ideas take life in Words
A blog following the works (and shenanigans) of J.E. Klimov
Imagine a blend of amazing content in one book: pages filled with recipes combined with historical tid-bits from 1400 to 2000, all tied together with home entertaining! I interview an author of this up and coming creative non-fiction book, "Agony", signed with Adelaide Books, due to be out around this time next year. Meet the amazing Tim Starnes! He describes his amazing career as a business owner (of a ghost tour company!) while making time for his creative projects- and he also provides some advice to our writers out there!
JE: Hi, Tim! So, first thing's first! What's it like owning a Ghost tour company?
TS: Stressful. Many people working 9am-5pm jobs such as I was when I launched Ethereal Crack imagine themselves getting rich and living on vacation.
[However] I, like most entrepreneurs, aren’t rich. We are, as I’ve heard John Waters say about his income from midnight movies, a “hundredaire.” Once the hundreds come, you then quickly realize that anyone you’d go on vacation with is working! There goes that idea.
I have all of the typical stresses of any business, despite it being in the “economy of fun.” This includes staffing issues, ticket sales, advertising, policing reviews, customer complaints, and copycats.
Owning a business is only for those with extreme fortitude and dedication to their craft. That means late hours and plenty of stress. I now have a significant gray patch in my bright red beard that mysteriously appeared right after the tour company opened.
JE: How do you balance time between owning a company and writing?
TS: The ghost tour company was set up as a funding base for projects, so it was built with this space from day one. It all comes down to planning and planning for that planning. To suit a schedule that leaves time for writing, the ghost tours available only on weekends, which I have always maintained as writing breaks. I do little, if any, writing on weekends. This is purely to preserve my mental energy and keep from draining the tank.
Creative energy, for me at least, is a lot like driving a car. Each new week starts a new tank. Daily, with writing and creative endeavors, this tank drains – by the time Friday night arrives, it is near empty. That means it is time to coast until a refill comes on Monday.
Many writers, I feel, exhaust themselves, beating themselves over the head with a rock for results and ideas. [Julian's comment: I'm afraid I have to agree!]
These ideas don’t come under stress, for me. Essentially, I pamper myself for my mind to ferment ideas and spit them out at completely random times.
JE: The layout for "Agony" is unique in itself, just like the topic. What inspired you to write this?
TS: The idea for Agony came to me during a Christmas party that took place in January of 2019 (the host was traveling the entire length of December, making an actual Christmas party impossible.)
As we sat at the dining room table, the plates from dinner being cleared away, we played out the English tradition of Christmas crackers, after how to pull one open was briefly explained to me. We proceeded, oo-ing and ah-ing and the various cheap plastic trinkets and paper crowns we had exploded out onto our laps.
My crown, an ugly frog-green color, instantly ripped at the circumference of my large head. I held it together, just barely, by tucking a portion of the ripped end behind the crest of my right ear. Lisa, my editor, noticed it hanging limply on that side of my head.
“Let me fix that.”
“No, no, it’s ok.”
“No, let me fix it.” Her interior mother was coming out.
“Let me fix it.”
“No, it’s ok.” I was trying to be nice in front of the company, but that tactic was rapidly failing. I took a sip from my third glass of red wine, which, by this point, I was feeling. English portions have never set well for my American-sized stomach, meaning I was still hungry, and there was plenty of room to be a drunkard.
Felicity, the host, fetched a roll of tape and handed it to Lisa.
“Now, come here, lean over.”
I hesitated, but did as instructed, knowing it would turn into an embarrassing blowup if I didn’t. It was then that I nearly fell out of my chair, grabbing the edge of the table to avoid it. “Now that would be terrible, if I fell and cracked my head open in front of everyone.” I thought to myself.
The book was born.
JE: That's single-handedly one of the best inspiration stories I've heard yet! Now, your book spans an incredible amount of history- how were you able to condense and categorize without feeling overwhelmed?
