Jason Offutt is a paranormal and science fiction author from Missouri and is, as he calls himself, "a nerd." When he isn't writing, watching Star Trek, playing Dungeons and Dragons, or discussing conspiracy theories, Jason teaches journalism at Northwest Missouri State University. His new book, SO YOU HAD TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE comes out July 21st from CamCat Books. Jason was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with me.
MB: You've had quite a long list of jobs over the years. You've been a farmhand, a journalist, photographer, bartender, and even the mayor of Orrick, Missouri. What made you want to be mayor, and more importantly, what was your campaign slogan?
JO: What made me want to be mayor? Wow. I don’t really remember, that was 22 years ago. It seemed to make some sort of sense in the ’90s, but lots of strange things seemed to make sense back then (remember Carrot Top?). I didn’t have a campaign slogan. Maybe if I did, I would have lost, which would have been infinitely better than winning. Public service is brutally under-appreciated.
MB: Let's talk about the new book. SO YOU HAD TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE comes out in less than a month, without any spoilers tell us something about your book that we won't find in the jacket copy or PR material?
JO: It’s a true story, which is a complete lie. The book is about time travel, dimension hopping, circus hijinks, chocolate muffins, coffee, Dungeons and Dragons, science, a ghost house, friendship, overcoming mental scars and trust.
MB: In your book, your protagonist is a woman named Skid. What’s the most difficult thing for you about writing characters from the opposite sex?
JO: The most difficult thing is I’ve never been a woman. Being a man, I know how men behave under most circumstances. But for a woman I had to guess. Fortunately, my wife is a terrific person to run things by and won’t candy coat her opinion. A few women I trust also read the manuscript before I submitted it. I wanted Skid to be tough, but also be someone the reader understands. I wanted to give an honest representation, not a stereotype. I think I achieved that.
MB: Every writer has specific nuances when it comes to writing. Some have special places where they write. Some plot every detail before writing, while others fly by the seat of their pants. Talk for a moment about your writing process.
JO: With three children in the house, I don’t have a special place or time when I write. I try to write in the evening, but that doesn’t always work out. I take what writing time and place I can when I can. As for the process, I’m a pantser, not a plotter. All my fiction starts with a character. To me, the protagonist has to be the strongest part of the work, followed by setting and plot. If the character isn’t relatable, the reader probably won’t be your reader for long. Once the character is firmly formed in my head, I let him or her loose to see what they do. I have a general idea of what’s going to happen in the work. I know the highlights and where the story ends (I never write it down for fear of dulling the edges), but I don’t know how the characters are going to get there until they do. I feel if I plot and plan and outline, I lose the spontaneity of creating and the fun of writing.
MB: Let's discuss reading for a moment. What are you currently reading?
JO: I’m rereading Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. It was published in 1996 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1997. It’s funny, it’s sad, and it’s beautifully written. I like to go outside the genre I usually write in because good writing is good writing whether there are orcs and time machines or simply people having a meaningful conversation waiting in line at some government office. I’m also reading, Belushi, by Judith Belushi Pisano and Tanner Colby because John Belushi was hitting it big when I was a kid and I worshipped the guy. It’s sad how he went out, but I’m still interested in how he lived.
MB: Give me a list of your top three all-time favorite books and how have they influenced your writing?
JO: THE HOBBIT, ON THE ROAD, and CATCH-22. Right off I’m going to cheat and put THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS together. I first read those books when I was 12 and still reread them every few years. These books showed me stories with fantastic elements can be written for adults. If adults can take those topics seriously, I can write about anything. ON THE ROAD is a stream of consciousness work that has a flow to it I love. Words that flow as you write will also flow as you read, so I consider it a compliment for my work to be called a “fast read.” If someone looks up from my book and can’t believe what time it is, I’ve done my job. CATCH-22 is smart and funny. That combination is infinitely satisfying to me. This is the same reason I still watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus and laugh at a sketch I’ve seen more than 30 times.
MB: What can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
JO: Outside my family, my future consists of writing. One of the many great things about being a writer is when I finally retire, I’ll have something constructive to do. My latest project, which I hope to have finished this year, is a novel tentatively titled, THE WALK TO PIVERAL'S. It’s a “man goes on a journey of self-discovery” sort of thing that involves a lot of sci-fi, fantasy, and real-world weirdness. It’s shaping up to be a fun journey.
Thanks for taking a few minutes to minutes to chat. Good luck with SO YOU HAD TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE.
Jason Offutt's new book, SO YOU HAD TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE comes out on July 21st, and is available for pre-order now. To find out more about Jason Offutt and his books, check out his website at www.jasonoffutt.com. You can also follow Jason on Twitter and on Facebook.
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