Author TJ Childers never took writing seriously until he reached college. Before then, writing was merely something to do when a wayward thought would creep into his consciousness. The result was often a handful of sentences scribbled in the corner of a notebook, but no focused effort or progress. But in his sophomore year of college, Childers fell in love with writing as a result of a creative writing assignment that helped him realize just how much work goes into bringing an idea to life, and how rewarding the process can be when a story comes together.
To date, the New Jersey native has released three works of fiction, beginning with a collection of short stories entitled Bingo. His second work, The Pianist, The Witch, and the Dog, is a modern-day fairy tale about morality and revenge. And his most recent release, Tornado, is the story of a man seeking shelter from a storm, and the people he meets along the way.
Readers can learn more about Childers and his writing at www.tjchilders.com.
Finding my own voice and joining a writing group.
While rewriting a story from half a decade ago, I realized how much my styles changed. The core of the story is still the same, the characters, the plot, the setting, the motivation, yet no two sentences are the same from that original story to its current draft. I’ve found that I’m no longer fine with just getting the point of the story across. I want to paint the picture, I want you to understand why a character makes a decision they make. I want you to feel their hesitation, or joy, or sorrow. I’ve learned to try to adapt the old adage “Show, don’t tell.”
Being a part of a writing group has been one of the best things to happen to me as a writer. While it’s always nice to have friends and family read my work while it’s being edited, there is nothing quite like having other writers rip your story apart before giving helpful tips on how to put it back together.
What aspect of the writing process do you find most enjoyable?
Finishing. Without a doubt being able to open a document, realize that the first draft is finally complete and it’s just a matter of whittling and refining, is like a breath of fresh air. I’m a slow, methodical writer so being able to look back and realize a story that’s been in my head for years is finally fleshed out and alive is exhilarating. It’s the reason why I began to write in the first place.
The best advice I’ve heard, and that I’ve found to be true, is to let a story sit for a while, let your mind focus on something else, forget about it, and come back to it a month or two later and look at things with fresh eyes. It helps put things into perspective, to see what worked and what didn’t. And then, after months of toiling away, editing and cutting, I get to present something that I hold so near and close to my heart to the reading public.
What challenges have you faced when it comes to self-publishing, and what have you learned from the process?
The hardest part is getting people to give a damn about you. There is no blue print for this. You’re sort of just thrown into some foreign land and told to find your own way. Sure, there are a plethora of books on the subject, believe me, I’ve read them, but they talk more of the theory of self-publishing and the tactics that they find helpful. There is no step-by-step guide, no apprenticeship to help you grow your talent at selling. It’s a one man show.
Writing is a very solitary profession, so having to be the main force driving your career as well, throws things out of whack. You spend countless hours nurturing and giving birth to this story you care so deeply about and not only do you stress about whether or not it will be well received but now you have to find people who actually want to read it. Putting a story online, with no defined following or positive reviews, is a daunting experience. One that can shake your confidence if you’re not dedicated and willing to fail.
What other authors have influenced you over the course of your life?
Edgar Allan Poe: The first author whose name I remembered and whose stories I sought out. The Tell-Tale Heart was the first story that I ever truly loved. It showed me, at a young age, how symbolism could be a powerful tool for a writer.
Chuck Palahunik helped me realize I could find my own voice. You don’t need to follow the rules of writing. Do what you love.
Chuck Wendig helped break down the walls of the self publishing facade one with an devilish wit.
Steven Kotler showed me that when you need to get something written, nothing will stop you.
What events in your life have shaped you the most?
Rejection: both personal and professional.
It’s the driving force that makes me go back to a story time and time again and make it a better read. The fear that what I publish will be openly laughed at and mocked is enough for me to make sure that I am completely satisfied with what is presented to the public.
While I try to be a strong individual who’s ready to tackle the challenges of self-publishing, a negative review can still rock me to the core. It makes me question every decision I’ve made, if I should’ve waited to publish, if I should have sent the work out to different beta-readers to get the best possible outcome, or even wasted my time to begin with.
Rejection is a wicked thing and having faced a significant amount in my life, it has added a needed level of hesitation to my every day decisions. It has its negatives, by all means, but has made the work I’ve publish a much more polished. Although I sometimes want to break down and send an essay long email asking why people decided to give a one-star review, what they hated about my work, my story, myself, but at the end of the day, as long as I can confidently say I am proud to have written, I am satisfied.
As a Jets fan, what are your expectations for the Michael Vick era in New York, and with regards to the team as a whole, how do you foresee this season playing out?
I am an eternal optimist when it comes to the Jets. Every season has the potential to win a Super Bowl win and this year is no different. While I’ve always been a Mark Sanchez fan, butt fumble and all, the Jets are in an interesting quarterback situation.
