Five Questions with T.J. Brearton

First let’s talk about your family. You’re married and have three children. What’s that like, being a writer with a full house?

I’ll tell you what having a family is like. It’s like you’re on acid. Or maybe if you’re a more natural sort of person, it’s like psilocybin. I’m serious. When that first baby comes out, that’s when you get dosed. The more kids you have, the stronger the dosage, the wilder the hallucinations, the faster it all goes. That baby comes out, and you’re off, and it starts to build, the trip starts to build up. And you keep thinking This Is It, but it’s not it, you’re not peaking yet. I think peaking happens somewhere right around where I am now – but I would think that, wouldn’t I? I have a twelve year-old, a five year-old and a two year-old. (Right now my two year-old is sobbing because we won’t let her lock herself in the closet.) So that’s a good spread of ages, and we’re really in it, this is the peak of the trip, the heart of it right here, with wild faces and colors and crazy people doing crazy things, all rushing by in a blur.

Now imagine trying to be a writer in the midst of that. That’s what it’s like.


Apologies for a sort of generic question, but what’s your process?

No, it’s okay. I’ll tell you my process: I submit my final draft to the publisher, thinking it’s genius. A few pleasurable weeks ensue. Then the edit notes come back, my brain convinces me that the last book I wrote was a piece of cake, and this one is way harder, and I’m getting worse instead of better as a writer. I work for a while, like a mad doctor on a desperate patient, but there’s too much blood, I can’t stop the bleeding so I snap off the gloves, walk away, and pretend the body is not there, lying on the gurney.

That’s where I’m right now with one of my books.


Yikes. I hope the patient pulls through. But how about before submitting? I mean the process of the work. Do you outline, do you take long walks, do you write two drafts or twenty?

I don’t remember.


You mean you don’t remember…? Don’t remember what? Do you mean each book is different? Or it all blurs together?

(Laughs) Yes, sorry. Yeah, they’re different, but they’re not different either. I’m different, but I’m not different either. I know that sounds moronic. I guess…I really mean it, like my brain resets after each book. Okay, I’ll go back to talking about children; maybe that will help. When you have one, you think you may know the ropes for the second one. But you forget a lot of stuff, and have to learn it over. The basics are there, each kid goes poop and that needs to be handled. But each child is different too. My wife spends a lot of time comparing and contrasting – how much hair did this one have at such an age compared to the other? And who weighed what or was how tall when? And we’ll talk about temperament, and disposition. Each one is different, but it’s in shades. Just like the books, they have different dispositions, they required certain things from me another didn’t.

Okay, I can see by your expression this is not a satisfying answer. (Laughs again) So how about this: I used to power through a rough draft really never stopping or looking back. Then I’d revise and it took however many revisions, I’d say five or seven on average. Now, I’ll stop while writing and change things as I go, so it’s getting harder to really say how many revisions there are. But I’m not always doing that, either. I guess it depends on plot. I’m starting to hate plot. I want to just write about people and have them do whatever and say whatever.

I’m only partly serious, here.


Well, we did so well with that generic question, here’s one more – where do you get your ideas?

I don’t. I really have no sense of what that is. I’m serious. I have no ideas. Over the years I’ve met plenty of people, I’m sure you have too, who’ll say “I have this great idea for a book” or “this great idea for a movie” and maybe they’ll tell you and, yeah, it’s a cool idea. Maybe it’s great. But I’ve never really had that. Well, I shouldn’t say never. I guess I’ve experienced something like that, but for me it’s not what happens. I’ll maybe picture a scene, or get a line of dialogue stuck in my head, or have a thought, an emotion about something, and that’s where I’ll start. Sometimes. Lately my wife has been offering ideas, and I’m more than happy to take those and run with them. In fact, I always dreamed I would have ideas come from somewhere outside me, because either I don’t trust or can’t decide whether my own ideas are any good. They’re just arbitrary. Coming from someone or somewhere else gives them meaning.

(Full disclosure: April Fool's! No one really ever interviews me, so I interviewed myself! But if you want me to interview YOU, drop me a line. I love asking questions and learning about people. For instance, here's my interview with Charlie Gallagher.)