The word “struggled” has a negative connotation. I don’t think of writing as a struggle because, while time-consuming and labor-intensive, it is something I genuinely enjoy. I’m not in the Dorothy Parker camp who said, “I hate writing. I love having written.”
Max Everhart – 25 July 2017
The Back Flap
From Shamus Award finalist Max Everhart comes All the Different Ways Love Can Feel, a collection of stories exploring the complexities of relationships. Whether its a single father who buys a lake house with a dying man still living in it, or a young Red Sox fan who plots to assassinate George Steinbrenner, or a devoted mother who joins the Army Reserves on her thirty-fifth birthday, just before Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, these eleven stories charm, provoke, and confound. Not to mention examine up close that most conflicted of emotions: love.
About the book
What is the book about?
All the Different Ways Love Can Feel is a collection of short stories that explore the complexities of relationships—father and son, brother and sister, boyfriend and girlfriend, coach and player. The common theme in these stories, as the title suggests, is love, and how it rarely—if ever—feels the way we expect or want it to.
When did you start writing the book?
The first story I wrote in 2005 while I was in graduate school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Called “Five O’Clock Lightning,” the story is about a middle-aged high school math teacher, who tries out for a minor league baseball team with the help of his son. Completely broke at the time, I wrote the story as a Father’s Day present for my Dad, who, like me, is a big baseball fan. The last story in the collection, “Just Gus,” also features a father and son. In this story, which I just finished in March of 2017, Gus Lockheart, an eighteen-year old about to leave for college, steals his father’s prized record collection, and the father attempts to better understand why it happened.
How long did it take you to write it?
All the Different Ways Love Can Feel took me twelve years to write, roughly from August 2005 to March 2017. In my defense, short stories are tough to write. Put it another way: I wrote my fourth novel Alphabet Land in about five weeks, whereas it took me six months to complete “The Man Who Wore No Pants,” a story that won the Best of the Net for 2010 and is included in my new collection.
Where did you get the idea from?
Quick story. When I was twenty, I stole a hardback copy of John Updike’s short story collection called Trust Me from my Dad. For the last seventeen years, I’ve read those stories over and over again, and stared at the author photo on the inside flap, and thought to myself, “Someday I’ll publish my stories.” A twenty-year old version of myself hoping (yearning, really) to write stories like my literary hero John Updike. . .that’s where the idea for my new book came from.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
The word “struggled” has a negative connotation. I don’t think of writing as a struggle because, while time-consuming and labor-intensive, it is something I genuinely enjoy. I’m not in the Dorothy Parker camp who said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Me, I really only enjoy the process of writing; once it’s finished, I feel hollow and restless and irritable.
That said, the shortest story in my collection called “77 Lives on the Rock River,” which clocks in at under 2,000 words, took several drafts to get it the way I wanted.
What came easily?
The title story “All the Different Ways Love Can Feel” I wrote in a single afternoon with only minimal revision. Semi-autobiographical, the story is based on a memory I had of playing in a Little League game. I made a smart play in the field, and my Dad yelled out my name in front of hundreds of people. Twenty-six years later, I still remember how proud/embarrassed I felt.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
For better or worse, I tend to rely on my own personality quirks and experiences to shape characters, whether they are female or male. I do, however, occasionally borrow stories from the real world and shape them into fiction. “The Man Who Wore No Pants,” for example, is a lengthy story about a single father who buys a lake house with a dying man still living in it. Memory serves, the germ of that story came from an NPR story about a man who had terminal cancer and was selling his house, but with two possible asking prices: a buyer could have the house for a song if the seller was allowed to stay until he died, but if he had to leave, the price was set at market value. It was a fascinating story, and I’m pretty sure I heard it on This American Life.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
Although I’ve been told it isn’t exactly wise to do so, I write across genres. I’ve published four mystery novels, and for those, I was influenced by Raymond Chandler, James Crumley, and Gregory McDonald. My private detective series featuring Eli Sharpe owes a lot to McDonald’s hilarious character Fletch, Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, and Crumley’s C.W. Sugrue.
But my short stories, which are more literary in nature, are a by-product of reading John Updike, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, more recently, Michael Chabon. Of course, I cannot write as well (or remotely like) those authors, but they all had (and have, in Chabon’s case) a gift for character development, and that’s definitely something I focus on. My philosophy is, if the character is interesting, the story will be, too.
Do you have a target reader?
