Today I am pleased to present to you all the ninth in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the skittish and neurotic James Tenedero and our conversation went something like this:
James: Nothing particularly noteworthy, but I do tend to write in short bursts of time and effort. I’m a compulsive perfectionist (which, as most aspiring authors can attest, is not necessarily a good thing), so I’m congenitally incapable of moving past whatever passage or chapter I’m working on until it’s ‘just right.’ I’ll write for a couple of hours, take a break to clear my head, do some work on a completely different topic, and then come back. This cycle repeats itself ad nauseum over the course of the day, month and year, until I have a reasonably clear final product.
Paul: If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
James: Swirling eddies of moderately coherent thoughts, interspersed with rare lucid insights into the human condition! A few years ago I remember reading about how the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority would dump its derelict subway cars into the Atlantic to create artificial reefs. As pretentious as it sounds, I quite like that as a metaphor for my creative process: a basic, solid structure around which all sorts of interesting bits of life eventually coalesce. It takes a lot of time, the right environment, and a bit of luck, but hopefully the end result is something genuinely beautiful.
Paul: Do you have a favorite character in each of your series, aside from the lead? If so, which one and why?
James: I enjoyed writing Henry Boylton, who is a secondary character in The Consistency of Parchment. When I first conceived of him, it was really as a one-dimensional caricature: the bumbling, absent-minded professor profoundly lacking in social graces. As the story advanced though, I felt compelled to add some nuance to his personality and to the situations he would face (and how he would respond to them). I suppose he’s my favorite character because the degree of depth and non-obviousness that I eventually incorporated into him carried over into the book as a whole, and made the story that much more realistic.
Paul: How do you find the time to write?
James: There’s a line from the David Mamet movie ‘Heist’ that I think pretty accurately captures my approach to finding time to write. The quote goes something like “I imagined someone smarter than myself. Then I tried to think, ‘What would he do?’” That pretty much sums it up for me: trying to imagine a more dedicated, smarter writer and then emulating his or her work ethic to the best of my ability. Thinking this way usually shames me sufficiently to drive me back to my work.
Paul: What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
James: Only one thing? That I fit the stereotype of the neurotic, skittish, self-deprecating writer to a veritable ‘T.’ And on a related note, that I have an abiding fondness for trashy pop-culture books, movies, and music, which I keep hidden behind a thin façade of world-weariness and references to obscure literary works. Underneath it all though, I’m still just an aspiring author hoping to find a receptive audience for his books. Come to think of it, you can mention that last part to your readers if you like.
Paul: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
James: I start with a very broad outline of the plot, but this tends to evolve as I begin writing. I’ve found that no matter how intricately I try to sketch out the details beforehand, it’s not until the actual writing begins in earnest that I get an idea of what the story is really about. A bit of plotting gets the process going, but once the narrative is in motion I try to let myself be guided to wherever it most naturally seems to want to go.
Paul: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
James: Even though I do feel (perhaps naively) that my writing gets better with each story I write, no matter how pleased I am with the overall product I still do quite a bit of editing afterwards. I’m a big believer in the desk drawer approach: finish writing the manuscript, put the document in your drawer for a few weeks, then re-read it with a fresh perspective. You’ll invariably find snippets of dialogue that could be tweaked, descriptions of setting that should be tightened, and plot points that ought to be clarified. And this revision work can be done anywhere the urge strikes: I finished editing my latest book during an overnight layover in the departures lounge of the Houston airport.
Paul: Do you have to do much research for your stories?
James: Generally no, but of course it depends on the story in question. Thinking again of my most recent novel, the background research involved was fairly substantial, and entailed delving into the history of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. I value a degree of realism in my books; the story has to ring true in a basic sense. Once that foundation is in place though, I try to give myself the freedom to explore. It’s a tricky balance, but one that I’m always cognizant of as a writer.
James: The book is titled The Consistency of Parchment. Nominally, it’s a story about two people – Cal and Kendra – and the chance encounter that leads them to a journey across Europe in search of the mysterious contents of a safe deposit box. More broadly speaking, with this book I examine the theme of historical embeddedness – specifically, the way that our personal and societal histories often serve as unconscious influences on personality. I’ve tried to tell a tale that combines extensive character development with a well-paced narrative thrust. Hopefully I’ll have appealed to readers who are partial to both literary fiction and adventure.
Paul: What inspired you to write this book?
James: I spent a semester in Budapest, Hungary during my graduate studies in 2003. This of course was several years after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Still, I was amazed to see the extent to which the vestiges of this past had been removed from public view: you’d be hard-pressed to find Soviet-era monuments or even any signs in Cyrillic script in the city. I started to think about the consequences (both social and personal) of so completely erasing these traces of history – and indeed if it was even possible to do so. This was the first impetus for the book, and from that starting point I developed a set of characters and circumstances anchored to this overarching theme.
Paul: How much marketing do you do for your published works or for your ‘brand’?
James: Quite a bit, actually. I maintain an active Twitter feed, Facebook page, and writing-related blog. As a self-published author, I know that the success of my work is almost wholly contingent on the job I do in promoting it, so it behooves me to put as much effort into selling the book as I did in writing it. I’m definitely still learning, and this kind of self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m enjoying this process as well!
Paul: What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
James: No party tricks that I can think of, sadly. I’m in the final stages my PhD at McGill University, so the dissertation keeps me fairly busy when I’m not concentrating on my (other) writing. Apart from that, I travel quite a bit, both for business and for pleasure. It’s trite to say so, but I’m probably most happy on those occasions when inspiration strikes and I’m punching away on my next book.
Paul: That was excellent, James. I wish you every success for the future.
James' Blog: JamesTenedero
James on Twitter: @jamestenedero
James on Facebook: James Tenedero
James' latest book: The Consistency of Parchment (Amazon)