Meet the Winners: Paul Eckheart
This week, third quarter 2013 Writers of the Future winner, Paul Eckheart is in the hot seat.
Stuart: Welcome, Paul, and again, congratulations. Tell me something those who know you might find surprising.
Paul: As a teenager I spent two summers teaching swimming and lifesaving at an ice-cold mountain lake. The kids I taught could only stay in the water for 15-20 minutes at a time to make sure they didn’t catch hypothermia. I, on the other hand, “got to” spend as much time in the water as I wanted–or as long as was needed to let all the kids do the rescuing and whatnot.
I haven’t been swimming since.
Stuart: Ooooch! They should at least have given you a shorty suit! Cold water is B.A.D.! So, I guess writing was really just a way to stay warm? What got you started?
Paul: I’ve asked myself that question many times and the most satisfying answer I can come up with is: This is what I’m supposed to do.
Stuart: I hear you, Paul. Even after our win, it still seems a daunting path. And yet, it’s the path. So, where’s it carried you? How have you evolved?
Paul: I used to think The Big Surprise was the reason to tell stories. I grew up watching reruns of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits–so many of those episodes have that moment of revelation at the end that brings clarity to all that came before it. While I still enjoy it when those moments come in my own work, I no longer look at The Twist as the be-all-end-all of storytelling. I’m a lot more about the full emotional journey beneath the story these days.
Stuart: Good answer. Yeah, the twist is still good, but it’s only one of many good ways to bring it home. What’s your writer’s cave like?
Paul: I invested in a very nice office chair several years ago. Even though it was more money than I ever imagined paying for a chair, I have never regretted it. My desk has telescoping legs that I’ve expanded so that my monitor is perfectly at my eye-level. Then I use a lap-desk for my keyboard and a trackpad. I like writing in the dark where it’s just me and the monitor–and maybe some orchestral music for mood setting.
Stuart: Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?
Paul: I make my own bread. I have part of a sourdough yeast culture that was started in the late 1700s. Once a week I pull it out and feed it fresh flour to make sure it’s still alive and kicking.
Stuart: Sweet! You know I have a really old…um…no, I got nothin. How about a short excerpt?
Paul: This is from the first draft of my current work in progress:
Bad things came in threes. That’s what Gareth’s mother had always said, but he didn’t believe it. Not entirely. If life had taught him anything, it’s that bad things did cluster together. But “three” was arbitrary. Fours. Fives. Sixes. Didn’t matter. When the fates decided to smite you, you were screwed.He perched on the edge of his old man’s wooden Adirondack chair letting the hard edge of the angled seat press his Levi’s into the back of his leg and pulled on his lower lip. The air was thick with the smells of harvest–crop dust kicked up by the threshers, a touch of diesel smoke from the trucks and machinery. He could hear them in the distance.
At the side of his folk’s old two-story farm house Gareth’s rusty 1978 Ford F-100 waited. The air rippled above its open hood in the smothering heat of the Indian summer.No way in the world he could afford a new transmission. Not with the collection agencies already after him for his outstanding student loans. Nobody wanted to hire sociology majors. Someone should have told him that five years ago.The piercing rays of the sun found a gap in the foliage of the cherry tree Gareth’d taken refuge beneath, and as he stood to move the chair he noticed, out over the corn fields beyond the edge of the unkempt lawn, birds circling overhead. Hawks? No. Not black enough. Wrong size, too.
He squinted and shaded his eyes. Crows. Scavengers. Carrion feeders. Something out there was dead. Or dying.And then, in the rows of corn directly in front of him, something moved.
Stuart: Very nice! Next, Star Trek or Star Wars? Windows or Linux?
Paul: Wow Stuart, are you out to start a Holy War between the workshop attendees? 🙂 Next you’ll be asking if–
Stuart: Pantser or plotter?
Paul: See?! SEE??!!
Stuart: Ha ha. You ever dream about writing, Paul?
Paul: Writing? No. Stories? Yes. I’ve worked out plot problems in my sleep before–but that’s always been with works in progress. With very few exceptions, the things that *start* as dreams don’t translate to the page very well. Or, at least, the people I’ve shown them to don’t find my paper-captured dreams nearly as amusing as I do.
Stuart: You know, I once had a dream with commercials and credits. I feel that should’ve have told me something… When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Paul: I collected Folkmanis hand puppets. One in particular, a black and white cat, seemed to follow me around. Think Calvin and Hobbes, but without the orange tiger stripes.
Stuart: Ha! I’ll bet that kitty told some stories! Okay, if you had a wardrobe tag like Doctor Who what would it be?
Paul: I occasionally pull out a paperboy cap for workshops and conventions. It used to be a Pendleton Mills wool hat, but after that wore out I started wearing a Kangol 504.
Stuart: Wow! A man who knows his hats! And, do you have a quotation for us?
Paul: “if you can see that your story is getting boring, have a clown on stilts rush through the scene with his hair on fire.” — Tim Powers
Stuart: Ha ha! Or an undead pirate king, no doubt! Thank’s Paul, and I can’t wait to meet you in person!
Paul: Thanks, Stuart. You’re welcome. Pleased to be part of it and I look forward to meeting you in April.
Paul actually does have an answer to the Pantser vs. Plotter question, and plans to blog about it in coming days at www.pauleckheart.com.