My target reader is someone like me: a person who reads across genres and values a good story above all else.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I’m OCD (no really, I take medication twice a day for it), but before Buspar and the birth of my son Harry Huckleberry, my routine was rigid. I would come home from work at 2pm, walk approximately thirteen steps to my desk, and empty my pockets beside my computer, from which I’d deliberately removed the Internet and all games in order to focus on the writing. I had a very specific place where I’d place my car keys, my wallet, and my inhaler, and once those items were in the right spots, I wrote until 4pm or until I had between 500-1,000 words, whichever came first.
But my process has devolved over the years. Or maybe age and pharmaceuticals have mellowed me out. Now, I write whenever and wherever the mood strikes me. The last novel I wrote called Unlove Me, I penned longhand on composition notebooks.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
For the mystery books, I definitely used outlines. I actually wrote scene-by-scene descriptions of the entire book on poster board and hung those above my desk. I also wrote character sketches of every character that would appear in the book. I did a lot of prep work. Now: not so much. Now, I just wing it.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I’ve done both. Editing as I go (within reason) works out best for me. That said, my favorite books and stories just sort of flowed from the beginning. In my experience, the longer it takes to write the first draft, the less I like the final product.
Did you hire a professional editor?
All the Different Ways Love Can Feel I edited myself. I put the manuscript through several rounds of proofreading and editing over a span of many months. It was a lot of work, but worth it because the book came out great, I think. I just hope readers will agree.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
Tried that. Didn’t like it. When I write, I want it to be quiet, and I want to be alone. Hell, half the reason I write is to be alone with my thoughts. As much as I love music, it’s hard to think with it playing. What can I say? I have a one-track mind.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
I submitted Go Go Gato, my first mystery novel, to about forty agents. I had a few nibbles (very minor ones, I must say), and then I grew impatient and started submitting the manuscript to small presses. Not too long after, I was offered a three-book contract for the Eli Sharpe series. Later, I secured another contract from a second publisher for Alphabet Land, a noir-type thriller featuring The Rook.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
In a word: control. I wanted more control over all aspects of the process, from editing to publishing to distribution to pricing. I’m grateful to the small presses who published my other books, but I’m glad to be on my own—at least for the time being.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
I did the book cover for All the Different Ways Love Can Feel myself. It was a learning experience, but I’m pleased with the result. Plus, I’m cheap; I didn’t want to pay someone hundreds of dollars for something I could do myself.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I have a general plan for marketing. Personally, I don’t like it whenever authors just flood social media and anywhere else with their marketing stuff, so I’m taking a more moderate (and selective) approach.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
I used Createspace, and I liked it. Very easy to use, even if you’re not tech-savvy. On the publishing side, I’d say proofread and edit very carefully (or pay a professional to do it); it seems obvious, but you should only put your best work out there. I’d also advise would-be self-publishers to spend a lot of time on the book cover (yes, it is that important). Finally, I’d make sure you have reasonable expectations before self-publishing. We all want to be bestsellers and have our books made into Hollywood movies, but that’s not realistic. In fact, it’s counter-productive to think that way. Just be reasonable. My goal is to earn a bit more from All the Different Ways Love Can Feel than I did from my four previous books combined. Trust me, this is a very, very reasonable number.
Where did you grow up?
In Pfafftown, North Carolina. Right near Muddy Creek, which feeds into the Yadkin River. Stand in the yard of my childhood home and you can smell tobacco from the farms in nearby Tobaccoville. At least you could before the government started paying farmers not to grow tobacco.
Where do you live now?
I live with my wife and son in a great little town in South Carolina called Hartsville. For a small town, it has a lot of fun things to do, so feel free to visit, but don’t move here, please. It’s already growing too fast for my taste. I get angry whenever I drive downtown and have to search for parking, and wait for a table in my favorite restaurants.
What would you like readers to know about you?
The state motto of North Carolina sums me up pretty well: Esse quam videri (To be rather than to seem).
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m trying to finish up a YA novel about a twelve-year old boy, who runs for mayor of a small town. I like it. So does my wife, which is always a good sign.
I’m also (sort of) working on a cross-genre novel about a homicide detective named Jack Dent, who decides he doesn’t want to be “a character” anymore and walks out of the book in chapter one. From there, other characters and the author and the author’s agent try to hunt Dent down before he can escape the fictional town where he’s been confined for almost eleven books. Think Truman Show meets Adaptation and you’re in the ballpark. I like this one, too. Just gotta figure out how to finish it.
End of Interview: