Eleanor, by Jason Gurley – What It Takes To Finish A Story Close To Your Heart
It's a real pleasure for me to interview Jason Gurley, an author who has written some really inspiring stories and who has designed some of the most beautiful covers gracing the front of indie books on sale right now. Soon to be released, Eleanor is a heart-warming story he has been working on, on and off, for thirteen years. As I discovered, it means a very great deal to Jason, so I wanted to see what it was that made it so special to him and how he went about creating this genre-changing story.
What was the catalyst moment which made you decide to write Eleanor and what is special to you about this work?
Let’s start with the second part of that question. Eleanor is special to me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s been a part of my life for longer than most people have been. But it’s special most of all, I think, because it has grown with me for the past thirteen years. The novel began as a sort of vehicle for some big questions I was asking myself—I was twenty-three, right on schedule for Big Life Questions—but over the last decade-plus it’s become something more assured, much like I have become myself (I hope).
As for the catalyst—I don’t know if there was ever a moment that I decided to write it. I just started writing it. I was driving home from a Thanksgiving vacation. My now-ex-wife and I had traveled from Nevada to Oregon for a family get-together. On the way back, the first line of the novel popped into my head completely out of nowhere.
For all of her life, Eleanor had been falling.
I started adding new sentences to it, and I repeated them over and over in my head, building on it, until I couldn’t store any more words, and I had to pull the car over and write them down.
Oddly enough, one of the major changes that the book has gone through in the past year is that the opening line—which has been present in every draft from 2001 until last summer—is nowhere to be found in the novel now.
How long did you research before beginning the first draft or did you just dive in?
Well, there wasn’t much of anything to research. I dove right in during that road trip. When I got back home, I immediately started writing everything I’d been thinking about. From the beginning, I knew what the novel’s ending would be. It was mysterious and unique, and I loved it. Like the opening line, though, that ending is also distant history.
How long did it take you to write your first draft – explain this thirteen year timeline of Eleanor's!
Technically, thirteen years. I’m a fairly harsh critic of my own work, so over the years, as I made the mistake of reading through the words I’d written to date, I would find myself going back to page one, then embarking on a full rewrite. Though I knew my ending, there were twenty or thirty thousand words missing between the huge stacks I’d written and that final act.
Over the years, I think I wrote a half million words or more. As the novel changed—actually, as I changed, and no longer was asking the kind of big questions that the novel was originally meant to answer—many of those words became unnecessary to the story. You might say I spent twelve years practicing to write this novel, and one year writing the damned thing.
The book is nothing like the one I started writing.
What is your writing background and how have you developed your craft?
I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about my writing history. I started writing novels after high school, and as you might expect, there weren’t any gems in there. I wrote three before I started Eleanor. They’re all in a drawer. Rather, they’re in a file folder that I haven’t opened in a very long time, and don’t expect to ever open again.
What little I know about writing I’ve learned from persisting at it. I logged my ten thousand hours years ago, but I still don’t know nearly enough to call what I do ‘craft’.
You used a professional editor, David Gatewood. For what – developmental editing, line editing or copyediting? Or a combination?
All three. I hired David for all three. He cleaned up a lot of my bad habits—I have many, and you’d be surprised how rudimentary most of them are—but the most important thing that he did was help me illuminate the book’s most important themes, and tease them out of the story in ways that I hadn’t even thought about. He made the book better by helping me find the missed opportunities, and turn them into sharp points.
How did you come to choose David?
David and I had worked together before on a couple of anthologies (From the Indie Side and Synchronic). He’s a wickedly smart editor, fierce with a pen—well, a keystroke—but he’s also a fellow indie. Strangely, both he and I owe a lot to the same person: Hugh Howey. As the story goes, David emailed Hugh with a list of hundreds of errors (I don’t think I’m exaggerating, though David would probably know the real number) he’d found in Hugh’s blockbuster novel, Wool. Hugh pounced, hiring David to edit his books, and now David’s services are ridiculously in-demand. The same thing happened with me when I designed a book cover for Hugh. I’m approached by five or ten indie authors every week who want to hire me to design a book cover for them because Hugh recommended me.
Tell us about the cover design – it wasn't the first, was it?
Not by a long shot. Not even since 2013, when I started designing covers as a bit of a side gig. The first cover I ever designed for Eleanor was thirteen years ago. I was way ahead of myself, and didn’t even know it. I don’t remember much about it—it depicted a foggy ocean scene, I think, so maybe not all that different from where the cover is now.
But you’re right. In the last eight or ten months, I think, I went through a few other designs that I thought would be final. One was actually a series of three covers. I had considered, for a short while, releasing the book in parts. It’s not meant to be segmented that way, though. It’s a good old-fashioned big novel.
Each of those early covers captured the darkness of Eleanor’s story, but none of them really captured the hopefulness of it. The current cover, I think—I hope—achieves that.
What marketing do you tend to do to increase your public face?
Well, I don’t do much. And what marketing I do engage in is intended to make the books more discoverable, as opposed to turning me into someone that other people ought to pay attention to. I’m not all that driven by becoming a person of interest. So everything that I do is because I want as many people to discover these stories as is possible.
The most important thing that I try to do, if you ask me, is to recognize the investment that readers have made in me. Even though indie authors are becoming more common, we’re still sometimes a risky bet. Readers often gravitate towards the sure bet—with more recognizable or famous authors, they know what to expect. They know what they’ll get. But with indies—you never know.
And I’m immensely grateful to my readers for taking a chance on me and my stories. So I try to say thanks however I can. One of my favorite ways to do that is to give my books away to readers for free. I don’t do it for everybody, just the readers who enjoy my work enough to subscribe to my little newsletter. But everyone who does gets my books for free—before they’re published. It’s a really gratifying way to say thanks to everyone who read my stories when they could have just as easily read another Jack Reacher story, or watched an episode of Game of Thrones.
It’s also just a little bit weird. Who gives away their stuff for free to the same people who might be most likely to actually pay for it?
Well, I do. Which makes me just a little bit weird, I guess. I don’t know.
Be nice. Be generous. Those are really the only guiding principles I have. And if they lead me over a cliff, well, that doesn’t make them any less honorable to live by.
On a different note, how do you see the landscape of publishing developing over the next 24 months?
Oh, I’m completely the wrong person to ask. What if I tell you, and then in month 25 we’re suddenly reading books as digital patterns on our actual skin? Then I’m just going to look like a fool.
Hopefully however things develop, I’ll still be able to bring stories to people who enjoy them. That’s really all I’m in this for.
What is your next work in progress?
The Travelers is next on my list. That’s the final book in a series called The Movement Trilogy. I started this series last spring, and published the first two books back-to-back, very quickly. A few readers have been waiting a while for this final entry, and now that Eleanor is complete, I want to give that to them. I just hope it lives up to their expectations!
After that book is finished, though—well, it’s anybody’s guess at that point. This will be the first time in thirteen years that I haven’t had something on my plate, so I can figure out what kind of things thirty-five-year-old me wants to write, instead of being beholden to twenty-three-year-old me’s visions. It’ll be nice to let that guy go, and write something completely new.
Eleanor will be out in June 27th, 2014, but you can pre-order it here, in the UK. And, if you are so inclined and want to support an indie who has been redefining science fiction, you might like to review Eleanor here, once you've read it. Reviews are crucial to Indies so please, consider leaving one if you (as I know you will) like the book.