Once upon a time, there was a wordsmith extraordinaire named J.T. Cunningham. He had a way with words that could make them dance across the page and sing in harmony. His talent was evident from the very beginning, and it wasn’t long before his work was being featured in the prestigious University of Minnesota‘s The Tower. But J.T.’s ambitions didn’t stop there. He had a story to tell, and he was determined to bring it to life. So, he put pen to paper and wrote a play called “The Five Thousand.” It was a masterpiece, a tour de force that left audiences breathless. In 2014, J.T. brought his play to the Minnesota Fringe Festival, where it premiered to rave reviews. People couldn’t get enough of his writing, and they knew that they had witnessed something truly special. And so, J.T. Cunningham’s reputation grew. His words were sought after. Today, J.T. Cunningham is a name that is synonymous with excellence. His writing continues to inspire and delight, and he remains a true wordsmith extraordinaire. Today, I welcome one of Tea With Coffee Media’s authors, J.T. Cunningham, yo my blog for a Coffee Chat with Tyler Wittkofsky.
TW: Do you prefer tea or coffee?
TW: What is your favorite movie?
TW: What is your favorite genre to read?
JT: Literary fiction.
TW: How do you approach the writing process, from idea generation to publication?
JT: I usually jump into a premise based on a character who does or wants something specific and then build the world and other characters around them to facilitate doing or wanting that thing. I write out detailed outlines about specific story beats, character relationships, and themes I want to cover while writing the actual narrative, then basically delete the entire first draft and rewrite everything. From there I keep what stayed with me and keep refining it until I’m as satisfied with it as I can be. Then it’s sending it out to people I think might be receptive to it.
TW: How do you handle writer’s block or creative slumps?
JT: I go back to stories I like, and I analyze what about them resonated with me, and how I’d like to emulate them in my own writing. As per Toni Morrison’s advice, I always want to write the book I’d like to read.
TW: How do you handle criticism or negative feedback on your writing, and what steps do you take to improve?
JT: Accept that it’s always going to happen and see if the criticism has any objective merit. If it does, incorporate it into my writing. There’s always an aspect of my writing that can be improved and listening to negative feedback is just one way to learn what it is.
TW: What do you think is the most important aspect of storytelling?
JT: The integration of plot, theme, and character. When one plays off the other two simultaneously, you get a satisfying story both narratively and emotionally.
TW: What is the most challenging part of being a writer?
JT: All the catastrophizing and defeatism; I have to talk myself out of a slump brought on by self-doubt daily. There’s a lot of paralysis brought on by fear of rejection.
TW: How do you stay motivated to write?
JT: As silly as it sounds, I do feel responsible for the characters and worlds I create. Without writing and giving them “life,” so to speak, they aren’t really there. I have a duty to write them into existence so other people can read about them.
TW: What is your favorite book and why?
JT: “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. It has pretty much everything I could ask for in a novel: the exploration of faith and the human condition, clever and subtle social commentary, and a scope that is both epic and intimate.
TW: How do you handle rejection in the publishing industry?
JT: I’ve come to understand that this business is intensely subjective, and that just because one person doesn’t like your work doesn’t mean it’s objectively bad. It just means it hasn’t gotten into the right hands. If you believe in the story, then you have to keep championing it even when no one else will. However, sometimes it’s wise to put a particular project to bed and work on something else if nothing is panning out. No matter what, you just have to keep moving forward. If you don’t, then nothing will truly happen.
TW: What are your future writing goals and aspirations? What inspired you to write?
JT: Eventually I want to pen a longer series with intricate worldbuilding, plotting, and series-spanning character development. I want to see if my writing chops that sustain something that involved.
TW: What does the future hold for you?
JT: Hopefully, more published novels.
TW: Where can my reader’s find you?
JT: My twitter is @JTCunninghamm and my Instagram is jt_cunninghamm.
TW: Anything else you would like to say?
JT: Thank you for your time, I appreciate it.