Timothy Vincent (Tim Smith) is a published and award-winning author. His work has appeared in multiple genres and literary magazines. His previous creative writing publications include the novels Prince of the Blue Castles and The Red House on the Hill (Argus). His short stories have appeared in 3288 Review (as Tim Smith) Xchyler’s Toll of Another Bell Anthology, The Bacon Review, Suspense Magazine, and The WriteRoom. He is a former winner of the Terri Ann Armstrong Short Story Contest (“Star-Crossed,”), and a top 25 finalist in Glimmer Trainís new writer contest in 2010. Prince of the Blue Castles was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion, Best Fiction/Literary Award and a Chanticleer Blue Ribbon Review. His latest novel, Jack Out of the Box, will be out Fall 2017. A traveler of the world and learning, he holds a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition, and an MFA from Fairfield University (summer 2018), where he teaches. He can be reached on Facebook (Timothy Vincent), or through his author’s page at timothyvincentauthor.com.
Featured Author: Timothy Vincent Interview
- How long have you been writing?
- What/who inspired you to be a writer?
- What genre do you prefer to write in?
- Describe your writing process. What comes first–character or plot? Do you “pants” it or outline?
- What is your daily/weekly routine as a writer?
- Are there any software tools, resources, or websites you often use while writing?
- What are some of your biggest challenges you feel like you have to overcome in your writing career?
- Do you have a set number of words per day you target? Or do you set other goals to meet?
- Do you prefer short stories or full-length novels in your writing?
- How much time is spent on “the business of writing” – queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?
- Can you give some us some insight into your story in Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths Vol.1?
- What advice can you give other writers?
LHP: How long have you been writing?
Timothy Vincent: I’ve been telling stories, in various forms, since I was very young. But I mark a significant moment in my writing around the late 90’s. That’s when I started working on stories for submission. It still took me a long, long time to submit something, but the goal had been set. That changed something for me. My habits and my approach shifted to another/different level. I’d been writing before, but now I was aware of my writing as a craft and an art to be shared. I wanted to be a writer.
As soon as I recognized that, I started to work for it. I paid attention to craft, and style, and the profession. I checked my ego at the door, and turned a careful eye to each story, looking to make it stronger. I started researching publishers and reading on the tools of the trade in all the magazines and sites I could get my hands on.
Publishing didn’t happen right away. I keep an excel sheet of all the stories and novels I’ve submitted over the years. The earliest publication I have is 2011. There are a lot of declines on the list, far more than accepted (those are in bold, of course), but 2011 was another big moment. That goal, that sense of being a writer—of writing—went up a notch, or maybe evolved is a better description; it was another kind of start, if you will, to writing. Subsequent publications, the occasional contest win or place, the novels, have increased that feeling.
Now I’m looking for the next step, the next start. Back to top >>>
LHP: What/who inspired you to be a writer?
Timothy Vincent: I’ve been asked this question many times, and each time I respond with a different memory, a different time. This is what came to mind this time around.
I remember checking The Hobbit out of my grade school library and sensing that I had stumbled onto something more than just a delightful story, an enjoyable experience. I admired, to the extent a third grader can admire, the person behind the experience, the writer. I wanted to do that, too.
There were many stories, many authors that followed, mostly suspense, fantasy, and science fiction in those early days, but with a healthy smattering of fable, children’s literature, and myths thrown in, as well. Of course, I was introduced to the canon and other important works through school—but that was a different type of inspiration. There was something about “discovering” a writer, and my own tastes.
As the years went by, I would enjoy Piers Anthony, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Patricia A. McKillip, and Roger Zelazny. My world grew richer, broader, with each new voice.
Later still, I moved to more literary works, including Kafka, Toni Morrison, and Walker Percy. Importantly, Percy turned me on to Kierkegaard, who in turn (through an odd tangent of poetics and philosophy) led to Chuang Tzu, which led to a dissertation. My sense of wonder and paradox were awakened with these two writers, giving me a window to life and realism and the mysterious gray parts in-between. Inspiration comes from unexpected places; and often, the more unexpected, the more striking.
I discovered Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald still later in life. So, too, Joyce Carol Oates, and Denis Johnson. Kurt Vonnegut and Jorge Luis Borges somehow inspired me all over again, in ways both new and familiar.
This is not an accurate account or even a good sampling. But they’re the works and writers I’m thinking of, today when I think of inspiration.
