We offer another exclusive Q&A Interview with Jim Bates, a writer whose multiple literary works have been featured on our Spillwords pages as well as being Author of the Month of December 2022, and previously of December 2019.
You have participated in our ‘Spotlight on Writers’ series, and now officially have been voted as Author of The Month for the second time. Is there anything else about Jim that you would like to add from our last interview?
Yes. In the 2022 Spillwords Press Awards last year my short story The Maple Leaf was voted Story of the Year Non-Poetic by the readers of Spillwords. To this day it is a recognition I am most proud of. That so many people liked that story makes me feel incredibly honored.
Could you describe the mundane details of writing: How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or on a keyboard (typewriter or computer)?
I have a quiet writing space in a small room under the eaves on the second floor of our 1920s cottage-style home. I get up around 5 am, do a half-hour workout, grab a glass of iced water and get to work. If I can get two hours of writing and/or editing done in the morning I’m very happy. Then I get on with my day and attend to whatever else needs to be addressed. If I can get back to my writing later, I count that as a really good day! I use a laptop (because I can correct my myriad typing errors quickly!) and store each day’s work on a flash drive. I don’t outline. I’ve tried, but my mind wanders too much to stay with a set path. I enjoy the discovery of what each day of writing brings.
What has had an influence on you or your writing since the last time we connected?
I am a bit of a loner. I enjoy being by myself or with a friend or two. That being said, what’s changed is that I have made many friends through the three writer’s groups I am a member of on Facebook. I count those friendships as golden. My writer’s group friends are an intelligent and lively bunch and I enjoy my relationship with them immensely.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
During the lockdown, I re-read Watership Down by Richard Adams. What a book! I was amazed at how well he brought his characters to life by giving them challenging situations to deal with and then taking us readers along on their journey, both physically and emotionally, in terms of how they dealt with those situations. It was quite impressive and made me realize I had a lot to learn when it came to writing a great story.
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
Getting the dialog just right is my biggest challenge. I want it to sound real, not stilted or stylized. It’s hard for me to do. Nowadays, I read my stories out loud during my final editing process to make sure the characters sound as true to how I imagined them talking to each other (or themselves) as possible.
What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?
None of it is easy, in my opinion, but that’s okay with me. I love the challenge of creating something (a story, poem, novella, or novel) out of nothing. That creative process is very addictive and keeps driving me forward. The part I like the best is when I get the first draft written. Then I go through and begin what I call “embellishing” the story. Here is where I not only edit but also add to the scenes to try and make them come to life and be more visible in the reader’s mind. And, of course, I work on that pesky dialog, trying to get it to flow correctly and sound as real as possible.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
Good question. I don’t like to talk about myself much so I would say this: Out of all the things that need improvement, I think my ability to tell what I’d call an “odd” story has improved the most. These days I’m not so tied to traditional storytelling as much as I used to be. For instance, The Maple Leaf was told from the perspective of a maple leaf. I’ve written a story from the perspective of a hockey puck, a rabbit, and a dragonfly, among others. I’ve written an entire YA series entitled “Earth Aliens” in which two of the main characters are visitors to earth from another planet. In the novel I’m editing right now, the main character is a ten-year-old albino boy who can talk to the dead. So for me, stepping out of the box and writing like that has been a fun and often time exhilarating experience. I plan on doing more of it.
Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
Yes. Hey, Jim, start getting serious about writing earlier in your life! I’m nearly 74 years old. I’ve been seriously writing since 2011 and have been published since 2018. Many of my writer friends are 20, 30, or forty years younger. I’m sometimes envious that they have so many years ahead of them in which to pursue their craft. But that’s okay. It just forces me to stay focused and use my time productively and wisely. I strive every day to do that.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Yes. Start right now! Don’t delay your first foray into writing one minute longer. Don’t wait for ‘a muse’ to strike. Just start. Fire up the computer or grab a paper and pen and get to work. Ray Bradbury said this: “Write a 500-page story a week for a year. I’ll guarantee in one year you’ll have at least one great story.” You know what? I couldn’t agree more. The main thing is to sit down and do it.
Out of your literary works we’ve published, which is your favorite? And why?
Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Yes, the writing project I mentioned above, the albino boy. His name is Jasmine “Jazzy” Jaspers. While at his mother’s funeral, he sees a boy about his age standing by his gravestone. The next week Jazzy goes to investigate and forms a sort of bond with him. As the book progresses, Jazzy makes friends with Mona, a girl in his class. Together they visit the graves of seven other dead people and become intimately connected to their lives. It’s a story that has to do with the unexplained mysteries in life. It’s also about friendship and love. It’s about 70k right now and I’m having a great time writing it! I’m into the 2nd draft and will probably do two more. I hope to have the final edited manuscript done by March of this year.
Anything you would like to communicate with the Spillwords Press Community?
Yes. It has been said that writing is a lonely pursuit and that is an accurate statement. Being connected to Spillwords has enabled me to get out of my writer’s head and communicate with other writers in a positive way. Spillwords, specifically, is a great site. The stories and poems are well presented and the accompanying photos are brilliant. Spillwords has given me an oftentimes much need shot in the arm when my spirits needed lifting, and I thank Dagmara and her team for that. And for the readers of Spillwords, I will say this, “Thank you so much for all of your support! It means more to me than I can say.”
DEC 2019 / DEC 2022 AUTHOR OF THE MONTH at Spillwords.com
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared online in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart, Potato Soup Journal, Literary Yard, Spillwords, The Drabble and World of Myth Magazine, and in print publications: A Million Ways, Mused Literary Journal, Gleam Flash Fiction Anthology #2, The Best of CafeLit8, Nativity Anthology by Bridge House Publishing and Gold Dust Magazine. You can also check out his blog - theviewfromlonglake at WordPress.