Plotting vs. Pantsing 9: Jim Newport

April 14th, 2010

JimNewport_BookCovers

Jim Newport lives in Phuket, having happily deserted LA (and a stellar career as a motion picture production designer) to check out the other side — the Thai side — of the world.  And he writes about one aspect of Thai life — the supernatural aspect — in THE VAMPIRE OF SIAM trilogy, which has been optioned as a potential major motion picture.  He’s also written two novels, CHASING JIMI, a rock-and-roll period piece about the sudden explosion that was Jimi Hendrix, and — most recently, TINSEL TOWN; ANOTHER ROTTEN DAY IN PARADISE, inspired by his experiences in the early days of his film career.  By the way, that career included such films as “Bangkok Dangerous” and “Brokedown Palace,” and TV of the caliber of “Lost.”

2.Color

Don’t Talk About Writing – Write
Every once in a while someone wants to talk to me about writing. What immediately goes through my mind is what I used to say to my art directors when I was designing a film and they’d ask me: “What color?” My reply was always: “You don’t talk about color.”
You don’t talk about writing – you write.
Every day. You plow ahead, leaving gaps and holes to be filled in later. Moving the story forward is the key.
My mom was an inspiration to me. I recently found some of her poems and short stories and made copies and sent them to my brothers. She also was a very good artist. She worked in water colors, a very difficult medium. My dad played a pretty good honky-tonk piano. But they were both school teachers and their two careers and raising 3 boys left them little time for those pursuits.
When I’m not writing – I read. Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke and the great Cormac McCarthy – those writers fill my shelves. But when I set about the serious task of writing a new novel, I stop reading and start writing.
I have written a trilogy (The Vampire Of Siam) and two factoids (Chasing Jimi and Tinsel Town.) I always have a notebook and a pen. I keep the notes in files with simple headings and then when its time to write – I go to these and find the nucleus to begin the process.
I begin with a very loose plot. I outline just enough to get started.
The hardest part of writing a book is getting started. Like everyone, I procrastinate and do just about everything but write, when it comes time for me to start something.
I do my best writing when I am in a stream of consciousness mode. When it flows. When I don’t know what I will write next. When I feel (as Robert Howard said of “Conan”) – the characters are standing over my shoulder telling me their story. I laugh out loud all the time. And I am constantly amazed at the twists and turns the story takes.
This is what excites me about writing. It tales a while to get to this point – both in your writing as a whole and in each individual book. But that magic moment has so far come to me very early on in each of the half-dozen novels I’ve written so far.
There was a time when I wrote lots of songs (early 80’s.) I had a band and a regular gig. My act was about 2 hours – 90% original material. I never consciously sat down at the piano to write a song. They came to me. I woke up with them in my head and I would scramble to get them down (Mick Jagger sleeps every night with a recorder next to his bed.)
Now, when I’m working on a book, I wake up & write stuff in the middle of the night. Then I go back to bed – and read it the next day and barely remember writing it.
I write practically every day. Without a given schedule. I am semi-retired from the film game now and I chose my ‘spot’ in the world for this part of my life very carefully. I live in Phuket, an island in the south of Thailand.
When I first visited here 20 years ago, I had no idea that this would be a place that I would return to time and time again for the next two decades of my life.  I was most fortunate that on my first trip here, I found the very spot that afforded me the solitude and peace to pursue my dream of being a writer. It was just a little single room house, Baan Thukkataan, but it was where, I was convinced, that my muse  lived. I would work as a Production Designer in the Hollywood system throughout the year and then return every winter to the little house by the sea.  Words poured forth.  I wrote through the long days and into the fold of the tropical nights, listening to the lapping of the surf and the cries of the jungle behind me. I poured my heart onto to the keys of my various laptops. I filled countless notebooks while sitting in the islands of numerous cafes. All the while, my muse stood quietly at my shoulder – encouraging and beckoning me forward.
Now I live right across the street in my own house. I am very comfortable and I enjoy writing here. It is where all my books get started. But once I’ve cleared that initial ‘getting started’ phase, – I can write anywhere – bars, restaurants, airplanes, trains.
I put the book down when it is finished and leave it for 6 months or more. Then, when I return to it, the superfluous becomes obvious. Lastly, I have the fun of working with the editor, setting the galleys and designing the cover art.
I’m writing a fourth Vampire Of Siam tale now, and needed to re-read the last book in the series. There was much of it that I truly do not recall writing. It is fresh to me – and, I must admit, enjoyable. I think that is the hallmark of a good book, when you can pick it up again and the writing still intrigues you.
Jim Newport
January 2010
Phuket, Thailand

Don’t Talk About Writing – Write

Every once in a while someone wants to talk to me about writing. What immediately goes through my mind is what I used to say to my art directors when I was designing a film and they’d ask me: “What color?” My reply was always: “You don’t talk about color.”

