Tim: No, actually just the opposite: I find that varying my routine helps keep fresh ideas flowing. That can mean a change of venue, time, music (or no music), pre-writing physical exercise, and recording method. Sometimes I’ll sit in the back yard with my iPad and a cup of coffee, tea, or something stronger, and just reflect. Then when an idea hits me, I type it into the iPad. Other times, I’ll work in my den or the writing shed I built in the yard. I'll also sometimes dictate into my phone using Dragon Dictation, type on my laptop, write on a yellow pad or use the desktop computer. But whatever form the writing originally takes, I always transfer it onto my desktop computer.
Paul: What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
Tim: Mainstream and literary fiction are my favorites -- particularly fiction with strong humorous elements. I also enjoy historical fiction, biographies and random books that catch my attention. I am a huge fan of Mark Twain. I can't think of another writer as insightful, precise and downright funny. John Irving is my favorite living writer. His writing is beautiful, his plot and character development are exceptional, and his humor and quirky characters ice the cake. This sounds like hyperbole, but I think Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of the finest novels of the late 20th century. As for best endings to a novel, Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant gets my vote.
Paul: If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
Tim: Well, I have a very large head, so they'd have plenty of room to move around. I suspect they'd find an excellent buffet: I love to cook and eat and entertain, and often think about such things when I'm not in the kitchen. On leaving the cafeteria, visitors would find a mirthful, frenetic place -- but not a Disneyland "It's a Small World" sort of happy place, with its too-adorable, cherry-cheeked, mildly disturbing mini-sapiens and its continuous-loop theme song that can only be expunged from the brain through painful and expensive electroshock therapy. No, my head would be more like the back lot of a busy movie studio, with lots of related and unrelated activities proceeding simultaneously. There'd be a Meatloaf soundtrack (the food thing again), a live audience (no canned laughter allowed) and occasional adult themes. I'd recommend keeping hands and arms inside the ride at all times, particularly during periods of intense concentration. During slower, more contemplative parts of the ride, the soundtrack might feature Steely Dan; Pachelbel; Sarah McLachlan; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Sinatra, of course; and perhaps some Nora Jones. Visitors should be sure to check out the gift shop before leaving.
Paul: How do you find the time to write?
Tim: Maybe I'll be a full time writer one day, but for now I have to fit my writing around my work and other obligations. I’m fortunate to have a good job and a spouse who gives me the time and space I need to pursue writing, so I don’t feel angst or guilt about it. I try to strike a good balance between writing, spending time with my family, work, other chores and play. But seeking such balance does not suggest a casual or cavalier attitude toward the craft. When I wrote my first book, I’d sometimes look up at the clock and realize I'd been writing all night and had to leave for work in two hours. I am highly motivated during such periods; my wife calls it obsessed. But I’m grateful to have someone who sometimes puts her foot down and tells me we need to go out to dinner or a movie, or that I should get out on the road with my bike -- balance. Now, I write only in the early evening, on weekends and on holidays. Cutting back on TV makes this schedule work!
Paul: What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
Tim: That one lucky reader will find the secret code embedded within the text of Hillari's Head and win $1,000,000 (gross: winnings may be taxable as ordinary income). I hope that you do not tell the readers that, because it's untrue -- save perhaps for the part about taxes.
I suppose some readers expect writers to be tortured souls, preferably alcoholic, and don't take more balanced writers seriously. But we can't all sing the blues. I am content and relatively functional. Perhaps you could just tell those who read tragic, besotted writers that Stutler enjoys the occasional bourbon, and just leave it at that. Better yet, Paul, would you mind making finger quotes around "enjoys" and "occasional" and giving them a knowing smirk? Yes, I believe that would work nicely. [Paul: I rather liked the 'relatively functional' reference.]
Paul: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Tim: I constructed a fairly detailed outline for my first book, Dead Hand Control. Then I wrote the first and last chapters. The story evolved as I wrote, but the basic plot and structure were there from the beginning. With Hillari’s Head, I initially focused more on the characters, developing their personalities, morals, tastes, habits, and past experiences to the point that I knew how they would respond to whatever I threw at them. I next created an outline that was not nearly as comprehensive as Dead Hand Control's. And then I wrote. I use a fantastic software program called Scrivener, which is an organizational and writing program for authors.
Paul: Do you have to do much research for your stories?
Tim: Although that depends on the type of book and my knowledge of the subject matter, I generally perform quite a bit of research for each book. For example, I'm currently writing a work of historical fiction about a storied Japanese-American U.S. Army unit in World War II, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and spent the last year reading books about the unit, traveling to various museums and sites, corresponding with historical societies, interviewing sources, and scouring the Internet for information.
But even general fiction requires research. The main character of my latest book, Hillari’s Head, is a woman. One female reviewer registered surprise that a male author could create "such a realistic female character," and assumed that I had researched female protagonists. She was right on the second point. I had a tough time getting inside my protagonist's head, and devoured everything from Little Women to self-improvement titles like If I'm So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single?: Ten Strategies That Will Change Your Love Life Forever (an excellent book by Susan Page).
But books can only impart so much knowledge. I think that writers, the good ones, are students of human behavior: listening, studying, and analyzing. As a lawyer, I can be irritatingly persistent and inquisitive. My female friends started avoiding my notepad and me after I'd been working on Hillari's Head a few months. And I know my poor wife now prefers a semi-oblivious husband to one who constantly wants to know what she's thinking, how she's feeling and why she does things the way she does. I call it research; she calls it the Inquisition.
