Jeffrey John Eyamie is June's Author of the Month. Eyamie's debut literary novel, No Escape from Greatness is making people laugh from coast to coast and beyond. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Jeffrey John Eyamie, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.
Jeffrey John Eyamie's books with Turnstone Press:
When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?
I’ve been a professional writer since 1997, but I hadn’t really given myself to permission to say, “hello, Jeff Eyamie, author and screenwriter” until 2010. I rededicated myself to my life’s passion in 2007, and I have to credit a screenwriter/mentor named Deborah Dean Davis for forcing it out of me in 2010. Thanks, Deborah Dean!
A lot of things came together for that moment to arrive. I had been giving writing the time and energy it deserved, finally, and I managed to get a development deal with a Los Angeles production company. I had been taking lots of courses related to the craft of screenwriting, and all of it led me full-circle, back to my original passion, which was writing fiction. I wrote my first novel (and completed it) in Grade 3, and I’ve never really stopped. But being so brash as to call myself “professional” at something I wanted to be so badly? That took a lot of work.
What inspires you?
People. Always always people. I long for connection. I want to understand why people are how they are (and why I am how I am, which quite often seems to be a certain measure away from the norm). People are amazing to me, and I love their differences, in mannerism and perspective. I am a people-watcher and face-scanner. I tend to observe and remember people a little better than most.
Writing inspires me just as much, though. Usually the themes I’m dealing with come from my own deep-seated questions about life and how to live it. Things that fascinate me in a story usually connect to things that fascinate me about existence. Typically you don’t want to find an answer to those questions, but the questions are there, all the same!
Is there a particular time of day during which you write best?
Morning for creating and drafting and flowing, afternoon for editing, self-flagellation and other left-brain things.
Please describe your typical writing routine.
I have become very patient when it comes to actually drafting pages of a project. I am a planner. I like to outline, revise the outline, examine the outline, make sure my characters make sense, make sure the thematic and emotional cores of the story are enough of an engine to drive the story, and then make sure everything in the story reflects that internal core to some degree.
So when I say “Writing,” I also mean planning, outlining, plotting, carding, developing, and, of course, rewriting!
I usually give myself the first hour of the day to coffee up and get ready for the day. I might read a little but I try to avoid activating analytical parts of my mind before I get going. Then I get going. I subscribe to the Hemingway trick of leaving yourself an easy pick-up spot so you can write immediately, so hopefully I am mid-scene and I know exactly what’s going to happen next.
Typically I will write for two or three hours, with constant breaks for breakfast, a second coffee, Googling and other distractions.
Afternoons are for rewriting. If I have edits going, or if I want to review things, I leave them for after lunch.
For two weeks every year, we rent a cottage at Victoria Beach and it has become my writer’s retreat. I get about a quarter of my year’s writing done in these two weeks. I power through, writing for ninety minutes at a time, several times a day, writing at all times of day, trying to let writing take over and throw regimens, routines and assumptions away. I love this time.
You write both fiction and for the film industry. For you, how do these different disciplines function to inform each other?
I write stories, first and foremost. All stories have characters, actions, themes and some rudiments of structure. Having adapted scripts to fiction and vice versa, I’ve come to believe that the media really do reflect different things: screenwriting is far more restrictive, while fiction allows for a camera angle that is unavailable to the film director: dollying straight into someone’s mind to hear what they’re thinking. That internal aspect, as well as the ability to sit in one place and observe every single piece of minutia for page upon page, can be both advantage and disadvantage in fiction. I like pace!
I love creative collaboration, and that’s where the formats really differ. TV writing is a team sport, and sometimes writing for film can be the same. So much of fiction happens on one’s own, and I find the editing process and its challenges and interactions to be hugely beneficial.
In the end, you’re writing for an audience, and every story is for a different audience. Format is less important than content.
How does the short fiction form figure into your work?
Short fiction is like a sandbox for me. I use it to plan my feature film scripts, test out characters and voices. The latest short piece I wrote involved a voice I’m considering for my next novel.
Some writers prefer the process of composing a manuscript while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?
I can’t pick! I believe I will always be in the process of telling a story, which is a happy place for me. Editing is like getting a good sweat at the gym, and working with an editor is a privilege one may not always have. If I sent out what I drafted without editing, it wouldn’t be as good as it could be and I wouldn’t connect with the audience the way I hope to. I can’t pick!
What role does research play in your writing?
I tend to wander intellectually during the drafting phase. I try to pepper little facts in without falling into research rabbit holes, so I’m typically on Google and Wikipedia looking up things a few times every hour, but not to a great level of depth. I will read and view similar works as I prepare to draft something, and it may inform character or plot structure. I’m curious all the time, though, so research never fully stops. I just try to keep my eyes on the prize.
