Thursday, December 8, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: E.J. Wesley

Hi everyone! After I read EJ's post last week (the one I reposted on Tuesday), I decided I had to know more about him. EJ runs a blog called The Open Vein, which I really enjoy. If you didn't check it out after Tuesday's post, I hope you will now. Anyway, on to EJ.

How did you get started as a writer?

I didn’t start writing fiction (seriously) until 6 or 7 years ago, and hadn’t even entertained the idea until I started reading the Harry Potter stories a couple of years before that. At the time, I worked at a counseling agency specializing in adolescent groups. We used the HP books as a tool in therapy, as a means of getting the kids to open up about their own difficult experiences. It worked marvelously! I decided then that I wanted to write fiction. I guess it was the first time that I understood how truly powerful words can be.

I know what you mean! My father-in-law is a therapist and he is constantly recommending books to his clients. I'm generally much more escapist in my own reading (no judging please!), but my wife isn't. I actually love hearing what she thinks of books because she has a much more cathartic experience than I do. So, to sum up my rambling: books are great and they can really help people!

What was your first complete story?

It was a young adult novel with a sword and sorcery vibe. I drafted it, edited it, read a few chapters to a  riting group and succinctly put it away—maybe for good. I haven’t gone back to it in over 4 years! The writing was bad, but it was an important first step, I think.

Tell me about it. They say, on average, authors don't get published until they've written three for four books. It all comes down to experience! There may be absolutely nothing wrong with the ideas, but every author has to learn the craft.

What made you decide to write it?

It was my first idea for a novel-length story, and I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. It wasn’t about publication; it was about seeing something through to completion. A major life goal accomplished.

My first book was the same way. Maybe someday I'll revisit it and fix it up, but in the meantime, I have other ideas to explore.

Do you free-write or outline?

I’m a soft outliner. I tend to free-write the first few chapters and then outline a few chapters ahead of my current place. If I get too far ahead (in terms of outlining) everything gets a little stiff, and if I completely wing it—well, it feels like I’ve completely winged it.

If you free-write, how do you keep things organized?

I usually start outlining at the point I feel I’m getting disorganized or the story is getting too big. Most of my stories start with only one or two characters in focus. So it’s pretty easy to keep up initially.

If you outline, do you plot the entire story first, or bits at a time as you write?

I usually have a solid idea of how I want to start, and a fair idea of how things will end. My mileage varies, as they say.

I can unequivocally say that you are the first person to answer all three parts of that question. Kudos!

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

Not sure I truly believe in writer’s block. That stuff is for hobby writers! Lol If you’re serious about writing, you have to do it every day, rain or shine. Sometimes the words come easily, sometimes they don’t. If I’m stuck—really stuck—I’ll jump to a new part of the story or next chapter. I’ll go back to what I was stuck on later. It usually works itself out by then. Generally I just keep putting words down even if I don’t feel like it.

In terms of general inspiration, music and coffee are my motivators of choice. I’ll slap something appropriate on Pandora, get something warm to drink and I’m off to the races!

Sadly, I'm still in the hobby phase. I write as often as possible, but from time to time things get out of hand and my writing gets put on hold. I hate that!

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters
don’t turn out the same in every story?)

To be completely honest, I don’t usually worry about it. The initial concepts for my stories tend to be all over the place, so I’m not starting with even remotely similar characters. One story is about a girl in middle school in Chicago, for instance, and the next will be about a college-aged guy in small town Texas. They couldn’t sound the same even if I tried to force them.

What exercises to you use to develop your characters?

I really just draw off of conversations and the people in my day-to-day life. Friends, family, etc.

So if any of you know EJ personally, look for yourself in his writing! :D

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

As crazy as it sounds, mostly by making engaging and believable characters. My ‘real’ world is 99% about the people in it and 1% about all the other stuff. If the characters in your story behave realistically and are enthralling, you can have talking cats or just about anything else going on in the world around them and pull it off.

That being said, I think layers help add depth and realism, just like in painting and drawing (which I also do!). You don’t need to have razor sharp detail on the stuff in the background, but it needs to resemble something familiar, if that makes sense. Add a bush (coffee shop, etc.) here, a small mountain (government, etc.) there to give your characters some aspect of space/perspective in the world.

Hey, good analogy! I'm going to keep that one in mind!

