Today, my guest is fellow SCBWI member Nathan Kotecki. He’s here to talk about THE SUBURBAN STRANGE, his process, and more. Enjoy!
When did you start writing?
Two answers. I’ve been a “scribbler” for as long as I can remember – grade school, middle school… I kept a notebook by my bed, and my favorite thing to do before I went to sleep was to write characters, drop them in scenes, write dialogues. But I didn’t think I had the stamina to write a novel. It wasn’t until 2008, when I wrote a scene one night, was intrigued enough to go back to it the next night, and the following, that I more or less accidentally wrote the first draft of what became THE SUBURBAN STRANGE. Once I got over that hurdle, I never looked back.
Are you a pantser or a planner?
I believe strongly that there is an important place for both pantsing and planning in the writing process. In early phases, conceptualization, exploratory writing, and first drafting, I give myself permission to make a glorious mess – logic gaps, chronology breaks, impressionism without substance. Then I will switch hats and do some outlining to figure out my strategy for the next draft. I get more and more methodical as the drafts progress, to the point that by the time I’m doing a revision for my editor, I make careful notes in advance and use checklists while I go. I try to tap into both sides of myself at the appropriate times: the circular thinker and the linear thinker, the impulsive and the calculating, the organic and the rational.
Can you give us an idea of your writing process?.
Well, I guess I got started answering this question in my answer to the last one, but I’ll talk about another facet of my process. I tend to be very musically driven in my storytelling. My latest project is a novel that tells the story that I think could have inspired the songwriter to write one of my favorite songs from 1984. The whole process to outline and shape the book takes its cues from the song, the lyrics, certain sounds even, as well as the music video, the rest of the album. And an upcoming project for which I’ve done preliminary notes/research, and about which I’m really excited, takes a similar approach to weaving a novel out of one of my favorite albums from 1985. (Yeah, I’m an eighties boy!) I really like the process of focusing my creativity as a response to the creativity inherent in a song – to respond to it, to contextualize it, to expand upon it.
Which authors have influenced your work?
I am a classic literature guy, tried and true. The first novel that really showed me the power of literature was Thomas Hardy’s THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE. James Joyce’s ULYSSES is the novel that has made me work the hardest and rewarded me the most. I’m a huge Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen fan, and let’s throw Henry James in for good measure. All of these writers have given me an appreciation for exceptionally well-formed characters with great interiors, the perfectly chosen detail that unlocks the complexity and depth of a person or a moment, and the brilliance of a plot that is so balanced, it seems self-evident.
What are you plans/future projects/new releases that we should be aware of?
The novel I mentioned above, the one about the song from 1984, is going to be submitted by my agent in June, so hopefully I’ll have some good news to share by this summer, and a release date at some point in 2015, if I’m lucky. 🙂
Any tips for new writers?
I like to talk about the four things all writers (new and old) should be doing.
You should always be writing something you want to – the passion project, the whatever-it-is that if you knew you were going to die next year, you would absolutely want to write before your ticket got punched.
You also should always be writing something you have to – essay, review, article, even nonfiction – because writing is communication, and writing things about which you’re not quite so passionate is a great way to hone your skills.
Next, you should always be reading something you want to – quite likely in the genre you enjoy writing, but not necessarily. However, you can’t just read for fun – your job is to figure out why the writing you enjoy and admire is good – what the author does that makes it effective. Those tools then go in your own box, to be used in your own way.
Last, you should always be reading something you have to – something out-of-genre, something that challenges you, stretches you, expands you. This is so you don’t get into a narrow lane with the way you think about writing. It’s also a great chance to compare techniques from genre to genre, and also perhaps to figure out why something that doesn’t impress you isn’t working, which is just as valuable as analyzing good work.
Any tips for old writers?
The one thing I’d throw out to old writers is this nugget I picked up from Hemingway in A FAREWELL TO ARMS: “That is the great fallacy; the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wis. They grow careful.”
When we are new writers, not paying close attention to the rules, the conventions of genre, the expectations of readers, we might be in for a rude awakening when we meet up with the traditional publishing industry, but we’re also kind of naturally fearless, tilting in whatever direction suits us, playing fast and loose with our art. (Or, at least, I hope we are.) After a few rounds with an agent and an editor and the publishing industry, though, it’s very easy to wind up with a set of blinders that we think still allow us unimpeded vision. This is the way a story is structured. This is the way a character is expected to evolve. This is the journey our readers expect us to give them. The temptation to write what we think is going to sell is a horrible case of a cart winding up in front of a horse. No matter what, you have to follow your muse, your passion, your vision. Perhaps there will be a time down the road in your process when you make some concessions to the commercial market, but if you do it up front, you are likely cutting yourself off from some beautiful, vital work.
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