Author

An interview with the author, Jim Crichton:

Where are you from originally?

I spent most of my childhood in coastal Northern New England.

And since then?

I’ve moved around a lot. But if you draw a circle around New York City with a radius of a hundred fifty miles and another with the same radius around Philadelphia, I’ve lived within the overlap of those two circles just about my entire adult life.

Where did you go to school?

I attended the University of Southern Maine. That’s what it’s called now. It went through a couple of different names in the time I was there. And then, after a hitch in the Coast Guard, I attended Nyack College, a small sectarian college in New York which had gotten its start as a missionary training institute. I majored in psychology and minored in English and religion.

How old were you when you started writing?

I was fifteen when I started my first novel, which I never completed. But I learned from the attempt. I was the same age when I started writing poetry. I’ve been writing fiction ever since, until recently as a hobby.

You say until recently you wrote as a hobby. What line of work were you in when you were writing as a hobby?

For years I worked as a paralegal crisis intervention counselor serving armed forces members. In recent years I’ve been a tour escort, tour guide and museum interpreter. As a guide and museum interpreter I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories of local and American history to tens of thousands of people of all ages. In between the two I did party entertaining for a couple of years.

Are you any relation to the late best selling author, Michael Crichton?

No. Nor to the late Robert Crichton, who wrote the best selling novels, The Secret of Santa Vittoria in 1966 and The Camerons in 1972. Though there are only a few thousand Crichtons in the entire world. Most any of us would probably need go back less than twenty-five generations, to Scotland, to find a common ancestor.

Tell us a little about your writing process. When you first come up with an idea for a story do you carefully plan it and create an outline for it before you begin to write it? Or do you just begin to write?

I’ve experimented with both approaches. I think I do my best work when I just sit down and write. I know I enjoy that approach more.

What do you usually start with: an idea, a character, a setting?

Even though all my stories are character driven, I usually start with an idea for a plot. I get that down on paper, or on the computer screen. And then I start to flesh out some characters to bring the story to life. Once I’ve created the characters I just sort of give them their heads and let them go. It’s my characters who usually provide the plot twists as they take my original story idea and carry it along to wherever they determine it should go.

It sounds like your characters have a will of their own.

It seems that way sometimes. I dream about them on occasion as though they were actual people. There are things I know they would or wouldn’t do or say. They have motives out of which they act to which they remain true.

How much do you write in an average day?

If I’m working on a raw first draft of a story and I have a whole day to devote to writing I set myself a quota of five thousands words. That’s about twelve pages. If the inspiration is flowing I can meet that quota in as little as four hours. I keep working until the inspiration runs out. But it’s much more likely to take me ten to twelve hours to turn out my target number of words. And I’ve put in the occasional seventeen or eighteen hour day at it. If I’m really struggling I may set one story aside and work on another. Or I may just leave the computer and go for a walk. Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m walking. Then I’ll return to my computer and go from there.

Do you write the five thousand words and then go back and edit it while it’s still fresh?

No. I usually finish the entire first draft of the story before I go back and do any editing. The stories evolve as I write them. I like to know where the story has ended up before I put the work into editing it. That way I save myself the unnecessary work of editing scenes only to have to go back again to significantly change them in the end or to cut them from the story entirely.

You say you sometimes set one story aside and work on another for awhile. How many stories do you have in the process of writing the first draft of them at any given time?

On occasions I’ve juggled as many as ten at a time. I’ll work on one while I let the others incubate. And then when I run out of steam on that story, whether that’s in a few hours or in a week or in a few weeks, I’ll work on another. You’ve heard the old saying that writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. By working on multiple stories at a time I find I can increase the amount of inspired writing I do and cut back a little on my need for deodorant.

Do you do all your writing on the computer?

Not all of it. Just as I get a lot of good ideas while I’m walking, I get ideas while I’m riding the bus or train. I get ideas while I’m waiting in line at the supermarket. I carry a tiny notebook around with me. Whenever I get a really good idea for a passage or a scene or a plot twist I just pull that notebook out and start writing in it, wherever I may be. And sometimes once I’ve started to write a scene out longhand I just feel like finishing writing it out that way. I keep going in the notebook even if I get access to my computer before it’s finished. I find I’m especially likely to do that if the scene is an emotional one. I’m not sure why that is.

Tell us about some of the books and authors who have influenced your writing. Start with some of the earliest.

I’d have to start with three books my parents kept out of sight on a forbidden bookshelf under the stairs in the front hall when I was a kid. Of course once I discovered them and learned the books on that shelf were forbidden to me I was determined to find out what was in them my parents didn’t want me to read. One was Looking Backward, the 1888 classic by Edward Bellamy. I found it when I was about eleven years old. I’d never read anything quite like it before. I was fascinated by it. It was my introduction to the concept of time travel. And it was also my introduction to the concept of Utopia.
On that same shelf at about the same time, I found a copy of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care. It was probably the book on the shelf my parents least wanted me reading. What interested me most about it was the forbidden information I found in it about human reproduction. Whenever my parents stonewalled me on the subject I would sneak away and see what Dr. Spock had to say about it. But the book also introduced me to behavioral science. It spurred my interest at that young age in how human character develops. So in that way it influenced me a lot.
At about the time I started my first attempt at a novel I found a copy of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach on the forbidden shelf. It was my first apocalypse novel I ever read. I’ve enjoyed stories about the end of the world and stories set after the death of civilization ever since.
In fact, many of the novels that have influenced me most as a writer have been apocalypse or post-apocalypse stories: Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang; George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides; Edward Llewellyn’s Douglas Convention series and the Jerry Pournelle-Larry Niven collaboration, Lucifer’s Hammer, to name a few that leap immediately to mind.
The Possibilities novels are apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novels, though there’s a lot more to all eight plots than that. The series owes something to all the authors mentioned above.

