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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

If It's Thursday It Must Be a Guest Author Interview!

Welcome to my second guest author interview with Tim Hooker. Today this is also part of the Red River Writers Blog Tour and I hope that any of you who are not part of this great group will join. Thank you to April Robins for arranging all of this.

Tim's bio is extensive. He has been an Instructor for several colleges, a Director of Public Relations and Marketing, a Manager of a college Reading and Writing Center, a Radio Announcer, a newspaper columnist, and a Program Coordinator for Student Services. Tim has both a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a Master of Arts in English. He currently has three published books: Rocket Man, Duncan Hambeth, Furniture King of the South, Looking for a Ci
ty and many articles of his are published in several magazines. He edits a blog with several contributors called Sushi Tuesday. Please check out his full bio, which is too large to put here.

Here is the interview and please leave your question or comments. Tim has promised to answer all and will
stay through tomorrow to answer if you were late coming.:) I'm always late, so I understand.:)

Interview with Tim Hooker

I noticed as I was reading your bio that you took your Masters twice. Why did you decide to get your MFA?

I did two masters, including the M.F.A., for several reasons. The M.A. in Writing was one of the best experiences in my life. It gave me a good grounding in all aspects of writing-- Composition, Rhetoric, Professional Writing, and Creative Writing. But, in one sense, it was still a generalist program. And, the M.F.A. was the fine-tuning I wanted in Creative Writing. Professionally speaking, I wanted the academic clout that came from holding a terminal degree. But, more specifically, I saw the M.F.A. as being to a writer what Parris Island is to a Marine. I went into the program thinking I was a writer; I left knowing I was a ***-****** writer.

Going through the M.F.A. program soaked me in the Creative Writing discipline until I became the discipline. I couldn’t take the writer out of me now, if I wanted to. And, whether I’m ever at the top of the best-seller list, the experience has gone beyond taking classes. The process has significantly contributed to me becoming me.

Your latest book, Duncan Hambeth, Furniture King of the South, is a play. What made you decide to write it in play form?

Duncan Hambeth started off as a thought experiment. It dawned on me that there were an awful lot of parallels between Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “MacBeth.” And, the more I studied the two plays, the more convinced I became that they were structurally the same play. Both had questions about who should be in charge. Both had strong female characters. Both had elements of the supernatural. Both had political maneuverings. And, both were resolved with violence. The big difference was that “MacBeth” was told from the perspective of the one who stole the throne; “Hamlet” was told from the perspective of the one who had the throne stolen from him.

With this in mind, I typed both plays into my computer. And, then, I started merging them along a time line. Then, I started fusing characters together. King Duncan and Hamlet’s Father fused together. Gertrude and Lady MacBeth fused together. Hamlet, Malcolm, and Donalbain fused together. And, Claudius and MacBeth fused together.
Then, I got scared. It was working . . . too well.

So, I deflated Shakespeare. I took his beautiful words and melted them down into modern Southern vernacular. And, it still worked.

But, reading plays is a dying art. So, now, I’m writing the novelization of the play, entitled “Memphis Knights.” It gives me the opportunity to fill in the backstory. And, hopefully, it will be out this Fall.

What inspired you to begin writing?

Mick Jagger asked, “What can a poor boy do, ‘cept sing for a Rock’N’Roll band?”

When I was seven years old, one of my chores on the farm was to go out to the big trough and water the cows. And, in the mud around the big aluminum trough, I’d watch the ants crawl along and it reminded me of desert terrain in a TV show I was watching-- “Rat Patrol.” So, out of boredom, I’d tell myself little stories. And, I just knew that my stories would be what I’d be remembered for.

I felt the impulse to be creative early on and, in my neighborhood, there were not a lot of opportunities for upward mobility. There were musicians who played in church, but I couldn’t afford an instrument. I wanted to paint, but that required supplies I couldn’t get. But, as a writer, with a broken pencil and a scrap of paper, I knew I could be in business.

So, I took Mick Jagger seriously.

Would you share with us the story of how you got your first novel published?

There’s really not that much to tell. I wrote Rocket Man in the Summer of 1990. I wanted to be able to tell myself that I’d written something of value before I turned thirty. But, it sat in my strongbox for approximately fifteen years for two reasons. One, the further I went through graduate school, the more I heard about how impossible it was to get anything published. And, two, I found out years later that I have Avoidant Personality Disorder. In layman’s terms, that means a person received so much negativity in their childhood that their psyche simply saturates with it and can’t absorb any more. People with APD have an extremely difficult time dealing with rejection and negative feedback. So, I was caught between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis, compelled to write and equally compelled to not go through the rejection process so common to pre-digital publishing. Self-publishing through Xlibris helped me negotiate those treacherous waters.

