Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Author Interview: Michael Potts, Author of End of Summer

Jersey Girl Book Reviews welcomes Michael Potts, author of End of Summer!

Welcome to Jersey Girl Book Reviews Michael! Before we get to the interview, can you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

I am a native of Smyrna, Tennessee in Rutherford County, a city twenty miles southeast of Nashville. I grew up in the country, lived for a time with my parents and grandparents in one house, then moved with my parents about three miles down the road. I am the oldest of four children (I have a sister and two brothers). My fraternal twin brother, Jeffrey, died about two hours after birth. After graduating from Smyrna High School in 1980, I attended David Lipscomb University in Nashville (B.A., Biblical Languages, 1983), Harding School of Theology in Memphis (M.Th., Theology, 1986), Vanderbilt University (M.A., 1987), the University of Texas, and The University of Georgia (Ph.D., Philosophy, 1992). I taught for a year at UGA after graduation, then taught one year at Kennesaw State University in Marietta, GA before coming to Methodist University in 1994. My current position there is Professor of Philosophy, and my main academic interests are philosophy of religion and medical ethics. I also graduated in 2007 from The Writer's Loft program at St. Anselm's College in Manchester, NH. I enjoy chess, gardening, reading, ghosting hunting, and very slow jogging on a treadmill. I have been married to Karen since 1987, and we have no children but three cats: Frodo, Pippin, and Rosie.

How long have you been a writer?

I have been doing creative writing since I took a poetry class at Methodist University, where I teach philosophy. Robin Greene is an excellent teacher and she taught me how to write quality contemporary poetry. From there I took other classes and workshops and moved into fiction writing.

Do you have a "day job," or is being an author your career?

My current position is Professor of Philosophy, Methodist University, Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I have been since August 1994.

What inspired you to become a writer? Describe your journey as a writer.

Writing for me has been therapeutic. My fraternal twin died about two hours after birth from a bilateral pulmonary hemorrhage, so I heard about death earlier than many others. The concern with death and whether there is an afterlife consumed me. Part of my way of dealing with it was to get into philosophy, but that missed the emotional part of my struggles. Creative writing fiction and poetry is a way I can deal with my struggles with God, death, and ultimate things in a way that expresses and communicates emotions. In fiction and poetry, I can use concrete images from real life to show the reader my struggles with these issues rather than telling the reader about them. Hopefully the message is universal enough to affect a variety of people and I pray that it helps them with any struggles over the ultimate meaning of life.

Please give a brief description / storyline about End of Summer.

Jeffrey Conley, a professor of religion in North Carolina, returns to Tennessee. He has just attended his grandmother's funeral, and this reminds him of another passing, his granddaddy's passing when he was nine years old. He traces the route he and his granddaddy took from across a field to a thicket (The Thicket), a sacred place for Jeffrey, where he and his granddaddy had talked and played when he was a child. Jeffrey returns to his childhood, with its idyllic memories of Sunday dinners with relatives, trips to the town square, bike rides with Granddaddy and friends, playing with his dog Fuzzy, helping Granddaddy in the garden, and a special journey to The Thicket. Jeffrey's adult journey from field to thicket parallels his childhood journey from an idyllic Eden to the loss of his granddaddy. Through his journey, Jeffrey will find meaning in the most painful death he had faced and come to better understand his own obsession with death.

What was the inspiration for this story?

Unlike the story, my granddaddy died when I was almost twenty-one, but it was one of the most painful losses I have faced. In the story, my parents were killed when I was two; actually they are still living, but I wanted to focus on the boy and his granddaddy. Basically I combined my daddy's character with Granddaddy's. Some of the story is based on events in my childhood, I did go rabbit hunting with my daddy (in the story, with my granddaddy). I did enjoy Sunday dinners at my grandparents. Most of the characters are based on real people, though fictionalized. Jeffrey is the name of my fraternal twin who died, so he is the mirror image of me. When I wrote the first draft at the Weymouth Center in North Carolina (all but the first ten pages in ten days), I felt lost in another world, it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.

How did it feel to have your first book published?

Actually this was my first novel. I have a co-edited academic book of which I was editor-in-chief (Beyond Brain Death), and I have a poetry chapbook published, From Field to Thicket. However, having a first novel published was extra special. Seeing the copy of the novel, the fine job the artist did on the cover, and anticipating others reading and enjoying, and hopefully finding some special meaning in the novel, all those feelings are still overwhelming.

Do you write books for a specific genre?

Originally I imagined a Southern Gothic book, but what the novel has become is Southern literary fiction with a few Southern Gothic elements. I would like to write some Southern Gothic and some horror, that is what I hope to do in the future.

What genres are your favorite(s)? What are some of your favorite books that you have read and why?

My favorite book of fiction is The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is an author who breaks almost every rule of writing, and it works. His descriptive power is incredible. Generally I like horror fiction (Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell are excellent) and fiction that awakens a sense of nostalgia or the stronger feeling, Sehnsucht, to use C.S. Lewis' term, a longing for home that cannot be met in this world. Examples include James Agee's A Death in the Family and Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. I would like to mention my favorite short story, John Updike's Pidgeon Feathers. The boy in that story is so much like me as a child.

Do you have a special "spot/area" where you like to do your writing?