Then there were the flesh and blood mentors; those writers I had the fortune to work under for a time in creative classes and formal study. John Ehle was the first, and he taught me the value of a wry disposition when editing. Frank L. Dobson and Richard Bausch, followed. Most recently, after a small lifetime of writing, I was inspired again by all the good people at Fairfield’s MFA program.
All of these writers, in their own way, lit the candle of possibility and awareness, showing me the foundations and stylings of the craft without taking away any of the mystery. I doubt many would remember the skinny boy from Kentucky in the back of the room, but they left an invaluable impression, and I am forever grateful.
Inspiration has come again with the people I’ve met through the business end of writing: the editors, the publishers, the agents, fellow writers, and of course, the readers. A kind word, a helpful suggestion, a warm, spontaneous review—these are incredibly important to a writer. They balance (if we’re lucky or open to it) the rejections, sweat, and frustration that are also part of the life.
I guess I’m arguing that inspiration, like writing itself, is never a moment of past tense. It carries on in new and various forms. It’s happening now, just outside my window, and in the people I meet, the stories I read, the music I listen to, the movies and TV I watch, the dreams that leave a mark.
But if you need a more definitive answer…
Well, today, I’m remembering that little library at St. Bernard grade school, and all those fabulous gifts contained on the shelves in the back corner, on the far wall. Everyone should have such a library. Back to top >>>
LHP: What genre do you prefer to write in?
Timothy Vincent: I prefer to move in and out various genres, and to mix them whenever the story calls for it. My favorite writers to this day, tend to bend and break the rules. Roger Zelazny was adept at multiple genres, and often blended aspects of each to craft his story. That impressed me early on. I think it also goes back to those other favorites, Kierkegaard and Chuang Tzu, who never let something like tradition and conformity get in the way of a good bit of writing, philosophical or otherwise.
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LHP: Describe your writing process. What comes first–character or plot? Do you “pants” it or outline?
Timothy Vincent: Most of my stories begin with a vague sense of character or scene. I once built a story, and then a novel, around a stranger I saw in a Starbucks. Plot finds its way in there soon after the initial sketches, though generally I get a sense of conflict before the actual events of the story formulate (what kind of mess could my Starbuck’s stranger get into?). Rarely does a story plot arrive fully dressed and I put a character to it.
I have experimented with outline, but tend to avoid formally drafting out the events. I’m too lazy to work a task. I like to be surprised by what might come out, and there is a certain edge of creativity that gets (for me) deflated if I’m following a map. The thunder-fly in me wants to jump to the next thing, the new, the fresh, the unknown. That can lead to a big problem. To illustrate my point, I have a novel that’s been sitting for some time because I wrote out the final third in a bullet outline. It’s not written, of course; but somehow feels finished to me. It is going to take a great amount of will to pick the story up again and write that back third. Maybe if I wait long enough, I’ll just throw the outline out and start again.
On the other hand, there comes a point in every story and novel that I want to know I have an ending. I’ve had too many pieces die the death of the endless horizon, the now-what’s? I’m better now at recognizing that moment when I need to start “seeing the end,” however sketchy it might be. Even then, though, I try not to be too finite, too definitive. I know the neighborhood where I’m going to generally end up, but I might still be surprised by the actual house I stop at. I want that freedom.
Of course, rules and practices are made to be broken, so there have been exceptions. And it never really goes in steps, anyway. It’s usually just a big mess of impressions, starts and stops, pants and plotting, surprises, frustrations, deliberation, and—if I’m lucky—a little magic. The only real process I know I must follow is to write, as often as well as I can. Back to top >>>
LHP: What is your daily/weekly routine as a writer?
Timothy Vincent: For years I tried to write every day, preferably in the morning. I still do. I generally write for a about two hours, some days less, some days more. But two seems to be the sweet spot. I work from home, usually at a table with a window view to something green and living.
I used to write any time or place. Back in the early days, I kept odd hours, so that might have something to do with it. I would carry my spiral notebook/laptop/tablet to the coffee shop, put on my Walkman/MP3/iPod (there’s a brief history if anyone wants to extrapolate), and write. Now everything seems more hectic, more draining, and I find if I don’t write in the morning I won’t write at all. And by morning, I mean first thing, right after brushing the teeth and with that first cup of coffee.
If I’m starting a piece, it’s usually after I have that scene or first line that can’t be ignored anymore and has to be put down. When I’m in the middle of a piece, I follow the Hemmingway practice of editing the last section of what I was writing (no more than a page or two). I also follow the practice of leaving myself a half-written sentence the day before, one I know the ending to. By the time I get to this sentence, and finished my brief edits/revision, I’m back in the story, the voice, the style, the things that have been cooking on the back burner overnight. Then I finish the sentence (as I planned), and generally, I’m off again. It’s not foolproof, but it beats staring at the page, waiting for the muses to call.
