Author Interview & Giveaway: James Wallace Birch

I recently posted a review for ‘Discontents: The Disappearance Of A Young Radical‘ by James Wallace Birch (which you can find here) and, in having the chance to review the novel, I’ve also gained the pleasure of conducting an author interview with him. Along with working with James to bring this interview to light and really explore the book, the characters, and his writing process, we’ve paired up to open a giveaway with 4 digital copies of the book available for 4 lucky winners. 

To get a better insight into James’ vision behind the book, as well as what he gets up to besides writing and other bookish discussions, read on! Make sure to check out the details regarding the giveaway at the end of the post to have the chance to experience this thrill of a book for yourself!

Do you have any favourite authors?

Absolutely! There are several. But hands down my favorite author is F. Scott Fitzgerald. That is because his social critique and his poetic style of writing captured me as a young person. I felt he had such a great understanding of people, and of the sadness of life. That is, Fitzgerald wrote about the tragedies of our own making. And to me, that is the human condition. I try to bring that awareness into my writing. However, I would never try to emulate Fitzgerald’s style of writing as I do not believe that could be effectively done. 

Are there any specific books you’re looking forward to in the upcoming months/year?

I am looking forward to: The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver, Ivy Feckett is Looking for Love by Jay Spencer Green, and The Rebel’s Sketchbook by Rupert Dreyfus.

What are some great books you’ve read recently? 

Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat-Zinn and Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong.

How did you think of the idea for your book? Did it take long to develop?

Many things “conspired” to bring this book to life. I like to feel that the stories I write are stories that I have no choice but to write. They come to me. And I become obsessed with them and seeing what will happen to the people that arise in my mind.

In one sense, the idea for this book came to me because I was researching and wanting to learn more about the social movements going on in the latter years of the 2000 decade. I was in school and learning a lot about theories and histories of social movements in the 1960s as well. I wanted to understand what was different between now and then. Also, I wanted to find a way to bring those two things together. Relatedly, I witnessed several protests and things first hand as an observer. And I saw the conviction and passion in the people participating. I wanted to get into the mind of what it must feel like to be one of those people, and that gave me Emory. Said another way, I wanted to tell the story of the very people who sit at the edge of society from their point of view.

Going along with that, I noticed that society broadly, but American society specifically, was getting increasingly polarized. I wanted to write a book that critiqued that polarization from within it. That is, I wanted to create a world of characters that themselves were flawed by their absolutism, their belief in their own view of how the world should be organized. I feel that this is the current state of our society, that everyone is so certain and dug into their point of view. And this extremism is dangerous.

Without giving away any spoilers, I also wanted to explore power, class, economics, and violence and peace

Are there any elements of Emory’s life or experiences that resonate with you?

Yes, there are certainly some:

  • Emory has had a few broken relationships, many of which were his own fault. The same is true in my own life. So I could relate to his pain, guilt and withdrawal.
  • Emory is quite romantic and looking for love and to find himself in the beauty of another person. I’ve always loved the poetry of love and discovering oneself through another person.
  • I think many young people feel alienated. We tend to brush them aside. When I was young, I felt alienated from society and the logic of growing up. It took some time to be domesticated by society.
  • Emory is searching for his identity. I spent a lot of time doing the same when I was his age.

Are there any main messages you want readers to take away from your book/series?

Yes, there are several. I want them to think about; the fact that we need to try to better understand the lost and outcast among our society, the corruptive influence of greed in our society, and the dangers of myopic thinking, political polarization and extremism within Western society.

How do you cope with writer’s block? 

It’s not something I think about. If the idea for a story is good, then I want to write it. It is more about finding the time to write than it is about not being able to write, but having the time.

Do you outline in advance or do you just write whatever comes to mind and edit later?