What do you think of the importance of networking in relation to book sales? Which social networks do you think work the best for marketing and why?

A writer has to be careful when networking. There are plenty of people who are willing to take free copies of your book, as long as you’re giving them away. But, that takes money out of your writing business; it doesn’t bring money into it.

So, you have to develop a business plan. How can money come into your writing business?
1) Book sales
2) Speaking engagements
3) Teaching opportunities

What else is critical to business? Advertising.

So, Sushi Tuesday is my loss-leader. At, I am daily giving away literary product, so folks will sample my goods. Through direct visits to my site and through catching the feed via SinfoniaCircle, Twitter, and Facebook, I am building a loyal following around a brand-- the writers of Sushi Tuesday.

When I wrote the Sunday Op/Ed column for the Cleveland Daily Banner, there were more than a few people who would come up to me and tell me I was the reason they bought the paper. They wanted to hear what that Hooker boy had to say this week.

Think about it.

Professors don’t buy books. We have desk copies given to us. It’s ordinary folks who buy books. And, just like every other aspect of their lives, they’re looking for value. They want something that is thought-provoking and entertaining. They want to stretch their minds and they want people who will speak for them.

So, I give away samples. I build a customer base. And, every quarter, I get a royalty check from Xlibris.

Would you please share with our readers the steps of your writing process?

I write at two different speeds-- big project and small project.

With big projects, I’m very much a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. I want outlines. I want character profiles. I want to know what’s going to happen before it happens.

With the small projects, the Sushi Tuesday essays, I keep my eyes and mind open for that story that comes across the screen that has a kink in it. With my FeedDemon RSS reader, I scan a ton of news stories every day, looking for that quirky story that I can bounce off of.

But, having done that ground-level work, I move to the next step. The story is told that, when Bette Midler is rehearsing her band, they bring in the sheet music and pass it out to the players. Then, twenty minutes later, they take up the music and the players make it their own. Within that twenty minutes, they’ve either gotten it or they haven’t.

The best writing advice I ever received was when a colleague of mine told me to “write about what breaks your heart.” You can block out movement all day long. You can tweak dialogue ad nauseum. But, then, you’ve got to get to that level of the text where you’re writing straight from your heart. When I have to stop typing so I can wipe my eyes so I can see the screen, I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.

And, the audience does, too.

How important do you think critique groups are for writers and do you have one?

The only thing I learned in creative writing workshops was how much I hated creative writing workshops. I avoid them. They are evil.

A friend of mine is trying to get one going and I’ve agreed to come in and do book reports about writing books. But, I want nothing to do with a hack-and-slash group.

Having said that, when I write a big project, I do assemble what I call The Greek Chorus. I want three people to read along as I’m writing, not unlike the judges on “American Idol.” Randy loves everyone that comes across the stage. Simon hates everyone who comes across the stage. And, Paula’s actually been on a stage. Likewise, I want one reader who loves everything I’ve ever written. I want one reader who hates everything I’ve ever written. And, I want one reader to be a fellow writer, someone who’s been in the trenches, too. I figure the truth will be somewhere in the middle.

All of your books are meant for adults. Have you ever thought of writing for a younger audience?

I have been working on a project for some time that could find a following among younger writers. It’s called “The Warrior’s Guide to the Battle of the Sexes.”

Years ago, I ran across a translation of Sun-tzu’s Art of War and the back cover blurb talked about how it was the definitive work on conflict management and that, whether it was two companies vying for the same market or two armies on the same field or two people in a relationship, the rules of resolving conflict were the same.

Two people in a relationship.

It dawned on me that any two people could be a couple, as long as everything was going good. But, it was during the conflicts that couples broke up.

I realized, also, that guys were clueless when it comes to relationships. Women have entire sections of bookstores devoted to them understanding relationships. But, men didn’t get diddly.

So, the premise of “The Warrior’s Guide to the Battle of the Sexes” is a fictional advice column written for guys about relationships. And, the columnist takes something men don’t understand (relationships) and relabels it with something men understand instinctively (war).

I can sit down with any guy and listen to his awful love-life and then retell him what he just told me, using military jargon, and see the light-bulb go off over his head. He, then, knows what he needs to do.

So, hopefully, it will gain a following among teenage guys.

