Mike Stone: "Write What You Know About"

Mike Stone: "Write What You Know About"

My writing place

“Character is what interests me most. I fell in love with the characters in my novels.”

Interview with Mike Stone of https://uncollectedworks.wordpress.com

See his work in The Woven Tale Press Vol. III #11

Tell us about your writing process. (Do you outline, revise extensively, use pen and paper, stickies, etc.)

The answer depends on the kind of writing we’re talking about. I write poetry, short stories, essays, and novels. I also engage in the literary art of letter writing. With the shorter forms of writing, for example, poetry, short stories, and essays, they begin, ferment, and take form in my head. I take a shower with them, walk around with them, and go to bed with them until they acquire a solution or punch line. Then I write them down very quickly before they evaporate. I read and reread them until they’re right. It might take hours or days. I can’t put them in a drawer and forget about them as some writers claim to do. They excite me too much.

As for novels, they start out like a short form of writing, showering, walking, going to bed with them until they acquire a solution, but the solution continues to expand into trajectories from start to finish, from A to B, and then there are secondary trajectories, tertiary, quaternary, until they dwindle into meanderings from A to B through X and Y. Very soon the trajectory or plot becomes far too complicated to maintain in one’s head. I have to get my thought onto paper or digital memory as soon as possible so that I can begin thinking of the next piece, and so on. Here I do all the things mentioned above: I outline, I revise, I use pen and paper, my laptop or tablet, napkins, etc., sometimes even stickies. I never write sequentially, chapter 1, 2, 3, … I write in the order in which I solve problems. What are the problems? How does a character get from A to B? First I write the first and last chapters. I will not start writing unless I know the end. Then I think about how the characters should get from this beginning to that end. The solution is a new point X. Then I think about how I get from A to X and from X to B.

With respect to the literary art of letter writing, that is an interactive form involving two or more writers responding to each other, much like a duet or a jazz jam session. Correspondence is often organic and has its own logos. My best friend is one of the best poets I’ve ever read, and I’ve read Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. We first became friends around the age of 13 or 14. We played clarinet in the high school concert and marching bands. We began writing letters to each other when he entered the Peace Corps and I was drafted into the US Army. We are currently working on a literary project together to compile our poetry, short stories, music, and letters we’ve written, sometimes together, sometimes separately, but always under each other’s influence. The title will be “An Extraordinary Friendship”.

If you are a writer of fiction, would you categorize your writing as more character or plot driven and why?

I would have to say I’m more character driven. Character is what interests me most. I fell in love with the characters in my novels. As a matter of fact, I wrote a trilogy with most of the characters appearing and reappearing in two out of three of the novels. The plots, secondary to the characters, were intended to peel away layers of the characters’ personas. No matter how interesting I make it, I’ll never be able to make you fall in love with a plot. You can hate a character and continue reading the novel but, if you hate the plot, you’ll quit reading the novel then and there.

What genre or form do you prefer to write in and why?

As I answered before, I write poetry, short stories, essays, and novels. I prefer poems written in natural language or free-form. Those have the most impact on me. Those are the kinds of poems I prefer writing although, sometimes, I dabble in a particular form, for example, haiku, sonnets, or ancient Persian rubáiyát (quatrains). Sometimes I’ll make up my own structures. I once wrote a sequence of descriptions of quasi-fictional-autobiographical still photographs. The form was based on the well-known cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Each photographic description in the album was exactly 1000 words, no more, no less. There was no motion because the photograph froze all motion. There was no emotion. It was as if the narrator was describing pictures of people with whom he had no attachment. The narrator also described the colors or black and white or sepia and the composition as though it were a painting were being analyzed. My idea was that, if the narrator supplied no emotion whatsoever, the reader of the narrative would supply the emotion.

The three novels I wrote were science fiction. I called the trilogy “The Rational Series”. It explored different aspects of rationality, as represented by robots and geniuses.

Where do you write?

Depending on when the urge hits me, I write anywhere. I take my laptop or notebook with me wherever I go. At home I write in the guest bedroom mostly. The notebook is also by my bedside in case the muse visits me there.

Do you have writing rituals or habits, and how do you make space in your life for your writing?