I’ll mention one last habit that I picked up somewhere along the way. I don’t necessarily recommend this to other writers, but its helped me as a new writer. I often worked on more than one story at a time in the early days. If for some reason I couldn’t start with one, I’d jump to the next. There was no rhyme or reason to the practice. The stories could be in various stages of development, different genre, and even length (I could, and often did, go from novel to short story; a suspense thriller to humorous sci-fi). Whatever was working that day.
One benefit to this approach was a wealth of material, which I can still draw on today.
Another benefit to the freewheeling approach, however, was a better sense of plot, craft, and style. You can read about these things in writing “how to” books. You can also learn them vicariously through what you read. But nothing creates awareness and appreciation of your techniques—including that “voice” you may be looking for—like actually writing. By jumping from one story, one genre, I became aware of how the language, diction, style, and beats I used, varied among different forms; how they created their own sense of meaning and experience. There is a language to suspense that is different than science fiction or general fiction. It’s not that don’t share things in common (you’re still telling a story, and all the things go with that), but they emphasize those shared qualities differently.
But I also discovered that working across—and blending those same genres and styles—did not preclude a literary sensibility. For me what makes a piece literary, is an elevated sense of language and craft. I believe this is possible in genre, as well. I personally prefer a more literary style. Even as I jumped from one story, one genre, I always kept that literary sensibility/goal in mind. I try to make that a point in all my stories, whatever genre.
I don’t jump as often as I used to. I tend to have deadlines now, so I’m forced to work with one piece at a time, and often under pressure. That’s led to a few new frustrations: staring at the page and trying to ignore the tick-tock of running time; a fear that I’m losing valuable creative time.
It’s also led to finished, publishable works. So, there’s that. Back to top >>>
LHP: Are there any software tools, resources, or websites you use often while writing?
Timothy Vincent: Other than Word (when I compose on the computer, and I generally do), no. I will occasionally do a library/google search about some technical detail (clothing style, dates and styles, clothing, houses, etc.). But this can be distractive, so if it looks like I have to do a deep research, I like to do that early on in the process.
LHP: What are some of your biggest challenges you feel like you have to overcome in your writing career?
Timothy Vincent: I read somewhere Borges’s father told him not to rush to publish. Good, good, advice. Despite the impression I might have given above, I have rushed in the past, and still do, if I’m not careful.
There usually comes a time that I know I have an interesting idea, a good story to tell. I put it together, including revisions and early edits. That doesn’t mean it’s ready. It takes a great deal of patience and determination to revise and polish, and revise again. But it takes something else altogether to know when it is time to submit (and where, but that’s another issue). It’s not just a matter of having a clean document and well-structured narrative. You can follow the recipe, but that doesn’t guarantee a memorable soup—and that’s what you’re aiming for; not good, memorable.
But I’ve got this brand new shiny story, and it’s good, and I’m flush with that post-creative glow, and I so want to share it…
And that’s when I have to stop and remind myself: Don’t rush to publish.
It’s a real challenge for me take my new, beautiful little baby, and look at it with objective eyes, to look at it for the memorable, not just the good. I’ve come to understand that the two extremes—never submitting, and submitting too soon—share a common ground: they both are excuses not to do the hard work.
Just to be clear: I’m not talking about having the story “perfect,” if there is such a thing. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an editor or publisher that recognizes the memorable-potential of your story. The best help you bring it to being. But I suspect the chances of being published increase greatly if the editors don’t feel like they must invest a year of their life in bringing the story to its fullest form. Too, publishers and editors share different sensibilities and tastes. You might make it through their idea of polished, only to find when you read your work later in its published form that there are moments you wish you could take back. I’ve learned to be more careful about my submissions. Better to send the polished-memorable versions up front. Its naturally easier with short stories than the novels.
But there’s that brand new shiny story, and I am so eager to share it…
Don’t rush to publish. Back to top >>>
LHP: Do you have a set number of words per day you target? or do you set other goals to meet?
Timothy Vincent: No set number, but I can tell when I’ve had a good day. Surprisingly, these are not always those marathon sessions you occasionally get (four hours, all night, that type of thing.) Those are great for bulk, but I generally find I end up having to edit those sections very carefully and with a determined knife. Sometimes a good day is just one sentence. Something that gets me over a difficult spot, or brings everything together, or just keeps the ball rolling. Fifteen minutes in the morning and one sentence, is better than two hours and nothing. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
LHP: Question: How much time is spent on “the business of writing” – queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?
