Firstly, thank you to all my followers, who make this blog so worthwhile and fun to write. Your interactions and likes mean so much to me.
As a writing community we need to support, encourage and connect with each other. Our writing space, be it a home office, a dining table, a cozy chair or even a shed are our inspirational spaces where we create our stories. We become a vehicle for our characters to whisper in our ears and that is our happy place. It is however, a solitary place, for the most part, and knowing we can connect through blogs gives us a gift. We can ‘glimpse’ another writer’s world and connect.
Blog Schedule for 2019:
Take your Pick Tuesday
Will be author interviews, event news, WIP progress updates, topics relating to my novel’s genre and any other random thoughts. If you would like to be interviewed please contact me.
Blog Question and Answer Thursday.
I hope you will join me in 2019 as I am going to restructure my blog to enable all of you to ask or answer a monthly topic. The first Thursday of every month, I will start the conversation with a question. You may answer on that post or on the subsequent Thursday’s in the month. Raise more questions on that month’s topic or answer it in relation to your writing style or expertise. I welcome any writer/author to link to their blog if they have a similar topic or theme to the initial question.
Happy writing for 2019 and I look forward to our interactions during the year.
I am sharing lists of Christmas themed books as it is always the best way to enjoy the season of cold and snow. A warm fire, the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree and a cozy blanket and cup of chocolate.
From the outside the Christmas tree glittered and sparkled with lights, tinsel and ornaments. It’s place in the bay window as always. Miriam gazed at the symbol of Christmas shining like a beacon of family and cheer. Pulling her coat more tightly around her, she walked on stopping at each window to gaze at the many Christmas trees on display along the street.
At the corner she entered the park, the light dimmed the further she walked away from the streetlights. The only beacon of light came from the old bandstand decorated for the season by local authority workers the week before.
She looked forward to attending the carol service the following week – a regular occurrence each year. After looking this way and that, Miriam pushed aside a panel on the side of the bandstand and crawled in.
This was home, a safe place hidden from sight and as comfortable as she could make it. A platform made of old pallets kept her off the cold wet earth, cardboard and an old single mattress on one side and food supplies on the other. She’d been able to hook up a little heater scrounged from a dumpster, to an electrical outlet on the underside of the bandstand to keep warm. To disguise her apartment she’d placed panels on each side so even if the workers crawled under they would not see her. Well, that was her hope.
A can of soup and a stale loaf made a meal and then she lay down to sleep.
Arthur tugged at his dog’s leash.
“Come on, Duke, its getting cold and I need a cup of tea.”
The old dog ignored him and continued to sniff the grass unaffected by his owner’s impatience. As Arthur tapped his foot, he saw a shadow approach the bandstand and disappear under it. Well that’s odd, it’s too late for authority workers and I can’t see a truck. Duke pulled on the leash and Arthur followed him down the path to home. The incident left his mind until two nights later when once again walking Duke; he saw the shadow repeat the disappearance into the bandstand. Now he was curious.
The following evening he walked closer to the bandstand but hid behind a clump of bushes. A figure appeared after sundown and with a glance back and forth crawled under. The person was wrapped up in an old assortment of clothes and could have been man or woman; it was too hard to tell. Was there a homeless person under the bandstand? Well that is sad. Once he returned home he pondered what would be the best thing to do. Report them? Engage them? Leave food and blankets nearby? I’ll sleep on it and make a decision tomorrow.
Miriam saw a box to one side of her secret entrance and stopped in her tracks. Was it discarded, some local workers possession or something else? She looked around but did not see Arthur crouched behind the bushes. Cautiously she approached the box and raised the lid with one foot. Inside were cans and a thick blanket. Conflicting thoughts entered her head. Someone knows where I live, I’ll have to move, a kind benefactor has left me a gift, do I take it or leave it? A slip of paper fluttered and caught on the breeze, she grabbed it before it blew away. A hand written note read:
Please do not be alarmed, I will keep your secret but wanted to help you. I have put some supplies in the box. I know it is getting colder and food is probably hard to come by. I happened to notice you while walking my dog one evening. If you need anything my name is Arthur and I live at number 36 Amber Avenue just across from this park.
