Today I’m interviewing Cory Swanson, who lives in Northern Colorado with his wife, two daughters, and an old blind dog named Kirby. When he’s not working himself to the bone teaching tweens how to play band and orchestra instruments, he can be seen camping with his family in his tiny trailer or traveling to strange worlds in his head in order to write about them.
Ok, easy one to start that requires only silly answers to break the ice, what is your animal?
It’s definitely the jackalope. They’re all over around these parts (Northern Colorado). I almost hit one with my bike the other day. It would have been a mess, too—the antlers would have wreaked havoc with my spokes.
The best term I’ve found for what I do is Magic Realism. I’ve always felt fiction has to start with a box of sorts. A bunch of characters and a situation are placed in this box and the author’s job is to let everything in this box play out as realistically as possible. Magic Realism adds one more piece to this recipe, and that’s the conceit. There is something really weird that exists in the world of these characters, and they have to deal with it. But otherwise, their world is normal. The characters are normal people, shaped by the actual world, but they also have this other thing, this weird thing, that shapes them.
As a construct, I love Magical Realism. It allows me to explore my more—and I use this term loosely—‘literary’ side while also getting to play with the cool toys my mind creates. My conceit, my weird thing, is my tool to dig deep into the human condition and talk about the things we all deal with, and hopefully shed some light on existence.
My current WIP is about a man, Thomas, who finds his own dead body several times. They are divergences—parts of him that separated from his life whenever he was torn between two decisions. The parts of him who followed the paths of the bad decisions try to return, but most of the time they don’t make it back and Thomas has to deal with the bodies over and over again.
It’s allowing me to explore all the ‘what might have been’ scenarios of my life. The whole conceit grew from the death of a high school friend. He’d struggled with addiction and been homeless for a time, ultimately destroying his liver. It made me wonder how close I’d been to following that path, and it frightened me.
It’s also a play on the idea of Parts Therapy, where you work to acknowledge and honor all the different parts of yourself in an attempt to understand how to reconcile all of your different desires and needs.
This is fun story to write, and I’m enjoying it excessively.
All the other writers in the world are going to hang my up by my thumbs for saying this, but I’ve never really struggled with writer’s block. Most of the time I have too many ideas and have to force myself to focus on one thing at a time.
I do sometimes get stuck with the direction of a story. I often hop to a new project when this happens. Last spring, I had two novels and a bunch of short stories going at the same time. I’d switch from one to another any time I struggled.
This has its drawbacks, though. If I take too long of a break from any one story, I lose the voice and the tone of the story. I have to go to the beginning and read it over again often just to keep it all in my head.
The most challenging thing has been balancing writing with work and family. I feel like I was born to write, but that doesn’t get rid of the realities of bills and work. Being present with my job, my family, and with my writing has become increasingly important, but at the same time difficult.
The most rewarding thing has been hearing from people who have read my book. People who loved it and laughed and cried with my characters. I also love how people see different things in my work. Their own perspectives and experiences color how they see my work, and this makes it feel alive to me
I would bow my head and humbly thank them. Then I’d give them a sly smile, do that pointy thumbs up thing and say, “Leave me a review on Amazon,” while winking.
I don’t think people realize how valuable reviews are to authors. There are so many self published or indie books out there with one review or no reviews and I wish I could give them all a hug. I really wish that I had time to read them all and give them the review they deserve, but alas, my time is limited. Sigh…
I tell my kids that adults don’t have favorites. The truth is, there are too many choices.
But, if I had to choose to save my life, I think I’d claim Kurt Vonnegut. I know, that’s like saying my favorite band is the Beatles, and to be honest, I haven’t read any of his books since college. But if there’s anyone who can use a conceit to bore down to the center of the meaning of existence, it’s Vonnegut. He used absurdity to illuminate meaning. #goals
Persistence. Your rejection letters are a source of pride. Stephen King used to hang them on a nail in his bedroom until the nail grew so heavy it fell of the wall. Be so convinced of your own brilliance that rejection can’t faze you. Otherwise, why would you keep going?
But at the same time, maintain your humility. Listen to criticism. If someone is offering it, they care enough to help you get better.
The best training I ever had for being a writer was being a musician and going to private lessons. Every week, you are told what you are doing wrong, and you have to strive to correct your work. You don’t let it crush you, and you view it as necessary for your journey. Musicians are masters at the growth mindset.
I’ll leave you with my mental health epiphany: Your life is not a competition. The success of others should be celebrated as it only enriches the world. It does not belittle your own accomplishments. I spent too much of my life feeling like I was losing because others were accomplishing more. Remember, you’re the best you that ever you-ed.