The Possibilities series takes place in a fantasy galaxy, in several alternate versions of it. You’ve put a lot of thought into the history of this galaxy and of the planetary system in which the main characters live. That history comes out over the course of the series. Clearly it’s something you’ve enjoyed creating. Where did you acquire your love for creating fantasy worlds?

J.R.R. Tolkien, with The Hobbit, and C.S. Lewis, with his Narnia series, introduced me to the joys of exploring complex fantasy worlds. I read both Tolkien and Lewis for the first time when I was in my late teens and early twenties. There are a lot of great world builders writing fantasy and science fiction. I always enjoy a well crafted fantasy world, especially if it’s an alternate reality.
It was Murray Leinster and Frederik Pohl who opened my eyes to the many possibilities of alternate universe stories. Pohl’s The Coming of the Quantum Cats got me thinking about all the interesting possibilities when people meet and are influenced by alternate versions of themselves who have lived much different lives than they have, in much different environments.

What other authors have influenced you as a writer?

No list of authors who have influenced me would be complete if it didn’t include Ursula K. Leguin and Robert Heinlein, both of whom, as different as their writing styles may be from one another’s, are wonderful story tellers and skilled world builders. And both devise well conceived plots centered upon interesting characters.
And Thomas Hardy is a must on the list as well. There’s a little of Hardy’s Gabriel Oak in almost every one of my male heroes, including the male protagonist in the Possibilities series. Hardy was a master at creating natural environments for his characters which both influenced and reflected who they were. His sense of fatalism has always appealed to me. And his isolated rural communities have a character of their own.
There are a number of isolated communities in the Possibilities series: enclaves in the middle of chaos in which civilization has survived, space stations far from the nearest population center, vessels in space, a jungle commune. I’ve tried to give each community its own unique flavor. Hardy has inspired me to put the effort into that aspect of the story.

What fiction have you read in the last few years?

A lot of my reading material, I acquire in second hand book stores. So at any given time I’m anywhere from a few months to a few decades behind the general reading public in what I’m reading. I recently read Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the first time. It only took me a little less than thirty years after it was published to get around to it. I shouldn’t have waited so long. Marquez did a wonderful job of portraying a small backwater community in it, of creating unique characters with a long history of interconnections with one another to people it.
Before I read Chronicle of a Death Foretold, I read Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. Contrary to what others have said about it, I found it the most depressing book I’ve read in a very long time. It’s beautifully written. I found it an intense reading experience, intensely depressing to me because I didn’t find any meaning in the lives of any of the characters. Their joys struck me as fleeting and insubstantial. Their suffering served no higher cause that I could see; they don’t believe in any cause great enough to give their lives purpose. Even their commitment to one another seemed to me to be more self-centered than true commitment to one another.

Have you read anything published more recently?

Sure. I’ve read several books published within the last couple of years. I’ve recently read S. M. Stirling’s The Scourge of God from his Novels of the Change series, Nicholas Sparks’ The Lucky One, Luanne Rice’s Light of the Moon and her Last Kiss, Carla Neggers’ Cold River, and the Wheel of Time novel, The Gathering Storm, upon which I thought Brandon Sanderson did a remarkable job. He did justice to Robert Jordan’s amazing creation while telling the story in his own clear voice. I’m really looking forward to the final two books of the series.

Mentioning Luanne Rice, I should add her to the list of authors who have influenced my writing even though I’ve only discovered her in the last couple of years. I never would have given any of her books a cursory perusal of the dust jacket blurb if one of them hadn’t been played on the book channel on satellite radio a couple of years ago in a time slot in which I regularly listened to the channel. I got caught up in the story. When it concluded I went looking to find more of her work. Her Hubbard’s Point, in which many of her stories take place, is a little like Hardy’s Wessex in that there’s a timeless quality to it which enables her characters to return to their origins through their connection to it. It’s a rich natural environment in which Rice can, and very ably does, mirror and dramatize her characters’ emotions.
Of course, she’s best known for her compelling portrayals of family relationships. I’ve read her work with an eye toward taking some pointers from it on how to do that since family relationships are important to the Possibilities series and to other books I’ve written. And unlike the handful of other romance writers I’ve read, the thoughts Rice puts in the heads of her adult male characters, even her adult male viewpoint characters, are believable enough that they don’t significantly distract me from the story.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I do a lot of walking. I lift weights. I ride my bicycle. I play some chess. I listen to old time radio shows. And, obviously, I read.

Can we expect to see any novels other than Possibilities novels from you in the next few years?

I’m putting all my efforts into the Possibilities series right now. I’ll probably continue to for the next few years. But I do have a couple of other series I’ve previously written that I think readers will really enjoy. I think they have a chance to be commercially viable. One series, a trilogy, is tentatively entitled the Curse of the Emerald Eyes series. It’s probably the next series in line after the Possibilities series for publication.