I do a bit of both. I plan out in my mind the general story. I’ll do some character write-ups and a basic plot outline. It is very basic. Then, I think of sections of the book. I start writing those. I don’t know 100% where the story is going to go. Rather, I have a general goal of where I want things to go for the entire story. I then create the individual scenes one at a time, with a few linked together in my find. For example, I will say that the end goal for a section is X. And I have several scenes or chapters to write to get there. But I don’t 100% have it set on what will happen in each. Rather, I have general things that need to be accomplished within each part to build logically towards that section’s goal. Once that is accomplished, I begin thinking about the next section and how that is going to fit in with the larger overall goal of the book. But, who knows, the book may end quite differently than I am thinking about it when I am writing a particular section. I put myself into the minds and hearts of the characters in the moment for a chapter or section I am writing. I let them tell the story, and I guide them gently in the right direction, such that the scene achieves its purpose.

Do you have any advice for new writers who are trying to break into the industry? How long did it take you to have the courage to do so?

Find a very defined genre and write it. Know that genre. This is something I’ve struggled with. I’m not a genre expert and I think this has hurt me in the writing world today. The world together, at large, is very fragmented around specific interests. Thus, people have very defined interests and they want to read, listen to music, and watch films in that interest area.

On the other than, I have broad interests and I like to see how things intersect. So, my work is a bit transgressive fiction, a bit psychological drama, and it is also a social commentary on political tensions today.

For me, my lack of convention or genre wasn’t something I thought about when I wrote Discontents. I simply wrote a book I felt I needed to write and that readers could immerse themselves in. So, it wasn’t so much about courage, as it was a function of ignorance and some stupidity. Having the courage to write a book wasn’t hard. Having the courage to continue to promote it and help readers discover it is, to me, where the courage issue is.

What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?

The love I have received for my book, and for the characters in the book is the most rewarding thing. When people tell me they feel like they got to know these people, it means the world to me. Because, to me, the characters are already real – I know them. To be able to share that world and those people with others, brings them to life and it brings me to life. I understand that my book is not your typical book.

I understand that most people want to read only within their genre. But when people step outside of their comfort zone and enter Emory’s world and walk away having been challenged and having enjoyed the experience, it gives me great satisfaction.

Where there any parts of the book that were difficult to write? If so, which scene and why?

Yes, many of them. Much of this book is based on my observations and experiences of the behavior of others. While it does not represent my own opinions at all, I am so very different from all of the characters except James (of course), it was challenging to face some of the choices and actions the characters chose to make. Without giving any spoilers away, here are a few:

1) Writing about Fletcher was very hard because I struggled, in my own mind, to make him believable. I felt that readers would have a hard time accepting his decisions and his motivations. Thus, I think I tried a bit too hard to write him. And I think therefore he is a bit overwritten. I’ve gotten some feedback from readers indicating this. So, it was something I was aware of. But when I tried to edit him and change things, I couldn’t bring myself to cut anything of what he was saying. Because I felt that it was necessary, even if it was a bit longwinded.

2) As I was writing it, I cried when something bad happened to one of the characters towards the end of the book. I was friends with this person (in my mind) and it was sad to see what happened.

3) The ending of the book – the last chapter and the epilogue – overall was hard to write, because I was inspired to write it after some sad and lonely experiences in my own life.

Do you draft by hand/use a journal or do you prefer to work digitally?

I do everything on the computer. I am a compulsive editor and re-writer. I write a draft out of a chapter or scene. Then, then I edit it in a nonlinear fashion. Everything I do is very non-linear in that way.

Interestingly, my upcoming novel – which will be a follow up to Discontents – has been drafted thus far entirely on my smartphone using Google Drive.

Aside from writing, how do you spend your free time?

Music. Coffee. Reading. Thinking and exploring my inner thoughts and experiences. People watching. Work.

What are the upsides and downsides of being an author?

The upside is the writing and the exploring of worlds and people. The downside is the promotion and helping others find the book. It is hard because I think people look at this book as being political and that they ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ with the protagonist, Emory. I’ve had a few people attack me personally because they don’t agree with Emory. And that goes exactly against the point of the book. The point of the book is to get you to question everyone in it, Emory included. It isn’t to hold up Emory as someone to look up to or agree or disagree with.

Do you have any favourite quotes that keep you inspired or motivated?

Not so much motivated. I have quotes that I use to encapsulate characters or moods of a story or book in my mind. For example, there is a quote at the end of Discontents that summarizes the tension that Emory has faced the entire book and his resignation to it.

How many drafts did your book go through?

