Welcome to Author Spotlight! Each week will feature a different author. We’ll get the scoop behind their writing life and dish a little. The authors will also be giving away a copy of their latest books. FUN.
This week’s Author in the Spotlight is Curt Thompson!
Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win Curt’s new release – Anatomy of the Soul!
Share a little bit about yourself. Married with kids? Empty nester? Do you work full-time and write when you can squeeze it in?
I have been married for nearly twenty-four years to Phyllis and have two children, one in college (Rachel) and one in high school (Nathan). Tending those relationships is the most important part of my life’s vocation. As I write about in Anatomy of the Soul, they are also the most important sources for my experience of being known. I earn my living as a psychiatrist, and have been in private practice for about twenty years. But mostly, my calling in life is to invite people (not least myself) to exploring the truth about their stories in order to come to a fuller place of health and healing—whether that’s in the office, on the basketball court (which I still try to play regularly) or over dinner with friends.
And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…
Anatomy of the Soul is the first book I have written. So, I guess I haven’t necessarily established a foothold in a particular genre. The book is about brain/mind science, relationships, and following Jesus, and how each of these dimensions of our experience (if one is a God-seeker) shape each other. The book draws heavily from both clinical stories as well as many passages of Scripture that are both narrative and instructive in nature. I’m not certain what genre that falls into, but whichever one it is, there you have it! All of this has emerged from my interest in the integration of the many areas of neuroscience and mental health intervention and Christian spirituality. I speak and teach on this topic fairly frequently in various venues.
How did you get started writing? Did you have a dream of being a published author?
Before Anatomy of the Soul the only formal writing I did was Christmas letters! Over the past ten years, a good friend of mine, Leslie Nunn Reed (who is an author agent) had been encouraging me to write a book. We would have these long conversations about any number of topics we were both interested in, and that I was currently thinking about from an integrated perspective of psychiatry and Christian spirituality. It could have to do with parenting, marital issues, sexuality, leadership, anxiety or depressive problems, you name it. About six years ago I began to develop some thoughts around the integration of faith and the emerging science of interpersonal neurobiology (which I explore in AOTS [Anatomy of the Soul—hope that’s an ok abbreviation]). This eventually evolved into a class that I taught at my church to which there was a great deal of positive response. Leslie and my friend Dennis Hollinger, now President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a former pastor at our church, both encouraged me to get the material into print and try to get it published. I had had no significant dreams of becoming published—but what was coming out of the material I present in the book seemed to gather its own momentum and was asking to be written. Without any guarantees, of course, that anyone would be interested in taking a chance on a first time author writing on a relatively brand new subject.
After you started writing seriously–how long was it before you were published?
Leslie led me through the process of creating a book proposal (she’s very good by the way at what she does), and then she shopped it around. I essentially wrote one full chapter and chapter summaries for the rest of the book for the proposal, sent it out—and then waited. If my memory serves me correctly, I think it was between six months and a year before we landed a publisher. Working with Tyndale House Publishers has been a very good experience, and I’m grateful for the support they have offered for this project.
Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well? Do you have any favorite places and routines when you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?
I can answer what I did, and what I would do differently if I had to do it over again. My life is such that I did not have the luxury of writing every day (even a little bit, as is often suggested). So I would work on one or two weeknights every week, and then usually several hours on a Saturday morning. I recall that there was only one time when I had a stretch of about four days straight when all I did was write. If I ever do this again (and I think I would like to, yes, I think very much) I would utilize longer blocks of time. It is otherwise a bit of a burden to gear up and down every two or three days, often not consecutively, to keep the creative stream flowing. When I would write during the week, it usually lasted from early evening till the wee hours of the morning, especially as we got closer to the final deadline. My family was SO gracious in allowing me the time to do this, and often went off to do things on their own that I would usually have been involved with just so I could get the work done.
I otherwise didn’t have any particular routine, other than to make sure I was relatively awake and rested when I started. This wasn’t always easy at the end of a long day seeing patients. But this could sometimes be countered by a particularly helpful interaction I had had with a patient. Sometimes I would allow myself to become distracted by “other things I had to do…” to avoid going to the “war room” (our bedroom, where I would write)—but my wife would gently, and firmly, remind me of what I was trying to do, and usually that would be enough to help me get to it.
