James Gallagher is a copy editor for a leading audiobook company. James has been published in Liquid Imagination Online (forthcoming), The GW Review, Horror Garage, Horrorfind.com, and Cabal Asylum. James is also the recipient of the Vivian Nellis Award for Creative Writing.
1. Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
Reading widely, in and out of your genre, both fiction and nonfiction, is incredibly important. Stephen King’s On Writing is an essential read. Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook offers all manner of insights into the process. (I’ve long wanted to get my hands on Richard Laymon’s out-of-print A Writer’s Tale, but I’ve had no luck to date.) I’m also a copy editor, so I read as many books and blogs on grammar and style matters as possible. Nailing the technical aspects of your writing is a sign of professionalism and shows a commitment to your reader.
2. What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
Horror has been my favorite genre since I picked Christine off the rack of my local pharmacy when I was in sixth or seventh grade. That was a big moment for me, and my eyes were further opened when I picked up Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. Other writers who excite me include Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Karen Russell, Dan Simmons, Kathe Koja, Sarah Langan, Rio Youers, and too many others to name. Among classic authors, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky really do it for me, as does Thomas Hardy. Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is one of the best things I’ve read in recent memory, and of late I’ve been happily exploring the works of Mark Z. Danielewski.
3. How do you measure success when it comes to your writing?
You’re always told that there are a limited number of plots, but that only you can tell a story in a particular way. I want my stories to reflect my sensibilities, my worldview, and my humor, however dark those might be, and I want my stories to be honest in their approach. If pain or horror or sadness is extruded through my text, I want it to be all mine, and I want to feel like I earned the right to bleed onto the page in that way.
4. What tips do you have for finding time to write?
There are always excuses for not being able to find the time to write, and these excuses are generally valid, because people have busy lives and family commitments, but there is always a way. You just have to take advantage of the pockets of time available to you. Years ago I attended a book signing featuring F. Paul Wilson and he talked about this very thing, explaining that as a practicing physician he had to do much of the mental work of his writing on the way to and from work. You don’t have to have a pen in hand to be writing, and keeping your mind actively engaged with your story should make it flow all the more easily when you sit down to start filling pages.
5. Are you an outliner or discovery writer? Or somewhere in between?
I find it helpful to have some idea how a story will turn out, and it can be comforting to chart that territory, but there’s also nothing like those moments of inspiration when your story takes a turn you didn’t see coming, or when you realize your story is doing something so incredibly sick, or twisted, that you have to step back, giddy, and exult in the madness of it.
6. How do you deal with rejections?
Having your work rejected is never fun, but you know a story can be turned down for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with quality. Still, rejection stings, but it’s also an opportunity to revisit your story and ask hard questions about what’s working and what’s not. Sometimes you need rejection to see that your story is flawed in a way that should be addressed, so rejection can improve your tale, and when an editor takes the time to provide you with a critique, it pays to give that advice serious consideration, even if you ultimately don’t heed it. I might be wrong about this, but I think it was Joe Lansdale who said that you should never take writing advice from anyone who isn’t paying for your story. Hard to argue with Joe freakin’ Lansdale.
7. Were you taught anything about creative writing in high school or college that just didn’t work for you?
It’s more likely that there were things I probably should have listened to but rejected out of belligerence or simple pride. Writers are generally independent and want to beat their own path, which is important, but at the same time it’s foolish to spurn good advice. An important skill as a writer is to weigh criticism fairly, and to be confident enough in your writing to either accept it or reject it, whichever best suits the work—all of which is easier when you put the story, and not your ego, first.
8. In your opinion, how important is a writing degree or MFA when it comes to achieving success in writing fiction?
I don’t think there’s any one path for achieving success, and I don’t think there’s any one definition of success either. On the one hand, writing is a craft and writers should always be dedicated to improving their skills and learning about the art. But on the other hand, it’s hard not to be captivated by someone without a degree of any kind who absolutely burns to tell a story, or who burns for horror or science fiction or whatever genre captures that writer’s imagination.
9. Do you participate in any online or in-person critique or writing groups?
I’ve recently begun attending a local writers’ group that meets at the library. (I have a real fondness for these institutions. My sister and I were what they used to call latchkey children, so for a couple years we spent almost every day after school at the library, and I still go there regularly for research or to check out hardcovers.) Reading to a group, getting live feedback, and seeing emotional responses to something you’ve read can help your writing in myriad ways. There’s also a real joy in seeing writers read their work aloud for the first time.
10. What book(s) are you reading right now?
I’m just underway with The Unnoticeables from Robert Brockway, whom I’ve never read but am excited about, and as I write this I’m literally minutes from lifting the new Rio Youers novel, The Forgotten Girl, off my doorstep (release day!). I usually have a couple nonfiction books going as well for my copy editor side, so right now I’m also reading Word by Word from Kory Stamper of Merriam-Webster fame and Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing by Constance Hale. I’m also looking forward to Pajtim Statovci’s My Cat Yugoslavia, a Jeff VanderMeer recommendation.