Meet Tim Yocum. At a reading given by our mutual friend, Charlene Edge, author of Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International, Tim and I chatted, and he told me about the book he had written.
After a few emails and telephone conversations, Tim asked me to edit his book, Love Is Like a Sinkhole: Tales of Romance and Theft. The title alone reveals the witty man Tim is. Sinkhole, as he affectionately calls his book, is a work of fiction based somewhat on his real-life experiences.
Tim is a sincere writer, striving to tell the story that has lived in his heart and mind for years. I know many of you have similar stories incubating, just waiting for the right time to reveal themselves on the page. Don’t wait. Start today.
Tim made writing his story a priority and has created a touching, darkly funny book with interesting characters to show for his efforts. Before writing this book, Tim would never have called himself a writer. Now, he is, because he has written.
I’ll let Tim share with you some lessons he has learned along the way to achieving his writing dream.
WYL: Thank you for taking the time to share a little about your project with our readers, Tim. Probably one of the most difficult thing for writers to do is to find a way to stay motivated, especially when life gets hectic. What motivates you to write?
Tim: Several years ago, I wrote a memoir for my daughters explaining the rupture in our family, from my point of view—a rupture that had lasted twenty years. I expected that I would never see the girls again, so the book was a legacy gesture. The words poured out, and I thought the memoir was the end of it. A few of my relatives read the manuscript, and despite their kind comments, I knew the story was a maudlin slog.
WYL: Those are normal feelings. What did you do to improve your writing?
Tim: I read several books on the art and craft of fiction and reworked the memoir as a novel. An editor did read the book and thought the quality of the writing was high, but otherwise, there was no plot to speak of, no character development, no real dialogue.
WYL: What was your main concern? What books did you read to help you resolve this issue?
Tim: How to make the story more engaging, more entertaining? The book that jump-started my current project was the autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. Writing his memoir in the third person, Adams created ironic space between the implied author (detached and bemused), and his protagonist (a character buffeted by forces beyond his understanding and control). This trick appealed to me. How much of the author’s story mirrored his experience; how much was invented; and how much was some combination of the two?
Detaching from my main character, I was able to recreate him—able to invent and reinvent other characters—and do the same with the plot. The dark humor and the undercurrent of hysteria in Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five) and Thomas Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49) influenced my rewrite. Kitchy allegory in the protagonists’ names attracted me (Benny Profane, Billy Pilgrim, Oedipa and Mucho Maas), as did Pynchon’s plots, driven by mysteries that are never solved.
Again, I revised the failed novel, writing an hour or two in the early morning with no word count in mind. The result so far is four stories connected by a principal character with a vaguely allegorical name and a plot driven by a mystery.
WYL: It is during the revision process where most of the real work takes place. That’s when writers take apart their words and recreate those scenes. Almost the way painters choose their color pallets, good editors can help you make the most effective choices. How has Writing Your Life helped you with your current project?
A few months ago, I attended a gathering in Winter Park at which Charlene Edge read from her recently published memoir, Undertow. We are friends; I had worked with her husband, Hoyt, in the Rollins College philosophy and religion department back in the 1980s and ’90s, so I had a rooting interest. I met Patricia Charpentier that evening, and she agreed to edit my book.
I soon realized that fiction writing is harder than expository writing—at least for me. Her gentle questions, edits, and suggestions have provided a graduate seminar in the art and craft of the novel.
WYL: Fiction, creative nonfiction—these are different animals compared to academic writing. You’re not alone in this realization. What advice would you give to other writers who are striving to improve their writing and finish their books?
Tim: Among the many things I’ve learned is how easy it is to get too close to the story. I may assume that certain details and nuances of plot, character, emotion, or tone are fully available to the reader and that they pop from the page, when in fact they’re only in my head. Patricia has fallen into many of my potholes and has encouraged me to fill them in before she hurts herself. As a result, I’ll have a much more engaging and entertaining book.
Congratulations, Tim. You’ve written a wonderful book, and it’s been my privilege to help you make it even better.