writing that always appeals to me, and even in my own writing is one of the things I enjoy. My books are filled with images and metaphors to the point that the people who don’t like my books say ‘Oh my God, it’s just a bunch of metaphors…’ I always listen to music while I write. I know a lot of people don’t, they don’t want the distraction but I always try to put on music that has the same mood of the mood I’m trying to create. So I’ll listen to music just so it’s there. Music for me has always been very transportive. I’ll listen to music and sort of go mentally to this place that I feel the music is in. In that sense it guides my writing.
K: So you said you started writing when you were sixteen?
B: I was doing short stories and poetry, which is what I think everybody sort of starts with because it’s the easiest to get a grasp on. You know, you can sit down and write a poem, or you can sit down and write a short story in one sitting. Or at least a first draft of it, so it’s something you can feel like you’ve accomplished something.
K: You were published rather young, twenty-three?
B: Yeah, I was twenty-three when the book came out. The book was published in 2002, but I wrote it in 1999. So I was twenty-one when I wrote the book and when it was purchased. It was purchased and it just took two years before it was actually published.
K: What was that process like?
B: Long. And completely unfamiliar. The editor was a friend of mine, David Levitt, who is now a super famous author in his own right. So it was like, this long process but it didn’t feel like a business process because I was working with a friend who was also just starting out his career too.
K: Can you describe your writing process?
B: You know, it’s weird, when I was younger it was so easy. I would sit down, churn out fifteen pages in a couple of hours. It was my first novel, I wrote that entire novel in three weeks. My second novel, I think I wrote the entire thing in four weeks. And then the process started getting longer and longer and longer because you start thinking about things in a different way and you become meticulous. And so now, my process is basically this: I’ll start something once I have an opening line for a novel. I won’t ever start writing until I have that opening line, but I’ll have been thinking about the story for a while, then I’ve got that opening line, so I’ll write until it sort of stalls out, so if it’s three pages, ten pages, whatever it is, and then I’ll stop and then I’ll outline it. Very loose outline, sort of, more detailed for the next couple of chapters. Everything else is sort of a skeleton. I keep that outline; it’s constantly changing throughout the process. And then, I’ll write the first draft loosely, that outline will change a million times. When I’m done with the first draft I’ll read it, inevitably hate every single word I wrote, mark it up like crazy, put in those changes and then the second draft becomes almost massive rewrites. And then, again I’ll read it, edit it, usually then I’m sort of satisfied with it. And then I’ll send it to my agent, and they’ll come back with “You need to rewrite this part and that part.” And then you do it again… it’s sort of like, you’ve read that novel in one form or another ten… fifteen times in the period of maybe two years. If you read anything that often, you’re going to hate it. Even if it’s your favorite book in the world. [But then], you get the first copies that are sent to you and you open it up randomly to a page and you’ll read a page, and you’re like ‘actually this is pretty good. This isn’t as bad as I thought it was.’
K: What advice would you give any writers here at LCCC?
B: One, to write every day. I think that’s important. I think a lot of young writers feel like writing is something to do when I’m feeling creative, and it is. [But] it’s also something you have to do when you don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes you’ll find that’s when you’ll do your best writing. Because if you just do it just when you’re feeling creative, you’re never going to become a writer. You have to learn to do it every day. It’s work. It’s something you have to work at. The other thing I would say is, you have to be confident in your work. Whether you are or you’re not, you have to be confident about it. Other people don’t have to like it, it’s very easy to become disillusioned and to feel ‘I’m not good enough, I’m going to stop doing this.’ And I think that happens to a lot of young writers. You have to be confident because 90% of the time you’re going to be rejected and be told your stuff’s no good. Even after you publish things, you’re still going to get rejected. And then [when] you put out a book, inevitably there’s going to be bad reviews or there’s going to be people online who don’t like it. You have to be thick skinned and confident that you are good enough to do it.