Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest today, Tim J. Myers. Tim is a writer, songwriter, storyteller, and senior lecturer at Santa Clara University.
His children’s books-12 out and three in press--have won recognition from the New York Times, Kirkus, and NPR, among others. He’s published over 130 poems, won a first prize in a poetry contest judged by John Updike, has two books of adult poetry out, won a major prize in science fiction, and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. His Glad to Be Dad: A Call to Fatherhood won the Ben Franklin Digital Award from the IBPA and reached #5 on Amazon's "Hot New Releases in Fatherhood." Tim won the West Coast Songwriters Saratoga Chapter Song of the Year award and the 2012 Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators Magazine Merit Award for Fiction.
Tim's newest tome, Rude Dude's Book of Food: Stories Behind Some of the Crazy-Cool Stuff We Eat has just been published.
Norm: Good day Tim and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going and why have you been drawn to writing children's books as well as poetry?
I think "How did you start writing?" stories are as interesting, and as telling, as "How did you meet your spouse?" stories. For me, it was a very gradual, mostly unconscious, and natural process--I often compare it to an apple slowly ripening on a tree. I never set out to be a writer. I was too dreamy as a kid to have specific goals like that. But day by day, year by year, I found myself drawn to it, growing into it.
I didn't read much as a kid, and was too ignorant to realize how valuable school is. But I gradually became interested in books and, also without realizing it, in language itself (a critical characteristic in a writer). My sixth-grade teacher Sister Mary Boniface reacted positively when I suddenly wrote a poem for a class assignment, and to my astonishment she praised it and encouraged me. That's when I really started writing. Then I fell in love with certain books--like the Lord of the Rings trilogy--and I was drawn to song lyrics--and as I wrote more and more, I even more slowly began to understand that I was a writer.
I'm drawn to poetry--was from the first--because of the delicious power of well-arranged words. It's like the power of chanting. For me, everything springs from that. And once I became a father, I started telling stories to my children, and reading picture books to them--and realized just how much literary potential there is in that kind of literature. So I became a writer for children too.
Norm: Did you read any special books on how to write?
Tim: No. Like I say, I wasn't aware of myself as an artist till much later in life--I just wrote. In adulthood I read a few books on writing, and that kind of thing can definitely be helpful. But only in secondary ways--at least for me. A writer may feel affirmed by something he or she reads in such books, or may learn something about literary style, or--and this is especially important--may learn crucial practical things about the business of writing. But learning to write, it seems to me, is a strange, beautiful, difficult, and solitary eventuality taking place within yourself. It comes from reading--living--and then reaching for words. And you do it mostly alone.
I don't mean, of course, that you ignore other people's reactions to your writing--you need that very much. But learning how to "uncover" the ability inside yourself, and how to find your own voice--that's something you have to do on your own.
Norm: Do you have a specific writing style? As a follow up, is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
And yes, I have my challenges! Sometimes, I think, my writing can be too quiet. And I want to improve my sense of characterization, which I'm trying to develop via the realist-fantasy novel I'm working on. Plus--holy cats--just getting it right is always a challenge, even if you know how to do it!
Norm: What has been the best part about being published?
Tim:I love Nietzsche's lines to the effect that the true artist would rather be understood than admired. So being published is, in itself, not my goal. What I want is a readership. Writing is only half of the exchange; I want readers to read my work and then meet it in its depths or its humor or its themes or whatever else. Don't get me wrong--I'd love to make more money! But I find myself wanting that only because it would allow me to write more and so connect with readers. (And of course provide for my family, whom I adore
Norm: What do you want your work to do? Amuse people? Provoke thinking?
Tim: I like this question, Norm! It's important, and, surprisingly, no one's ever asked me this before.
I actually have a number of different goals for my writing, depending on the piece, the audience, etc. But I especially like the two possibilities you've presented, because a balance of those two is, to me, the sweet spot.
There's something profoundly, well, fun, about the very nature of literature, of art in general--something many writers wouldn't necessarily characterize as "fun" but which all true artists recognize: that you must "catch" a reader, attract him or her, you must present something that amuses, enlivens, stirs, is enjoyable, draws other human beings. And when you can do that--which even the most serious art does--then you stand a much greater chance of revealing something important to your reader, and of getting him or her to see or feel things in a new or different way. In my children's books, I often emphasize this "fun" or "attracting" aspect more obviously, for obvious reasons. But it's actually there even in the most serious work for adults, including work that explores darker realities.
Norm: What makes poetry come alive in a classroom? How can teachers foster a love of poetry, rather than a fear of it, in their students?
I don't mean that writers should pander to the crowd, as some movies--and some writers--definitely do. But I mean that any group of human beings, including children, are naturally interested in life as they know it, and will respond if the poetry or other lit. is presented in a way they can understand and identify with. So teachers should choose literary works that their students have a shot at understanding, and that have something to offer those students as they are at that moment in their lives.
My The Furry-Legged Teapot, for example--a unique re-telling of a Japanese folktale--is about a young animal who's learning how to magically transform himself but gets into trouble because he's not good enough at it yet. Kids identify with that, because they sometimes run into trouble because of things they're not good enough at yet. So the story engages them.
Norm: Where do you see book publishing heading?
I will say this: First, it seems to me that new technologies tend not to destroy older ones but evolve to a different kind of co-existence with them. I.e., physical books will probably continue to exist, but e-books will grow more popular. And human societies will always have a certain desire to read--and a need too, since literature is crucial for community.
I do worry about whether writers are going to be paid enough as all this shakes out; we've seen the terrible problems in the music industry. But even that can't last, it seems to me, because people will, sooner or later, realize that they have to pay for quality. That's my hope, at least.
Norm: Can you share a little of Rude Dude's Book of Foods with us?
So I wrote this food history to be highly motivating for kids, with lots of stories, humor, interactive features, etc., and focused on popular foods like chocolate, hamburgers, egg rolls, etc. And I aligned it with the Common Core to help teachers, and included sample unit plans, and added healthy eating tips.
And holy cats--it was so fun to research and write! I learned about amazing ancient Chinese dishes like deep-fried camel's hump--and a 4000-year-old bowl of noodles--and Mongols putting raw meat under their saddles to tenderize it--the list goes on!
Norm: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Tim: A couple of basic things.
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard about being a writer is simple: If you have to write, write; if you don't, there are a lot easier ways to make a living.
there's nothing wrong with a life of writing in which writing isn't
your main profession.
And third, to get better, follow my simple advice: Read read read--write write write--live live live.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
There's a lot of other information about me online; search for "Tim J. Myers." You can read some of my work online too.
Norm: What is next for Tim J. Myers?
Tim: As I said, I'm working on a fantasy series for young adults and adults--a pretty massive undertaking, actually. It's about three siblings whose parents stand up to a corrupt political leader, and the terrible journey these siblings then have to take into the wilderness. I can't wait to finish my research and get writin
Tim: Jeeze, Norm--you never once asked about my uncanny ability to whistle and hum at the same time! I don't know how you could resist!
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
Tim: Thank you, Norm! This has been a blast!