Six months ago, a blogger wandered onto my blog and left a comment. I commented back. He continued. Banter ensued. From those humble beginnings a friendship was born. I have had the pleasure of becoming blog buddies, and coffee friends with James J. Cudney, affectionately known as Jay. In our short, but meaningful time as friends, Jay has had his first novel published. To say I was proud and thrilled to see him achieve a dream is an understatement: when I received a copy of his book in the mail last week, I almost cried. I looked at the cover, saw his name, and immediately thought “Good for you Jay. You did it.”
Jay is not only a wonderful blogger and author, he is also kind, compassionate, intelligent, witty, and organized. If you know me you know how I love a good organization story. Jay is also the most hardworking and determined person I have ever met- he sets a goal and does what he needs to accomplish it. He doesn’t let mistakes or failures get in his way- he pushes through.
So how do youi write an interview about someone so wonderful? Damned if I know. I tried writing up his wonderful thoughts into a cohesive blog, and I failed miserably. He is a much better writer than I am.
So, here’s what I want you to do: Imagine a New York City coffee shop that is not a chain. Seated at a small table towards the front are two attractive, stylish people, a man and a woman. The woman is drinking an industrial sized earl grey tea with milk and sugar, cause she really needs the caffeine and the sugar. The man is drinking coffee, with some french vanilla creamer thing. He lives on the edge. They are immersed in conversation, from the trivial to the substantial. Animated voices, hands gesturing. Much laughter. This is the interview that happened. I bring you Jay Cudney, uncut.
1) Give us a brief synopsis of your book:
I’m going to explain it an odd sort of way… In my reading experience, contemporary novels follow 1 or 2 characters around for a few weeks as they go through some sort of a journey. Watching Glass Shatter is like that, only it isn’t. There are 10 major characters, split up by chapters so that readers are discovering each of the members of the Glass family through the eyes and ears of that specific person. It was designed to match a quote from the first chapter when the patriarch, Ben, dies, which sets off the drama for the whole novel.
“In Ben’s case, although they only lasted ten explosive seconds, those moments managed to include all sixty nine years of his existence, each image punctuated by a blinding flash of pure white light and deafened by the harsh snapping sound of an old-time camera shutter.”
Although the book is not written as a play, it almost reads like one because readers explore different scenes across a 6-month period in the lives of the Glass family. Secrets are divulged. A few of the family do bad things. Some cause permanent damage. Others suffer even though they did nothing wrong. In the end, Olivia, Ben’s widow goes through this journey to try and re-assemble everyone. But nothing ever goes exactly as you plan, does it?
2) How did you get idea for plot:
I grew up on daytime and nighttime TV dramas about large families who often struggle to connect. My reading style tends to fall in the same category: the more secrets, relationships and drama involved, the more attuned I am to the story. I was half-in and half-out of sleep mode one night when the concept of 5 brothers struggling to live their own lives, under a domineering mother, appeared in my head. I started assigning secrets to them, realizing how they felt about one another. By the morning, I’d worked out a way to show both love and fear in a family that in some ways represents a more extreme version of what we’ve all experienced in our own families. Here’s the amusing part… I am an only-child, so I had to invent everything — no sibling rivalries to draw from, but I did have lots of stores from friends and cousins. I won’t reveal if there’s any connection. Shh… Don’t post that part. LOL
3) Do you have a favorite character and why:
Yes, I have 2, but I shouldn’t say, right? That might change other people’s opinions. I launched a poll for November to let everyone vote for their favorite character. I will reveal 1 of my favorites now, but then I will save the other one for the end of the poll. My absolute favorite is Olivia. That woman is just ruthless in the beginning; it’s a fine balance of being a good mother yet also being so removed from the reality of what her family has done over the years, you can’t help but want her to be nicer. To know whether she does or does not, you have to read the book. I will say that she’s got the best lines in the novel — the ones that make you yell, laugh and cry.
4) How many rewrites did you do
What’s a re-write? Just kidding! It took about 3 months to write the entire novel, which was shared with 3 or 4 beta readers who had a tremendous influence on me. They were critical but constructive. I am quite lucky to have met them in the Fall of 2016 when this was written. They are all writers, too, and have great potential with their futures. You can see a few nods to them in the Acknowledgement section of my book. Every chapter was re-written at some point, but the basic plot and key characters are pretty close to the way I designed them. Beta feedback helped craft each character’s voice and the ability for readers to connect with the final version.
5) How much of first draft actually made it into the final edition:
I would say at least 50%. It started out at 72K words but was increased to 110K at one point. After editing, we got it down to about 90K, where it sits today. Reading it 6 months later, I still find some small areas where I could cut a bit more to get even tighter in my descriptions. I can be a little wordy sometimes, but at least I admit it.
