Cory Wheeler Mimms writes fiction, screenplays, and comics. His first novel, Trailing Tennessee, received excellent reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Midwest Book Review, Library Media Connection, Booklist, and more. His short fiction and poetry has appeared in Joyland Magazine.
He has a master’s degree in writing and publishing from Portland State University, and he studied story structure in New York Film Academy's MFA program in screenwriting. He is currently the Publishing Manager at an art and children's publisher based in Portland, Oregon.
Willa is his second novel.
EXTRA CREDIT INTERVIEW WITH CORY WHEELER MIMMS:
Today, Trailing Tennessee author Cory Wheeler Mimms is joining LitPick for an Extra Credit interview!
Do you have a solid outline before writing, or do you usually get ideas as you go along?
Both. I outline a lot. I find it’s much easier to fix obvious story problems this way. However, once I start writing, I don’t let the outline constrain the story or characters. It’s a bit like hiking. You always plan and choose your route, but once you’re on the trail there will always be side paths and scenery you didn’t know was there that you want to spend time exploring—and once in a while those side trails turn out to be more interesting than where you planned to go.
Finding out what your story is really about happens in the writing. I outline like crazy once I have an idea for a story, but I do free writes as much as I can, just letting the writing go where it will. Also, once the first draft (or tenth, or twentieth) is complete, then I really know what the theme of the story is, which requires many rewrites for clarity and emphasis.
Has someone you knew ever appeared as a character in a book (consciously or subconsciously)?
Sure. I think characters always contain a bit of the writer and people the writer has known. Whether conscious or not. Information doesn’t come out of nowhere. It accumulates over time, embeds itself in your mind, and then when you sit down to write, bits of your experiences surface up into the writing. You may feel like you’re creating something from nothing, but the information is actually in you and around you all along. Your mind is latching onto something in your environment and spinning it up with your memories.
What do you do when you get writer's block?
I think writer’s block is like any other wall you have to cross: once you decide that you’ll try, then it’s really just a matter of problem solving. When I get stuck, I first just force myself to write a sentence. One sentence, no matter how awful. Then another sentence. Then another. So on and so on. Even if it’s bad writing. You have to be disciplined and persistent, not just in writing but in everything you do.
The truth is, most of what I write is garbage and will never go anywhere anyway, but knowing that is freeing. And once in a while, while walking around in that garbage, I stumble onto something that other people might like.
Another reason I think writers get stuck is related to your first question. When I hit a wall in a story, it’s often because I didn’t do enough plot outlining to begin with or I don’t know the characters in my story well enough to know what they would do. A character’s actions are all related to who that person is. So if you’re stuck on plot, ask yourself two questions: One, where does this story end? If you know that, then you can at least thrust your characters toward the end. Two, who are the characters I’m writing? Once you know a person well enough, you can predict how they will react in various situations, which gets you past a lot of walls and doesn’t require you to know where the story ends. You can simply let the characters be who they are in the moment.
If you could live in a book's world, which would you choose?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It would always be a hilarious adventure, and I would get to travel a lot, with robots.
What is your favorite book-to-movie adaptation?
Oh boy, that’s almost an impossible question to answer. There are so many stories that have worked really well in both formats. On the adventure side of things, Jaws or Jurassic Park were really fun reads and made great movies. I adored them growing up. The Godfather was also a page turner that was adapted to screen incredibly well. On the lighter side of things, I still enjoy watching The Jungle Book and Alice in Wonderland.
If you could have lunch with one other author (dead or alive!), who would it be?
Ray Bradbury. While primarily known as a sci-fi writer, his body of work is immense, full of really poetic, beautiful writing. I’d also love to listen to Annie Dillard.
Wild Card Question: When you aren’t writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I paint—mostly really terrible paintings of landscapes or fruit, but it’s fun and gives me another creative outlet that gets me away from the desk. I read as well, and I also spend a lot of time on artists’ websites. There are so many talented people in this world creating beauty all the time. I try to focus on that as much as possible, rather than focus on the gruesome parts of our present world.
Cory, thank you for joining LitPick for one of our first interviews of 2016!
SIX MINUTES WITH CORY WHEELER MIMMS:
Today Cory Wheeler Mimms joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author! Cory is the author of Trailing Tennessee, his first novel! Cory is also the author of short stories, poetry, comics, and articles on the topics of entertainment and travel, science and technology, and business and industry. In his spare time he likes to travel, cook, brew beer, run, ski, and swim. He holds a master’s degree in publishing and writing from Portland State University.
How did you get started writing?