Miriam read the note twice, it was a long time since someone had been so kind to her. She made up her mind to thank him but to say this gift was enough.
The next evening she took her note and walked Amber Avenue searching the house numbers. To her surprise and delight, number 36 was the house of her favourite tree nestled in the bay window. Tiptoeing carefully, she pushed her note through the letterbox and turned away. A bark halted her tracks. Fearful the dog’s warning would alert Arthur to come to the door, Miriam hid around the corner of the house.
The front door did indeed open and a wet nose and wagging tail found her with ease, followed by an elderly gentleman.
“Well hello, you must be the mysterious bandstand occupant.”
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to disturb you, I was leaving a note of thanks. I don’t want to be a bother.”
“No bother at all, it would be lovely to have company, apart from Duke for a change. Why not come in for a cup of tea?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I’m rather dirty to enter a house.”
“Nonsense, just take off your boots, old Duke here comes in with more mud and dirt than anyone I know.”
Miriam took off her boots, curling her toes to try and hide the holes in her socks. Arthur led her into the front room, a fire flickered in the fireplace and that tree stood in pride of place.
“Oh, its so much more beautiful than through the window.”
Arthur smiled. “I always take pride in decorating my tree, the family only come on Boxing Day for the afternoon but its not Christmas without a tree, I always say.”
“I walk past all the houses and look at all the trees and this is my favourite.”
“Well, that’s is kind of you to say. May I ask your name?”
“Well, I will make the tea, why not take off your coat and sit by the fire?”
Miriam eased the coat off her shoulders and lay it on the floor. The warmth of the fire was wonderful. Arthur walked in with a tray with a teapot, cups and biscuits.
“Now we can get warm inside and out. Take as many biscuits as you like.”
With the strong tea and several biscuits inside her and the warmth of the fire, Miriam could feel herself getting sleepy.
“Thank you so much for the tea and biscuits and the lovely blanket and food. I should go before I fall asleep.”
“Well, it is up to you but you are more than welcome to stay if you would like.”
A tear rolled down Miriam’s cheek.
“Oh dear, I’m sorry did I upset you?”
“No, no not at all. It has been such a long time since someone has been kind to me, that’s all.”
“Well that settles it. Have a nap and then you can enjoy a bath while I make supper. I should have plenty of clothes in my closet you can choose from, we are close to the same size I think.”
“I don’t know what to say but thank you so very much, this is the best Christmas ever.”
“Tis the season, as they say and it brings me joy to help you.”
Bathed, dressed in clean clothes and feeling peaceful, Miriam re-joined Arthur later to find he had cooked a feast of a meal for them both.
“Are you expecting more people? There is a lot here.”
“No just us two but you are welcome to take the leftovers.”
“You are so kind, thank you.”
“And if I may, I would like to ask you if you would visit me from time to time, I get so lonely you see.”
“I would love to visit again.”
Their glasses clinked as they smiled at each other. Their loneliness forgotten.
Yes. Both. It exhausts me in the short term – I can’t really hammer out more than 2,500 words in a day, even if I have the time.
But it energizes me in the long term. Without writing, the world becomes kind of grey and flavorless. I guess writing is like sex that way – exhausting while you’re doing it, but not something you’d want to give up.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Oh, wow. Interior monologue. And lots of it. In my first novel, I had a full chapter of a character walking and doing an interior – and somewhat whiny – monologue about how put-on he was. Until my beloved beta readers berated me harshly. I rewrote that fully, and I can still hear them in the back of my brain when I slip into interior monologue again.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I have. I wanted to reinvent myself and renaming is a great way to do that. When I started writing again after too long a break, I wanted to separate myself from who I’d become without writing.