Vick obviously gives the Jets the best chance of winning this year but at what risk to Geno’s confidence? Vick still has a black mark on his career and winning a Super Bowl will never erase that, but if the Jets are going to continue to draw headlines by making flashy moves (Tim Tebow anyone?) than I can only hope that it pays off.
My prediction, and I would be ecstatic if proven incorrect, is that in three years, the Jets will have moved past Sanchez, Vick, and Smith and will have found another headline grabber.
All in all, with a strong defensive backbone and the best player in football, Nick Mangold, still on the front line, I predict a promising 9-7 finish before they wreak havoc in the playoffs and bring the trophy home.
What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?
Going to reach a bit here and pick a movie from 2010. Insidious. I have been a fan of the horror genre for quite sometime. My first nightmare came at the hands of Puppet Master. The first story I remember reading more than once was The Pit and the Pendulum. For me, horror has been a big part of how I was raised and who I’ve become. For the last decade or so, horror has taken a turn in the wrong direction. Somewhere along the line, horror movies began to drift away from suspense and pure horror as a way to frighten watchers and seemed to carve a niche in blood and guts. It’s appeared, in the last few years, that the gorier a movie was, the more people seem to love it.
We’ve ventured away from “let me see how much I can terrify you” and shifted to “let’s see how gross I can make this scene.” While that is all well and good, and there is a significant fan base for torture porn, it doesn’t scratch the horror itch for me. Movies like Saw, The Hills Have Eyes, The Devil’s Rejects and Hostel are, in my opinion, not scary. Sure I’m going to look away from the screen, but only from fear of losing my lunch, not out of sheer terror. Insidious was a nice surprise of a movie that allowed fear of the unknown to frighten me without the excess of blood spurting and leg snapping. It was a welcome venture back into a world where scary movies didn’t have to fall back on obscene imagery and gut-wrenching closeups to get a reaction.
Insidious allowed viewers to be scared again. It allowed us to be scared of what was around the corner or under the bed. For that I am grateful. I can only hope that I am not in the minority with my views and we are seeing a positive trend toward movies that flourish while preying on our fears instead of upsetting our stomachs.
If you could sit down and talk to your ten-year-old self, what would you tell him?
That’s quite the loaded question. To be honest, I don’t know if I would ever want to meet my ten-year-old self. Sure I could tell him to study more and eat healthy and focus less on girls and games and more on school and the future, but than I wouldn’t learn. I wouldn’t understand the feeling of defeat and how it helps, how heartbreak makes you a better man, how rejection can motivate.
I wouldn’t tell myself any of this. Not because 10-year-old-me is a stubborn as a tree but because there is beauty in pain. A beauty you can’t understand until you experience it.
I would probably sit that little boy down, grab his chubby cheeks, and tell him this:
You are going to fall in love. It’s going to be wonderful and you will feel like the king of the world. You will feel like you can accomplish anything. Life is amazing.
You are going to get your heart broken. It’s going to be awful and you will feel like the scum of the earth. You will sit in your room and not want to do a damn thing. Life will suck.
Understand that these emotions are fleeting. Sure it blew when Smart ended things, but then you would’ve never met Texas. And sure it sucked that things with Texas didn’t work out, but than you would’ve never met Pinky. Oh Pinky, she will change your life, wait ’til your meet her. But things won’t work out with Pinky and it’ll feel like the world has abandoned you and cast you aside. Use these emotions, pour them into your work, let them shape who you are. Jobs will come and go, grades will be good and bad, and yes, you will be yelled at and grounded and have things taken away. Use these experiences for good. Don’t allow the defeats to shape you. Learn from them. Become better because of them. Write about them.
I can’t promise the ride will be fun, or that you’ll want to stay on, but understand this, it’s worth it. Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Take chances. Have fun. Do things that scare you. Love life.
What are you working on next?
I have a number of works currently in various stages of completion. My focus at the moment is my most ambitious and longest piece to date, tentatively titled The Man Outside The Window, which I’m hoping to release near Halloween. It’s the story of a boy who, in the middle of a storm, sees a man outside of his window looking in. His parents don’t believe the young boy until the lock on the backdoor is shattered and the power goes out.
I also have another collection of short stories in the works. Much like my previous collection, Bingo, it contains numerous genres and styles. One of the stories from the new collection will be given away to members of the mailing list on TJChilders.com before it’s release.
I’m constantly working on my website and social media presence. I’m continuing to work with an amazing artist from Canada and releasing comics for free on TJChilders.com. I currently have three comics on the site and will continue to release new one page comics on a monthly basis.
And finally, I will continue the blog with a peek into my personal and professional life with topics such as self-publishing, weight loss, and card games.