You don’t talk about writing – you write.

Every day. You plow ahead, leaving gaps and holes to be filled in later. Moving the story forward is the key.

My mom was an inspiration to me. I recently found some of her poems and short stories and made copies and sent them to my brothers. She also was a very good artist. She worked in water colors, a very difficult medium. My dad played a pretty good honky-tonk piano. But they were both school teachers and their two careers and raising 3 boys left them little time for those pursuits.

When I’m not writing – I read. Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke and the great Cormac McCarthy – those writers fill my shelves. But when I set about the serious task of writing a new novel, I stop reading and start writing.

I have written a trilogy (THE VAMPIRE OF SIAM) and two factoids (CHASING JIMI and TINSEL TOWN) I always have a notebook and a pen. I keep the notes in files with simple headings and then when its time to write – I go to these and find the nucleus to begin the process.

I begin with a very loose plot. I outline just enough to get started.

The hardest part of writing a book is getting started. Like everyone, I procrastinate and do just about everything but write, when it comes time for me to start something.

I do my best writing when I am in a stream of consciousness mode. When it flows. When I don’t know what I will write next. When I feel (as Robert Howard said of “Conan”) – the characters are standing over my shoulder telling me their story. I laugh out loud all the time. And I am constantly amazed at the twists and turns the story takes.

This is what excites me about writing. It tales a while to get to this point – both in your writing as a whole and in each individual book. But that magic moment has so far come to me very early on in each of the half-dozen novels I’ve written so far.

There was a time when I wrote lots of songs (early 80’s.) I had a band and a regular gig. My act was about 2 hours – 90% original material. I never consciously sat down at the piano to write a song. They came to me. I woke up with them in my head and I would scramble to get them down (Mick Jagger sleeps every night with a recorder next to his bed.)

Now, when I’m working on a book, I wake up & write stuff in the middle of the night. Then I go back to bed – and read it the next day and barely remember writing it.

I write practically every day. Without a given schedule. I am semi-retired from the film game now and I chose my ‘spot’ in the world for this part of my life very carefully. I live in Phuket, an island in the south of Thailand.

When I first visited here 20 years ago, I had no idea that this would be a place that I would return to time and time again for the next two decades of my life.  I was most fortunate that on my first trip here, I found the very spot that afforded me the solitude and peace to pursue my dream of being a writer. It was just a little single room house, Baan Thukkataan, but it was where, I was convinced, that my muse  lived. I would work as a Production Designer in the Hollywood system throughout the year and then return every winter to the little house by the sea.  Words poured forth.  I wrote through the long days and into the fold of the tropical nights, listening to the lapping of the surf and the cries of the jungle behind me. I poured my heart onto to the keys of my various laptops. I filled countless notebooks while sitting in the islands of numerous cafes. All the while, my muse stood quietly at my shoulder – encouraging and beckoning me forward.

Now I live right across the street in my own house. I am very comfortable and I enjoy writing here. It is where all my books get started. But once I’ve cleared that initial ‘getting started’ phase, – I can write anywhere – bars, restaurants, airplanes, trains.

I put the book down when it is finished and leave it for 6 months or more. Then, when I return to it, the superfluous becomes obvious. Lastly, I have the fun of working with the editor, setting the galleys and designing the cover art.

I’m writing a fourth VAMPIRE OF SIAM tale now, and needed to re-read the last book in the series. There was much of it that I truly do not recall writing. It is fresh to me – and, I must admit, enjoyable. I think that is the hallmark of a good book, when you can pick it up again and the writing still intrigues you.

Jim Newport

January 2010

Phuket, Thailand

13 Responses to “Plotting vs. Pantsing 9: Jim Newport”

  1. Larissa Says:

    hmm. I’m happy that he’s found success for himself and his writing. I appreciate the message about “don’t talk about writing. Just write.” however, I can’t entirely discount the value of not working in a vacuum and actually talking about your ideas and the act of writing. But I’m a very verbal person and thinker. I have often thought that I should record myself talking about my characters instead of initially trying to write about them..seems funny but it worked for Homer in a way right? 😀

  2. Lady Glamis Says:

    This was great to read and introduced me to a new writer. Thank you!

    I write like Jim, outlining only enough to get started, and then I roll with it until 1/3 of the way through, then seriously sit down to plan the entire novel in depth.

    Like Larissa, I can’t write in a vacuum. I must talk about writing all the time, but lots of reading helps, too. Of course, the most important thing is writing. Constant practice. Period.

  3. Jim Newport Says:

    Thanks for the comments. I don’t mean to give the impression that I write in a vacum. I write everywhere – bars, restaurants, parks, planes, trains. I enjoy being surronded by life when I create.
    And I do talk about what I’m writing. I learned a long time ago that astory becomes real the more times you tell it.
    Jim Newport
    PS All my books are available at willatpublishing.com

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, all —

    Riss, I agree about the vacuum, but actually Jim and I write very much the same way — often in coffee shops or other public areas where there’s a current of energy in the air.

