I met Jamie Rowell during my region's National Novel Writing Month meet-ups and we are now both part of the same writing and critique group called Swindon Free Writers. He is 24 and is a very talented writer.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I come from a family which has been fairly creative, given that a few of my relatives were artists of one form or another, like a screenwriter, or musicians, and I did a degree in journalism at university. I also go on a forum, the Roleplaying and Fanfiction forum of GameFAQs, which is noted to be one of the best forums online for writing, as the criticism is harsh and fair. I also meld my writing with my music at times to create a unique experience for me.
Do you use a pen name? If so, why?
I don't use a pen name any more, though I have written under different aliases in the past. I think that I did so as a way of expressing myself in different ways without losing parts of the identity I had created for myself at the time, so I guess it was like shedding my old identity, putting a new one on and then shedding that one. I've stopped doing that now, because I'm fairly confident in my identity and in what I'm writing on, and having gone through my period of Old Shame, as the trope goes.
What are your writing accomplishments?
I've had some of my poetry published in a book years ago, and I've had a few newspaper articles published. I've also finished NaNoWriMo 2011, and kept a writing project on the RP/FF going for about two years nearly and it has an end in sight. Considering most RPGs on there die quickly or don't finish, I'm proud of that.
What type of writing do you do? What genre do you write in?
I tend to write fiction, and meld genres a lot. I've got a soft spot for sci-fi, though I don't tend to write that much in it any more, preferring a sort of gritty realistic fantasy setting, if that makes sense - like magic married with the modern world. I have been known to write in stereotypical fantasy before, and horror as well.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What was it about writing that drew you to it?
I'm not sure exactly when I wanted to be a writer, as I've always been writing for as long as I can remember. I do remember though reading Lord of the Rings when I was 8, and thinking that I wanted to go and live in a world like that, and then later realising that the only way I could would be through my imagination, and thus, writing to try and explore my imagination.
Where do you get your ideas for your writing?
This is gonna be weird, but I get my ideas from virtually everything. For example, I'll listen to a piece of instrumental music, and start to think “Yeah, this would fit this kind of scene perfectly”, and then usually run off to scribble stuff down. Film soundtracks work well for me, as does the music of my labelmates on the mrsvee record label, as everyone's music on there usually helps jog the idea process. At other times, I'll be walking outside or doing something fairly mundane, so whilst my body is doing that, my mind will go into overdrive and start thinking about stuff and imagining scenarios and whatnot, and from there, ideas will spring forth.
What books/authors have influenced your writing?
Three authors mainly. Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Brooks influenced me by showing that you can write archetypal fantasy well, and even though his work is clichéd, it would be fair to argue that pretty much everything is nowadays, so yeah, his influence on writing clichéd stuff and growing from writing the clichéd into developing your own style is a big thing of mine.
Robert Jordan paved the way for a living, breathing world for me. Whilst I've yet to reach the heights that the Wheel of Time series does in terms of making such a creative world, that influence seeps through a lot.
Brandon Sanderson is the newest author on my list, but the man really is phenomenal. His way of making magic systems that work and that are logical is impressive, as is his work ethic. The fact he also takes a lot of existing tropes and subverts them in quite unusual ways and plays with them a lot influences me a lot at times.
What are your current writing projects?
I've currently got my NaNoWriMo 2011 project to edit, as well as the RP/FF Orphans project that is currently ongoing. Those are the two major ones, though I occasionally write short stories and stuff that takes place in the Orphans universe as well as random other stuff, and I think me and a friend are going to try and do a fantasy story that subverts virtually every trope known to mankind soon.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you get through it?
I do experience the dreaded block, and I find the best way to get through it is to just write out a basic scene, like for example, a guy walking down the street, into a restaurant, ordering takeaway and being attacked by something as he walks home. Writing down that much usually allows me to continue the story, both on paper and in my mind, as I'm past the difficult part, and can go back and flesh things out later when I'm happy with writing again.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
It'd honestly have to be mixing a sense of realism with magic. Not just in the sense of breaking the laws of physics on a regular basis, but the smaller things, like the accuracy of firearms and how easy it would be to break them, or the reactions of normal people being told that magic does exist, and so on. I also find it challenging at times to write about the magic system I've made, as I've made rules for it and it would be really easy at times to just ignore the rules I've set out, but then that begins the descent into deus ex machinas being used whenever necessary. So it's challenging to have written myself into a box and then find the way out as well without resorting to ignoring the box.
It's also challenging at times to find a decent soundtrack that I've not listened to a hundred times over and over whilst writing. So sometimes I'll have Celldweller, Clint Mansell, the Resonance Association and a load of soul music on the same playlist, for extra variety, and it does work in a really weird way.
What do you love most about writing?
For me, what I love most about writing is the exploration of everything. The exploration of a new world, if I'm inventing one, the exploration of that world's history, the events that shaped it, and its prominent figures. The exploration of why a character does something, whether it's something good or stupid, the exploration of their feelings and personality, and the exploration of their journey ultimately. That's why I'm not too fussed if I spoil crime thrillers for myself whilst I'm reading, because whilst I may know who the killer is, I don't know the journey how we got there, and that exploration for me is a major thing that I love.
Is there anything that you have learned about yourself through writing/pursuing your career as a writer?
Yeah, I've discovered that writing can be really cathartic at times for me. Though that may be because I tend to put my characters through the grinder at times and have them come out the other side damaged in one way or another, which is oddly cathartic, probably because I can then go “Yeah, I'm not the only one who suffers from stuff like that.” That's probably really weird, but writing really is cathartic.
I guess I also discovered that I love exploration, and can finally put a name on it, as I was always wondering as a teenager and adult why I liked certain things and not others, despite links at times. It's why I can like stuff like World of Warcraft and Mass Effect 2, to cite two random examples, and hate Call of Duty games, because for me, there is no exploration of any kind in Call of Duty games. So yeah, writing has allowed me to put a name to that, finally.
If you could become one of your characters for a day, would you? (and who/why?)
Funny you should mention that. One of my characters, Jamie Kindred, originally started out as a more interesting version of myself that was gifted with magic. I was a teenager when I came up with him, and I've had his character all that time, but he has evolved a lot as a person over the years to the point where him and me only barely intersect nowadays, so I guess it'd be somewhat cool to be him for a day. Well, up until the point where he was attacked by demons.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
As tired and clichéd as this advice is going to be, it really is the best I can give for other writers. Write what you know, or at least, do the research a lot before writing. If you're going to have gigantic explosions caused by guns, try and make sure that they're done realistically, like with tracer bullets or similar, because as a reader, unless you're deliberately aiming for the rule of cool all the time and you're deliberately avoiding realism, stuff that is badly researched and shows it is massively jarring for me, especially if you're trying to be realistic. Even if you're not trying to be realistic, still do the research beforehand so it's believable.
Set yourself writing goals. It may not be for long every day, but as long as you're writing a bit a day, you can increase your output slowly and at your own pace. We're not all Brandon Sanderson, we can't all put in 10-12 hours a day of writing, but an hour or two a day is respectable, and more than that is more than respectable, especially if you're holding a job down at the same time.
Lastly, you should never try to critique your own work and edit it by yourself unless you really have no friends or anybody to show it to. If you can afford to, get a professional editor to look your work over. If you are like the majority of us, get a friend or relative to read it through. It's better than going through yourself, as you'll either not recognise enough flaws, or you'll recognise too many flaws and decide to delete everything. Both extremes are bad, and unless you've worked as a professional editor or proof-reader, you can't help but slide into one extreme or the other. So yeah, get someone else to read it first if you can.