How important do you think it is for a writer to have an agent? Do you have one?

I don’t have one. Someday, I may need one. But, I know, ultimately, an agent’s allegiance is going to be with a publisher first and me second. So, I’ll have one of my attorney buddies riding herd over my end of the contract.

Your blog, Sushi Tuesday, has several contributors. Would you please describe how you met and why you decided to blog together?

Sushi Tuesday came into existence because I got to a place in life where all I was seeing were students and patients, and I needed more. So, I called a fraternity brother of mine that taught in another department and suggested lunch. He agreed, and we went to a sushi bar on a Tuesday. And, we’ve been meeting ever since. Our group has grown. We include an English professor, a music professor, a violin instructor, a sociologist, two psychologists, a lawyer, and a physician. We’re like Cleveland, Tennessee’s version of the Algonquin Roundtable.

Out of the luncheon came the idea for the website. I’d dabbled with blogs before that and had been unsatisfied. And, then, it dawned on me that I could replicate on the op/ed column I’d done before for the Cleveland Daily Banner, at As such, the site was born.

Initially, I did all the writing and I garnered some good hit numbers. So, I invited one of my former students, Ashley Ledford, to write a weekly column. Then, I found Dr. Niama Williams on BlogTalkRadio, at and invited her to write for the site. I found Dave Tabler and his Appalachian History blog at , when I wrote a piece called “What’s a hillbilly?” Soon, he was writing for us. Then, I attended a meeting of the Cleveland Writer’s Guild, where I met our Poet-in-Residence, Celia Shaneyfelt. And, then, I found another fraternity brother, Michael Evans, on Facebook and found he’d already written a novel. He was the next piece of the puzzle.

Meanwhile, I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes and soon found I couldn’t crank out a piece daily. So, I devised a system where each of us take a day and have a separate section for features. Dave’s podcast runs on Monday. Ashley’s column runs on Tuesday. Michael’s column runs on Wednesday. Celia’s poetry runs on Thursday. And, I bring up the rear with my column on Friday. Concurrently, we feature short stories from students that run the entire month.
It’s a strength-in-numbers thing and, so far, it has worked. We now have a core audience that visits the site, as well as derivative audiences through SinfoniaCircle, Twitter, and Facebook. Sushi Tuesday is a literary honkytonk, that place where writers can try out new material, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and cultivate an audience along the way.

We’re not quite Frank, Sammy, Dean-o, Peter, and Joey. But, we’re getting there.

What do you think of e-books and e-book readers like Kindle? Are any of your books in e-book form?

I believe e-books and e-book readers are the organic extension of a revolution equivalent to the invention of moveable type.

When Muddy Waters invented electricity[in music], a seismic shift occurred in music. For most of music’s history, professional musicians labored under the whims of the patrons who fed them. But, when kids named Paul and John and Mick and Keith and Roger and Peter and Eric and Stevie Ray were able to take their Stratocasters into sleazy little dives and play until their fingers bled, they were able to develop their craft on their own terms. And, the world has been a better place because of it.

Likewise, for most of literature’s history, you’ve only had a free press, if you owned the press. And, now, thanks to the Internet, POD publishing, and e-books, now everyone owns the press. I remember having classmates tell me that instructors had told them that, if they wanted to get published, they had to sleep with them. I’ve seen way too many effete academics excuse their inadequacies by proclaiming, “I write; therefore, let them learn to read.”

Those days are gone.

Now, a writer can control his/her own destiny. A writer can tell his/her story, regardless of whether it’s politically correct or whether he/she was born in the right neighborhood.
And, that’s a very liberating thing.

Presently, I don’t have any of my titles in e-book format. But, eventually, I will. E-books democratize the message. Everybody gets to speak.

Will there be some garbage printed along the way? Sure. But, there will also be some mighty fine writing rise to the surface that would have otherwise been squelched. And, that’s what scares the old literary establishment. Oh, heavens, everybody’s work will be on an even playing field; my work will be judged on its merits, and not on how pretentious my pedigree is. Oh, no!

Your books were published by Xlibris. Would you tell our readers what you think of this publisher and why you decided to go with them?

I chose Xlibris for a few reasons. There are any number of local printers who can stamp out a few dozens books and hand them to you. But, do they provide all the extras (LOC cataloging, copyright, etc.) that legitimize what you’re doing? And, once you have your box of books in hand, then what? For me, flexibility of distribution was a key factor. As an extension of Random House, I figured Xlibris would not be a fly-by-night operation. And, with the print-on-demand set-up, combined with the global reach of the Internet, I knew Xlibris would allow me to market my books worldwide, without inventory issues. And, so far, Xlibris has exceeded my expectations. I would recommend them to anyone.