I don’t really have any writing rituals or habits. The only space I’ve managed to make in my life for writing is evenings (if I’m not too exhausted), weekends (after helping with the shopping or around the apartment), and holidays (which are like weekends). First comes my job, then family, then my writing, and then my friends. I don’t have a lot of friends but the few I do have are high quality.

Do you ever write longhand?

Yes, especially when I don’t have a laptop at hand, but eventually I transfer everything to my laptop and to the Internet.

Who or what are your biggest influences, be they books, films, mentors, etc.?

Books are the biggest influence on my writing. Besides the running dialogues I have with dead poets, dead novelists, and dead philosophers, as well as a few live ones in each category, I received my standards for writing from books. I’m a voracious but selective reader and I know quite clearly what I like to read. The standard against which I measure my own writing is whether I would want to read it. I know there are a lot of people out there who are not like me but I suspect our differences are only superficial that, deep down, the roots of our needs and desires are pretty much the same, regardless of the personas that have been imposed upon us or which we decided to adopt. That means everybody has a story in them, if you are willing to dig deep enough, and everybody wants a story, and they want to be touched and loved, no matter how much they’ve turned into couch potatoes, jocks, or prom queens.

A poet whom I deeply respect argued with me that my standard is too harsh but it’s the only standard I know how to apply to my writing.

What brought you to writing? Was there one pivotal event or have you just always been writing?

I have been writing since I was 13 years old. I am 68 now. I think there were two things (I hesitate to call them pivotal events) that brought me to writing. The first was an attempt to communicate with certain significant others who were no longer present in my life. The second was that I thought it might be a great way to pick up chicks. As it turned out, neither intention panned out but the writing stayed.

Are there recurring themes or ideas in your work?

Yes, the recurring themes in my life are the roots of the recurring themes in my work. Of course I obfuscate them, transmogrify them, and do my best to make them interesting but unrecognizable.

What part, if any, does research play in your writing and how do you go about researching your work?

I often research subjects that I write about, especially when I write science fiction. I don’t write fantasy so, in my mind, it has to be credible or at least have roots that are credible. I do my homework. I guess I’m afraid of nitpickers.

If you have self-published, what has been your experience? What advice might you pass on to first-time authors?

I tried to publish the traditional way, sending my manuscripts to literary agents and publishers. After 11 polite rejection notices and one offer to publish if I were willing to pre-order 1000 copies of my book, I decided to self-publish. I published with Create Space (www.createspace.com). They are very professional, quite convenient, and only take a small cut of whatever you actually sell. They don’t stock your books but they automagically print the books whenever they are ordered. Create Space is associated with Amazon, so your book may be sold by Amazon or Create Space. You can also make a digital Kindle ebook for readers to purchase and download. What I like about it is that there’s no upfront investment and they pretty much get out of your way. I don’t know whether I would be able to tolerate some editor mangling my books to make them more attractive to the summer romance readers (not that there’s anything wrong with them. They are just not my cup of tea).

If you have been published traditionally, do you have an agent? If so, how did you find one? If not, how have you been able to sell your own work?

I don’t know how an unknown writer can get his manuscript onto a publisher’s desk, without beating on doors, rubbing elbows, and kissing babies. I don’t have the time or inclination to do that. Maybe it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time but the statistics seem to play out against you. I do know people who have published the traditional way. They are good writers. I wouldn’t want to ask them this question though.

I am not much of a business man. I don’t do very much to push or market my books. It would take too much time away from my writing. My day-time job supports my writing habit.

Can you provide us with a photo of your writing space or favorite place to write? (Or if you do resort to stickies and paper, a photo of a revision in progress.)


Mike Stone’s Writing Place.

Is there any advice you would like to give to new writers?

Yes. Above all, write what you know about. Make your writing 80% what you know about and 20% research. “How do you write what you know about if you’re writing science fiction?” you might ask. Good question but there’s a good answer too. Take the people you know and the things that you’ve done, fictionalize them, and put them in an alternative or future setting based on scientifically acceptable conjectures. Then solve the problems of how you get them from a solid scientific basis to the place you want for them in your story. This may sound too specific to the science fiction genre but it can also be applied to historical fiction, as well as other literary endeavors. Just look at Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology.

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