FlashFlood

writing about writing

Jason Evans – The Interview

Posted by Flood on May 29, 2006

Jason Evans is the mastermind behind the successful concept blog, The Clarity of Night. He took some time to discuss his writing and blogging with us, and explains his family's love of cemeteries.

Jason, thanks for taking the time. How did you come to start writing?

I guess I was born with the bug for writing and storytelling (Is that a genetic defect? Hold on while I query the Human Genome Project). My first memory of writing a real story was in the car traveling from my grandparents' house in Pennsylvania to my home in Buffalo, NY. I was about eight years old, and I "borrowed" some funky, long writing paper from my grandmother's desk (It was on a spool. You rolled off what you wanted then tore it with a rather dull strip of teeth). With a triangular marker, which I also borrowed (geez, I hope I got permission for all of this borrowing), I wrote a three foot long story about a mine disaster or some other gloomy subject. A few years later, I wrote short stories and poetry. Then, between 16 and 18, I tackled a novel. I had some success with the short stories and poetry, but the novel was a learning process.

I still wrote in college, but slowed down. In law school, I stopped. Cases and statutes are simply FAR too interesting to waste time on mere literature. Not. Honestly, I was just too burned out. I picked it up again after life settled down and I realized how much I missed creating and sharing stories.

You seem to write more than one genre.

My first loves were suspense, ghost stories, and horror. I've gotten my best reader reactions from my mainstream pieces, and that is my focus today. My current work in progress, The Backwards Path, is a novel about a 35-year-old man's identity crisis. It's not gloom and doom, however. It's quirky, funny, and plays with a touch of madness.

Who are your favourite authors or writers that inspire you?

Wow, that's a hard one for me. I enjoy so many different authors. But when I'm writing, I really strive to find my own, unique voice. Books which have inspired me are: The Shining by Stephen King, Dune by Frank Herbert, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, and more recently, the Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

With so many writers starting blogs, what made you start The Clarity of Night?

Well, there are many writers' blogs about the craft of writing and the business of writing. I've learned so much from them (Kelly Para, Tanya Holmes, and Anne Frasier just to name a few). I wanted to do something different, though. The Clarity of Night is a window into where my mind goes in quieter moments. Atmosphere and mood are vital parts of my writing. The Clarity of Night is a reflection of that drive to build the kind of world I'd like to live in. It's a darker, more reflective place. And something extraordinary always hovers beneath the surface–like a dream or a promise, never concrete enough to touch. I try to weave a secret place for my visitors with color, pictures, poetry, reflections, and fiction.

The fiction pieces have also become an important element of my blog for me, especially serial stories posted over a couple of weeks. Doing those stories is how I experiment and learn.

What's the benefit to you in writing in such a public arena?

Toiling for years on a novel is gloomy business. The inevitable rejections are form letters, giving you no real guidance on how to improve. Sure, friends who critique are vital, but you still receive a very narrow view of your writing. By taking risks, sharing, getting critiques, and seeing what's praised and not praised, I see tremendous improvement in my skills. I spun my wheels in the dark. By putting stories in the bright light of day, I've received wonderful guidance, including the insights of published authors.

You've recently introduced another short story in installments.

My current serial story is Flashlight Tag. I wanted to do a traditional horror piece, but I always struggle with finding a premise which feels fresh to me. The idea came after I went downstairs one night because I forgot to close the back door. On my way back up, I had a flashlight, since my girls' rooms were open and I couldn't turn on the hall light. Sometimes, I let my imagination run wild in the dark, and that night I wondered what it would be like to see something monstrous and disturbing in the flashlight beam, something creeping toward you. But get this. When you pull the light away in panic, you realize that the thing only exists in the light. When it's dark, you are safe. Yet, darkness brings its own flavor of fear. From that premise, I began the story. As usual with serial stories, I didn't bother to plot out the whole thing or even decide how it ends. I approach each section individually and let the story unfold under its own weight. Comments along the way help me shape it. If one element seems to be working well, I'll be sure to strengthen that angle in the story.

My favourite of your past stories is Caroline. What's yours?

