Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Jason Fregeau, a “60 year old retired consumer law attorney who now dabbles in the written word.” When we asked him about himself, this is what he had to say:
The Third Kzin is my first and only published work, and I’m pleased that it has been favorably reviewed. I think litigators try their hands at fiction writing not only because we are exposed to great stories — and practice telling those stories to juries — but also because we write a lot. I estimate that, in my career, I have written over 100,000 pages of memoranda, briefs, and other story-telling documents. At this point, writing comes naturally. Now all I need is something to say….”
Thanks for being with us today, Jason. Our first question for you is: Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester –though they should totally check here first!)
All the usual places, including the publisher’s site, Baen.com. The book is available in paperback and as an eBook.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
While I am pleased at my first publication, I am chagrined that I do not have more to share. I have had two short plays produced — Another Dover at the Valley Repertory Company in Enfield, CT, and Barbie Dress-up at The Theatre Project in Maplewood, NJ.
What was the inspiration for The Third Kzin? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
I was watching “The Third Man,” a movie adapted by the author Graham Greene, one of my favorites. I was struck by the similarities between a tired, post-war Vienna and a tired, post-war Munchen. To my memory, no writer in Mr. Niven’s universe had addressed the spirit of a people so long oppressed but now free.
At first I wrote from the perspective of the detective, naming the obese “Schriebman” in honor of my then obese self (please let me boast: in the last three years I’ve lost 65 pounds and weigh less than I weighed in college). He did not, however, work as a the main character, so I went back to source and wrote from the viewpoint of the naive visitor. By echoing the broad strokes of The Third Man — deceased friend, mourning lover, overwhelming circumstances — I had a framework on which to pin a creative divergence into the Man-Kzin world.
Fun facts: Martin Cheshire is named for Joseph Cheshire Cotton, who played Holly Martins. Lim Welson is, of course, a bastardization of Orson Wells’s name. Wells played Harry Lime.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
In addition to the usual — read (especially in the genre of your interest) and write every single day — I would add the following, taken from my farewell email when I dropped out of an MFA program:
Composition is important. You cannot build a house without learning the basics of measure and cut. If you build without the basics, then the house will look like shit before collapsing. Likewise in writing, if you don’t know the basics, your work will look like shit before collapsing. By “composition” I mean not only grammar, but also clean sentence structure, e.g. avoiding passive voice or cutting unnecessary words.
Explore books on writing. I suggest, On Writing by King, The Art of Fiction by Gardener, The Elements of Style by Strunk & White, and Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Williams (There are about a dozen flavors of this book. The only one I’ve perused has this exact title and was published in paperback in 1995.) Elements is terse but lovely, and Style is verbose but educational. Read them both.
In regard to craft, there’s just so much! A wonderful book I stumbled onto (and was used by a mentor to teach me the ropes) is Literature: Craft and Voice, Volume 1 by Delbanco and Cheuse. Plot, character, setting, voice, point of view — these are the elements used to design what we build. Also, there’s pacing, rising action, built tension, serial climaxes, etc. These elements of craft verge upon content — perhaps they can best be seen as a bridge between composition and content. King and Gardner discuss craft, and I respectfully suggest you pay attention to what they have to say. Writers not only have to know how to cut and measure, they have to know how to draw blueprints.
Finally, content, which stymied me for decades. Even with decent composition, everything I wrote felt flaccid, pedestrian, and facile. Then I found From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction by Butler, which helped me understand what is meant by “character driven fiction.”
Emotion drives our stories. We must do more than place a character into a scene and say, “She did this, then this, then this.” We must show the character’s emotional reactions to the events and to the surrounding characters. Easy, right? Just say, “She felt happy in his presence.” I won’t say that sentence is wrong, but I will say it’s flaccid, pedestrian, and facile. We need to chew through the bone to the marrow, to the slippery blood and sticky pap of emotion: “She settled next to him on the creaky leather sofa. The heat of his thigh seeped to hers, and she shivered, secret and delicious.”
I won’t go into detail about Butler’s methods, which the book can explain far better than I. Instead, I’ll point out his most important lesson: yearning. Every person — and by extrapolation, every character — yearns for something. This yearning is beyond want: I want to solve the murder because, if I do, everyone will like me. In this character’s case, the yearning is the need to be liked. Yearning is the abstract need that haunts a character’s psyche, feeding the wants that push her into action.
What has been your favorite adventure during your writing career?
I was fortunate in my MFA program to have a week in Dublin. My wife and I extended that week to another week of vacation, during which I was inspired to write. Now, to write, I must have a cigar in hand. My writing sessions usually last about the length of of stick. In Dublin, however, there is no smoking anywhere in-doors, and we were visiting in January, so I searched out heated patios in pubs that allowed smoking.
One evening I was busy at work (on The Third Kzin, as a matter of fact) when two fellows took a table not far from me. Patios in winter, heated or not, are not popular, so we were the only ones in the space. Eventually, one fellow said, in a pleasant Irish accent, “Hey, that’s frowned upon around here.”
“The folks at the bar said I could smoke.”
“Not that. The computer. That’s anti-social, mate.”
We then had a long conversation about writing and about how “someone ambitious” (me) should write a screen-play about his uncle who had done something so “weird” and “extraordinary” that I can’t remember what it was. A diversion from an evening of writing and a lesson as to how others view social spaces. I love Dublin, and we will go back some day.
Jason, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions. We are looking forward to seeing you here on March 29th!