TIM JOHNSTON: IT TOOK ME SIX YEARS TO FINISH THE FIRST DRAFT OF DESCENT
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
With Descent Tim Johnston climbed the big mountain to reach The New York Times bestselling list. His third book was received positively by the readers and critics. So far the novel accumulates average 4.0 Amazon stars from almost 850 reviews.
Our next is also known as a master of short stories for which he won many awards.
Let’s welcome Tim Johnston.
– Tim, what is your book Descent about?
– Descent tells the story of a family of four from the American Midwest who, on summer vacation in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, lose their 18-yr-old daughter. The novel follows the four members of the family over the next two years as they grow increasingly distant from each other, and fight to survive this trauma in their own isolated ways.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– I didn’t decide, I just began. I was working up in the Rocky Mountains myself, as a carpenter, all alone up there for weeks and weeks, when I began to see, and hear, this family—Midwesterners like me—driving up to the mountains full of life and optimism and finding, instead, wildness and violence. When I couldn’t stop thinking about them, I set down my hammer and began to write.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– Finding the time to write. Early on, I decided I would only work on the novel when I knew I had the entire day to work on it, so that I could immerse myself fully in that world and those characters, with no carpentry work that day or other ticking clock hanging over my head. There weren’t a lot of those days, which is one reason it took me six years to finish the first draft.
– Tell us something more about your main characters Caitlin and Sean? Are they close to someone from your real life?
– As far as I can tell, and only when I’m forced at gunpoint to think about it, Caitlin and Sean are perhaps a kind of inverse brother-sister representation of my own relationship with my younger sister: the ages and genders are reversed, so that the sister is the older and more capable sibling, but who nonetheless, through her overconfidence, leads both of them into trouble, as I often did, though on a far less consequential scale.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– As I mentioned above, it took me six years to finish the first draft, and then I spent another year revising, and soon after that it was bought by Algonquin Books—and then it was another 2.5 years before the book was for sale on the bookshelves…which was perhaps the longest 2.5 years of my life.
– What was your reaction when the novel hit NY Times and USA Today bestselling list?
– Disbelief. A writer’s life is full of dreams and fantasies, and it can be surreal to the point of unbelievability—of actually not even enjoying the moment because it’s so unbelievable—when those dreams and fantasies are presented as realities. And then, over time, there are moments when disbelief breaks apart and you bask for a little while in the light of—not happiness—but acceptance that this wonderful thing has really, truly, happened for you.
– Give us some insight in your other books Irish Girl and Never So Green?
– Never So Green was my first novel, and although it was published as a YA novel in 2002 by a very good New York publishing house (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), I’d never intended it to be a YA novel, but had written, I believed, a novel for adults that happened to have a young adult protagonist, in the fashion of, say, To Kill A Mockingbird. The publishing world disagreed, but in the end I was very happy that so many young people—as well as adults—were able to find and read the novel. Irish Girl is a collection of the strongest short stories I’d written over a 7-year period when I began to send them out as a collection to the big story collection contests in America in 2007. The title story was an O. Henry Prize winner (2002), and the collection won the 2008 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and was subsequently chosen by David Sedaris as the book he recommended on his 2010 U.S. tour (an experience I wrote about for Salon.com http://www.salon.com/2011/05/21/how_david_sedaris_ruined_me_financially/ ). The word most frequently used to describe the stories in Irish Girl—Sedaris no exception—is dark. All these years later, I understand that the stories were warm-ups, thematically and stylistically, for the more ambitious and prolonged undertaking that became Descent.
– Who are you?
– I am an American novelist who spent most of his adult life as a carpenter, and who hopes to spend the rest of it writing, and traveling, and reading, and engaging with his fellow humans and the pressing concerns of humans on planet Earth.
– What are your writing habits?
– I like to ease into the writing day by reading fiction first thing in the morning. At some point, when I realize I’m no longer reading what’s on the page, but writing in my head, then it’s time to get to work. When the writing is going well, I work as long as I have the energy and eyesight to do so, and then I try to stop, like Hemingway, when I know where I’m going next, so that I can get right to it the next day.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of your books?
– Yes, very much. I hoped to earn my modest advance back, and anything after that would be, as we say in America, “gravy.” The hardback generated a good amount of gravy, and I’m hopeful that the paperback will generate more, because that is how I will afford the time to work on the next novel.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– I never say no to any opportunity to talk with readers and other writers about the book, from festivals to conferences to bookstores to book clubs to blogs. I keep my website up to date with events and news, and try to be as present as I can be on Facebook and Twitter without annoying people. I try to be as thankful as I feel, to treat every kind word or act with gratitude, and to be as gracious as anyone who’s had my good fortune ought to be, which includes championing the work of fellow authors big and small. I make sure that readers and booksellers, especially, know how much I appreciate the essential role they play in the life of any book.
– When we will see your next novel and would you unveil something more about it?
– I hope this next novel will be published by 2017, but no promises. All I can say is that I am trying to write the best novel I can, and so far it looks like it will, like Descent, be set in motion by an inexplicable and heartbreaking piece of bad luck.
– You are teaching creative writing in University of Memphis. What are your first words towards the students who want to become writers?
– If you want to write fiction, READ IT. And read it not for entertainment, but for instruction. Learn to read like a writer, and then read, read, read…write your heart out, and read some more. All you need to know is in the books you admire and love. They are your best teachers, forever.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be?
– Q: If you could be anything other than a writer, what would you be? A musician.
About Ognian GeorgievOgnian Georgiev is a sport journalist, who is working as an editor at the "Bulgaria Today" daily newspaper. He covered the Summer Olympics in Beijing 2008 and in London 2012. The author specializes in sports politics, investigations and coverage of Olympic sports events. Ognian Georgiev works as a TV broadcaster for Eurosport Bulgaria, Nova Broadcasting group, TV+, F+ and TV7. He is a commentator for fight sports events such as boxing/kickboxing and MMA. In May 2014 Ognian Georgiev released the English version of his book The White Prisoner: Galabin Boevski's secret story.
Posted on November 12, 2015, in Author, BESTSELLER, Books, Interview and tagged author, Descent, interview, Irish Girl, Never so Green, new, novel, Tim Johnston. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.