I was talked out of it. And good thing. With my name, I bring a much bigger platform than with a new one.
(Though, really, everything I do is under a pseudonym anyway! Sh!)
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
From my close group of writer friends? Rob Bose – he’s a pulp, crime and fantasy writer (check out Fishing with the Devil) – he keeps me honest. Often, I can get a little tongue in cheek. Rob’s writing keeps me connected to that honesty that’s easy to lose touch with, especially when writing genre.
From Laurie Zottmann (and her imaginary raccoon friend – check out her blog, Dark Little Critter) I stay in touch with my first love – making people laugh. I truly believe the best way to effect real change is to wrap it in laughs and good feelings. I’ve learned more about who I am from dumb comedies than from however many dark, brooding indie flicks. Laurie keeps me remembering funny first.
And from Sarah L Johnson (a truly fine writer – check out the short story collection Suicide Stitch and the novel Infractus) – where do I start? There are so many ways Sarah makes me into a better writer. And into the writer I am now. First, she challenges just about every single instance of me being complacent. She recently read my manuscript for Kiss of the Cockroach Queen, and said something like, “Yeah, it’s good enough. I’d read it and probably get the next one. But you can make it great. You’ve got the chops.”
So now I guess I have to make it great.
When I’ve had the privilege of introducing Sarah at events, I like to misquote my favorite poet, Kenneth Koch, and say that, as a writer, you need to have someone around who’s better than you’ll ever be at some aspect of writing. That keeps you striving up an impossible hill. For me, that person is Sarah L. Johnson.
There are others – so many others! – that I can’t list here, but, if they’re reading this, I appreciate all of them, too. I’m very lucky to have found a strong, talented community of writers. And not even across town!
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Well, there are definitely connections, but not necessarily physical or world or character connections.
No matter what fictional world I’m writing in, or no matter what how-to thing I’m discussing, all my work tends to deal with the stories that we tell ourselves. The stories that define us as humans. That’s the connection between each book.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Engaging a publicist. Hands down. I love working with Creative Edge, my publicist agency. Wish I would have started earlier. If you’re serious about being a writer – if you’re ready to turn pro – I’d really recommend a publicist.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
A few weeks before I turned 15, I found a brand-new, 3-cassette boxed set of Bob Dylan. I’d been listening to his greatest hits record from my father’s collection, and something compelled me to lay out the $50 or whatever – pretty much the only money I had – for this thing. I took it home and listened to every side that day, and something old and good at the center of who I was responded to the ability to use words in that way. Not for conscious thought, not for getting a point across or explain something, but to slip around the brain into the amygdala or whatever and change the way I looked at myself.
I started writing songs that year. I’ve been writing in some way or other since, though only really turned pro a little while ago.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I don’t know about under-appreciated – Harold Bloom puts it on his Western canon list – but no other writer I’ve talked to has read it. John Crowley’s Little, Big. The idea of it is that it gets bigger the farther in you go. If I were a better writer, I’d be able to explain exactly how Crowley does this. But, no.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Ha! I’ve never thought about that. I want to say something cool like a dragon. But probably not. I should be so lucky. Maybe a lemur? Yeah, my spirit animal when it comes to writing is a lemur. Me and my writing style tend to leap around, be playful. It’s a good thing I have a keen-eyed, Taurus editor (who’s also my wife – sorry, ladies).
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Right now? I’ve got a couple scheduled to come out in the next year. I’ve also got the novel that brought me back into writing – but I’m waiting until I’m a better writer to finish that.
I also have a little piece of fluff about a World War II superhero that no will ever see. Ever.
And then I have a drawerful of ideas. The best books are always the one I haven’t written yet.
What does literary success look like to you?
Oh, you know, much like anybody – yachts, bathing beauties, bottles of Cristal in the VIP room. What? No? Not everyone became a writer for the fabulous wealth?