Timothy Vincent: This is related in some ways to the writing habits question. The business of writing is becoming a bigger part of my time. I think it is just inevitable. You’re going to have to put the time in to market your work if you want to succeed. Like many writers, I would prefer someone else do it, but unless you hit it out of the park early on (a New York bestseller, The New Yorker, etc.,), it’s pretty much up to you.
I’ve discovered that not only takes time, but energy. Query letters, agent and publisher searches, submissions, public readings, websites, blogs, etc., tap that limited supply of creative energy I have each day to draw on. And if you happen to work a full-time job like me (I teach at a University), then that reserve is stretched even further.
It has come to the point now, that I give myself a pass on the “write everyday” rule, and I set aside some mornings just to do the business end of writing. I haven’t set up a schedule or rule about this, in part because I still believe the actual writing comes first. I’ve tried to do the business end after the writing sessions, but I admit, it’s a struggle. Again, limited energy/available time. I don’t have a good answer yet, as to how to balance the two. But I do know I have to do both.
LHP: Do you prefer short stories or full length novels in your writing?
Timothy Vincent: I don’t have a preference either way. I like working in all lengths, including flash and novellas. I suppose that goes along with my multi-genre experience and sensibilities. Back to top >>>
LHP: Can you give some us some insight into your story, “A Picture of You” in Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths Vol.1?
Timothy Vincent: Like most of my stories, it started off with an image, a bit of the scenery. I’m trying to remember, because this story has a long history, but I think the sound of heels clicking on a floor of glass was one of the first impressions. I do remember I wanted to do a piece that blended human drama and the fantastic. I had also just finished a modern-day suspense piece, and still had that who-dunnit bug. But I wanted to work in another genre. The glass became a planet, the story took on a science fiction feel, and I had me genre. Not to give too much away, but somewhere in the creative mix I began to play with the idea of archetypes and personified powers, and of course, human pathos. No matter what world we inhabit, or gifts we are given, we always have those pesky human foibles, like jealousy and pride, to deal with. Obviously, the lead character is awakening to that reality in the story. Beautiful lies and painful truths is an apt description of that experience, and one that drew my attention to the anthology. I wrote the story before I saw the theme, but it sometimes it works out that way, and the stars align. Back to top >>>
LHP: What advice can you give other writers?
Timothy Vincent: Write (every day, if possible).
Don’t rush to publish.
Trust your instincts, but have a good ear as well.
Other than that, there’s the chestnuts: read as much as you can. Go back to the authors you like or admire and read them again and again. Stop in mid-read to consider how they did what they did. Occasionally read outside your favorite types. Build a network of trusted readers, editors, and other writers. Listen to all feedback, but don’t presume everything is of equal value.
When you have something worth publishing, submit. Be ready for rejection. Submit again. Remember, rejection is part of the price we pay. Don’t give up easily. I recommend doing a google search for famous writers who were rejected—you’re going to be surprised. I keep mine where I can look at it from time to time to remind me it’s a reality that even the best have had to suffer. It never gets easy, by the way, rejection. But you do grow helpful calluses in time. Remember, they’re not rejecting you, just the story. And if it is a good story, they probably passed as a matter of taste and/or fit—not value. Find that publisher who wants that story.
On a practical level, don’t throw anything out. And if you use a computer, save multiple drafts. If you make a significant edit, save it as a new draft. I use a number system: A Picture of You1, A Picture of You2, etc. Sometimes you’ll realize that an earlier draft has something you need again.
Every rule can, and probably has been, broken. But the rules are there, just the same. Ignore them at your own risk.
You’re going to have to do the “business end,” eventually. Consider your platform and marketing approaches—there are many available to you. Tailor your submissions to meet your goals. It is more than okay to start with small presses and magazines and build up from there if you are working on a long-term career. Remember, your first story may be very good, but odds are it’s not going to be your best ever.
Finally, a lot of new writers wrestle with the question, how do I know if I can do this? If you are writer, you will write, so don’t sweat that. You won’t be able to help yourself. Not every story you bring to life will be published (or should be), but they all contribute. Find your way to the stories you want to tell in the way you want to tell them. With persistence and hard work, eventually, you will get published. Then the next part of the journey begins. Back to top >>>
Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths Vol.1
Timothy Vincent recently authored “A Picture of You” for Beautiful Lies Painful Truths, going on sale in November 2017.