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Know Your Local Writer: Eric McMurtrey

Welcome to the third in a series of interviews with Athens-area writers.  The hope is to inform you about new techniques you might want to try, increase your knowledge of the individuals in your community, and inspire you on your path.  Please contact me if you’re interested in answering our writing questionnaire and being featured here as a future ‘local writer’.

NOTE: Special thanks to AWA co-founder Jill Hartmann for originally supplying us with these wonderful questions for the series, and to the author below for supplying the photos and memes.

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Question: At what point in your life did you become a writer and how did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Answer: I actually became a writer because of two episodes of a science fiction television series called Star Trek : Deep Space Nine. One of the characters, Jake Sisko, found that his passion was writing and it became a story line that followed throughout the entire run of the series. Jake’s mother had been killed early in his life, so it was just him and his dad, Ben. Ben was very supportive of his son’s hobby turned profession – particularly early on, it was something they bonded over. I’d recently lost my own father when I saw this, and I decided that by writing, I might bond with him as well, so I took it up.

Q: What books have you read that shaped you as a writer? Which authors’ work do you admire and why?

A: My favorite author is Lee Child. I have read several of his ‘Reacher’ series of books. In particular, his book ‘The Enemy’ is my favorite. It was written in a first-person perspective that I found really inspiring. It gave an intimacy to the story that I had never really run into before. I’ve since adopted first-person as my primary perspective for storytelling. ‘Star Trek: Best Destiny’ is my other favorite. In the story, a young (and troubled) James T. Kirk connects with his father while having an adventure and saving the day. While I definitely connected with the book on a personal level, a friend called it ‘a commentary on people’. That phrase has really stuck with me – my dearest hope is that I’ll one day write a book that is referred to in that same way.

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Q: Which piece that you have written are you most proud of and why?

A: The honest answer would be the one I have thought up but not written yet. The truth is, I don’t feel like I’ve developed yet to a point where the reality of my work meets my dreams, so… The dream is more fun. But, as I said, I assume you are looking for a different answer. “Ben and the Snow”, one of the stories from my Christmas anthology, is my favorite. In the story, a man is trying desperately to make sure his wife can make it home after she’s been gone for longer than either of them would have liked. Near the end, he believes he failed, and to be honest, my eyes still tear up when I read that moment of profound sadness as he lives it – he just wants to see the woman he loves again. And then she shows up. How can a story get any better than that?

Q: Do you gravitate toward a particular genre(s) and/or format when you write?   Tell us more about which genres and/or formats are your “passion?”

A: *Grin* I’ll be honest, a lot of my stories are ‘Chick Flicks’. I also definitely gravitate toward short fiction – very few of my stories even make it to twenty pages. In fact, I’ve been flirting extensively with my version of ‘flash fiction’ where a given story is about 250 words, and I really enjoy it. My passion? It would be the stories that surround ‘The Ticonderoga Project’. We’ll see if I pull it off, but it’s the story of Earth’s first interplanetary spacecraft. In its whole vision, I’d like to see it tell the entire tale of the ship’s life, from the conception of the idea to her trip to the scrapyard once her day is done.

Q: Have you studied writing and/or attended writing seminars, workshops or conferences?  Where and what did you learn from your classes/sessions and other writing teachers?  Did any of them stand out to you and why?

A: My wife sent me to a writing conference at DragonCon. There were several speakers – it was a great experience. The two things I learned that I consider to be the most valuable were (first) HIRE A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR! I took this advice, and it was an incredible experience. Sure, I learned a lot about my bad habits as a writer – grammatical errors, plot issues, annoying habits… The one-on- one personalized interaction was very helpful, plus, I have the comparison of my version of the work to compare with the edited version so I can go back and learn from the changes a professional advised. But, moreover, to hear someone I respect tell me that if I logged the hours to improve, I could really succeed as a writer was incredibly motivating. The second piece of advice was ‘Develop Your Brand’. There were a multitude of ideas presented, but the thrust of it is, get your name out there. Build a website. Interact with people. Join groups. Support people. Accept support from people. My ‘Brand’ is Ticoproject, as an example. I even have a little story drafted to explain where that exact name comes from. Some day there needs to be a ‘Crest’ or ‘Symbol’, maybe toys… But… Yeah… Develop your brand.

