I cannot believe December starts at the end of this week. Where has the year gone already?? While I work on getting myself back on track posting more regularly here, I’ve got another interview from one of my fellow Mirrors & Thorns authors, J. Lee Strickland.
J. Lee Strickland is a freelance writer living in upstate New York. In addition to fiction, he has written on the subjects of rural living, modern homesteading and voluntary simplicity. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sixfold, Atticus Review, Jenny, Latchkey Tales, Scarlet Leaf Review, Workers Write!, Mad Scientist Journal, Pure Slush, Small Farm Journal, and others. He served as a judge for the 2015 and 2016 story South Million Writers Awards. He is at work on a collection of connected short stories vaguely similar in format to the long-defunct American television series ‘Naked City’ but without the salacious title.
So, without further adieu, here is the man of the hour!
What should we know about you?
I live in the wilds of upstate New York, and I do mean wilds. Bears, coyotes, porcupines, deer, etc. are regular visitors to my door yard. I love writing, and this place gives me the peace and solitude I need to practice the art. My partner and I live off-the-grid in a house we built ourselves, making our electricity from the sun, and we grow much of our own food. When the sun isn’t shining, we heat our home with wood. We enjoy the company of our dogs, our cat, and our chickens (and Daisy the goose), so it’s not all just scribbling and leisure!
Music and writing, how does it work for you?
I’m so pleased you asked that question, because it continues to amaze me that people listen to music while they’re writing. I remember seeing somewhere that Stephen King has mixes he listens to while he’s working, and I’ve heard of lesser-known authors as well who play everything from Baroque to Heavy Metal during writing sessions. I seem to need quiet in order to get anywhere. I might tolerate the distant sound of instrumental music, but lyrics will capture me every time, even if they’re in a language I don’t understand. I’d be willing to bet that all the writers who listen to music are right-handed and need the music to get their thinking into the proper hemisphere. We lefties are already in our right mind.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
George Saunders is the absolute master of the short story and broke some new ground with his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. Ted Chiang is amazing. I wish he would write more. Ursula LeGuin has been a pillar for me since I was in high school. I’ve read and re-read almost everything she’s written. Anne Patchett’s Bel Canto, Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, Joyce Carol Oates—I could go on. I always cite John Crowley as my all-time favorite, and I’m particularly excited to read his latest, Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr. I can’t stop without mentioning the great master of the novel, Thomas Hardy, another life-long influence.
Inspirations and ideas—where do you find them?
I dream a lot. I definitely get inspiration from dreams and fragments of dreams. I try to keep up with the latest in science and technology, and there’s often edgy stuff there that gets the creative juices flowing. For example, I learned a while back that the Pentagon was funding research into implanting mechanical and electronic augmentations into insects during the final phase of metamorphosis—the pupa or chrysalis phase. This would lead to a seamless incorporation of the enhancements into the insect’s body. It sounded bizarre and horrible, but it inspired my story “Machine to Describe a Moth,” which appeared in the Autumn 2017 issue of Mad Scientist Journal. I once discovered an entire novella embedded in the cover illustration of a book I was reading. The local newspaper is a steady source of the strange and unbelievable. I guess you could say that most of the time I’m drowning in ideas.
What is the one piece of advice you would want all aspiring authors to know?
I would want every writer to know that the more you write, the better you get at doing it. No one starts on day-one with a perfect command of the written form. I think it was Anne Patchett who said, and I’m paraphrasing, that she spent hours and hours putting on paper a miserable imitation of the beautiful prose she had in her head. This is every author’s experience. There is something luminous, almost ineffable, about that original conceptualization that the ordinary language of the written word can never capture, but practice, practice, and more practice brings us ever closer to that ideal. So don’t wait for the big idea that will change the world; write the small ideas that will hone your craft.
Anything else you want to share with us?
I hope people will take the time to find my author page on Facebook and follow me. It’s the best place to keep updated on my latest projects and publications. I also have a number of stories available for reading online. A search for J. Lee Strickland should lead you to them, as well as my print publications.
Don’t forget to pick up your copy of Mirrors & Thorns, and consider giving an extra copy as a holiday gift. Head to the OWS Bookstore for this and other wonderful books.