6) What was the hardest battle you fought when writing and how did you get through it:
Wordiness and Point of View. I love historical fiction which often tends to have lengthy descriptions. I am a huge Henry James fan, the king of wordiness. I had to remind myself (and have been yelled at by some kind beta readers) to tone it down! I listen. I find a compromise. Then I find my end product. In my second novel, which is going through editing now, it’s so much less wordy, but I still find areas where I know I need to cut a bit. It’s an evolving process. Managing Point of View with 10 characters was difficult, as I had to keep reminding myself who was speaking and what the tone was for his or her dialogue, narrative and voice. I thought at one point I would need to see someone to help with all the voices in my head, but they luckily went away when I confirmed the final edits with the publisher. Phew, that might have been a lot harder.
7) Do you have a set way to write? Do you write at a specific time or place? Do you have lucky clothes? Is there anything you consider unique about your writing process?
Unfortunately, no, I’m ordinary. I know of many writers who get so absorbed in the story and the effort, they write all evening and into the middle of the night. That’s not me. I am able to stop writing by about 5pm each day and turn my focus to marketing or promoting. I think of things all night long and make notes on my phone, but I have better success at managing blocks of time. I have 3 to 4 hours to write each day, 2 to 3 hours to blog, and 2 to 3 hours to market and promote. What I will say and this is probably TMI… some days, I’m done at the gym, showered and at the desk ready to write by 10am. Others, I dive right into it and when 5 o’clock arrives, it’s a mad rush to get to the gym, shower and run errands that I should have run earlier in the day. Most often, I’m in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts when I write. I need to be comfy and in a cold room. No heat!
8) Did you have to do any research for the book, and how did you handle that:
I actually had very little research to do. I chose settings I am familiar with and a plot that while it had complexities, it didn’t require specific knowledge of law, medical history or anything technical. I researched personality traits when I decided on the voice for each character, so I could match some physical actions and emotional responses, as I feel it’s important to be authentic. The first secret that Ben reveals in the will was a bit complex; the likelihood of it happening in reality is small, but it definitely has happened. I chose not to get into the details purposely for two reasons: (1) it would have required immense research without any real benefit to the story and (2) ultimately, Ben’s secret isn’t the main focus of the book once you get into the dynamics of all the family members. It’s less “who is the secret about” and more “the psychological aspects of how people deal with secrets and where they fit within their family.”
9) Writers block. What’s your secret:
I am not a huge believer in writer’s block as a general explanation for not being able to write. I believe in struggling to create your plot, decide on a character’s path, choose a POV, et al. Those are critical to the success of the book. But if you are a writer, you can write anytime. It may be poor writing. It may not make sense when you re-read it. It might be throw away to help get your mind working. Writer’s can always write, but when they hit a block, they need to figure out what’s causing it. If you can figure out the root, you can trace a path to success. I write an outline for each chapter. If I attempt to write the words for that chapter, and they won’t come through as I need them to, I ask myself why. If I can’t solve it in 10 to 15 minutes, I switch to a different chapter or start editing earlier chapters. When I go back to write that chapter again, if I still can’t do it, then there’s something wrong in the story, which is a different problem, not writer’s block. Hopefully that makes sense, as I’ve definitely had moments where I don’t like what I’ve written, but I do think you need to find a way to keep moving forward rather than stare at a screen hoping something changes. That’s painful!
10) What advice can you give to aspiring novelists?
You first need to know why you write and what your goals are. If you don’t know, you will have a much harder time reaching your definition of success. Whether it’s fame, fortune, creativity or something more personal, understand it and develop a path to get there. Create your own personal plan with an objective, then lay down some steps to achieve your success. If you have a goal to reach people, then you can’t just write the story and wish for success to happen. You need to build relationships and connect with other people. And by connecting, I don’t mean a quick comment or like of someone else’s work, posts, reviews, et al. It’s important find commonalities, share stories, interact over similar book interests — build solid relationships. Over time, you find your voice and place in the industry; then you evolve your plan and focus so that you can grow and improve. I’m skipping over the actual craft of writing because I think that’s essential from the start; if you don’t know how to write or aren’t writing every day, you need to focus on that before you branch out into developing a full novel or interacting with other people to begin promoting your work. Plus… this is my debut… I’m still learning!!
Congratulations to Jay on publishing his first novel! I look forward to seeing his name gracing a book cover many more times in the future!
For a limited time, Amazon will be offering the electronic version of “Watching Glass Shatter” by James J. Cudney for free. Please take advantage of this offer and grab your copy? You will not be disappointed!