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?
The biggest help for me was a group of readers who met on a somewhat regular basis to read over and critique my manuscript. They were most encouraging—and in no small way because almost to a person each had been personally helped by the material I was presenting in AOTS. They asked good questions and helped flesh out not only what I was writing but also clarify my audience as I proceeded through the project.
What are your biggest distractions?
I think one of my biggest distractions was that high-pitched fear that I can barely hear at the back of my brain that says, in some form or another, “The stuff you have to say isn’t really that interesting or important…” or some such prattle. This makes me worry that what I’m writing is, well, prattle itself. If I listen too long to this voice, I can get paralyzed. Another was my tendency to think so much ahead to how much I had left to write that I would become overwhelmed and then paralyzed for that reason as well. The last distraction I think has to do with a previous question. It was easier to get distracted, or rather, harder to stay on task, when my schedule simply was too broken up (with several days between days I would be writing). This would lead to an inertia that was hard to overcome sometimes—and I could simply find something else to do. But hard deadlines are, without doubt, the most effective means for me to keep distractions at bay.
What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?
What I least like is the extended periods of isolation that are sometimes necessary to get the work done. Another might be how writing, for me, reveals so much about myself that I wish were different. So many of my weaknesses, dark corners, and stuff I’m not proud of are revealed when I find myself faced with the reality that I just can’t make things go on paper the way I want them to. Or I sound too dull, or too bombastic, or too wordy (perhaps like I’m being right now). I think you get the picture.
I think I most like two things. First would be the sense you get when you’re in a pocket, a zone, in which your fingers are flying, the keyboard unable to keep up with your brain as so many thoughts spill out (even, occasionally, coherently) that you can’t contain them. If they then actually make sense, there is great joy in that. The other is this. Gift-giving and receiving is not my, uh, gift. I mean that that is not the way I best experience relationships. But it has been a particularly special experience for me to give my book to people who I believe very much are interested in a copy, and witness their joy in receiving it. Because most of the time, I believe their interest is genuine. It’s the experience of giving a gift that you believe people really want, and can be really helpful. That’s very cool.
What is the role and importance of an agent?
As I mentioned earlier, Leslie Nunn Reed is very good at what she does. For me, her role was essential, and without her work, I doubt AOTS would exist except in my mind. As I mentioned in the acknowledgement section of the book, she veritably willed it into existence. Her most important role, I think, was to do two things. First, she led me through the vast maze of the book proposal and all that followed, including her shopping the book to those who would be interested. Secondly, she was a great support to me when times arose in which it was not certain the project (or I) would make it (I had one publisher sign a contract and then after I had finished the manuscript about nine months later, withdrew the contract—not the most encouraging day for me). I couldn’t have asked for anyone better for me than Leslie.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Like anything that is worth doing, writing is worth doing well, and that requires painstaking work. The metaphor of birthing a baby, though possibly overused, is so for its aptness. This writing thing is a labor of love that requires discipline, grace (a bounty full toward oneself), and perseverance. And no small amount of encouragement from those on the same journey. Although I was not involved in a writing group, I can easily see how this would be of great help to anyone wanting to join this fraternity.
Pretend I’m a customer at a bookstore looking for a good book. Give me a one or two sentence promo to convince me to buy your book.
Anatomy of the Soul introduces you to the connections between new discoveries in brain science, the way relationships work, and Christian spirituality. If you desire your life to be one in which your mind is transformed, your brain is changed, and your relationships with God and everyone else is healed and deepened, this is a good place to start.
What’s on the book horizon for you?
Great question. As we are just a month out from release of AOTS, we’ll have to see how it does. But I do have ideas for next projects.
Last question, how can readers find you and your books?
They can find it by going to my web site, www.beingknown.com, their local bookseller (which I very much want to support), or on Amazon.com.
Thank you for sharing your writing life with my bleaders! (blog + readers = bleaders)