Interview with Jamie Alan Belanger

Published 2014-07-09.
When did you first start writing?
When I was in first or second grade, so I would have been about five or six years old. I used to sit at the kitchen counter and write stories on our typewriter, or by hand in a notebook. Every so often, my father would bring a computer home from work for the weekend, and I'd write on that instead (when I wasn't trying to create games on it).
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a small New England town. There wasn't much to do in the town, at any age group. So I spent a lot of time reading and dreaming of science fiction and fantasy realms. My friends and I would ride our bikes all around the town when the weather was nice, and would sit inside playing video games and D&D when it wasn't. Eventually, some parts of those worlds we created found their way into my modern world design, into video games I plan to create, and into my writing. I've always had a good imagination, probably because I was stuck indoors for six or seven months each year. I never had a huge group of friends, just a few very good ones, and most of my cousins were older. So I spent a lot of time alone, thinking and dreaming, drawing maps and plotting stories for my worlds.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I'm a digital pack rat, so I still have almost everything I've ever written. Sadly (or thankfully), there are a few things I've written that I do not have in my archive. The first story I ever wrote is among those missing. I have a photograph of a small Thundercats toy collection I had while growing up, and in the photo is a stack of papers with a hand-written story. I guess you could call it fan fiction. I don't know what the title of the story was (can't read it even with digital enhancement). I don't even know what the story was about. But I'm pretty sure that was the first story I ever wrote. I never bothered to type it up and it's long gone now. Judging by the (ahem) quality of some of my other early stories, I haven't been too torn up about not preserving that one.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I wanted complete control over my stories. I didn't want anyone to tell me "add 10,000 words" or "remove 10,000 words" or "this would be better if the main character were a cybernetic badger." For better or worse, I wanted complete creative control over my stories. I'm more interested in telling the story I want to tell than in whether or not it has mainstream appeal (although I must admit that cybernetic badger does sound pretty cool now).
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I do very little planning when I write my first drafts. Usually, I envision a character and/or a cool first scene, and then I dive in and just let the story unfold. I'm convinced I do this because of my computer programming background -- I'm used to dealing with chaos. So, for me, the greatest joy is that I get to be the first reader. I get to watch the characters reveal who they are and they tell me the story.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I've never been one to just lay around in bed. I go to sleep when I feel tired, then when I wake up I start working on something. If I could skip the sleep part entirely, I would.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
No. I've read so much there's no way I could possibly remember the first story I ever read. The first novel I remember reading on my own was Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I must have read that book a dozen times while I was growing up. I haven't read it in years, but I remember it being an emotional roller coaster of a book. To this day, it's still the only novel that ever made me cry. And I don't even like dogs.
Describe your desk
I have a folding table that I bought years ago, while in college. My main computer sits on the floor beside it, upon two extra DVD case shelves. I once had an apartment flood, and even though I'm on the third floor and there's no way for this area to flood, I'm still paranoid about putting electronics on the floor. Slide to the left of my keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and there's space on the same table for my laptop. Behind me is a desk I bought years ago and now use as space for hand-written things, sketching interfaces for computer programs, and whatever else I need extra desk space for doing. My speakers broke years ago, so I ran a headphone extension cord along the underside of the folding table and screwed the connector directly to the table's edge, so I can plug headphones into the jack and listen to music on my main computer, while still retaining the ability to slide between that computer, my laptop, and the other desk as well. When I pull that desk's return out, I effectively have a big U-shaped workspace with tons of space for spreading out papers and managing several projects simultaneously.
What is your writing process?
You can't really list step-by-step instructions for a writing process, or at least I can't. But there are two big pieces of advice that I give to any writer who asks; two things I've adopted as parts of my writing process that have helped me tremendously.

The first is to never read what you are writing. Just write the story. Don't backtrack. Don't second-guess yourself. Do not ever revise or polish or clarify. Just write the first draft of your story, get it down, and *then* worry about editing it. Divorcing writing from editing allows you to just tell the story. If you don't, you'll waste so much time trying to perfect your story that you may never actually finish writing.

The second is to listen to music. I listen to lots of music, especially when I'm working. But not just any music -- put a few albums in your playlist that you know and love. Albums that you've heard a thousand times before. Doing this allows me to drown out the rest of the thoughts in my mind. It's like I'm occupying the subconscious parts of my mind with the music so that my conscious mind can write. After a few seconds, I forget that music is playing, but it helps to drown out the noise so I can concentrate.
How do you approach cover design?
For novels, I try to represent a scene that occurs early on, so I don't spoil anything in the plot. For both Pariah and Fireteam Zulu, the cover is a scene in chapter 2. The hardest part of the design is dreaming up something I can actually create. Since I dabble in photography, I try to start with a photo (or several photos) as a base, and then manipulate it from there until I think it looks good. I see what I want, in my head, and then just have to figure out how to get GIMP to do it.

For anthologies, I've been doing more abstract work. The Scribings covers are the result of group discussion and revision, usually after I've done some initial concept work. Then as a group we tweak the fonts, placement, colors, and decide how best to incorporate other things like the story glyphs in the second volume. Volume 1's cover was built from photographs taken by Lee Patterson. Volume 2's cover started with an 1800s map of the Portland, Maine area. Volume 3's cover started as a photo I took through the sunroof of my car. Some aspect of these concepts caught my artistic eye, and I just dove into tweaking and mixing colors until I thought the cover looked interesting.
What are you working on next?
Right now (Jul 9, 2014), I'm still writing like crazy. I'll hit half a million words written so far this year in the next day or two. I'm in the process of publishing Scribings, Vol 4, and I'm almost done writing the first draft of a nine novel series set in my fantasy world. Once that's done, I'll most likely work on polishing some of the words I've written this year. Expect to see me announce a release of Fireteam Zulu 2 or Pariah 2 most likely by the end of this year.
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