I live in North Carolina now, and my favorite place to write is at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, NC. North Carolina writers mat request short residencies there. The house is beautiful, the fields surrounding remind me so much of those at my parents and grandparents, and I can sit back and move into another world there.

How do you come up with the ideas that become the storyline for your books?

I usually start with experiences I have and expand on them. The most important questions in writing begin with "What if?". "What if my granddaddy had died when I was nine instead of when I was twenty? How would that have affected me?" If I move into horror for my next novel, I may start with someone I know but ask, "What if person x was not the person I knew, but was really a murderer who never got caught? What if a victim's ghost helps me discover that fact? What should I do? What would I do?"

When you write, do you adhere to a strict work schedule, or do you work whenever the inspiration strikes?

My heavy course load makes it impossible for me to be strict in my schedule. I tend to write in spurts of inspiration in which I write forty pages a day. After a break, then I begin, as I have time, the slow process of revision.

What aspects of storytelling do you like the best, and what aspects do you struggle with the most?

I like the initial process of writing, the right-brained activity of letting words flow, the feeling of living in an alternate world. What is most difficult for me is sticking to a tight plot. I am a traditionalist on plot, but it is not easy to keep every event in the book on track with the plot. Almost always something must be cut, even some good material, and that is frustrating.

What are your favorite things to do when you are not writing?

I like to play chess and go ghost hunting (I do it for fun, I do not know whether there are ghosts or not, though I've recorded some interesting electronic voice phenomena. It gives me a sense that there is more in the universe than our limited minds can comprehend). I enjoy academic writing, gardening, canning tomatoes, peppers, and pickles, making salsa, and reading about philosophy, science, medicine and theology. I have a wide range of interests.

What is/was the best piece of writing advice that you have received?

Use images rather than adjectives.

What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer?

I get a sense of creating a work of art, something new where nothing existed before but the images in my mind and the medium of language.

How do you usually communicate with your readers/fans?

I have a web page, as well as a Facebook page for End of Summer and an author's page on Amazon. I primarily use Facebook, but I would be happy to answer any reader's questions about my works via e-mail.

Are any things in your book based on real life experiences or are they purely all from your imagination?

Most things are from life experiences in End of Summer, but the novel is a work of fiction. I made up many events that are consistent with the characters I remember but which did not actually take place. Of course Jeffrey's parents are dead in the novel and mine are alive in real life is a major difference, as is the absence of brothers and sisters (I have a sister and two brothers). In my future works there will be more "pure" fiction and less of a link to what "really" happened.

What authors have been your inspiration or influenced you to become a writer?

James Agee, Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, Donald Hall (poetry) and Wendell Berry (poetry and fiction).

What is your definition of success as a writer?

If some people, and I do not have a set number in mind, read my novel and find it real and meaningful in their lives, then I have been a success. I do not define "success" in terms of financial success, very few writers attain that.

Are you currently writing a new book? If yes, would you care to share a bit with us?

I am currently working on a horror novel set in Tennessee (and not based on anything in my life!) about a Fundamentalist preacher who is approached by a figure who looks like Jesus but who is actually a demonic figure (with some Lovecraftian features, but evil rather than just nihilistic).

Thank you Michael for allowing me the opportunity to interview you on Jersey Girl Book Reviews, and for taking the time to share some things about you and your writing career with us.

About The Author:

Michael Potts grew up near Smyrna, Tennessee and is currently Professor of Philosophy at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His undergraduate degree (in Biblical Languages) is from David Lipscomb University. He also holds a Master of Theology from Harding University Graduate School of Religion, a Master of Arts (in Religion) from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Georgia. Michael has sixteen articles in scholarly journals, nine book chapters, six encyclopedia articles, two book reviews, and he co-edited the book, Beyond Brain Death: The Case Against Brain Based Criteria for Human Death, which was published in 2000 by Kluwer Academic Publishers. He also has over thirty scholarly presentations, including one presented at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at The Vatican in 2005. Michael is a 2007 graduate of The Writers Loft at Middle Tennessee State University and a 2007 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. His poetry has been published in Journal of the American Medical Association, Iodine Poetry Journal, Poems & Plays, and other literary journals. His poetry chapbook, From Field to Thicket, won the 2006 Mary Belle Campbell Poetry Book Award of the North Carolina Writers network. His creative nonfiction essay, Haunted, won the Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Award, also sponsored by the North Carolina Writers Network. Besides reading and writing, he enjoys vegetable gardening, canning, and ghost investigations (just for fun!). He and his wife, Karen, live with their three cats, Frodo, Rosie, and Pippin, in Linden, North Carolina.


BUY THE BOOK: End of Summer

Book Description: End of Summer

A young boy. An old man. And a journey of the heart.

My fraternal twin, Michael, died two hours after birth, drowning from fluid in his lungs. When I was two, my Mom and Dad were killed in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer. I was reared by Granddaddy and Granny, who had lived with my folks in the same rented home. I remembered neither my parents' lives nor their deaths. I suppose that's a blessing and a curse. My grandparents had provided details my young mind could understand, but I pushed them away. I did not want them.

Back in that field after thirty years, I stood poised at the edge of an abyss.

End of Summer is a poignant, literary novel that explores the mysteries of life, love and death through the eyes of a nine year old boy ... interpreted by the man he grew to be.