We had the chance to get to know Book Smuggler’s Den contributor and author Aaron Sommers better. Sommers is the author of several short stories and plays. We can all learn a thing or two from this passionate writer. Check out what Sommers has to say about being a writer and advice he has for aspiring authors.
What inspired you to write a book?
I was inspired by the birth of my first child. The story had always been up there, in the attic of my mind so to speak, but after she was born, I started to write feverishly. Initially, that meant a lot of outlines, character notes, and ramblings in notebooks. After a year, I read through then carefully, and translated the story into a cohesive structure. The only way I could do that was via my typewriter.
It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?
Oh, sure, I agree. Whole-heartedly. I would even take it further and say that you must not only believe what you are writing, you must love it, too. The place, time, characters, all of it. The challenge is to translate your love faithfully for the writer. Not to make readers believe your story, nor love it, but to have them enter a world where they want to. Ideally, a strong enough narrative where they’ll have no other choice but to. Beyond the intentions or beliefs of any writer is the sobering fact we’re all working within the constraints of twenty-six letters. So we need to make each one count!
Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
I’ve developed an extremely disciplined routine through the years. Traditionally, I’ve found the morning is the best time to let the creative juices flow. I’m not sure if it’s the coffee or some carry-over from my dreams the night before, but I usually fire on all cylinders then. I’ve published enough fiction to give me valuable perspective on when the waters are best to cast my line out. At the same time, I know I’m going to be at my revising best (most ruthless) at night. So that’s when I bust out the ax (or scalpel)!
Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
I know a lot of writers who, understandably, bask in the glow of any praise. I’m not going to lie to you and say praise doesn’t matter to me. I guess what makes me different, though, is that, at the end of the day, I look at any praise as, at it’s best, an enticing distraction, and, at it’s worst, a dangerous force. While it’s always great to hear readers say how much they liked my stories, I think, as a writer, it’s far more valuable to hear about what didn’t work. Because the things that I’m doing right, in all likelihood I’m going to keep doing them. Those are the aspects of writing that, through the years, I’ve internalized. Their not so much habits as second-nature. It’s what doesn’t work that matters to me. The unknowns that only become knowns when a reader interacts. All criticism, at that point, is honest, and thus, I think, constructive. That kind of feedback is gold to me.
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing? What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?
The hardest thing about writing is finding the time to give all my characters the attention they deserve. Like a parent who must balance attention, praise and discipline, I have to make sure every character gets their time. Some are loud and get their needs met faster, but when you have a family you have to be careful. The quiet kid in the corner needs your help–and there’s only so many hours in the day! The easiest thing about writing is watching my characters grow if I step away for awhile. Just giving them some breathing room can work wonders.
Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last? Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?
I’ve never experienced “Writer’s Block.” When I have a story up there, the lights are always on. Thankfully, I’ve never struggled with a lack of ideas. If and when I sense I’m writing myself into a corner, though, I’ve found going for a walk to do wonders. I live in a house with thick woods on every side, so there’s all sorts of great natural sights around. A ten minute stroll can be a shot in the arm for my prose.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
I think the most important thing to remember is, a lot of people have stories to tell, but if you want to be a writer you need a voice. There are many “fixable” aspects of a story–like stilted dialogue, uneven pace, too much exposition. Every writer struggles with these “broken” pieces of a story through the process. But the one feature that cannot be fixed is a lack of voice. It also happens to be the most important one for the reader. If she can’t hear anyone on the page, the rest of the story doesn’t matter. Writers need to remember we’re planting the seeds of a relationship here, and that only grows with trusting the reader. A strong voice leaps off the page and draws the reader in. Just as we do when we meet someone, we’re going to use our first impression as a point of reference. You only get one chance for that. I think readers, particularly the ones that dive deep into novels, are a forgiving bunch, by and large. But you’ve got to start strong and hook them before they’ll go under with you.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
I’m working on my novel, an 80,000 Young Adult Contemporary story, an unfamiliar take on a familiar trope. I’m very excited about it.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Persistence is key. Out of all the plays I’ve written, and the dozen or so short stories I’ve published, the one I’m most proud of of is called, “The Early Departure of Cameron Bailey,” published in The Berkeley Fiction Review a few years ago. When I first submitted that short story, the editorial staff rejected it. At first, I was mortified. I’d worked so hard on the piece, winnowing it down–slowly but surely–to less than a thousand words over the course of many weeks. Writing short stories is a great way for a novelist to learn the importance of economy of words, but very short fiction, “flash,” takes it to a whole new level. Not only does every word count, but the length of the sentences, the structure of the paragraphs, the variety of punctuation, they’re all thrusted under a microscope. The result can be exhilarating for the reader. But there’s no room in the prose for any flaws to hide. That’s a lot of pressure on the writer, but again, it’s essential. I had the good fortune to have an experienced editorial staff at the journal who really liked the story. One of the Managing Editors told me why they rejected it. You never expect this when you submit. The volume of submissions just don’t allow much time for them to say why, usually, it was a no.
This time, though, they gave me specifics as to what didn’t work for them, and invited me to re-submit in the future. Again, I don’t even remember what they said they liked. What mattered to me was what they thought needed polishing. So I went back to work. I kept their notes in front of me while I did, but also made sure they aligned with my vision of the story. The journal has a contest for Flash Fiction and, after I finished toiling on my story, I sent it off to them. Again. Now, this had happened before, and I knew addressing whatever concerns they had was still no guarantee of publication. Different readers have different reactions, and I was prepared (although not looking forward to) another no. Around three weeks later, I got an email that lifted my spirits. Lo an behold, they were not only going to publish the story, it had won first place in their contest–and the staff nominated it for a Pushcart Prize! That never would’ve happened if I’d thrown up my hands and given up on the story. That, I think, is the point here. The writing process–and the publishing industry–is unhurried. There are many reasons for this, but the fact is there’s no way around it. But if you make the investment in writing the best story you can, readers will give you their time.
You can find more information about Aaron as well as his publications on his site www.aaronsommers.com. You can follow Aaron on Twitter at @aaronsommers.