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Jarred McGinnis: On the Catharsis in the Writing Process

Author Jarred McGinnis discusses the therapeutic experience of infusing his lived experiences into his new novel, The Coward.

Jarred McGinnis was chosen as one of Guardian's 10 best new writers. He was the creative director for ‘Moby-Dick Unabridged,’ a four-day immersive multimedia reading of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick involving hundreds of participants. His short fiction has been commissioned for BBC radio and appeared in respected journals in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Ireland. He also has a PhD in Artificial Intelligence, but mostly he inspires the able-bodied by driving a car all by himself and taking his daughters to the playground. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Jarred McGinnis: On the Catharsis in the Writing Process

Jarred McGinnis

In this post, Jarred discusses the therapeutic experience of infusing his lived experiences into his new novel, The Coward, why he set out to write this story, and more!

Name: Jarred McGinnis
Literary agent: Will Francis at Janklow and Nesbit
Book title: The Coward
Publisher: Canongate
Release date: April 12
Genre/category: Literary Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: The funniest book about disability, addiction, death, and childhood trauma you will read this year.

Jarred McGinnis: On the Catharsis in the Writing Process

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What prompted you to write this book?

This story was missing. The narratives about disability I was reading didn’t match my experience. I think anyone who comes from an underrepresented background knows this feeling. Eventually I got irritated enough to spend several years of my life to prove to myself and the world it was a story worth telling. Do not underestimate the power of spite for the creative process.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

I was writing short stories and after a few years I realized that I was writing about themes and characters that needed the space that a novel has. The novel took another six or seven years to get right.

The structure of the novel was always there. I saw it as figure eight with two-time lines that bend back onto themselves. One with a downward trajectory of tragedy and the other moving upward toward a happy ending.

There was a lot of work to balance the two timelines so that the reader didn’t begrudge reading one when they preferred the other. It took a lot of tinkering and rewriting to make sure the shifts in time didn't jar the reader out of the story.

The idea that this book would deal with difficult subjects with humor was always there. Humor is a timebomb in fiction. One bad joke and, boom, the novel is gone for the reader. Also, the humor had come from the characters rather than the author showing how clever he was. I've met the guy. He's not as clever as he thinks.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

There was some early interest in the book, and I had some conversations with editors. They were nudging me toward the kind of story they thought I should write. I ate the free lunch and took lots of notes because obviously they knew better, they were editors. It was defeating because I couldn’t write the book they wanted.

Jarred McGinnis: On the Catharsis in the Writing Process

After my first daughter was born, I went back over the book. I realized they were wrong and how dare they tell a disabled person what the story of disability was. That’s when I really set about figuring out how to write the book I wanted and well enough that it couldn’t be ignored.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

The catharsis. Writing something so intimate and personal processed an anger and sadness that I had been ignoring. Finishing this book laid to rest a lot of ghosts. People pay a lot of money for therapy, and I figured out how to get paid for mine. Aren’t I a cleverclogs?

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I’ve already had readers telling me how much this book helped them understand similar traumas and difficulties in their own life. That’s an author’s dream to reach out across the word count and make a difference to someone’s life. It’s a ridiculous thing to hope you can do, but I hope The Coward helps people recognize that it's OK to be broken and beauty, hope, and humor reside even in the darkest moments of our lives.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

No one is going to love your book as much as you. My book has been a success beyond any reasonable expectation, and I still feel cheated daily. Make the process, the writing, your measure of success. It’s the only thing you have control over. The rest is down to a good publicist, dumb luck, and nepotism.

Focus on the Short Story

Short stories are a well-loved and popular form of fiction. When you take this online course, you will learn how to write short stories that will delight and entertain your readers. In addition to weekly reading and writing assignments, you’ll also read Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills.

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