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Member Spotlight: James Edward Tobin

author James Edward Tobin smiling at the camera and an image of his book When We Were Wolves

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Creativity in writing is important to me. My inner child grew up hearing “be quiet, play safely, and don’t make mistakes.” But when I’m writing, I encourage the tyke to cavort inside my head. I wait until later drafts before I strike out flights of fancy that do not work. Until then, I experiment with a child-like curiosity. In a scene in my new novel, for example, my main character is so troubled and loaded with Ambien that he strikes up a short conversation with a Thomas Jefferson statue and doesn’t blink when the Founding Father gives him advice. To make the dialogue work, I teamed my inner child with my adult critical self to create a dash of magic realism in a story that was all too real. The writing thrilled me. As a medium, writing still plays an essential role in our world. Probably, no other medium connects the creator and the audience in the same way. Whatever the author intended to convey or depict is interpreted by the reader. The process is dynamic and unique to each person. In the past, great writing has sparked personal and social change. In the future, it will do the same.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? I don’t suffer from writer’s block, only laziness. For that ailment, I dispense my Irish Guilt, swallow a large dose, and get to work.

What is your favorite time to write? I love the mornings. The cup of hot coffee is on my left. The sun streams through my half-shuttered windows. My almost-unintelligible notes stare back at me. Waiting for my desktop to come to life, I lean back and try to remember what brilliant idea came to me in the middle of the night (which I didn’t write down). I try to shut out distractions, but the noise from the garbage truck passes through my defenses.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? In her book, Bird by Bird, the writer Anne Lamott quotes El. L. Doctorow: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Lamott advised writers to focus on the scene that they were currently working on, rather than looking too far ahead at a predetermined destination. By focusing on the scene in their headlights, writers can pay attention to their characters and listen to them. Authors might discover that the ending they had in mind no longer works for the story. The characters might want to head in a different direction, one that makes more sense to them. In my writing, I find Lamott’s advice works for me. I also realize that some writers like to create plotlines that are detailed and start their projects with an end in mind. I believe that each writer must find the balance that works for them as long as they are open to the occasional detour.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? Writing today is exciting because so many new writers have emerged from our globalized world. Once the industry opened up to diverse writers, stories appeared that gave me — a white male — new empathy tools to place in my toolkit. The world has expanded. Our thinking and writing must grow at the same pace.

J.E. Tobin’s When We Were Wolves is out now with Pale Horse Books.