I certainly never would have thought avant garde science fiction and entrance test preparation manuals for law or medical school would have anything in common–until I came across author, Jay Cutts. Our “meeting” was in a somewhat notorious manner, in that he gave one of my books a rather scathing review, replete with a grammar lesson about the use of periods. However, after my initial tantrum, I had to admit he was correct, so subsequently edited the book accordingly, sent him the revised copy, and he generously improved the book’s rating. It was during this correspondence that I discovered that, in addition to being a grammar Nazi, he was a fellow author as well as a professional editor. After sampling his brand of humor in his novels on his website, I wanted to know more about him, so asked him for an interview. Indeed, he is as diverse and unconventional as I suspected. To wit:
MF: I find it fascinating that your writing spans such diverse writing skills, i.e., editing study guides for the LSAT and MCAT versus the wacky humor of Death by Haggis and Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom. Conveying facts and editing are left brain activities while fiction falls more on the right. Which talent were you aware of first? Does one come more easily than the other?
JC: Yes, it’s true that I’ve edited and/or written thousands of pages of science and logic! Actually, it feels to me that real creativity requires both some “organizing” skills and some “wild fantasy” skills. The trick is to keep my imagination from going crazy when I’m writing non-fiction stuff. My publisher has to make sure I haven’t included bizarre aliens in my test prep materials. In the LSAT book I did include a logic dialogue between my dog (Baxter) and the neighbor’s dog (Beardsley). I finally confessed to my editor but she said not to worry. All authors do that. Of course, the dialogue was pure fiction because Baxter NEVER talks to Beardsley, stuck-up little mutt that he is.
MF: I can see that. And cats are even worse. Tell us about your educational background. Where did you go to school, what did you major in when you were in college, etc. If you were to go back to school now, what would you study?
JC: I went to the University of Michigan, where I tried to major in (in chronological order) chemistry and/or cooking, psychology, anthropology, and linguistics. I eventually managed to complete the linguistics degree. Many years later I got a masters in special education.
If I were to go back to school now, I would be anxious for summer vacation to come! I have always loved summer vacation more than anything.
If I had to take classes, they would be in dance and jazz piano.
MF: I can relate. Summer was always my favorite, too. Who are your favorite authors? Whose work do you enjoy most and why? Did any one in particular influence you more than the others?
JC: Terry Pratchett is my favorite. He has a wonderful sense of humor, a great imagination and really captures the human condition. I’ve never read anyone else with his combination of qualities. I also like Kage Baker, Jasper Fforde, Connie Willis, and Douglas Adams. I once read a Terry Pratchett novel in Slovak. It’s amazing how well he writes in Slovak!!
MF: I’m impressed that you can read Slovak! What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever had? What did you learn from it? Has it affected your writing in any way?
JC: I once cleaned houses. It affected my writing in that my hands were too sore to write!
MF: Harsh detergents can do that. Tell us about the concept behind your books. How did you get the idea for them? Do they have a hidden message?
JC: Death by Haggis had a very interesting genesis (as explained in its intro.) I have an old friend, Terry Boothman, who is a great writer with a wonderful sense of humor. We often email back and forth a dozen or more times a day with riddles and jokes.
At one point I suggested to him that he send me the first line for a novel and that I would write back. Continuing in that way I figured we could complete the book in a couple weeks. He did send me a wacky first line and I responded.
I found that every time I tried to develop a plot, he instinctively destroyed whatever I had started. That made for an amazing challenge. Eventually he dropped out of the project and let me finish it myself. The basic plot and characters of the story, however, were set in those early exchanges that were random and chaotic.
I wrote Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom because one of my Barron’s (test prep publisher) contacts said they were now publishing YA fiction. I asked him if he had a particular request for a type of story that he thought could sell. He said I could just write whatever I wanted.
A year later I sent him the result, which he said was very nice but they don’t really publish sci fi. Oops.
In any case the character of Annie was inspired in part by my granddaughter and I hope some day she will read it!
MF: For what it’s worth, I gave a copy of it to my granddaughter for Christmas and I hope she’ll read it, too! Maybe even give you a review, since she’s an aspiring author herself so should appreciate the concept of reviews! What is your life like outside of writing? Is there anything you would like us to know about yourself and your books?
JC: When I’m not writing, I sometimes take a three minute break for a sponge bath and to open a random can of, hopefully, food from the kitchen.
I like to dance (especially with my sweetie), play the accordion and piano, garden, travel, study strange languages, go to meditation retreats and roller skate with my granddaughter.
MF: My paternal grandfather was a linguist, but he had the ill-grace to die before I was born. Supposedly, he spoke nine languages. You’re a brave soul to roller skate, which I gave up in 9th grade after breaking my tailbone. Who (living or dead) would you like to invite for dinner? What would you like to know about him or her?
JC: I would invite the living. It’s hard to know what to cook for the dead. They are so picky. And I hate it when the food dribbles out of their mouths like that. Yuck.
MF: There’s that logic side of yours coming out again. Switching to the creative, is there any particular song you’d pick to go with your books?
JC: House of the Rising Sun. Three drunk guys once paid me $20 to play it on the accordion on the streets of Tempe, Arizona. I have a feeling that the next day, they wondered what happened to all their money.
No but seriously folks, I did produce a trailer for Death by Haggis and it has some cool detective-y music. It’s on youtube here. If the book is ever made into a movie, it could have some eery Scottish music in it. And of course some Greek music when the hero arrives in the Aegean.
I’ve never thought about music for Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom. It’s about teens so I suppose it would have to have some godawful rap music in it. Just sayin’.
MF: Will there be a sequel to Annie Gomez and the Giant Foot of Doom or Death by Haggis? If so, do you have anything you’d like to tell us about it or a target day for its release?
JC: I don’t have plans for sequels for either. I’m waiting for all you fans to beg me desperately to write more. In the meantime I’ve been very much enjoying writing short stories. I’ve poured my heart and funny bone (assuming one can pour a funny bone) out into them.
I’m thinking of publishing a collection of short stories woven together by an overall story, possibly based on a Time Lizard, who may just happen to have appeared – though not identified as such – as a character in Annie Gomez.
MF: Some of these characters who just appear are among the best. Anything else you’d like to tell your existing and potential readers and fans?
JC: Eat a nectarine. Half a peach, half a plum. It’s a hell of a fruit. And never run for a bus. Just stroll, jaunty jolly. (Shamelessly quoted from Mel Brooks’ 2000 year old man.)
Other than that, if you like humor in your sci fi/fantasy and admire writers like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, please do browse through my website at cuttsbooks.wordpress.com
I also send free short stories monthly to my Twitter followers. I’m at @jaycuttsbooks.
Thanks for allowing me to do an interview. I enjoy being in touch with readers and writers!
MF: Thank you, Jay, for sharing your wit! I hope my blog readers check out your books, which can be found on Amazon by following these links:
Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom
Death by Haggis