Friday, February 10, 2012

Indie Insider - Carl Hitchens

How long does it take you to create a book from start to finish on average?

It’s hard to answer that. If you consider the entire creative process from jotting down thoughts and ideas to that first dawning of inspiration that those random impressions could be, perhaps should be a book, it could take years. Not to mention life situations interrupting the creative flow. Also, there is a difference from the notion of a book taking form and that moment of getting serious about turning out something to share with the world.

I have a poetry manuscript that became a book, when the thought seized me that all of these separate poems I had written over a number of years could be collected up into one volume. This was followed by the practical sense of organizing them into a theme for a poetry book contest. (That hadn’t occurred to me. I was still caught up in the genuineness of “spontaneous creation,” and didn’t want to tamper with the purity of content and order of universal creative-intelligence using me as its instrument.) From the moment of deciding on a thematic charge to author renown, it took about a month of revising, rewriting, and ordering poems according to theme movement to a submission-ready manuscript.

This present work, Sitting with Warrior, began as mostly a short story memoir and then took on a life of its own. Personal revelations beyond my ken became a protagonist mythical ancestor dwelling in another dimension of existence. Stanzas from an epic poem became introductory poems for each chapter of the book. Before I knew it, I had a multi-genre tale combining memoir, myth and history. From that point of organic coalescence—start to finish— it took four years. Four years that went by like a bolt of lightning streaking from the sky. During this period of time, I moved four times, putting my muse into suspended animation. But after each time, we restarted our creative engines. In the end, Warrior made himself known to the world.

How many hours a day do you spend writing? Editing? Procrastinating?

I am an obsessional, spontaneous combustion writer. When I am combusting, I write all day and all night, barely stopping for food and biological imperatives. My writing habits are just that—habits. They appear to the outside observer as an extreme form of self-discipline. In reality, I am a writing ascetic, driven not by extraordinary discipline, as much as by ruthless self-compulsion to break the inhibiting chains of time, space, and matter.

To some degree, I edit as I write, going back to clean up after a page or two. When done with a chapter, I review it and make editing changes and revisions. I really don’t set times for writing and editing, per se. I’ve never looked at how much time I might spend procrastinating. If I were to guess a percentage, I would say 10–15 percent of my writing time. But even that is divided between pure wasting of time and needed relief from bodily and mental battery. When I’m in a creative flow, everything else, no matter how essential, feels like interference.

How are your book covers designed?

I’m actually new to publishing. I’ve spent more than half of my lived years writing, but, other than having a few poems and a short story submitted and published, I’ve been the publishing world’s best-kept secret.

Sitting with Warrior’s cover was found on the stock photo site, I didn’t like the image that my POD publisher, iUniverse suggested from another stock photo site that they use principally. Their image, though accurately portraying Native American culture, was not a appropriate for my story line. Warrior, during his earthly life was not a western plains Indian, but an eastern, coastal-woodlands Indian.

What do you do when you get writers block?

My first instinct is to soldier on and not capitulate to the clogging up of the creative flow. I usually make little real progress in bending creativity to my will, though. When I accept the futility of this, I get away from my desk, my office, and seek diversion. I’ll exercise, do yoga, or water the garden. If I’m unable to shift my mind away from writer’s agitation, I just get out of the house and find some activity: hiking, running an errand, eating out, etc.

Which narrative form and tense do you use and why?

I have fallen into writing from an instinctual grounding, rather than academic. Because of this, I don’t experiment for experiment’s sake, when it comes to this voice or that voice, or this form or that form. I do what comes natural, and, if need be, connect the dots after the fact.

It will say that I love story telling. I love essay. I love lyrical narrative. I find myself naturally weaving the elements of story telling and lyrical expression even into my essays. I guess that means I use narrative story telling and narrative essay. Even my poems seem to have a beginning, middle, and ending “plot,” if you will.

Naturally, it gets tricky with narrative when the story alternates between present and past. I had to really labor over proper tense selection in Sitting with Warrior. The other thing that I spent a lot of editing and revision time on was unfolding the plot with a realistic exchange between Warrior and narrator. Since the dialogue between Grandfather Warrior and grandson (writer) carried the perspective voice of the story, there was a constant shifting of these two characters in and out of first, second, or third person.

Where do you get your ebooks formatted?

I have only one e-book to date, the e-book version of Sitting with Warrior, formatted by the publisher, iUniverse. But I am looking at e-book publication very seriously for future writing endeavors. With the increasing popularity of electronic books and readers, combined with lower publishing overhead and higher royalty percentages, authors have to embrace e-books as the wave of the future.

Do you use a professional editor, critique partners, or beta readers? Briefly describe your process.

I edit my manuscripts as I go along. Then comes the process of rewriting and revising. When I am finally satisfied that the manuscript is “perfect,” I turn It over to a professional editor. If one is an exceptionally good self-proofer, it may be that a good copyeditor will suffice. I actually paid for a line editor, via iUniverse, to comb through my book line by line. Afterwards, I took two months to review the editing suggestions and decide if, where, when, and how to revise the manuscript.

Which is the most important social media platform and why? Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, LinkedIn, or any other one you use.

Thus far, I use Facebook and LinkedIn, and haven’t had any great success with either in driving readers to my author’s website or in book sales. Many, however, are sold on these social networking sites being advantageous to their promotion efforts.

What are three unique web sites or blogs that you follow on a regular basis?

I don’t follow any blog or website religiously, but I have the highest respect for the writing wisdom and talent of Kate Robinson, a friend:

Then there’s the author of one of my favorite books, The Journey of Crazy Horse:

Is there anything else you would like to share?

“True glory comes of itself. It cannot be tarnished. It is either present or not. It is not formed by events but revealed by them. It is not darkened by circumstances but shines above them. It is not soiled by conditions but purifies them. It is the exaltation of light calling forth the true nature of existence. Understand?”

Carl Hitchens' website with reading trailer:


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