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

I really do try (honestly I do, beta readers) to cut out the extraneous. It gets really difficult to do on your own, though. Everything feels important when you draft. However, in the end no one really cares about your main character’s affinity for bran flakes but you. Cut it and forget it, just like that magic oven thing (I think).

It's amazing how much doesn't make it into a story that still has an impact on it. Everything the writer knows informs the story somehow, even if the actual facts/events don't show up in the end.

How does your own life inform your writing?

See #4

'Nough said.

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?

Do grant writing conferences count? Lol I’ve actually been a member a several fiction writing groups both online and ‘live’ and attend some workshops associated with those. I’ve attended an online writer’s conference (WriteOnCon), and it blew me away. I mostly learned that there are TONS of writers out there who struggle with the same things I struggle with and that writing really is a craft. Meaning if you work at it you’ll get better.

Another point worth remembering: you will get better!

Who is your favorite author?

Growing up it was Stephen King. In fact, he was really the only non-assigned fiction I read until college (or so). Now? Tolkien, JK Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Charlaine Harris, Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, Sir Arthur Doyle, C.S. Lewis, Paulo Coelho…

I've read at least one book by each of these except Martin and Harris (and they're on my list, so someday...) and I have to say ... you have great taste!

Favorite book?

Stephen King’s The Stand, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter 1-7, Night by Elie Wiesel, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, …

Ooh! New titles! How exciting!

Favorite genre to read?

Not a genre, but young adult fiction is my favorite. I just think the stories are so much more imaginative and inspiring for that age group. You can really write any genre in YA, and you can also tackle subjects from serious to goofy and get away with it.

Agreed! The funnest books are predominantly YA in my opinion.

Favorite genre to write?

Same. Like my reading tastes, I tend to write all over the place. I’ve been writing more paranormal stuff of late, though.

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

Play guitar, paint/draw, listen to music, watch sports, play with my dogs, love my family and friends, get outside, drink wine and eat!

Wow, it sounds like you have it pretty good! Kudos!

What are three interesting facts about you?

Hmmmm, I was voted “most shy person” by my high school classmates (my friends still laugh about that one). I had never flown on an airplane until graduate school. (Now I’ve been all over, including Europe, Mexico, etc.) I started college wanting to be an optometrist, graduated with degrees in counseling and psychology instead, and subsequently spent several years working as a grant writer. Go figure!

I got a degree in print journalism (no laughing!), intended to get into magazines and wound up as a tech writer for a local software company. "Best-made plands of mice and all that" (if anybody gets that reference, I will be overjoyed.)

Thanks for talking with us, EJ! You've made a couple of good points here and I hope we see your work in print soon!


  1. Had a lot of fun answering these, Reece! Thanks again for letting me take over your blog this week! :)


  2. Go back to that first novel - you may find something salvageable. (I did.)
    And I'll admit I've never read a young adult story. Guess I'm too old to relate anymore.

  3. Great interview, E.J.

    There's definitely worth in taking a second look at the first novel. In my opinion, it must have been dear to your heart if you made yourself into a novelist with it. I'm going to completely overhaul mine some day.

    Also, Reece, I came as E.J's friend, but I'm liking your interview style. I may stick around a bit. :)

  4. Great interview E. J. As far as YA goes, I live with teenagers, so everything about them is annoying. lol...

  5. Great interview! And very cool that you graduated with degrees in counseling and psychology.

    "As crazy as it sounds, mostly by making engaging and believable characters. My ‘real’ world is 99% about the people in it and 1% about all the other stuff. If the characters in your story behave realistically and are enthralling, you can have talking cats or just about anything else going on in the world around them and pull it off."

    THIS. It doesn't sound crazy to me at all. I feel exactly the same way--whether I'm writing or reading.

  6. That is very cool, E.J.! I'm a psychology grad myself. In-depth study into the many avenues of humanity make for great character building, doesn't it?

    Awesome interview, you two! :)

  7. Thanks for the support gang!

    @Claire: You should definitely stick around. Reece does great things around here! :)

  8. Great interview of a great guy!

  9. What a great interview!! I thought using the HP novels as therapeutic tools was so interesting, and touching that the kids responded so well. Wonderful how that inspired you, EJ.

    Thanks for sharing this, Reece. Just discovered your blog through the interview and I'm looking forward to following.

  10. Great interview. I don't think I believe in writer's block, either.

  11. That's quite a list! I haven't gotten to read anything by Harris or Coehlo.