I started writing really bad fiction in my spare time in my early 20s, which drove me to study English and take writing workshops. I was serving in the Air Force and stationed in Okinawa, Japan, at the time, and I was looking for a creative outlet. I started writing freelance articles for a small community newspaper while living in Okinawa, and decided I wanted to leave the military to pursue writing full time. I moved to Portland, Oregon, and landed an internship with a regional publication called Oregon Business magazine. After the internship ended, I went back to school and kept studying. I also continued to freelance for a few magazines, which eventually led me to a staff writer/editor position at a small Oregon newspaper.
But I always spent my free time writing fiction. So while working as a journalist I completed a master’s degree in writing and publishing at Portland State University. It was during that time that I wrote Trailing Tennessee, along with a couple of other currently unpublished novels.
Who influenced you?
All my editors. Particularly in the first year or two I spent working as a journalist. A strong editor does more than work with what’s on the page. They provide all kinds of guidance and help direct a writer’s focus. The most valuable relationship a writer can have is with his or her editor.
Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
The list is long, so I’ll keep it to only a few. I love Sherwood Anderson. I’ve read Winesburg, Ohio dozens of times. His writing is simple, poetic, and really hits at the emotional core of people. I fell in love with Annie Dillard as well. Her prose is absolutely gorgeous. I read some of her sentences over and over just listening to the rhythm of them. I consumed a lot of Stephen King growing up. He’s a master at creating characters who feel absolutely real and alive. In the last few years, I’ve loved stories from Joshua Mohr and Jonathan Evison.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
Write. Write all the time, or as much time as you can spare to write. And don’t be afraid to write terrible stories. Don’t take yourself too seriously. No one sits down and writes a perfect first draft. In fact, no draft will ever be perfect. So just write.
Second, edit. Be hard on your writing, not hard on yourself. If you want to get published, you have to think about audience. Once you legitimately decide to write something for publication, you no longer write for yourself. You’re interacting with an audience, and that means putting your ego aside. Just because something is clear in a story to you doesn't mean it’s clear to someone else reading it.
Third, learn as much as you possibly can. Study grammar, study style, study story structure. Branch out from what you want to write. Read about history and art and mythology and science and politics and music. If you want to write fiction, don’t only read fiction. Look at poetry and journalism and screenwriting and pull elements from all the disciplines into your own stories. It will give you more tools to work with and create a more interesting prose and plot. If you can’t afford to go to college then read books on writing and structure. But you have to know what the tools are if you want to use them, and you have to know what the rules are if you want to break them. I can’t stress that enough for story structure. Just as there are grammar rules, there are structural rules. Just as following the rules of grammar doesn't necessarily mean you will write entertaining sentences, following the rules of structure doesn’t mean your plots will be good. But if you want to surprise your audience, you have to know what they are expecting, and that means studying.
Last, talk to people. Ask them questions about themselves, about their days and their lives. So often people have an image of writers just sitting solo in their homes, creating stories in a bubble and only trying to understand themselves. But I think that’s completely incorrect. If you want to write in a bubble, then don’t seek publication. Just write in your diary. If you want to write for an audience then spend time talking to people. Try to understand what makes people act the way they do. Often, in discovering what makes other people tic you’ll find out what makes you tic.
Where is your favorite place to write?
Depends on what stage of the writing process I’m in. I outline a lot on note cards, which I carry with me and jot down random ideas and story notes wherever I happen to think of them. If I’m really trying to plug away at a story, though, I can’t stand to be in public. Partially because I get distracted very easily by my surroundings, but also because I try to feel the character as I write, which probably makes my face twist up. And no one wants to look across the coffee shop and see some guy making crazy faces at his computer while hammering on the keyboard. It’s just uncomfortable for everyone involved, so I tend to write at home or anywhere I can be alone. Lots of wall space to pin plot points on helps as well.
What else would you like to tell us?
I think writing is essentially problem solving. You want to get a character from emotional point A to emotional point B. To do that, you need to run them through a series of obstacles that will stress them enough to change them. So be hard on your characters. Don’t be afraid to hurt them or break them.
In that way, writing is really just argument. Can you take a character with a given flaw and push them to learn something? That’s where your themes and theses come in. Why do you want to show a character change? Perhaps you see a flaw in people and wish that you could convince them to be different. Well, then create a character with that flaw and see if you can get that character to change by testing them. If you’re unable to create a convincing plot that will drive your character to change then perhaps the flaw you see in people or in yourself is unchangeable—but probably it just means you need to keep trying, keep studying, keep living, and keep writing.
Cory, thank you very much for spending six minutes with LitPick! Thank you for sharing such useful advice for everyone who wants to be an author!