Seriously, though. Literary success? I’d like to supplement my income, and, through the non-fiction writing I do, spin that into a day job with talks, special projects and consulting. That’s success to me.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Oh, wow. The stuff I could tell you. Wikipedia and I are living in sin. I tend to need facts as I’m feverishly typing out an idea, so I research on the fly. I’ve learned more things about cockroaches than I care to know. That’s for the next novel. I also know what the three different types of erections are (yep, 3). That’s for the novel after that. I’ve had really odd looks from my wife in conversation. I have to explain I know these things from book research. Not from my checkered past.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
I spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day writing, first thing in the morning, before I get muddled with the day-to-day. That often spins into an hour if things are going well.
Of course, I write a lot more come deadline times, and there always seem to be deadline times!
How do you select the names of your characters?
I’m not sure I’ve thought about it much. I usually start off with a pun, then realize I don’t even find it that clever, so just go with what sounds right. It’s all about the overtones and connotations. Naming Wood Sweeney, the protagonist in Stones in My Passway, took on the natural sense of wood, and the demon barber or T.S. Eliot flavor of Sweeney.
And with King Wong, the world’s only exoterric consultant who deals with Otherkind case in Hong Kong in Kiss of the Cockroach Queen, “Wong” is a Chinese surname that means “king,” so it’s a play on that.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Sex that isn’t funny I find it hard to write. I find sex essentially comical (except when I’m doing it … well, most of the time, at least.)
The vast majority of sex scenes in Dispatches from an Accidental Sex Tourist are funny. But there was a point in the story where I needed to write a sex scene that was tender, unfunny and at least a bit erotic. I’ll let you know how well that worked when I get the manuscript back from beta readers.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
It’s probably just impatience that makes me write in different genres. I want to do it all, man! Limiting myself feels, well … limiting. I should probably stick to one thing and do it really well, but I’m not one to listen to should. I once met a dragon that had the words you should etched onto every scale. I didn’t care for him.
Balancing is hard. I try to be writing in two different genres at the same time, but that isn’t always an option with the schedule I’ve put on myself. I guess I compartmentalize. And maybe have multiple personalities – that helps!
What inspires you?
Oh, I really wish I could say something like walking in nature or meditating at dawn on the deck, but the honest answer is I don’t know. The ideas come. Sometimes. When they do, I write them down. When they don’t, I write something down. Then the ideas usually come after that, and I write those ones down.
Not very helpful, I know. But that’s how it is. I don’t want to crack open the process too much for fear of breaking of it!
18. What projects are you working on at the present?
Right now, I’m working on co-writing the soulful sex comedy Dispatches from an Accidental Sex Tourist. Also, come next fall, there will be the sequel to Stones in My Passway – called Devil Got My Woman. That’s a multi-perspective look at the fallout of a devil’s deal – with some laughs and even scarier hellhounds. And more to come!
19. What do your plans for future projects include?
There’s an idea that I’ve … what? Struggled with? Flirted with? Anyway, this idea had been haunting me for years. A couple years ago while traveling, I was having a glass of wine in the Library Room bar (fitting!) of the Royal York hotel in Toronto, and the idea showed itself to me in all its glory. I started writing that, but I want to wait until I’m a better writer until I finish. The idea deserves that. (I still go back to that bar every time I’m in Toronto as a kind of pilgrimage to thank the idea for being there).
Jim Jackson is a Calgary Herald bestselling author and vintage leather jacket enthusiast whose books look at blues-steeped devil-deals, old-time pulp mixed with Chinese mythology and the art of storytelling. Jim’s mission is to show how the stories we all grew up with – the heroes, the monsters, the adventures – are still solid, muscular realities that shape our lives.
He’s the author of How to Tell a Really Good Story about Absolutely Anything in 4 Easy Steps, Stones in My Passway: A Novel in Blues, and Kiss of the Cockroach Queen. Find out more at www.reallygoodstory.com.