For the original website where this interview was posted, click here.
Nicole Weaver: A few weeks ago I read and wrote a review for The Mason Jar written by James Russell Lingerfelt. I instantly fell in love with the book, and this is why I had to interview the author. I wanted to gain insights on how he was able to write such a well written story. If you have not read&the book yet; be sure to pick up a copy. You will not be disappointed. Below is the interview with James Russell Lingerfelt.
NW: Thank you for doing this interview. I am hugely impressed with your writing style. I love the way you draw in the reader with very descriptive scenes. How long did it take you to learn how to write so well?
JRL: Thank you for the compliment. I’ve been writing since I was fifteen. I started with journals, and I never stopped. Every time I experienced a
facet of life that was new and exciting, I wrote it down. But I wrote it as story so that I could read it as an older man. Maybe even pass it on to my children or grandchildren. If I lose my memory, I would have those stories to remind me who I was. Most people don’t believe fifteen year olds think about those things. But I did. And I know others that did too.
But it’s not just journal writing that has created my writing style, but also reading great literary works. Thoreau, CS Lewis, Henri Nouwen, and NT Wright are people I will never stop reading. While in the ninth grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Moore, introduced me to Thoreau whose writings I instantly fell in love with. He depicted the North American countryside so beautifully. He made me proud to be from the countryside and never want to leave it. I grew up in the mountains in northeast Alabama where we border Georgia and Tennessee, and the scenery and wildlife is much the same as it is in New England.
Also, CS Lewis, not his children’s books, but his autobiography and his theology books are well written. Lewis describes the surroundings and his inner feelings and reactions to life in a very poetic style. Really, the secret to good writing is finding an author whose stories, imagery, and style make you want to read them forever. Then go do so. Read everything they wrote and revisit them when you are writing. Just their example, after you’ve tried mastering the pen, will serve as instruction for you.
NW: The Mason Jar is a coming of age love story, why do you feel you had to tell this story?
JRL: I meet people a lot who don’t necessarily want to be reunited with past or first loves. What they really want, what we all truly want, is closure and peace. Our society also places romantic love on a pedestal. That’s dangerous because people thus have fantastic expectations about what romantic love and marriage will be or do for them. They get involved and over time realize it’s not what they imagined.
So I wanted to write a story that helps heal the hurts in people who have loved and lost and don’t know how to find healing. And there is more to life than romantic love. There are higher callings. So I teach this throughout The Mason Jar, but I use various avenues. The street kids. Finn’s relationship with his grandfather and his family. The journey with Savannah and the Divine. His reflections on what he’s learning through letters and journal writing.
NW: Is anything in your book based on real life experience or purely all imagination?
JRL: No story comes solely from our imagination. Every author is somewhere in every story they write. This a work of fiction, but many aspects are based on my real life experiences. I wish I could be more specific in answer to your question, but I can’t. I’m sorry.
NW: What was your favorite chapter to write and why?
JRL: Chapter Nine. There is hardly a piece of fiction in that chapter. I loved writing it because I lived it. There are direct quotes from loved ones. There are experiences, thoughts, and emotions that permeated my entire being.
NW: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
JRL: When you write in first person, you must become the character you’re portraying. At least that’s true for me. Therefore, if you put them through hell, you must revisit a time in your life when you went through hell. You relive it and then attempt to portray what that experience was like. It’s takes being “introspective” or “intrapersonal.” Authors don’t want to do that. And understandably so. But if you want to write good literature, you must go there. At the end of your life, what would your words really be if only you and your best friend could hear them? Share those words through story. That’s the kind of stories that impacts reader’s lives.
NW: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
JRL: When our hopes, the expectations we have of life, when they don’t work out, life can still be beautiful. You just have to develop the eyes to find the beauty. Then dwell there. I would begin pondering the proverb from Buechner: “The place God calls you is where your passion and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And then ask how that manifests itself in your life. The best way is to allow time to mourn, but then take on a mission that is beyond yourself. One where you would fail if God didn’t step in.
Another example would be Henri Nowen’s The Wounded Healer concept. Find the places where you have been hurt and help relieve that hurt in others. You are a woman who was abused? Go work or volunteer at a shelter for abused women. You were once an orphan? Help out at a street kids ministry. You lost the love of your life? Take some courses in grief counseling and counsel those who mourn. When you look at the lives of people who left strong, positive impacts on society, they’re almost always wounded healers. Don’t miss that.
NW: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
JRL: I will forever be grateful to my theology professors, staff, and classmates at Pepperdine University. I cannot express how much I loved my professors and how grateful I am for the lessons they taught me. And Malibu was breathtaking. After two years of living there, the town and beach never became an eyesore for me.
NW: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in The Mason Jar?
JRL: We have received some constructive criticism, but nothing so revolutionary that I want to change the story. People have remarked that they wish Africa was longer, that perhaps Finn could have shared a story about one of the kids he bonded with and make a subplot out of that. Another suggested Finn have an interaction with former child soldiers or Koney himself. And I’ve thought about that. But I like the story where it is. I’ve had two criticisms that really stuck out. “I wish you had written more” said one person. Wow. That’s great!
But the worst was from a sixty year old man in Tuscaloosa where I lived as a writer in residence. He said, “We have our own problems in America. Why waste our time with stuff taking place in Africa?” His response told me two things. 1. He’s definitely never served people in a third-world country. 2. When people sacrifice time to help the less fortunate, they are thankful to meet others doing the same, no matter where that work is taking place. Humanitarians, or just people who are trying to make a positive difference in general, when they meet other like-minded people, they are thankful to know they are not alone, that there are people helping in other places. If I had said to him, “You’re right. So what are you doing in Alabama?” I’m sure he would have fumbled over his words.
NW: What are your current projects?
JRL: I’m being trained as a director and producer for mainstream media such as feature films and avenues involving the future of ebooks. Randy Brewer, the president of Revolution Pictures, is training me. So I’m thankful for him. It’s just one day and one project at a time. I will never stop trying to impact society for the better. Even if it is simply taking information from the experts about certain dilemmas, the different solutions that are suggested and implemented, and spreading the word to others. Film is a great tool for that.
NW: Do you have a website where readers can learn more about you?
NW: Please tell readers where one can purchase The Mason Jar?
JRL: The book is now available through my website and in major bookstores, worldwide.
NW: Mr. Lingerfelt, thank you so much for doing this interview.
JRL: Thank you.