Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed Jonathan Edward Durham, the author of Winterset Hollow, a pulse-pounding dark fantasy (Read the review here.) Jonathan received a degree in neuroscience, before he decided to wade into the literary world.
Jonathan Edward Durham was born near Philadelphia in one of many satellite rust-belt communities where he read voraciously throughout his youth. After attending William & Mary, where he received a degree in neuroscience, Jonathan waded into the professional world before deciding he was better suited for more artistic pursuits. He now lives in California where he writes to bring a unique voice to the space between the timeless wonder of his favorite childhood stories and the pop sensibilities of his adolescent literary indulgences.
(those are zeros in the middle of those last two handles btw)
1) If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Honestly, this is an easy one. I’ve always been pathologically terrible about keeping in touch with people whether they be family, friends, mentors, or otherwise. It’s a pitiful habit and I’ve been trying my whole life to shake it loose, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t still latched to me in some way, shape, or form. It’s nothing overt or intentional…just an ugly bit of something that stems from a pretty low estimation of my own worth and a fossil from a time when I was still in the closet and trying desperately to avoid any interaction that might force me to explain why I was still single. So, if I could change one thing about myself, I would be the one who calls first rather than the one who gets called first.
2) What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
For me, the most difficult thing is picking which story I actually want to write…which thing I want to dedicate a year (or so) of my life to. It’s always a gamble for me, as there’s usually about a dozen or so stories bouncing around between my ears, and none of them are typically more personal or prescient than the others…so it’s more often than not just a matter of whittling the list down to the one that I think will be able to best hold my attention for a hundred thousand words and dovetail nicely with whichever project I’ve just completed. It’s always a decision that’s patently fraught with anxiety, and although I’d love to springboard a book off a moment of blinding inspiration and an adrenaline-fueled surge of urgency…I just don’t seem to be wired that way.
3) Do you try to be more original or deliver readers what they want?
I try not to think in those terms at all if I’m being honest. When I write, I write for myself. I write what I would like to read. I tell stories that I would like to be told and I try to tell them in a way that I would think is interesting and thoughtful and well-constructed if I hadn’t written them myself. Admittedly, sometimes when I’m editing, I’ll find myself falling into the trap of overthinking a choice by asking myself how approachable a passage or a chapter or even a word is…but I’m usually pretty good about taking a step back and reevaluating my perspective and making sure that I end up choosing the path that I, as a reader, enjoy more. So, I guess I do write to deliver one reader what he wants…and that reader, selfishly, is me.
4) How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Well, writing a book is far more involved than just the physical writing part, as I’m sure you know. I’m a pretty considered writer, so I like to really take my time in development to make sure that the story is in the most complete shape possible before I even sit down at my keyboard. I would say it typically takes me an entire month to choose a story, another month or two to outline it and frame the characters and ask myself the questions that need to be asked…then once I sit down to actually write it, I would say it’s usually three to four months to finish the first draft. So probably six months from start to finish plus another six for rewriting, but I’m usually also tackling other projects while that’s taking place.
5) How do you come up with names for your characters?
Don’t tell anyone, but that’s maybe my favorite part of the entire writing process. I love picking names for characters. For me, it’s just as important as picking a title for the book…something singular and important that should speak to the essence of what’s behind it. A name should have a nice rhythm to it and should make sense in the context of how you’ve laid the character out…it should be evocative of the portrait that you’ve painted. But for me, I usually have my characters at least partially developed before they get named, so it’s one of those things that I just know when I hear it or when I read it. When I see the right one, I just know it fits…so basically, if I’m having trouble finding the right name out there in the actual world, I just scroll through list after list until the proper one jumps out and grabs me.
6) Has this novel drastically changed as you created it?
Not really, no. My stories rarely change in any sort of earth-shattering way as I write them, and that’s mostly due to the extensive outlining that I do during development…that way, most of the big kinks are already worked out and I’m satisfied with the arc, so there’s not really much room for changes on that level. It’s mostly the resolutions to minor sub-plots or sometimes even character motivations that end up changing for me. No matter how well-prepared you are, there are some things that just don’t present themselves until you’re deep into the process, and I dearly love discovering those things, but for me it’s almost never a major plot point or a new character or a different ending or anything of that import. It’s usually the side dishes rather than the main course.
7) How crucial is it to have a working title before you start on a project?
It’s extremely important for me. As soon as I have even the most general idea of what the story is, the title is the very, very first thing that I write. I’m a story-boarder, meaning that I outline my stories on an actual board with notecards and papers and all sorts of things, and the first thing that goes on that board is a title and a handful of pictures that I think are evocative of what I intend to write. A title is like a mantra to me…it should sound like your story…it should vibe like your story vibes…and for me, it’s an anchor point that’s always there, always front and center, always right in the middle of my field of view to draw me back to the thing that I’m supposed to always be doing, which is staying on the story in the most interesting way possible. A good title should have meaning, and it should have gravity, and it should keep your intentions firmly in its orbit.
8) Tell us a little about how this story came to be.
A lot of my stories grow out of ‘what if’ scenarios, as I tend to gravitate towards grounded fantasy narratives that operate in the real world but have some sort of fantastical twist that sets them off. For Winterset Hollow, the idea came from a conversation I was having with somebody about how much we both loved Winnie the Pooh as kids, and how interesting it would be to take a trip to the hundred-acre wood and see what A. A. Milne saw. Of course, my wheels eventually started turning around that concept and I began to ask myself questions like “What if the animals were actually there?”…”What if they weren’t at all what you expected them to be?”…”Why would they be different than they were in the book?”…”What would’ve happened between them and the author to account for that difference?”…and the story just kind of grew from those basic premises.
9) What was your favorite childhood book?
It’s hard to narrow that answer down to one book for me, as I was never really the type to read anything more than once. But there were two distinctly different categories of books that I loved…the first being timeless fantasy books like The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time and alllll sorts of Roald Dahl stories…and the second being cut-and-dry mystery books like The Hardy Boys series and Encyclopedia Brown. You know, now that I think about it, it makes total sense that those were my go-to reads as a child…all of my stories always have some sort of mystery element, a few healthy twists, and a bit of fantasy in them…and honestly, Winterset Hollow is no different. Funny how that works out, huh?
10) Would you rather read a book or watch television?
Well, I like to do both, but as shameful as it is for an author to say this…I think most of them time I’d rather watch television. It’s a chance for me to shut my brain off for a bit and just decompress, and after a full day of writing, sometimes I need that more than the intellectual stimulation that normally comes with cracking open a book. Also, I’m the type of person that likes to work with some sort of white noise in the background, so I’ve become quite accustomed to having the TV on when I’m writing. I know that seems strange to some people, but I just can’t work in dead silence…I need to option of momentary distraction there at my fingertips when I need a little break from the words. Butt truthfully, I just like good stories, and if there’s a good one waiting for me on the screen, I’ll watch it…but if there’s a better one waiting for me on a few hundred pieces of paper, I’ll find some time to soak that in as well.
Categories: BookView Review Interview