By day, novelist Jim C. Hines works for the state of Michigan. Five days a week he goes to work to answer phone calls and e-mails. He’s a problem-solver, a trouble-shooter. It’s what he does. It keeps him busy and pays the bills.
By night and by lunch break, Hines writes fantasy short stories and novels. He’s written a trilogy of novels about Jig the Goblin and four novels re-imagining faerie tale princesses. Red Hood’s Revenge came out last summer and The Snow Queen’s Shadow is due out this summer. Hines’ prose crackles with wit, irony, and a brand absurdity that has most certainly been influenced by years of dealing with bureaucracy and administrivia.
When I caught up with Hines last summer, he was still doing crappy things to his characters. And I wonder if maybe there isn’t a connection between all those phone calls and his treatment of Jig and Red Hood. Below, Hines talks about how he balances his “day job” and his writing career.
What else do you do at your “day job”? And how do the requirements of your “day job” or enhance your writing life?
Jim C. Hines: I work for the state of Michigan, in one of our education departments. I’m basically upper-level customer support, meaning I answer phones and e-mails, troubleshoot various software, write up documentation and communications, and figure out how to improve data-collection from all schools in the state. It can be draining, especially around various data collection deadlines, and there are days when the stress of the job sticks with me and interferes with my ability to concentrate on writing. Most days though, I’m able to set the day job aside, put up the “I’m on my lunch. Go away!” sign, and work on the next book during my lunch break. Five days a week. Ironically, knowing my lunch is often the only time I’ll have to write helps me to focus and start working a lot faster than I might if I had an entire day.
When do you write? And do you find it hard to enter a writing state of mind on short notice or in short bursts?
Jim C. Hines: Lunch breaks. And I sometimes squeeze in some evening or weekend writing time, especially if I’ve got a deadline for a project. Having that rigid and limited schedule works for me. It forces me to get through all of the procrastinating mind games quickly and just start writing, because if I don’t, then I won’t get another chance until the following day. I’ve gotten pretty good at switching mental gears.
Do you write differently when you have a whole day as opposed to a short chunk of time?
Jim C. Hines: I usually procrastinate a little more, but once I sit down and get started, I think it goes better. I find writing is very much about momentum. It’s hard to get moving from a standstill, but the more you write, the easier it gets to keep going. So if I have an entire day, the first hour or so might have some stumbling blocks, but I’m able to keep going and get even more immersed in the story and the writing, and then suddenly it’s dinnertime and I’ve written three or four thousand words.
Lastly, if you had two months to write a fantasy novel from first glimmers to final draft, how would you go about it?
Jim C. Hines: I actually did this with Goblin Quest, back in 2000 when I was still looking for a job. Basically, I just locked myself away in the bedroom every day for probably four to six hours a day. The entire book was planned, written, and revised in roughly six weeks. In some ways, it was great being able to dive into the project, to focus almost exclusively on writing. (Well, writing and sending out resumes.) On my most productive day, I wrote more than 10,000 words. I was brain-fried the following day, but it still blew my mind that I was capable of writing like that. I’d love to be able to do that again some day, but between the day job and the family, I don’t see it happening for many more years.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly. He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.