1. Hi Jason! Can you tell us a little about your book, The Evolution of Shadows?
A) For so long when asked that question my inclination was to go for the “elevator pitch,” as if I were still in the mode of trying to sell this book to a publisher. I suppose I’ll have to unlearn that habit.
It’s the story of three people, damaged by the circumstances of their lives, who all feel a deep connection to one person, a charismatic photojournalist who disappeared during the Srebrenica Massacre in the summer of 1995. In their own ways, each one feels responsible for Gray Banick’s disappearance. A few years after the war, Gray’s one-time guide and interpreter, Emil, begins to search for an answer to his friend’s fate. His search draws to him Gray’s old mentor, Jack, and the quiet and desolate Lian, the woman whose betrayal years earlier may have sent the heartbroken Gray into the Bosnian war zone looking to purge her from his memories.
2. I can't wait to share my review with everyone tomorrow! What led you to write this particular book?
A) A combination of things. First, was an interest in the 1992-95 Bosnian War that began when I was an undergrad at K-State. I’ve never had the kind of wealth where I could throw money at causes I believe in, and I’ve never been in the right place at the right time to join any of those causes in a meaningful way (except to be asked to open my wallet, which, of course, is always empty). What I learned about Bosnia made me angry with the European Union and my own government over their lack of action. The Bosnian Serb nationalists, led by Radovan Karadzic, were essentially trying to purge Bosnia of its Muslim population, much like Nazi Germany tried to purge its country of Jews – and no one seemed to be in a rush to stop it, or to help the officially recognized Bosnian government (yes, mostly Muslim, but also Bosnian Croats, and Bosnian Serbs who wanted Bosnian independence from the old Yugoslav Federation). So, part of the reason was to use my meager talents to write as honestly as I could about an injustice.
The other thing that led me to write this book was a crush on a girl. In graduate school, I had a day job in a call center and worked with a beautiful young woman named Callie, who was several years younger, and, I’m certain, thought I was a dork. So, one day I sat down to write a short story that would explain to me why any relationship I might have with a girl like her would fail – miserably. Somewhere in the middle of that story the characters that were supposed to be proxies for Callie and me rebelled and insisted upon becoming themselves and telling their own story.
And Gray and Lian’s story was much more interesting than my personal story.
3. Now Callie can say - "I knew him when. . ." and I bet that the 'dork' won't even come up! What kind of research did you have to do for this novel?
A) I read a number of histories of the war, and several excellent memoirs, and then I focused my attention on the characters, relying on them to carry the story rather than the scenery.
Such an approach is the simple result that travel has never been a viable option for me to conduct research. I always seem to have hourly day jobs with little or no vacation time, plus there are those pesky student loans to pay off along with the monthly bills, so, I’ve never felt like I had the time or money to travel.
4. Will you tell us what your journey from writing to actual publication was like?
A) It was an exercise in determination. I began trying to find an agent as soon as I had a viable draft sometime in late 2002 or early 2003. The accepted wisdom is that a writer should find an agent first, so that’s what I tried to do. I knew I didn’t have an easily pitched book: it didn’t have the kind of thriller hook that a Dan Brown novel would have. Because of that, I very carefully went about selecting the agents I submitted to. I did everything the “how to get an agent” books suggested – I looked at the agent’s list, read a book or two by an author on that list, and then wrote a fresh cover letter for each agent. It took time, but I was determined to find the right agent. I never did. After 50 rejections from agents, I gave up on them in early 2007. The few personal rejections I received made some truly strange comments – present tense literary fiction doesn’t sell, the novel has a haunting, lyrical quality but the agent didn’t know how to sell it. There was one that seemed to suggest it needed to be a Slavic “Da Vinci Code.” Finally, I decided to take the book straight to publishers in late-2007 and Unbridled Books snatched it up in the spring of 2008.
5. Not only do I not possess the skill to become a writer - I don't think I possess the determination! I think Unbridled Books did the smart thing! Do you have a special place that you write - or anything you absolutely have to have in order to write?
A) I try to set up an “office” in every place I live. Sometimes it’s a corner in the living room, or crammed in the bedroom with my bed. Once, I took over a large storage closet in the apartment I shared with a friend: it was cramped and windowless, and I loved it. Now I have an office I share with my live-in girlfriend. It’s the first time I’ve had a room, with windows, that is dedicated specifically for writing.
The only things I have to have when I write are music, a cup of tea or a chai, and my old green hooded sweatshirt.
6. Can you share with us a typical day in your life?
A) My days are not very glamorous. I usually get up around 5 or 5:30 in the morning and write or revise until 6:30 or so. Then I get ready and head out to my day job that starts at 8. I usually get home sometime after 5pm and have about four and half or five hours to cram in dinner, reading, some more revisions, time with my girlfriend, and keeping up with all the social media stuff (facebook, twitter, blogs, etc). Some days, however, I’m completely burned out and end up sitting on the couch doing nothing. It’s arduous and frustrating to tell the truth, but it’s what needs doing if I’m going to avoid moving back into my mother’s basement and/or going bankrupt.
7. Your days may not be glamorous - but they sure are busy!! Were there any authors or books that influenced you growing up?
A: My parents read to me a lot, but none of those books ever stuck with me. Then, once I began reading on my own, I gravitated more toward comic books - especially Sgt. Rock and G.I. Joe comics, rather than YA novels. By the time the reading bug really took hold in jr. high and high school, I jumped right in to reading a bizarre mix of military sci-fi and popular adult novels by people like Stephen King, Tom Robbins, and Salman Rushdie. Once I grew up and hit college and grad school I was all about Ernest Hemingway, Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, Michael Ondaatje, John Berger, and Lawrence Durrell.
8. I read a lot of Stephen King growing up also. What books are you currently reading?
A) I’m close to finishing “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea” by Yukio Mishima. I’ve also recently started reading “Sometimes We’re Always Real Same Same” by Mattox Roesch, “Absolutely Eden” by Bobbie Louise Hawkins, and “The Complete Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus” translated by Ryan Gallagher.
9. I recently got Sometimes We're Always Real Same Same - am curious as to how you are liking it. Are you working on another novel?
A) Yes, I am. I have a novel titled “By The Still, Still Water” that I’m making final adjustments to before I send it to Fred Ramey at Unbridled. I also have a project that I’m resurrecting, which is something my editor encouraged me to do.
10. Is there anything more you would like to tell my readers?
A) Just a sincere thank you for taking the time to read my long-winded answers. And, of course, a special thank you to you, Kristi for your wonderful questions and making space for me on your blog.