It is hard to say because I edited it not as one giant book but in sections. I would edit sections at a time, then larger sections, then smaller, then larger. Such that, as a whole, the book must have gone through dozens of edits. But, in terms of making big scene changes within the book, there were only a few. For example, once it was entirely completed, a new beginning was written as I wasn’t satisfied with the original beginning. I felt it was too slow.

Which part of the book are you proudest of?

The more poetic scenes and descriptions. Here are a few, again, without giving anything out: 1) A romantic scene on a rooftop between two characters. 2) The last chapter. 3) The epilogue. Also, I enjoyed writing about the characters Renton and Ella Alice in particular. I found them both to be so dynamic.

Does writing energise or tire you?

It energizes me to think about the scenes and people. Writing them, depending on whether I am tired or not, can be motivating or draining. Sometimes, you just want a scene to be finished but you know there is much to be done to make it good

How often do you try to write?

If I had the time, I’d write every day. But, the reality is I write whenever I can. That is maybe once or twice a week when I get a few free minutes here and there.

Emory clearly has a very specific outlook on the world and society – how were you able to construct his personality? Did his characterization come naturally to you or did it develop over time?

Yes, he most certainly does. When I first read Catcher in the Rye, I was blown away by the honesty and voice that Salinger had put into Holden Caulfield. I know that is such a trite reference to make. The same was true for On the Road. Here were rejects of society pointing their finger and saying, I’m not the reject, you’re (i.e., society) the reject. I wanted to be able to write from the perspective of someone that most people have never met. I wanted to do it as authentically as possible. I wanted to create a world from a character, and not create a world and shove a character in it (which I feel is the more common thing).

I did a lot of research. I read heavily on the theories and histories related to Emory’s attitude. I watched tons of documentaries. Also, as I noted above, Emory is the outcome of people I have known or witnessed on some level. He manifests the ideals some people think but often don’t have the guts to admit or to act on. Further, he also brings out the anger and cynicism that is present in many young men I have known or observed, but which is not acceptable within society.

People love Emory or are taken aback by him. I think that is because he represents something very real and dark within our society, and in a way within ourselves. He is a very real person.

He is so flawed. He’s so sure of himself, yet incredibly insecure. But underneath it, he is lost, alone, and seeking purpose. Aren’t we all?

Lastly, as I’m an aspiring author, are there any words of warning or wisdom that you would like to impart?

I am sure you will be an amazing and successful writer. I’ve been so impressed with everything you’ve done so far. Here are a few things I might encourage you to think about in your journey:

  • Write stories that tell a moral or have a purpose to them. It is key to entertain. But narratives exist to help us understand our society. Use writing as a tool to improve society.
  • Find a genre that has ravenous fans in it. It is easier to bend to the will of the people than to bend them to your creative will.

I just want to say thank you again to James Wallace Birch (check him out here on GoodReads) for getting in touch with me to request a review for ‘Discontents: The Disappearance Of A Young Radical‘ and for generally being so great to work with for this giveaway and interview.

The book was a great, thrilling, and captivating read, and, if you have yet to do so, please check out the review I posted here regarding the novel itself (and here it is on GoodReads) as the book is one that truly deserves attention.

Now for the giveaway!

James is generously offering 4 digital copies of ‘Discontents: The Disappearance Of A Young Radical‘ for those who are looking to read the story for themselves. If you happen to be a lucky winner, James will directly contact you after being provided with your email address and send you a copy of the book in your preferred format (EPUB, PDF or MOBI). 

All you need to do to enter is simply do so on the form below!

Please Note:

Whilst there are no required entry requirements for this giveaway, it would greatly be appreciated if any participants would consider reposting the book cover – which you can find below – on Instagram along with the hashtag #ebookgiveaway. If you do repost the cover, make sure to tag @jameswallacebirch and @inkblottings so that we’re able to note your contribution and get in touch with you directly! You could also give us a follow if you wish. Whilst this isn’t required for entering the giveaway and not reposting the cover won’t impact your chance of being selected as a winner, it’s still a great help to bring more attention to this special book itself.

The giveaway will be open for two weeks – so it will be closing on Thursday 14th June.

Good luck!

Thanks for joining us for this author interview, and I’ll write you later. 

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