TS: For a book with this form of scope, like any other, preparation was key before I started writing. Any scope can be manageable, if you know where you are going. I always outline each piece, no matter what form of media it is. With an outline, even if I hit a brick wall, I can work on another piece – work never stops, and having the work finished further helps to loop back around and fill in those gaps.
I did feel overwhelmed a number of times looking at what portions still needed to be done. It is easy to look at 50 blank page templates, ready to be filled out, and panic. “This is hours of work. I still have to copy in the recipes, re-write and edit them, then add in the facts, what is the story line going to be for the fictional part? How do I tie it in?”
JE: Did you have a favorite era/section in "Agony" that you wrote about?
TS: The travel section, 1900’s, was the most difficult chapter for the sake of editing, as there are over 60 pages worth of recipes alone. It is also my favorite, as I feel that it is a century that in many ways reflects our own, however, people look back on it with rose-tinted fondness, despite the fact that they wouldn’t come to exist for 100 more years.
JE: Name at least one favorite recipe of your own in this book and why.
TS: One of my true favorites is “Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly” – it is easy to make, and tastes excellent. It was served to first class passengers on the Titanic, in the main dining room. In fact, it was served on the last night.
To make it as a modern day variant, it simply takes some chartreuse liquor, gelatin, and canned peaches, among a few other select minuscule ingredients. Part of the reason I enjoy it so much is that it is a make-ahead recipe, the gelatin needing to set overnight...
JE: Oh, wow. Not only does that sound amazing, but I like the history/story behind it! I can imagine serving it to my guests and starting a great conversation over it! Okay, moving along... How long did it take for you write this?
TS: The writing process from inspiration to finishing the manuscript took around six months.
Research took around two weeks, give or take. Writing and editing, has taken around six months so far, the entire manuscript (to turn-in stage) will be seven months.
The outline came in two steps:
TS: The writing and editing experience has been largely ok! I learned long ago to never, and I mean never, edit my own work. [Julian's comment: ALSO, HUGELY AGREE!!! I learned that the hard way!!!] Editing is passed to a first group of plain readers, no editing, who read and rate portions of the book. From there, the book is added or taken away from, then passed to my independent editor, not part of the publisher who will also edit it (for free!) who I pay an hourly rate to seriously grammatically and structurally edit the manuscript. This process, while a bit pricey, ensures a few things:
JE: You mention that Satan pops in between sections of your book- evolving and speaking from "an ethereal voice to/from an internet cord in the 2000s" era. This is an interesting concept. What prompted this idea? Or more specifically, what "spice" do you hope this adds to bind this entire book together?
TS: The book itself is conceded “creative nonfiction” – cookbooks themselves are inherently nonfiction, however, I quickly realized that the edge-pushing quality of a disaster cookbook could be considered offensive territory by some. (Some of the “fan mail” even on this pre-launch publicity tour around various outlets have proven this so.) There would need to be some form of remedy to help sway the book back into safe territory. This solution came in the form of involving a cast of fictional Ray Bradbury-esque Victorian time travelers. They begin the book, ready to go on their historical expedition for the University of Bologna (Cambridge turned down funding their experiment) and return to collect the royalty checks for the concurring book. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, their “book smarts” don’t equate to “street smarts” and the reader finds them more sick and mangled with each page.
These time travelers add the creative part to the nonfiction – offering a small sampling of comedy and story line to tie the book together. With characters a reader can cling to, the book can also evoke an emotional response, while a cookbook, generally, for an emotionally-stable person, doesn’t.
Keen readers will also realize that the Victorian time travelers are real people, myself included. The others are employees for my current ghost tour company, Ethereal Crack. This will likely take some back, as arms are broken, teeth fall out, legs bleed and eyes hemorrhage. I did this on purpose, for two reasons:
I don’t know.
About the author:
JE: What is the next project on the docket for you?
TS: Well, I have a few projects on the burner.