    And Lady Glamis, welcome. I actually spent five days at Glamis Castle on a film shoot, and it’s a tad on the spooky side. I have to say that your returning to outlining for the remainder of the book is a new approach to me. And it amazes me, to be frank, that anyone can outline a book. I just finished two book proposals, both of which required outlining, and I just gave up and wrote short scenes, linking them together with cloudspeak — “When these two story lines intertwine, they’ll give the book a new energy source,” etc. Drivel, in other words. But some of what’s in each proposal is good, so we shall see what we see.

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    SUZANNA wrote (and WordPress swallowed):

    Wondering what made you decide to go from your career in production design to writing novels? Was telling a story/writing something that you were already pretty good at?

  6. Suzanna Says:

    And WordPress also swallowed my follow up apology for the blunder I made. I had read Jim’s post days before I wrote my question. After I wrote the question I reread Jim’s post and realized that he had already carefully explained the transition from his design career to writing. Congratulations for realizing your dream, Jim! It sounds like you are having a wonderful time.

  7. Jim Newport Says:

    Suzanna

    Thanks for your kind words. I started writing screenplays about 20 years ago. I had spent a good part of my production design career dissecting scripts and I thought I knew how to write them. I pursued financing for one that I wanted to direct through all the independent companies. I was told time & again that my film didn’t fit their ‘genre.’ That genre was usually horror films. So I decided to write a vampire script. As I started to write I soon realized that the amount of color and tone that I wanted to impart would not be suited to the harsh confines of a screenplay. The ‘Vampire Of Siam’ became a book instead. I soon found that I preferred the freedom of the novel as a format for my words.

  8. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Jim

    I think it’s great that you pushed passed the limitations of the industry and found the format that suits you.

    By the way Cormac McCarthy’s books are some of my favorites too. One of the things I like best about his writing is his wonderful ear for dialogue. His dialogue just never seems forced.

    Thanks for your post and looking forward to checking out your books.

  9. Beth Terrell Says:

    Thank you, Jim. I agree with you 100% about the way it feels when the work is flowing and you go back to read it later and think, “Oh my goodness. Who wrote this? It’s…not half bad. Actually, it’s pretty darn good. Hey…was that ME?”

  10. Jim Newport Says:

    Thank you for your comments. Re: Cormac McCarthy – After seeing the movie “No Country For Old Men,” I read both the script for and the novel. Brilliant as the Cohen Brothers are, they hardly changed a thing from the book. That rarely happens. I adapted my own novel (“Vampire Of Siam”) for the screen & have now done 3 drafts. It is 180 degrees different than the original book. Better or worse? It’s hard to be objective. It’s just different. But that’s what they (the producers) paid me to do & it is in my best interest to do it myself.

  11. Sean Bunzick Says:

    Sawadee kob Jim and Tim!
    I read this section and was thrilled to see you and your works here, Jim. I’m even more excited that there’ll be a new Vampire of Siam novel coming out–I can’t wait to get my hands on that one.
    One thing that I find funny and a little ironic in a lame kind of way is that over on my good friend Mike’s website Thailand Stories (www.thailandstories.com), a lot of the regular e-mail writers complain that too many books are just about a middle-aged farang “saving” an Issan bargirl and all the blah-blah-blah that goes with it yet your novels–going down an entirely unique soi–aren’t there (I think Mike can arrange that if you or Timothy would like to do so) but nor are there any comments because I’m assuming that these folks haven’t bothered with your series, Tim’s Poke Rafferty series and the first chapters of my John Harwich Adventure series which are basically Indiana Jones Meets Rambo rarely get a reply so it’s a tough audience to call.
    I agree fully with your writing style; I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll even try to get some writing done on my latest rough draft in Logan or LAX while I’m waiting to catch my next set of planes back to Chiang Mai.
    Anyway, Jim, I’m glad Timothy got you on his fantastic website and I hope both of you will continue to write and put out such beautiful novels that capture the kingdom in your own way. Choke dee to both of you from the Cape!

  12. Barb Says:

    Newport, it’s been a very long time! So glad to read about your life as a published writer. It suits you well!
    I agree with you 100%–
    I all too often talk (or think about) writing when I should be setting pen to paper. It’s something I’m working on but get totally jazzed when it’s flowing and seemingly coming out of nowhere!
    Tell me, how does one go about getting a signed copy of your latest work? Looking forward to hearing from you!

  13. Jim Newport Says:

    Barb

    You need to block out time to write. I am currently hiding out from the world in the south of France – doing just that. You could just tell everyone you’re at the gym – whatever works for you. Just buy the time.
    Signed copies of all my books are available at willatpublishing.com

    Cheers
    Jim

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