Serious Reading Interviews James Dick, author of Thou Shall Not Take Our Land

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

I knew as a child that I loved to write. I successfully won awards at school for writing and enjoyed it immensely but I never became what I can really call a person devoted to the art until late in my 50’s when I began preparing for retirement.  I started a blog, was successful in having published a number of devotionals, commentaries and reminiscences about days past, but the idea for a novel didn’t come until actual retirement about five years ago.  I wrote an easy reading book on animals and, after that, the “bug” bit me. I planned to make it a hobby but my dedication has grown and here I am now with my first novel.

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

It would have been difficult had I not decided to start a blog. I write about either politics, nature, past reminiscences or my faith and post daily to share my views and experiences. Trying to write a good post daily keeps me on target by giving me an incentive to write every day. I have religiously stuck to it for over five years now, with only a few days off. I recommend having a daily blog to anyone who might hesitate to regularly write. Practice is habit forming and the more you write the better you get.

What inspires you to write?

Life around me as well as events taking place in the world.  Living in a rural area with a beautiful meadow bordered by large pines, I am surrounded by inspiration in the living land and the Creator who gave us such things.  I also get inspiration from surfing the net about a variety of subjects and listening to music, beautiful music which I find naturally inspiring.  Being interested in the study and action of American politics and topics routinely coming up give me a baseline, particularly for this, my first novel.

Do you think writers have a normal life like others?

Being a believer in individualism, it’s not easy to define what normal should be for everyone, excepting standard requirements for all of us to be honorable and non-violent in what we do. But writers are like anyone else.  We eat, sleep, work and dream, and no two people are absolutely alike nor would we want them to be.  I enjoy time with others, but I also enjoy quiet time when I can dream with my eyes wide open, a great way to plan for my next big writing adventure.

Life is for the living. You don’t want to isolate yourself and become a loner, but you also have to have the times of solitude to work and it does take concentration.  A happy balance is what usually works.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

My favorite time to write is early in the morning, when all is calm and quiet. It’s when I do my best work for I usually go to bed the night before thinking about what I am working on and how I want to phrase it. When I wake up, a plan is usually beginning to formulate itself in my mind. But writing is something that needs to be done when the spirit moves you as well, so I carry a little notebook with me for jotting down things I think of on the spot. And at the earliest possible moment, I do get to the keyboard.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I like to develop a mental outline of what I want to write about and why, then I just make some brief notes of how I want it to unfold.  It’s not a formal outline, just notes similar to those I used to take in class at college.  It establishes some general points but leaves me free to adjust as I go.  Then when I get it started on paper, I just write and let it take me where my mind goes, sometimes close to the mark, sometimes into areas I hadn’t planned for at all.

As an example, in my current political fiction, the story broadened considerably as I went along. But it was necessary because as the mind really opens up on paper, new avenues are constantly crossed and need to be considered.  And here’s the important thing to remember about it: it’s just the first of many drafts, to be adjusted, cut or expanded after closer review and reading.

Always let your creativity flow and follow your “gut” on whatever it is that you write in fiction. After all, it brings the real “you” out and as an independent writer, it has to be you or it won’t be your work.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last?

At first it was a big problem, frequently caused by not properly focusing, but practice makes perfect and my publication of a blog to require daily writing solved it quickly. I now write at least two hours a day, regardless of what it might be about, but it gets the mind flowing and that’s what develops the passion.  You just can’t wait to put your ideas and thoughts on paper.

There is one exception, however, and it is to pace yourself and not to push too hard all the time. Sometimes you just need to get up from the computer and take a walk, smell the roses and appreciate what is in the world around you. It relaxes the mind, lets you clear your head and then you’ll be much better prepared to drive on with your book.

Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

Just write, write and write some more. It doesn’t have to be about your book but it will put your mind on paper and that, in itself, will motivate you to get back at it. I highly recommend having a blog as a tool to help, although if you enjoy writing letters that can work for you as well. Try putting a picture on paper like an artist does on canvas, that’s the real you.

Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I’ll be perfectly frank; I am tight with a dollar and don’t like to spend money on something that I think I can do better myself.  Perhaps it’s largely because I come from Scottish stock but, being retired, spending a fortune to be lazy is not part of my vocabulary of life.  I do have a few trusted people who read and critique my work, but I don’t hire readers.  Now some say this is foolish, but I’m of the mind that if I want it to be my book, then that means it’s my responsibility to put it together.  I don’t expect others to agree with that and I’m sure it can cause some difficulties but, then again, I enjoy challenges. Half of writing is being willing to deal with issues and finding a way to get over them using your own talents and initiative.  But, being new at the novel game, only time will ultimately tell.  I’ll just keep plugging, regardless, Mama didn’t raise a quitter.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

If you enjoy writing when you’re young, don’t wait until middle age to go for it with a book. There is something about seeing a finished product with your own name on it that is quite an accomplishment in itself.  Just think how many people there are out there who have never tried. And if by doing so you really get the writing “bug”, just go for it. Don’t wait until tomorrow; tomorrows come fast and sooner than you think you just might run out of them.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Never be afraid to try. Don’t hesitate; we all have great experiences and backgrounds that have components others would enjoy hearing about it. Just think of a novel as telling a story on paper. People just love to hear stories if they can “see” them as they read.  If you can capture that ability and practice it, you’ll be a winner.

Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?

I can go all the way back to the kiddie books: The Little Engine That Could and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I believe both were Little Golden Books.  But my first real book was a children’s history book about John Paul Jones, then Huckleberry Finn. Both made me want to read more. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), the author of the latter, certainly brought his stories to life.

Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?

I don’t know if it’s unique or not but I try to write like I talk. Stories need to be told and writing them as if your audience was sitting in the room listening to a talk is what I aim for.  Sometimes I get in trouble with the spell checker and such because I like to use style that matches the person speaking in the book. Being a Southerner, I try to portray the more relaxed way the character might speak in a Southern setting. The goal is realism, not a formal and stiff display.

Do your novels carry a message?

Well, I can’t say novels with an “s” because this is my first novel and fiction as well. But it is my third book, the other two include a series of commentaries based upon real things that support my religious faith and a family book about life with animals.

All of my books carry a message, but in the case of my political fiction it is to hopefully get Americans to pay attention to their government and what it is doing.  Americans are very lazy when it comes to overseeing their government; most of us think that all we have to do is vote and then things will be taken care of. But as we see especially in these trying times, it is important for citizens to stay alert, stay informed and stand up for what they believe. Freedom requires work and when citizens become passive, freedom can be easily lost.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

My first book about animals had a lot of both me and my wife in it because it was a book about our life with our animal friends, both domestic and wild in rural America.  After all, we are animal lovers. And in the case of my religious book, the book is a composite of a number of blog pieces I wrote about my faith and what it means to me. In the case of my political fiction, the answer is found in the next question.

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

In the case of this, my third book and my first novel, there are bits and pieces of me and some others in my life who have played a part in making me who I am today. It’s just limited to setting the narrative around a family and an issue I have been involved with. The issue in the book, however, takes it to a realm far beyond any difficulties that I experienced, but the fiction takes it into the future which is much more impactful than my own experience and that is some of the beauty about fiction. It is limitless, yet very powerful in putting out a message that is important.  The message is certainly my message because I think if we don’t understand that things like my story can happen if we aren’t vigilant and strong.

When you were young, did you ever see writing as a career or full-time profession?

The first time the thought even crossed my mind was while reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea as a teenager.  Having spent teen summers on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with lots of salt water and fishing, the story struck my fancy and I could dream about having the ability to write a story like that.  But then, it was back to the city life and my thoughts turned to other things where they stayed to a large degree until middle age. But that thought did come back. Oh yes, it did.

Is it true that authors write word-perfect first drafts?

All I can say about this question is that if there is such an author, I’ve never seen one and I’m certainly not one. But sometimes a first draft can be pretty good, but never perfect. On the other side, you can go back over the work so many times that you can actually ruin a good piece, so there is a balance to be found.

Is writing a book series more challenging?

If you have the right project, it’s a natural. When I started putting together my current novel in my mind, I knew it would result in multiple volumes.  The reason?  Different parts are clearly delineated, yet each requires a lot of detail to effectively cover the process unfolding.  To put it into one long book would, in my opinion, detract from it since time constraints limit the amount of time readers want to devote to one particular subject.

With a series, the reader has time to digest a segment and, if the objective is completed, they will be anxiously awaiting the upcoming next edition. It might even interest some who haven’t even read the earlier volume to read it so that they will ready for the new one either before or after it is published. Building anticipation under the right circumstances is always a desired outcome.

What do you do in your free time?

My wife and I are horse lovers and have a number of the wonderful equine creatures. I spend many hours in the barn caring for them. And, of course, with our wonderful dogs and barn cats, it’s a great change of pace from the keyboard. That and my civic involvement and church activities keep me quite active, while affording many opportunities to observe and identify subjects for future use in my writing.

What is the ultimate goal in your life as a writer?

I want to continue to write as long as the Good Lord allows and enhance my skill in the art. I plan on publishing, as a minimum, a book a year, largely in the same subjects I’ve been using to date but, who know, the future could be anything.  Would I like to produce a real winner and a best seller?  Of course, but what’s really important is that I continue to be productive and gain an audience that enjoys my work. Even though I started later in life than most, I’ve got a lot of stories to get out. There’s plenty of work to be done and it truly exercises my mind.

I want to thank Serious Reading for the opportunity to participate in this interview. Your organization is providing a great service to independent writers and I, for one, deeply appreciate it.

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