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Q: Have you had any formal writing jobs and/or published any of your work?  If so, tell us about your jobs and/or your publications.

A: Nothing formal. Most of my work so far has been given away in one form or another so far. Honestly, I don’t feel like my work is far enough along to expect people to pay for it yet, so the bulk of it is released on my website, while I have been able to join an anthology for a writer’s group I was a part of in Wisconsin. Getting people to read something for free is much simpler than expecting them to pay, and some of the feedback I have received has been most encouraging. So… It’s been great. But, I’ve also grown to the point where I’m ready to think about how to publish some of the things I’m working on. It’s exciting to think about the future where I can really see my work in a book somewhere. Self-Published or traditional is still up in the air, but it will happen.

Q: What is unique about your writing process? What works for you, and what doesn’t work?

A: I’m a little ADD (Undiagnosed – *Grin*), but I’ve learned that if I don’t stick with one project, I’ll pretty much never finish it. So, I might peel off to do a bit of flash fiction which happens in a few hours, but I try hard to work one thing until it’s done. One draft, one rewrite, whatever. I don’t do well typing straight into the computer. I think for me, there are too many distractions, and paper both looks less intimidating and feels great, so… I write most everything out longhand and then enter it into a word processor as my first editing step. I listen to a variety of music, and it seems to serve as an inspiration for many of my story lines. Trust me, the fact that I’ll never sing publicly is a service to humanity, but I really respect the art form. As a point in fact, I was just listening to some Eminem on the way home. There is some great rap out there, and ‘Stealing the Enterprise’ has more plays on my iPod than most anything. It all helps.

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Peanuts by Charles Schulz

Q: What is the most challenging area of writing for you?

A: Ah, finally, an easy question. Editing. I don’t like it at all. It’s painful to re-read some of my earliest efforts in particular. Working with an editor taught me how much I can improve from the process. I’m the first to acknowledge that I’ll always need the help of a professional, but I’ll learn more if I improve my editing.quote-there-is-hope-in-honest-error-none-in-the-icy-perfections-of-the-mere-stylist-charles-rennie-mackintosh-73-30-03

Q: What are you currently writing?

A: I’m working on the second draft of ‘The Deeds We Do’, which is my tale of Captain Allison Mackenzie’s adventure aboard the U.P.E. Ticonderoga, Earth’s first interplanetary spacecraft. I like to believe she’s a strong leader that my wife would approve of, and you wouldn’t mind if your daughter admired. Just for fun, I’ll tell you this – I created her on a dare from a friend.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is just beginning to write?

A: I was really bad when I started. I am better, but I still have a very long way to go. Two things have helped me to improve – I’ve sought out the support of others, and I’ve practiced. I’ve read a few books, gone to one seminar, but when the writing hit the paper it was because I picked up a pen and started writing. Start writing anything and just don’t stop. I wouldn’t have believed it, but it will come. You’ll figure it out as you go along.

Long exposure photo of the night sky taken by the author

Q: How has being a writer changed your life?

A: I’m pretty anti-social when it gets right down to it. I have to force myself to want to be around other people, so you’d think writing would be all reclusive for me. It has actually been very much the opposite. I think a lot about things before and during the process of writing. That thought process has helped me to see when I should have turned left when I went right (a great number of times), when I shouldn’t have said something (again, a great number), and when I should have (let’s not even get into that). All of that introspection has made me more considerate of the trials and tribulations of others in the world. I see people differently because I write about people, and it’s made me a more understanding person.

The other change has been because of the people I have connected with. I’ve been involved with writer’s groups in two different states, and off and on, and received comments on my work from complete strangers around the world. Those interactions have been amazing. The people that have allowed me to exchange ideas with them, supported me, and allowed me to support them are the best. I’m a much better (and happier) person because of the people writing has put me in touch with.

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