Title of Book: Juggling Kittens
A short description of book:
A first year English teacher navigates the shadows and calluses of hillbilly noir in an attempt to solve the mystery of a missing kid … or two.
What inspired you to write? And what was the inspiration for this book?
I think you could say that what inspired me to write is not being good at things. I was not an athlete. And growing up in the South (capital S kind of South … Arkansas), that meant I gradually was not involved in much as I grew into the high school years. During my junior year of high school, I had an English teacher (Sandy Whitson: teacher shout out) who told me I was a good writer. I think that started something. And that’s what teachers do, right? Everyone deserves that at some point: to have something identified by an adult in their life—something they are good at. And I feel like teachers are the absolute best at that. For me, that was the beginning of what will be a life-long pursuit to validate that claim from my junior year of high school. I want Sandy Whitson to be right about me.
As far as this book goes, the inspiration is two-fold. On one hand, it is very auto-biographical. All of the bits about teaching and life as twenty-five-year-old idiot? That’s all very true to my life. That all came from the old adage of “write what you know.” The mystery, however, is obviously made up. Several years ago, I found myself reading Walter Mosley and Denise Mina and Reed Farrel Coleman, and I realized that I should be writing things I like to read. I think before that I was trying to make everything I wrote “meaningful” in some way. In short, I was trying too hard. I came to this realization that I like mysteries. And I like dark humor. And I like the South. So … that’s what I wrote about. Simple as that.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
That’s a great question. Does saying I don’t know make me look inept? It varies so much. I used to write a lot after reading to my daughters. When they were a little younger, they would want me to read to them and then sit in their rooms until they fell asleep. So during that time (post-reading), I would sit in the dark with my iPad and type out a few paragraphs every night. I’m also a big Saturday morning writer. I love to get a cup of coffee, pour a bowl of cereal, turn on some cartoons for ambient noise, and plot things out. So it’s really all over the place. When I’m really working on something, I try to set some goals for myself. I usually shoot for somewhere between 1000 and 1500 words per day.
How long does it take to write a book?
This book took longer than normal. I would say it took, all told, about ten years. But that’s because I had written a few pieces about teaching much earlier. Eventually, I started to piece them all together around a book. The book as it stands came together in around two years. That’s more accurate for how long it takes.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Obviously, I like to read. I read mostly mysteries, but I’ll delve into most anything from time to time. I also love TV. A lot. Too much, maybe. I’m a bit of a TV junkie. And a TV snob. I’ve been known to blog a little about TV and movies. If I do say so myself, I’m even kind of good at it. In saying all this, I am realizing that I need to be less lazy and do that more. I really enjoy seeking out shows and movies. For example, I’ve just finished a Netflix run of Marcella; the newest seasons of Wallander, Luther, and Longmire; and the movies Mystery Road and Man from Reno. Which I only mention to throw out the fact that Netflix is a treasure trove for mystery lovers right now.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
All advice feels a little trite at this point, but I think I would have to say go your own way. There is no pattern to all of this. You can’t allow yourself to get discouraged because things aren’t happening for you the same way you read about them happening for your favorite writer. In this world of literature, we aren’t operating in a world of precedents and prototypes. This is a world of lightning strikes. And yours will strike. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you can predict it. Your story won’t look like anyone else’s. And you don’t want it to. Write because you enjoy it. And commit to it in a way that will keep you doing it whether or not anyone is reading it. All the other stuff will work itself out in its own time. That may not be the encouraging advice any of us wants to hear, but it has been the truth for me.
Do you have an interesting writing quirk? If so what is it?
I pace a lot. Is that interesting? Probably not, but I do. I will stop at various points and just frantically pace around the room trying to work out the next sentence. I will also catch myself making “soundtracks” for whatever I’m writing. Even if it’s a few songs. I’ll listen to songs over and over again that seem to fit with my current project in order to put myself in the mood to think/write about it. If you’re wondering, for Juggling Kittens, it was mostly Ryan Adams’ album, Heartbreaker, and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, by Neutral Milk Hotel.
What is the last book you read?
It was Open Season, which is the first Joe Pickett novel by C. J. Box. I had been meaning to start that series, and I was not disappointed. Great read.
Who are your favorite authors?
If I had to name one, it would be Walter Mosley. No doubt about it. I also like the other two I mentioned earlier (Denise Mina and Reed Farrel Coleman). Of the more … we’ll call them “fresh-faced” writers out there, I like Sara Lippmann, David Joy, Brian Panowich, Porochista Khakpour, Jason Reynolds, Celeste Ng, and Ottessa Moshfegh. That’s a little mixed genre bag (and a lot of one-novel people), but I have thoroughly enjoyed all of their writing.
What is your favorite book?
My favorite book of all time is The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. For me, it is the perfect example of a detective novel that transcends the genre without ever trying. Something about it is very existential and transformative. But, at its core, it is just a damn good mystery.
After all of your hard work, what does it feel like to be a published author?
It is validating. Writing is a lonely art. So many art forms are done under the lights and in front of an audience. We do ours in our underwear with Cheetos dust on our chins. Much of the time writing is like having an argument with yourself about whether or not you matter in world. There is always some part of you who is shouting in one ear that no one wants to read anything you write and you should really just take a nap. Getting published is like a big middle finger to that voice, which feels amazing. Now, the earth didn’t shift its axis. The sun still rose in the east. Freaks and Geeks still got cancelled. I think that voice shouting in the other ear might have expected the whole world to change, and that didn’t happen. It’s sort of like graduating from high school. It is a huge accomplishment. No one can ever take it away from you. And it deserves a massive celebration. But it begs the question: Now what? Getting a book published makes you want to see another one with your name on it up on the shelf. Luckily, it also gives you the confidence that you can make that happen.