I want to thank Tim Hooker for spending time with us today. Again, if you have any questions please ask them and please if you stopped by to read this leave a comment for Tim. It's like applause.:) Also, anyone who leaves a comment has a chance to win the contest for his book: Rocket Man: A Rhapsody of Short Stories. If you go to his blog you can read an excerpt of it.

Thank you to my new readers. It's wonderful to be reading all of your blogs too! Of course, to the readers who have been here awhile, thank you too. I love writing, so it's great that you like to read it too.:) I will be announcing the next interview tomorrow.

Until then, looking forward to seeing all your questions and comments and you could be the winner!!!


  1. When writing your short stories or books, how important is it for you to people watch or do research?

  2. Interesting interview. It was great to hear that someone actually does write plays these days, even if he's headed away from them.

    I'd be interested in knowing how many books he has sold through Xlibris.

  3. Hi Katie and Nicole,
    Tim will answer your questions very soon. Meanwhile you are now both in the drawing for the free book! Tell your friends to stop by. Tim will be answering questions all day and through tomorrow, since the FB shutdown will happen tonight.:)

  4. For Sugayam 3:

    I don't watch people as much as I interact with them. Appearances can be deceiving and, so, if I'm just watching them from afar, I may miss the essence of who they are.

    Having said that, my classmates and I did do a particular kind of people watching that may help you in your characterization. We would go to a local watering-hole and somebody would pick out another patron and we would all create a character sketch, based on what we could observe about them. It was a neat thought experiment. But, I would still recommend you getting your hands dirty, that you actually interact with as many different kinds of people as possible.

    As for research, live what you can and improvise the rest. I've been working on a sci-fi story and, since there's no such thing as "Spaceships Monthly," I've had to cross-pollinate by reading "Astronomy" magazine and "Professional Mariner" at the same time.


  5. For Katie:

    I'd say I've sold approximately 200 units over the last couple of years.


  6. I certainly relate to that avoidance thing... YIKES. However, I don't have any problem writing and publishing my own work. I'm always surprised when a publisher contacts me. LOL

    Your bio is interesting. I appreciate your background, and writing around the feed bunks. My first sci-fi, "The Ooze From Hell" was written on a warm spring day after a bad winter storm, as I drove around a feedyard feeding cattle. I bet you can tell me what the ooze smelled like!

    Love it, processed cow feed inspires!


  7. Tim, that's a really interesting, effective way to deal with rejection! Have you thought of trying more traditional publishing now that you have a bit more experience?

  8. Thanks for stopping by Jan and madcapmaggie,
    Tim will be answering your questions as soon as he can. Not being a girl from the farm I'm not too sure what a feed bunk is.:)

  9. For Jan:

    I'm getting better with the Avoidance. And, ironically, it was the M.F.A. program that ultimately helped. I doubt if Holy Writ could make it through a graduate level creative writing workshop. I can just hear some snit whining, "Moses had an agenda! Ezekiel is committing authorial intrusion!"

    So, over the long haul, that toughening process has helped. And, writing for a newspaper really helped. If you'll notice, practically anybody who is anybody in American Literature sooner or later cut their teeth at a newspaper. It makes you face ordinary folks who may or may not agree with you. And, if forces you to learn to say, "Thank you," and then keep on writing.

    As for knowing my way around a feed bunk, it's amazing what thirty years on a farm can do for your creativity. 8-)


  10. For madcapmaggie:

    Yes, with three self-published books under my belt, I think I'm ready to attempt a more traditional approach to publishing. With my current writing project, "Memphis Knights" (the novelization of "Duncan Hambeth"), I feel strong enough in myself to say, "Fine, if you don't like what I have to say, there are other venues for getting my message to my readers. It boils down to 'Do you want a piece of the profits or none of the profits? Either way, I'm going to press, with or without you.'"

    And, that's the great thing about POD set-ups like Xlibris. It puts the power in the hands of the author. How many promising writers have been cut off at the knees because some editor didn't like the way the author parted his/her hair? Now that we have methods of incubation, that emerging writer can see his/her stuff in print in a safe environment, figure out what does and doesn't work, and then approach the industry from a position of strength.


  11. Great interview, Tim. I really like what you had to say and you gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for sharing!


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