Terence Hawkins is doing a virtual book tour for his novel The Rage of Achilles. He’s making a stop here and stop fabulous advice for other writers. Namely, never give up! (He’s right, you know!)
Enjoy this interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?
I’m originally from a coal mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania called Uniontown.
Through some catastrophic system failure in the admissions office I got into Yale. I started fooling around with writing there, but didn’t start seriously until I was well into my thirties, about fifteen years ago.
What type of writing do you do?
This book is historical fiction. My second, which is still in progress, is probably best characterized as crossover or multi-genre—-part science fiction, part political satire, part noir thriller. Otherwise short stories that aim for dark and funny.
What’s the best thing about writing?
It’s the only place you can say exactly what think.
Share some of your writing goals.
I’ve actually never thought in those terms. Maybe I should. To the extent I’m goal- driven it’s to publish what I’ve written. Oh, yeah, and get a Pulitzer for it. And lots of money.
Is there a specific time of day you like to write?
Nights. I realize a lot of writers get up early and write before going to work. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work for me. It’s like working out in the morning. Great concept—for other people. I’ve come to accept it and work around it.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
Gore Vidal’s Julian. I’ve never found anything that made the past come to life like that. I read it for the first time when I was twelve—probably a bad idea—-and now I reread it every few years.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was seven I set out to write a book. It began, “during world war II.” That’s as far as I got. I didn’t capitalize the D, either. Between the ages of thirteen and fifteen I wrote a science fiction novel called “The Peacemakers’ War” that was basically an exercise in plagiarism. I stitched together ideas from every book I’d ever read. Nevertheless I finished it. On an upright manual, no less.
Raymond Chandler, Evelyn Waugh, SJ Perlman, George Garrett, Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, JP Dunleavy, George MacDonald Fraser, William Boyd, Tom Perrotta, Richard Selzer.
Book you’re currently reading?
Beat the Reaper, How It Ended, and Wolf Hall. I usually have two or three started until I figure out which one takes priority. Then of course the NYRB arrives and I have to start over with the books because I’ve forgotten what I’ve read.
Any type of writing ritual you have?
As I said I work at night and I try to organize things so that I have pretty large chunks of time available—two to four hours. For some time I just told my wife she was available to babysit our nephews every Friday night until further notice. I’d then start as soon as I got back from the gym, usually around eight, and work until two in the morning. It’s logistically impossible to do that more than twice a week. Sometimes during the week I’ll try to work in a two hour stretch as well.
That’s when I’m working on a first or second draft. Revisions I handle like an adult. I work at my office rather than home. I wait for my paralegal to leave at five, clear my desk, and work until seven, every day, until it’s done. I have no idea of why.
Incidentally, I used to listen to music while I wrote but no longer do. It gets in the way. I don’t understand how people can write in coffee shops. And I think it was Hemingway who said you should always stop in the middle of a sentence. It’s worked for me; finishing the sentence gets the momentum going again.
Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?
I know I’m jinxing myself but no. Of course when I’m not actively working on something I start wondering whether I’ll ever have an idea again. Fortunately I have enough stuff sitting on the hard drive waiting to be worked over that I could conceivably spend the balance of my career revising it. I suppose that’s a hidden blessing of frequent rejection; it’s always there to be worked on more and resubmitted elsewhere.
What’s the measure of a successful writer?
I think Stephen King said that it’s getting somebody else to buy the ink and paper to publish you. At one point I thought it meant living exclusively by writing but I’m not sure that’s possible, other than for very few, or even desirable. The day job gets me out of my own head. And you have to get your ideas somewhere.
Advice for other writers?
The same advice that every other writer gives. Keep at it. I started with an Op Ed piece in the New Haven Register in 1994. My first online publication was in 2000. This book got published only after a second book was turned down by fifteen publishers. While some do take the world by storm, most of us have to be satisfied with siege.
Where can we learn more about you?
Anything else you’d like to add?
I really appreciate your offering me this opportunity. And I want to emphasize again the importance of never giving up.