“I’m a manipulative observer—a bit like Shakespeare’s Puck.”
JAMES GOUGH has been an actor and is an artist. In addition, his debut novel, CLOAK, was recently published by WiDō Publishing.
MEREDITH: When you sit down to write, are you in charge? What I mean is this: are you the scribe or the master creator? Both? Neither?
JAMES: I’m a manipulative observer—a bit like Shakespeare’s Puck. To me, the characters have always existed, but for some reason they’ve wandered into my woods—this little area where I pull the strings. I can’t make them act contrary to their nature or take away their will, but I can mess with them—and I do. It’s kind of like a kid discovering an anthill and dropping sticks into the hole to see what will happen. (Not that I’ve ever done such a thing.)
I love dropping plot twists on the characters and watching them scurry. That’s when they prove their mettle. Some of my favorite characters fail miserably when tested. I’m still upset with one of them. He really screwed things up. I took him off my Christmas list.
My main character showed me more chutzpah then I ever thought he had. I’m honestly proud of him. I’m always cheering, crying for and chastising the people on the page. Sometimes I’m not quiet about it and my kids will run in to see what’s going on. You try explaining to a seven-year-old why daddy is beaming at the computer with tears in his eyes.
MEREDITH: Some people refer to their creations as their children. I see our creations more as an extension of our own biology. In other words, our words are who we are, expressed in an alternate form (kind of like how water freezes to ice and then melts and flows again). How do you view your creations?
JAMES: I’m not sure I see a novel as my creation at all. It’s more like something behind a dusty door in the back of my brain that’s been knocking for years. When stupidly I opened it—massive chaos. Ever seen what happens when chickens in a coup panic? The feathers, noise and smell are unbelievable. That’s nothing compared to what came flying out of that door in my brain. I’ve spent the last three years trying to catch squawking brain chickens and clean up the mess. That’s how novels are born for me. An innocent tap, then wham! Chicken rodeo.
My part in the insanity is to catch the ideas, pin them down and put them in some semblance of order. There is an amazing satisfaction at seeing my wrangling efforts pay off, then the next ideas start knocking and I stupidly reach for the door.
MEREDITH: When it comes to writing would you describe your mind as a friend or a foe?
JAMES: My mind is only a foe when I try to force it in a direction it doesn’t want to go. It’s sounds strange, but my mind has a mind of its own. When it comes to being creative, I just get out of its way and follow at a distance with a loose grip. Every once in a while I have to tug on the leash if it’s wandering off, but for the most part, my brain and I get along well. We respect each other’s space. I don’t feed it math or daytime television and it doesn’t play the theme song to the Andy Griffith show while I’m trying to write.
MEREDITH: Taking the stance that creativity is a natural state, why do we get stuck?
JAMES: I think this question ties into the brain question. We try too hard to force creativity. If it’s natural, it’s unpredictable. I’ve known writers who try to bend their brain into submission to produce great creative work. They fail. You can discipline and train your brain to perform, but overtraining is deadly. It kills the natural state of creativity and breaks its will. Over-trained brains are great for creating spreadsheets, but are roadblocks waiting to happen.
If I ever sense my brain and I are about to get bogged down, I just take off the leash and let my mind run. Mental blocks are just your brain’s way of saying it feels tied down. Let it do its own thing.
MEREDITH: Do you make any promises to yourself before you sit down to write and blog? Any deals?
JAMES: My promises are usually to stop writing after a certain period of time. I become obsessive. Once, I went on a fourteen-hour writing binge. It wasn’t pretty.
Writing is my escape. If I’m not careful I can disappear for days. The danger is that reality has a way of getting backed up if you don’t participate in it of extended periods of time.
My kids are the greatest antidotes for obsessive writing syndrome. They’re also the reason I write YA and middle-grade fiction. Keeping promises to not over-write usually means more family time, which helps fill my creative reservoirs, which inspires new directions, which improves my writing. It’s the great circle of creativity. Life begets creativity. Creativity begets life.
JAMES adds: “I’m the offspring of a well-grounded hippie and an all-American Jock with a passion for musical theater. That explains why I’m a walking oxy-moron. I was the athletic drama kid, the singing artist and the visual writer. I even earned a duel scholarship to college—half theater/half discus. If you want to experience humility, try showing up to a track meet in stage makeup.” Visit his website and view his amazing book trailer by clicking here.