While in the editorial stage do you ever start writing or working on something else?
You have to! I am a project stacker. I typically have one project in development stage, another in editing stage and drafting pages of something else. It helps when they are divergent. I like being a little bit backed up with projects and demand for projects because it forces me to work harder. These days I get to send projects to people who might want to do something with it, so that’s another phase in the life of the project I need to deal with: waiting for projects to come back! It feels like limbo sometimes so it’s good to keep busy with other stuff.
Please walk us through how you go about character development.
I’ve actually been working on broadening my influences for characters. I definitely like to have a real human person in mind to begin with (doesn’t have to be someone I know very well), but soon the character takes over and becomes someone else. Invariably, like an actor, I put myself into the role as well. There’s a part of me in all of them! Does that make me crazy? Ha ha! The boats! No, you did!
Sometimes I have a place for a character, and that character needs to be a certain way, and that leads me to a person I’ve met somewhere. One thing I always do for major characters is give them a method for solving their problems (a “skill”) and a way to react to difficult situations (a “mask”).
What’s your favourite moment in the life of your work? And why?
My favourite moment is that moment when feel like you’re busting because you’re so full of story and you have to get it out.
I always card my plot points up on a wall, and when you solve all the main story problems and come up with twisty new ways to get to the point of the story, that’s the best. I actually try to stay in this moment and keep it going as long as I can before I relent and start drafting. There’s something almost ascetic about that moment, I think, but you elevate your story structure as high as you can, then you keep working and elevate it even more before you gratify your need to tell it.
What do you think about a writer’s need to be part of social networks?
For me, writing is about connecting with people. I want to connect with an audience and share my view of things, but I also want to connect with other creators and people who need support and help.
Social networks are a miracle, despite all the horrors they can muster. Far more positive than negative come from them, and I feel like writers should crave that connection, otherwise they are just … well … shouting into the abyss.
Do you enjoy giving public readings?
Yes and no. I am a well-trained introvert who gets a little funny when under the influence of cortisol and adrenaline. So yes, I like the readings, but no, I don’t gain a lot of energy from them. I really like doing them but don’t care for the anticipation of doing them. Waiting for the moment kind of stresses me out a little.
What are you currently working on?
I have a TV series in development with ZellKoj Studio that deserves more of my attention … I’m working on a feature script that is in a new genre for me, and I’m collaborating on that with some talented local people … and my next novel is germinating. I think it will be funny.
And now a few fun questions:
Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?
I am a bit of a nomad when it comes to my writing space. I like a nice view, but it can be a streetscape, a back yard, a lake … something to glance at (but not stare at!). I do have a few Tibetan items at one workstation.
Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write?
Full confession: I am a poseur of the highest level. And so, as I button up my collared shirts to the top button and remove my socks from neath my leather shoes, I have become addicted to the V60 hand-poured coffee from our local independent purveyors of fine coffee. Once you’ve had the round flavour and mule-kick of caffeine from the V60, you will know why I’m hooked!
Also, there is no better brain food than sardines in chili oil. Inexpensive, uber-healthy omega 3s AND sustainable. I love my white tuna sashimi but I can eat sardines every day forever and feel good about it. Sardines are my go-to brain food.
Favourite music to listen to while you write?
None. Zero. I never, ever listen to music while I write. Music is for dancing and singing. I would rather hear the messy din of squirrels chattering in a tree, or of the freshly caffeinated.
Do you draft long-hand or do you compose at the keyboard?
When I wrote songs and poetry, back in the 90s, I was so enamoured with long-hand that I actually felt different pens gave me different moods and different outcomes. I would write with every colour under the rainbow. It was weird.
While I haven’t become any less weird, journalism school taught me to type on a keyboard and to do it tirelessly, steadily and cleanly. Full confession: I have written screenplay changes on my phone from a golf course. I have embraced technology.
If you could not be a writer, what career might you have?
A writer. Rules would not prevent me from being a writer. I am a writer because I have to be a writer and I decided in 2007 that nothing in existence was going to prevent me from being a writer of stories. I decided not to quit for any reason. I am zealous about this.
But okay, let’s say something horrible happened and I could no longer form words with my fingers … I know that if I don’t write for a week or two, I start getting a tightness in my throat. My wife believes this to be associated with the throat chakra and my energy of expression being repressed. Well I don’t care for this sensation, not at all, and so I would likely find some way to relieve the feeling. I guess I could tell stories with my voice. In fact, I could probably get some voice recognition technology to help me jot it down.
So I guess I would be a writer.
Ah, you ask, but what if you had a sudden trauma and could no longer possess the intellect required to write good stories that last a long time?
That sounds utterly terrifying. I would definitely need to write about that experience to deal with it.