Tim: My most recent book, Hillari’s Head (release date: August 1st) is a character-driven novel about Kristina Orris, a 26-year-old paralegal who recently moved to Southern California seeking a new start. She’s smart and ambitious, but also painfully private and reserved. Kristina gets so tense when talking about herself that she can't even get through a job interview. A friend persuades her to start a blog to help her open up – which is how the story begins. But Kristina is unable to disclose herself even in writing to strangers. Instead, she blogs about Hillari, a sister with an outsized head and a congenital condition that left her with essentially no teeth. Kristina herself had a vexing speech impediment as a child. Her father, a protective single parent, home-schooled her and she rarely went outside. But after he died, Kristina felt stifled yoked to Hillari. So she abandoned her home, her past – and Hillari. Until starting her blog, Kristina had thought little about Hillari for eight years.
A neighbor helps Kristina land a job with the law firm of Gideon “Duck” Ducker. He is remarkably homely (“the single homeliest man she had ever laid eyes on"), but also warm, funny and a gifted. Duck and Kristina are thrown into a roller coaster of a civil case that changes their lives. Their personal relationship blossoms. Everything is coming together nicely for Kristina. But her memories and guilt haunt her, threatening to destroy the new life she has built for herself. Hillari’s Head is about Kristina's struggle to overcome her past, and perhaps redeem herself.
Paul: What inspired you to write this book?
Tim: I'm inspired by individuals who overcome physical or emotional challenges that would cripple others. And I'm fascinated by how a person's face affects every aspect of her life, including self-esteem, mood, family relationships, friendships, romance, and even career success. Some studies suggest that "beautiful" people earn more and are even considered more trustworthy than ordinary-looking folks. I know how a man's looks affect him. But personal appearance seems a much bigger issue for women. Just look at any women's magazine at the grocery checkout. Who's on the cover? How are they dressed? What are the topics in this month's issue? Now compare that to the covers of men's magazines. Very few discuss how a man can improve his looks -- his fitness maybe, or his car's appearance, but not his hair or his face and certainly not his butt. And judging by how much the women I know spend on cosmetics, clothing and haircuts, there's no comparison.
I wanted to write a book touching on these subjects -- with a female protagonist. Kristina has self-image issues. But they pale compared to Hillari's. Hillari had a big head, but nobody ever noticed that, because she was also practically toothless. If you've ever looked in the mirror after losing or just chipping a front tooth, you have some idea of how being toothless would shape the entire universe of a girl moving from childhood to womanhood. Hillari's plight was painful. And Kristina was isolated from the rest of the world and had an embarrassing speech impediment. The book explores how these characters deal with such issues.
Paul: Do you have any pieces of work that will never see the light of day?
Tim: Far more than actually stumbles out into the sun. That used to bother me, until I learned that even great writers like Ray Bradbury are no different than me -- at least as far as discarding pieces goes. Bradbury commented that much or most of his writing was not good. Judging by the volume of excellent work he put out, he must have thrown away mountains!
Paul: What’s your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Tim: I love the creative process of constructing entire worlds, but my favorite aspect of writing is connecting with the reader. As a younger person, I enjoyed entertaining others with my writing. That's still true. When crafting a story, I like bouncing ideas off my friends and family and getting their feedback on different passages. And I'm thrilled to connect with a reader I don't know. One reviewer of Hillari's Head said, "I actually think I'm going to read this book again in a couple of years; it was really touching and will stay with me." That's what keeps me writing.
My least favorite aspect is something other writers have commented on here: the dreaded writer's block. Starting a chapter, section or paragraph is torturous when the ideas just aren't flowing. But when that blockage washes away, the resulting rush can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the writing process.
As for surprises, I didn't expect the welling of emotions I sometimes feel when I hurt or even kill a character. But a writer invests so much of him or herself in favorite characters, and unless the book is going to be drama-free (which would make for a boring tale), such pain is unavoidable.
Paul: What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
Tim: What I like to do is different from what I end up doing! I'm a distance cyclist and enjoy a hard 12 to 16-hour ride. I also like cooking and entertaining (and eating), reading, and traveling with my wife of nearly 30 years, Marilyn. Recently, my marketing needs steered me into blogging. Now I really enjoy writing blog posts, though I sometimes feel guilty about doing that instead of "serious" writing. In a perfect world, I'd find the time for all these activities. Lately though, my day job as a trial lawyer dominates my days, evenings and weekends. But my work brings its own rewards, not to mention a regular paycheck.
Paul: Thanks, Tim, that was most interesting. I wish you every success for the future.
Tim Stutler is a California writer, bicyclist, humor blogger, and lawyer. He is currently in the process of publishing his second novel, Hillari's Head (release date: August 1st). Tim's first novel, Dead Hand Control, was published in paperback and dust jacket form in 2003 and as an e-book in 2011. He has contributed to several professional and scholarly publications as a writer and editor. Tim studied at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall, Harvard Law School, and California State University, Fullerton. He is presently an Assistant United States Attorney, and has served as an administrative law judge, municipal court judge pro tempore, law firm partner, Army Judge Advocate, and fleet sailor. An Ohio native, Tim now lives in San Diego County with his wife and family.
Tim's Blog: Tim Stutler
Tim on Twitter: @timstutler
Tim on Facebook: Tim Stutler
Tim's latest book: Hillari's Head (Amazon)