The Book Smuggler’s Den had the pleasure of meeting the author of Ben Stempton’s Boy, Ron Yates. In this new novel, Yates writes about a foster graduate who is taken in by a sweet family and the experiences he has being. a “newbie” to family life. Yates is an experienced author who previously published Make It Right: A Novella and Eight Stories. Keep reading to see what tips he has for authors-to-be.
What inspired you to write a book?
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school as a result of encouragement from exceptional English teachers. I’d become an avid reader before that, always loving a good story. The desire to spin out stories of my own was a natural outgrowth of my love of literature and writing. I continued to read throughout college and adulthood, increasingly paying attention to the authors’ techniques and how they achieved their results. I always had the sense that I’d someday write books, and I prepared myself accordingly.
Was there a book or author that you admired that played a role when developing your book?
Ben Stempton’s Boy falls into the Southern fiction genre. There are plenty of Southern writers I admire, as well as many others outside the genre. I count Flannery O’Conner, Faulkner, Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Yates, and Elizabeth Strout as major influences.
It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?
I think it’s possible to write commercial fiction—books meant to sell copies rather than impart insight, convey truth, or leave a lasting impression—without “believing in” what you’re doing. In this sense writing is just a job. But serious writing, like the other art forms, requires belief in the value of the project as well as the artist’s talent and ability to stick with it until the finished product is as good as it can be. In this sense I perceive “believing in” as a kind of faith.
Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
At present, I have lapsed into non-scheduled writing, which is a sad state to be in for anyone who takes it seriously. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by projects, politics, the state of the world, and the minutiae of daily life. But to write successfully—to actually produce enough writing so that some of it is good—one has to plant butt in chair at the writing desk on a regular basis. When I was working on Ben Stempton’s Boy, I’d rise at three in the morning and work for a few hours while the house was quiet and my mind fresh. That schedule proved to be effective for me. Writers who wait for inspiration typically don’t get much done. I think this principal holds true for other artistic pursuits as well.
Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
The concept of style is hard to pin down. It involves voice, tone, mood, imagery (or the lack of it), along with the use of a variety of literary techniques. I’m a careful writer, striving for clarity while paying attention to the music of each line. I look at words, phrases, and sentences as building blocks that must be carefully chosen for sound, connotation, denotation, symbolic value, and pacing. I write very carefully in an attempt to make the writing not sound like writing but something that naturally spools out from my pen into the reader’s brain.
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing? What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?
Adequately imagining a scene is very difficult, and vivid scenes are important if the work is to unfold like a movie in the reader’s mind. The bedroom, kitchen, office, riverbank, bar, or whatever must become a hard reality in the writer’s imagination if she is to convey it convincingly to the reader. This requires a kind of energy that I think is often misunderstood. Revising—which is just as important as the initial imagining—requires a different way of thinking and is therefore easier, but still difficult because the writer has to step back from the work and view it objectively. There is really nothing easy about writing.
Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last? Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?
I believe that for most of us “writer’s block” is a form of avoidance. Because we know that sitting down and creating something that didn’t exist before will be difficult, we, perhaps subconsciously, devise ways to avoid the discomfort. There will always be something else that needs attention. We might say to ourselves, “I’ll work on that chapter after I clean the oven.” Then, when we sit down to write, we are still thinking about the oven or the other things that need doing that only require a mechanical energy, and nothing comes to mind. This is where faith comes in. We have to believe that our calling to write is legitimate and the work worth pursuing in order to overcome our natural aversion to pain.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Don’t read junk. Find the best authors and read them incessantly. Follow a writing schedule. Become your own harshest critic. Revise. Read your work aloud as you revise. Learn that less is often more. Don’t underestimate your readers by doing too much of the work for them. Instead, let them take part in the process of making meaning.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
I have some ideas for a memoir of sorts that will explore a broad theme by weaving in personal narratives, essays, and observations. At this stage, sadly, I’m lingering in avoidance mode.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I hope anyone who’s read this far will continue the journey by checking out my website—https://ronyates.net. There are blog posts there about culture, the writing process, creativity, food, and the making of Ben Stempton’s Boy. Readers who’d like a signed copy of either of my books can order directly from the website. The books are also available through major online retailers.
Thanks for reading, and please remember that authors appreciate honest reviews, wherever they are posted.
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