Jim Winter is an eclectic creature. Computer programmer by day, writer the rest of the time. A nice guy and such a good writer even this Pittsburgh boy can’t despise his Cleveland origins. (Well, maybe his origins, but not him.) Jim is the creator of the Nick Kepler series of PI stories and novels. His Road Rules made my list of Best Reads for 2011. (Holy shit, has it been that long?)
Jim is also curator of the beyond eclectic blog Edged in Blue, where he discusses everything from his writing to writing in general to rock bands to presidential history. (No kidding. I looked forward to that monthly series so much I wish we had more presidents.)
A year ago Jim released all the short Kepler fiction in an e-anthology, The Compleat Kepler. This year he returns with 22 non-Kepler stories of “life going horribly awry,” titled The Compleat Winter. He took time from all of the above to submit to Twenty Questions.
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about The Compleat Winter.
Jim Winter: The Compleat Winter is a collection of all my non-series shorts over the years. That’s not entirely accurate. There are bits and pieces of a few embryonic series I played with now and then. There are also some shorts that I wrote to get my head around Holland Bay, which the novel sitting on a beta’s hard drive at the moment.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write The Compleat Winter, start to finish?
JW: Considering it’s a collection, about 12 years. The earliest story was written in 2001. The most recent in 2013.
OBAAT: How did The Compleat Winter come to be published?
JW: I thought about releasing all these, and the Nick Kepler stories as well, as single shorts. It’s an idea I may revisit someday, but for right now, I wanted to get them all into one place. There was one story that came from a challenge to make a short story out of a blog post. I wrote the first part as the post, then formatted it to look like Typepad comments. Unfortunately, not even the Wayback Machine has it anymore.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
JW: It’s cliché, but I’ve been going through Stephen King’s body of work chronologically. For all his excesses, the one thing he has never failed at is creating a sense of place. None of those towns in Maine or Colorado (except Boulder) exist, but they seem real. I also try to read Mark Twain as much as possible anymore. He’s the original American smartass.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
JW: King, obviously. Twain. Elmore Leonard and Robert B. Parker taught me a lot about brevity.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
JW: I generally don’t outline short stories unless it’s a compelling concept that doesn’t really work at first. I wrote Second Hand Goods without an outline, but I everything else long that I’ve written has been outlined. There’s a non-crime project I’m working on now that I’ve gotten away from in the past week. Without an outline, there would be no way I could get back into it.
OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
JW: I try not to edit too much on the first pass. If I’m away from the story for longer than a day or two, I’ll go back through and try to weed out contradictions or continuity flaws before getting back to work.
Once the draft is done, it goes in the drawer for weeks, maybe months. I also accept that the second draft may be a rewrite from scratch. That’s a recent development, but I’ve found if you come back to your first draft rather hostile to it, you end up creating a better story for your trouble.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
JW: Never fall in love with your first draft. Ever.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
JW: I run. I’m a bit of a computer nerd. Lately, I’ve been having fun playing with graphics.
OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?
JW: The latter tends to give you the former if you get enough of them.
OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?
JW: I’d have to find some other creative outlet. Maybe I could finally learn piano only 40 years after I promised my mother I’d take lessons.
OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.
JW: Hybrid. If I was starting out now, I’d have a solid critique circle and self-pub some novellas, get the attention of some smaller presses and work my way up.
OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
JW: Beer. Liquor’s fine, but it can kill you.
OBAAT: Baseball or football?
JW: Anymore, I’m a football guy. If I were English or Irish, I’d be a soccer hooligan. Right now, I’m rooting for the Broncos despite growing up a Browns fan because I think Brady needs to feel the pain of The Drive and The Fumble. Plus Peyton Manning should go out on a high note.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
JW: Well, the other writer who shares my skull is banging out the draft of a science fiction novel that’ll probably get a massive rewrite this summer. In the meantime, I’m awaiting the red ink on Holland Bay so I can move on to the next step with it. It’s going to be great: 87th Precinct meets The Wire.