My guest today is James Zerndt, award-winning author of two novels: The Cloud Seeders and The Korean Word For Butterfly. He was recently invited to speak as part of Northwest Voices in Washington. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he spends the majority of his time these days chasing after his two-year-old. In this interview he talks about The Cloud Seeders and the writer’s life.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book. What was your inspiration for The Cloud Seeders?
The idea for the book actually came while watching the news. There was something on about a drought in California, how there were all these restrictions on water usage, and there were these people ratting out neighbors for watering their lawns or washing their cars. I just sort of went from there and before I knew it, I had a short story called “Would You Rather.” The feedback I got from this short story was so positive that I decided I’d try to see if it had legs enough for a novel.
Who is your target audience?
When I wrote the book, I didn’t have a target audience in mind. In fact, I don’t think a writer should ever think about things like “target audiences” until after they’ve finished a book. I realize that’s contrary to a lot of advice out there, but I think a writer’s audience should simply be people who like to read quality books. Fall in love with your story, with your characters, and worry about the rest later.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
For me, the biggest anxiety I experience comes from not being able to get to the desk when I need to. If I try to go out with friends when I’m in the middle of something, all I can think about is getting back home and working. It’s sad, but true. I have a hard time thinking about anything else once I’m into something. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night sometimes with lines I need to jot down. Then there are the sticky notes all over my kitchen cabinets, bookcases, and refrigerator. Once it starts to come, it’s hard to shut off. My biggest fear during this phase of it is not being able to get things down on paper. Like somehow it’s all going to disappear. Which is silly because that never happens. Even so, it’s a constant worry.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I like to write in the mornings. I’ve just learned over the years that that’s the best time for me. I’m disciplined in the sense that when I have something I’m into, I find ways to get it done. When I was working on The Cloud Seeders, I had an hour-long commute every morning. I kept a notebook on the passenger seat and would constantly jot down notes or bits of dialogue to use later. While I wouldn’t recommend this, I did get very good at writing without having to look down.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
I don’t know what that means. I guess I don’t live a “writer’s life.” When I hear that phrase, I picture somebody pacing about with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other. I go to work. I raise my son as best I can. And I write when I can. Which, sadly, isn’t often these days.
But what I love about writing is how the time can just disappear. When it’s going good, you sort of raise your head and an hour has gone by. It’s not always like that, of course, but when it’s going good…yeah…almost nothing beats it.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
I don’t have an author website, but I have set up a blog here:
Where is your book available?
Both of my books are currently available on Amazon.
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Comments?
I actually have part of the essay this is from posted on a corkboard in my basement. The line preceding the one you have here reads “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy…” Which, sadly, is all too true. The “demon,” more often than not, is ego. The trick, I think, is to try and follow our better impulses and keep that bugger somewhere down near the bottom.
I also love this quote, something Cormac McCarthy once said about writing novels: “Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.”
For me, that’s it in a nutshell. If you can survive it, you’ll come out on the other end all that much stronger. And then, just when you’ve vowed never to do it again, you’ll go back for more.