As a writer, Chris Jane takes the writing itself pretty seriously (tries to do the best work Chris Jane can possibly do), but treats writing – as an endeavor – as the fun it should be.
What have you published?
I’ve published short stories in print and online fiction journals, essays in online publications, and news articles and feature stories in the daily newspaper I used to work for. I’m also geekily proud to say that a full-length screenplay I wrote while in graduate school, Like Cockatoos, earned a writing award and was handed by my screenwriting instructor to a visiting John Levene, who’d played Sergeant Benton in the original Dr. Who series. I was more excited, however, by the prospect of his possibly carrying it to Hollywood than I was by his having been in Dr. Who. I’d only seen one episode, and it was as a child with no say over what was on TV.
What inspired you to write Pretty Much True?
It was important to me to reveal in all of its ugliness, beauty, hilarity, and absurdity what war can be like for the less traditionally explored participants. I wanted to take people beyond what they’ve seen in movies, beyond what they think they’re witnessing at a homecoming. I don’t like one-dimensional understandings. Empty “tsk”s or uninformed celebrations (or, for that matter, “hugs!” and “prayers!” in lieu of actual aid).
Of course, Pretty Much True isn’t all about war, war, war. As with any story, you have a backdrop that sets the scene, and the characters react within that backdrop or setting. They get along or they don’t, they have desires they want met (and when those desires are met, there’s trouble there, too), and they do and say some things many of us often want to do and say, but wouldn’t dare.
And what inspired A Year of Dan Palace?
I once lived directly across the street from a cemetery. Nothing says “Live, damn it!” like the steady digging and filling of casket holes.
But what does it mean to really “live?” And why don’t more people do it? A desire to explore that inspired the creation of Dan Palace.
A secondary inspiration was my attraction to the conflict inherent in love triangles. The Year of Dan Palace is essentially a double-helix love story involving Dan Palace, who feels trapped in his life; his devoted wife, Nina; his ex-wife, April, who has hated him since their wedding night; Jenny, a 17-almost-18 year-old who doesn’t know where she belongs and who hopes Dan can help her figure it out; and Andy, the young man who loves Jenny almost obsessively.
But paralleling their entanglement is an often messy pursuit to live life to its fullest. When a fairly predictable end-of-the-world prophecy surfaces with the coming of the New Year, “anything could happen” – a simple and undeniable truth most of us refuse to acknowledge in any real way – becomes the driving force behind Dan’s decision to set himself free and do some living. What he doesn’t anticipate is how many people will come along for the ride or what living life to its passionate fullest really means.
Now that you’ve done both, do you prefer writing from a female or male perspective?
I’ve been writing from both perspectives for some time (beginning with short stories), and I don’t like one more than the other. They’re both compelling, because each forces a look at the world from a different point of view. Obviously every person is unique, but men and women see the world through their different lenses molded by socialization and gray matter.
What do you do to prepare for writing a novel?
I wait until I simply can’t not write it. After that, I take a day or two or eight to get into writing mode by thinking about the characters and going through general story trajectory ideas. A little like letting the car run in winter.
Do you outline or write character sketches?
Outlines as needed, and character sketches, absolutely. I initially tried to get away with not doing it for Dan Palace – maybe I didn’t think it was necessary, or maybe I was being lazy –, but not knowing as much as I should have known about all the characters led to a lot of dryness in the very early drafts. Once I sat down and figured out who the people – Dan, Nina, April, Jenny, and Andy – really were and what motivated them, the story … moistened.
Do you have a time of day that you like to write?
Morning. I’m creatively useless after about 2 p.m.
I’m a morning writer too! If it doesn’t happen first thing in the morning, then I know I might as well give up even trying. Do you have a place or places where you prefer to write?
Nowhere too interesting. I like my desk (I recently found this great old slope top writing desk), so it feels good to sit there. There are windows on either side of my monitor that offer endless distractions, too, which is helpful. When editing, though, once the first draft is finished, I have to be in a room with a couch. Something that says, “Read.”
Do you have a muse? Who or what is it?
I don’t have a muse, but my partner has long inspired much of what I write. Otherwise, there’s simply a desire to write or there isn’t, and when the desire isn’t there, no writing is done.
Do you set daily or weekly goals like number of pages or words?
I think the standard I use is three single-spaced, 8.5×11 pages per day. And it’s just a goal, sometimes met, sometimes not. Sometimes you just can’t even.
Do you listen to music or have any other vices in order to write?
Music is probably the only one. While writing Pretty Much True, I relied a lot on music to help complete a mood. I think it was necessary in part because there were so many moods (angry, festive, heartbroken, drunk, hungover, numb, etc.), but also because I was pulling a lot of the psychological and emotional material from personal experience, so the music helped bring me back to where I needed to be to write the scenes as honestly and as rawly as I could. With Dan Palace there wasn’t as much music, but when there was, it had to be classical. I have no idea why.
Tell us about the “5 On” Series you write for Jane Friedman’s writer and publisher resource website.
I discovered as a writing student and as a writing instructor that the classes focused heavily on the writing part of writing, as they should, but there was very little about getting (or trying to get) published. There was even less about the industry-specific failures and successes authors experience in the real-life publishing world, whether the authors are traditionally published or self-published.
I thought that would be useful information for people making a writing life.
So, in “5 On,” I ask people with time in the writing industry five questions about writing (or whatever their related field is) and five questions about their experiences with publishing (whatever those experiences are). So far, authors have shared their worst rejection stories, what has worked and not worked for them in terms of marketing and publicity, their views on the publishing industry as it is now, and much more. What they have to offer isn’t just informative, but entertaining and encouraging (and, in some cases, a much needed reality check).
What have you learned from some of the authors you’ve featured?
- To remember that the joy of writing (and not the money it makes – or more often doesn’t make) is its own reward. [Rick Shefchik interview]
- That the tendency to be confident about the work until someone makes you question that confidence is pretty universal. [Timothy Gager interview]
- Having a publisher is not a guarantee of publication. [Russell Rowland interview]
- Reaching readers is more meaningful than reaching critics [Kris Saknussemm interview]
- Writers should a) help each other, and b) never give up. [Caroline Leavitt interview]
(Note: as I answer these questions, only those five interviews have posted, and all future interviews will appear at JaneFriedman.com.)
In one sentence, what advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing?
Don’t get bogged down by all the rules (the form a novel should take, what percent of a story should be dialogue, etc.); just be sincere and make it yours, and don’t think drinking in Spain will make you Hemingway (for example), because it won’t, and even if it did, why would you want to be Hemingway when Hemingway was already Hemingway?
What can readers expect next from you?
More 5 On interviews, first, but eventually another book. I’m almost ready to start.