I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree T.J. Alexian to talk with me a little about his writing. T.J. lives in Attleboro, Massachusetts in a renovated green Victorian, along with seven ghosts and his long-time (and long-suffering) partner. He also has three kids and one spiritual kid, and their stories and their spirit form the heart and soul of his novel, Pictures of You. A profiled author in the Writer’s Digest book Writer with a Day Job and an award-winning communications specialist, Pictures of You is Alexian’s first novel, although he has two more being prepared for distribution: The Late Night Show and Confessions of a Diva Rotundo.
T.J., Why do you write?
Compulsion? Insomnia? Not enough love as a child?
That all may be true, but I can’t think of a better release to have. I’ve always felt that people who love to write possess the ability to rule the world. At least, the world of the page, or of the screen. And those who write well, who capture the interest of others and somehow manage to draw them into this world? Who have the ability to bring their stories so vividly to life that others believe in it, too, and get swept away from the mundane day-to-day and slip into the version of reality they’ve created? Now that’s a whole new level of power: for some, I’d call it eternal life.
That’s why I write. For the challenge of creating life, of aiming to capture lightning in a paperback, of somehow managing to breathe life into my own personal Frankenstein. One of these days, I’ll get it right!
How has writing impacted your life?
That’s a hard one to answer, because I can’t think of a day where I haven’t written, in some way, shape or form. So how would I know what life would have been without it?
Duller, that’s for sure. I think because I can write, I’ve never been bored. I don’t like it when people say they’re bored. How is that possible? There is always something to do in this world. Or at least, something to write.
I certainly think it’s given me an income, and the ability to take care of my family and live a somewhat comfortable life. That’s appreciated.
I also think it’s given me an outlet. For creativity, yes, but also as a means to express my frustrations and avoid blowing up. Besides writing, I direct plays, and I once had to deal with an extremely unreasonable actor who was playing my lead and also making my life miserable. Re-blocking scenes, staging tantrums. Rather than having a meltdown myself, I went home and wrote about the insane things he did each night. In my story, I made him as unreasonable and over-the-top as I could…hey, this was my version. It got to the point where I couldn’t wait to go to rehearsal, just to see how badly he’d behave, because that meant a new story for me to tell! I think that’s a great way to get rid of a problem.
Finally, writing has given me a chance to reach out and make connections, all across the world. I love that feeling. I love this shorthand way or bridging the distance. It’s truly a gift.
When do your best ideas come to you for a story?
Ideas are like flowers in a garden: they can pop up practically anywhere. I do think, though, as a general rule, my best ones occur in the morning. So why the heck am I writing this at night? Mornings are great for ideas, though. Afternoons are good for heavy writing.
The thing is, even when I’m not writing, I still am, in my head. Working through problem sentences and plot flaws. Thinking about my main character, and sometimes not very nice thoughts. And that’s why the morning is so great. You’ve had the whole day before, plus a few hours sleeping, to think things over. So if I can manage to wake up in time, it makes getting something down that much easier.
How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?
I always make it a point to thank someone for a positive review. If they take the time to write about what your story meant to them, it’s the least you can do.
I never respond to negative reviews—but I do read them. And hopefully, learn something.
What advice would you give to beginner writers?
Write every day. Even if you’re not feeling inspired. Even if you think you have nothing to say. Set a goal of one page, then one chapter, then ten. Or one poem. Or one song, wherever your inspiration leads you. And then, work at it. Rewrite. Improve. Little things can grow big over time. Ask any acorn.
Take classes in grammar. It’s not fun, I know. It can be as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist. Still, it will give you a better feel for the rules of the road and allow you to better express yourself. By the way, revisit this periodically. Like the dentist, a check-up never hurts.
Keep a journal. Seriously! Look at your own life as a story and the people in your life as characters who inhabit your world. Learn to tell your story vividly, because it will help to color and influence the stories you want to tell, and will make them that much more believable. Side note: it will also make you extremely annoying at family gatherings, because you’ll know the real story. And have evidence to back it up.
And finally, network. Talk to other creative people: authors, storytellers, illustrators, editors. Get to know them as people, and not simply as minions designed to advance your career. Successful writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and also, people can spot insincerity a mile away. Besides, couldn’t we all use a few more friends?