I have to admit it's my favorite also. I was reaching for a bit of magic there, and I think I got at least a finger on it. The inspiration came at a performance of The Nutcracker done by a local dance school. Ahead of me in the audience, I saw a striking young girl (about 7) with long black hair. I got to thinking about how some children can be "old souls." They have an uncanny ability to hold the attention of adults and speak and think on their level (I've been accused of similar traits in my youth). I wanted to explore a moment of that sort of interaction–the moment when a young girl captures the attention of a man and the two nearly switch roles. She becomes the adult, and he becomes the child. Of course, as usual with me, there's a twist at the end, but I won't give it away!
As for poetry, I really like "She Dreamed of a House," "The Piper's Gift," and "In the Shadow of Burnaby Light."

You have referred to your piece of the internet as a 'concept blog'. You also have a schedule for entries. Tell us about that.

I do give a fair amount of thought about what people want. I try to deliver: (1) strong personality and personal insights, (2) fresh content, but not updated so often people fall behind, (3) pictures (they really are worth a thousands words), (4) brevity, and (5) interaction–all comments should be personally answered. For me, I post 3 times a week to give time for folks to read each post, comment, and receive a reply. The types of posts are rotated so that if a person is not quite feeling one variety, the next will be something different.

You seem to spend a lot of time in cemeteries.

Hmmmm. Gravestones. Yep, I'm known for my posts on gravestones. A dubious honor, but one I'm proud of. They fall into a couple categories: insights, symbolism, and remembrance posts (where I share a grave I've found interesting and invite folks to give him or her a little more life by remembering them). You'd think I'd want to stay away from cemeteries, but I guess I'm just getting a feel for the neighborhood, since I'm destined to spend a bit of time there. They held a particular fascination for me as a teenager. Those bright, austere stones and statues reflect the best in people and the best in life, but tinged with melancholy and loss. I'm a romantic, I suppose, and cemeteries draw romantics like moths to an offering candle. I used to drive to a particularly massive and old cemetery in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and walk there on quiet afternoons. I took my future wife there. Of course, she has her own cemeteries in her closet.
By the way, the fascination appears to be genetic. After I ran out of old cemetery photos, I had to start generating more. Now, my daughters are known to shout, "Yay! We're going to a cemetery!" We'll see how they turn out (the kids, not the photos).

I am picturing a couple of little Wednesday Addamses running around your house. Haha. You recently hosted a very successful contest for other writers?

Yes, the "Two Lights" Short Fiction Contest was a wonderful, positive experience. Unpublished writers love to be inspired, to experiment, and to learn. People in general love to win prizes. Why not join the two? See my logic here? Folks do impromptu and spur-of-the-moment contests on blogs, but I wanted to offer a more organized contest. I posted an evocative picture from a historic inn my wife and I stayed at (no kids!!) this spring. The challenge was to write a short fiction piece of 250 words or less based on the photo. Any genre was welcome.

I really enjoyed you giving entrants a theme to work with.

My goal was give a strong inspiration, give enough writing room to accomplish something without scaring people off with long stories, and award real prizes (Amazon gift certificates mainly) a week later. The response was fabulous! 41 entries and over 5000 visits. I will DEFINITELY be doing more contests. Look for more prizes, bigger prizes, and new sources of inspiration.

What's next for you?

I'm continuing work on my first revision of The Backwards Path. Querying novels is exciting, and I can't wait to get to it! However, I'm taking the time to make sure the novel is the best I'm capable of at this point in my growth. In the meantime, I'm dedicated to keeping The Clarity of Night strong and meeting more fellow writers. I will help anyone who asks for it, and hope to receive similar support when I need it. Sharing the creative process with so many talented people has been an amazing rush! The world would be a much duller and isolating place without the internet.

*

Thanks so much to Jason Evans for sharing his insights, and his willingness to be the first gerbil in this experiment.

Next Week: Jaye Wells

FlashFlood interviews writers weekly, who blog. Any writer at any stage of of publication is interesting. If you would like to know more about your favourite blogger or want to be interviewed yourself, email me.

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