TJ Neathery–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I prefer local coffee shops (note the plural use of “shops”). I appreciate a change of scenery now and then. Right now I have about three or four coffee shops that I cycle through any given month. I just love the ambient noise and the little distractions that help energize my writing process.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

Ideally, I like to write longhand in a college-rule notebook. I wrote my first novel manuscript on two notebooks. The ability to take notes is important to me. For example, I might think of a scene that should come ten pages later so I just write that idea in the margins. I can’t really do that as easily on a computer. I also love writing with Pilot G2 07 pens. Those are the best pens. End of discussion.

What is your routine for writing?

Waking up around 7:30 am and heading to a coffee shop. Granted, it depends on the project. Right now I’m writing a weekly local artist feature/interview. The routine for that is much different than, say, writing a novel or short story. Deadlines are a big difference. But the length is a factor, too. I can sit down after a long day of work and transcribe an interview just fine. It’s harder to do that with a novel. That’s why I like blocking out larger sections of time to write fiction.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I wrote my first stories as a kid—five or six years old. However, I started taking fiction writing seriously my junior year of college after taking my first workshop. A professor encouraged me to pursue my MFA and so I did.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

Someone who’s honest about problems in the world and someone who still has hope despite that honestly. Someone who’s willing to engage in theology but, again, in an honest and vulnerable way.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

Many of my stories were inspired by friends who wrote in different styles and genres than I did. I don’t really write sci-fi or fantasy. I lean more realistic or historical. But a friend in grad school challenged me to write a sci-fi story and it was fun being able to incorporate new themes into my writing. It also pushed me outside my writing comfort zone.

Personally, I’m inspired by faith. In almost all of my stories, I’m exploring how characters struggle with and are influenced by religious faith in some shape or form. My writing hero is Marilynne Robinson, and her book Gilead has been extremely important to my identity as a writer.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

One of my hobbies is collecting tangible music. CD’s and vinyl mostly. I own about 350 CDs that I’ve amassed since high school. There’s just something about listening to a full album that relaxes me. Spotify is great, but sometimes I get tired with the scattered, never-ending playlists that I listen to. Records end and I have to make the conscious effort to flip the album over to the next side. That’s kind of crazy in today’s media environment. Plus, I love being able to pick up a keepsake whenever I go to a memorable live show. For those of you familiar with the Enneagram, I’m a type five. That explains the memento thing.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Having my work published. Just kidding. I love the moment when the story “clicks.” It’s the same with writing academic, argumentative essays. I often spend a lot of time doing research and creating outlines and writing bits and pieces to explore my characters. But there’s always a moment when I realize something. “Oh, that’s what the central conflict will be!” or “That’s the key motivation!” After that, the story just opens up and I can breathe for a second. It’s moments like these that keep me writing.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Find out what you can and can’t compromise on. If you decide to only write dark/horror novellas about train conductors told from the second person, then I wish you the best. But you might find it difficult to find homes for your work, and you might want to rethink your standards/requirements. Then again, if you’re championing a special cause, trying to love another human being through your work, or if you’re contributing a unique voice to the writing community, then by all means follow your passions and don’t compromise. Here’s an example from my life. I prefer reading and writing longer short stories (6000-7000 words). However, current publications tend to prefer 3000 word stories or even flash fiction. Of course, I’m trying to keep the integrity of my writing intact, but I’m currently pushing myself to work within these shorter restraints. And I’ll likely become a better writer for it. Crisp, efficient writing never hurt anybody.


Check out TJ’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2.


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