This is the first of many interviews that we plan to publish on Daily Writing Tips. Below you will find the questions that Gregg Donaldson, a contributing writer for the blog, asked to Mr. Jeff Kozlowski, a fiction author and English teacher for college preparatory students with learning disabilities.
Donaldson: Tell me about your latest book, Sea of Movement.
Kozlowski: Sea of Movement is my first novel written for mainstream audiences. It is a multi-cultural journey taking readers through the intoxicating waters of the South Pacific, into the shattered heart of Bangladesh, and along the rugged interior of Indonesia. I attempted to write a book that appeals to the adventurous side of both male and female readers. Female readers are generally attracted to intimate, well-developed characters and male readers are typically driven by rising action. Therefore, the characters find themselves on an elegant voyage into freedom, power, and self-destruction. I envision a couple lying in bed together or side-by-side on the beach, unable to put their twin copies down.
Donaldson: How’s the first release gone?
Kozlowski: I’ve received great feedback from my readers. Setting, characters, and plot have been praised. The biggest compliment has been that many, many people say they couldn’t put the book down, often finishing it in a single night. So I guess so far I’ve accomplished my goal.
Donaldson: Any tips regarding how beginners can start at fiction writing?
Kozlowski: I’ve actually been mentoring a few of my students who are interested in the process. My advice is to get as much formal training as you can while you’re young. But at the same time, remain true to your self, true to your own voice, because writing is an art form. Listen to the feedback of your readers and make revisions accordingly, but don’t take criticism to heart. Learn to combine the skills learned from formal training with the secret ideas that can only come from your own heart. Enjoy the process, it is incredibly rewarding on a personal level.
Donaldson: Why do you write?
Kozlowski: Each story or novel I write has a unique purpose. As a teacher, one of my biggest challenges has been getting teenagers interested in reading. Over time, I’ve made it a priority to bring into my classroom high interest material that makes a difference with my students. But often teenagers are the toughest critics of great literature. So I wrote The One for various students who were especially challenging to me over the years. But even more than that, I wrote the book in attempt to reach out to everyone who has faced confusion and trauma along their journey into adulthood. I tried to portray the idea that we can make it to our dreams, no matter how dark and disturbing it is when we’re young. And this spring, I was given the honor of reading The One with my students. I was rewarded with feedback describing the book’s ability to draw readers in, believability, well-defined theme, and potential impact on the youth of our society. After facing my lovable but brutally honest tenth graders, handling other critics’ feedback has been a breeze.
Donaldson: Why did you write The One?
Kozlowski: I hope to write a series of books geared toward young males ages 18-25 about growing up. And in part to have a male perspective in answer to the ” Chick Lit” books
Donaldson: How do you create your characters?
Kozlowski: Many of my characters are created from combined memories of unique individuals I’ve encountered in my life altered to fit the circumstances that I’m trying to portray. The most often asked question I get from readers is, “How much of this happened to you?” Although I choose not to share how much of my work is biography and how much is fiction, I do get to know my characters on a personal, intimate level and feel love, hatred, sorrow, or contempt for them as their actions unfold. Sometimes, my characters become such a part of me that I’m compelled to bring them into future pieces of work.
Donaldson: Where do your ideas come from?
Kozlowski: My inspiration comes to me when I’m living in a moment of purity, often while surfing, listening to music in the car, or while reading a great author’s work. The ideas come from a combination of real life circumstances experiences, extenuating, and cockamamie fantasies. While writing, I feel as though I’m living through my characters and attempt to bring my readers there both visually and emotionally.
Donaldson: What is your writing process?
Kozlowski: I would have to say that I fall more into the Kurt Vonnegut style of writing than the Stephen King model. That is to say that I am a perfectionist and cannot move forward in my plot until I am absolutely convinced that I’m satisfied with the current paragraph I’m working on. But I do build my stories from skeletal bones to fully clothed beings by alternating between pouring out repressed ideas in a moment of inspiration and then going back and refining them over and over again until they tell me to move on.
Donaldson: What are the positives of self-publishing?
Kozlowski: I believe self-publishing has been a very rewarding experience for me. First of all, I’ve done all the marketing myself, and have learned many valuable strategies that I can apply in the future. I like to be my own boss and feel like I’ve been in tune with the writing process from beginning to end. But the best part of the whole process is the fact that I’ve used Myspace to promote my work. I’ve met many wonderful people who have given me excellent feedback on my writing through the site. I have formed intimate relationships with my readers that transcend typical author/reader relations. People tell me specifically how my words touched them and what parts were most meaningful. So what I may have lost in quantity of sales has been replaced with a sense of accomplishment in the quality of my sales. I’m not merely trying to sell books, but make an impact on each individual who chooses to read my work.
Donaldson: How is the Web affecting fiction writing?
Kozlowski: Last spring, I was in an online contest through Gather.com, which was sponsored by Borders and Simon and Schuster. Over two thousand novels competed for a single publishing contract with Simon and Schuster and I had a great ride. Sea of Movement was chosen as one of the top twenty to move on to the finalist round. Through that contest, I realized how competitive the writing industry is, whether it’s through mainstream publishing, or through the net. Again, I met some great people and we keep in touch to this day. I have also made great connections through Myspace and it’s been very beneficial to have a more personal relationship with my readers. I also believe the web has allowed many more voices to be heard around the world. Modern publishing has become a grassroots endeavor, but at the same time the web allows it to be global. Readers have purchased my work from around the world from places such as New Zealand, England and Australian and that would not have been possible in the past.
Donaldson: What General advice would you give to other aspiring writers?
Kozlowski: My advice is to write from your heart and soul. Every one of us is a human being and we all have unique stories to share. Don’t let the market get in the way of the person you are or the writer you want to become.