Jim Tritten, Ph.D., wrote during a 44-year career with the military including while serving as a carrier-based naval aviator. He holds advanced degrees from USC and formerly served as a faculty member and department chair at the Naval Postgraduate School. He has published five books and hundreds of chapters, articles, and technical reports. A frequent speaker at many conferences, Jim’s work has been translated into four languages, and he has won 13 national writing awards.
One of Jim’s books: A Doctrine Reader: The Navies of United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Spain: Naval War College Newport Papers 9 on Amazon.
Visit Jim on Goodreads here.
What motivates you to write and how did you get started?
My first writing for publication was for the high school newspaper. Can’t remember what motivated me, but I suspect it was that I would have a venue for being funny. Or just getting attention. Or perhaps being with the good-looking girls on the newspaper staff. Once I was at work and I learned I could write in an environment where very few had that skill, writing was a way to stand out and make contributions that were frequently recognized. I used every opportunity to write at work and soon found this a good way to get paid to do what I liked to do. When I retired, more than a few people suggested that I should break free of the non-fiction I used to get paid to write and move into other genres. Then I realized it was an excellent way to process trauma and PTSD. That is now my primary motivation to write.
What’s most rewarding about writing?
When I wrote non-fiction, I would say when I won a prize or my work was singled out for some official recognition. These often led to requests to collaborate, to contribute, or to speak. Now that I have shifted from work-related writing to what I want to write, I feel rewarded when I see that I have caused a reaction on the part of someone who has read my words or heard me say them out loud. For example, if I can make someone cry by just putting some ink on paper, then I feel I’ve mastered the craft. Of course seeing your work in print in a book, magazine, or journal are still good rewards.
What’s your favorite genre and why?
Even when I got paid to write non-fiction, my favorite genres were always mysteries, thrillers, and political-military fiction. I have come to appreciate legal thrillers and historical fiction in the past few decades. Perhaps I prefer to read stories where by the last page; someone has righted all wrongs and restored order.
Where do your characters come from?
Some come from real life and others are created because of a need in the story. Both approaches are equally valid and I enjoy drawing upon people I know as well as crafting a character that I have never met.
Who is an author who inspires you and why?
Too numerous to list and it would depend on the genre and the time in my life that I was writing. When I wrote non-fiction, the authors that inspired me were generally those that were successful in the same area. With fiction, I tend to be inspired by the authors that I read and those that set the bar high. For example, before I wrote my first novel, I read (not watched) Gone With The Wind and War And Peace to see the complexity mastered by two excellent authors. I set those two books as my vision for my novels. For humor, my inspirations have been the Marx Brothers, Andy Rooney, Dave Barry, and Art Buchwald.
What do you look for in other people’s books?
When I wrote non-fiction, I first read to learn, then to contribute, then to see if my own ideas had been accepted. Reading was work. With fiction, I read to escape and to be entertained. I look for a well-crafted story, unusual characters, and someone who knows his or her job as an author. In some more recent cases, I have read currently-popular fiction for the sole purpose of trying to figure out what is selling – and frankly I have been appalled. Which of course then begs the question of whether we write to sell or we write what we want.
What are you writing now?
My main project is the second novel of a planned trilogy that will be released as a package. I get sidetracked with smaller writing assignments that are done to keep my head in the right framework to assist in my PTSD recovery plan. Generally these are humorous pieces in the 500 – 3,000 word range that I publish in a variety of anthologies. I also do some heavy writing for therapy and share those primarily with fellow veterans. I recently completed a horror piece as an experiment but do not plan to ever go down that dark path again.
What kind of book would you like to be known for? My vision is to complete a well-received trilogy that is accepted for re-writing as screen plays. The model is the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy. I want my books to be known for helping the public see and experience the life of an individual who deals every day with PTSD – but using fiction as the mechanism. In the meantime, I want to write humorous pieces that help me stay in a good space in my head and make my fellow veterans, and my neighbors in the Village of Corrales, laugh.
What has writing taught you about yourself?
When I worked and wrote non-fiction, I learned discipline and how to complete tasks. This was a leg up when I stopped working and shifted to totally different types of writing. Since then, I have used my writing to help process PTSD. Learning about emotion and then being able to describe it were integral steps in the recovery process taught by the VA. The next step was to be able to write words on paper that would make the reader feel, see, etc. exactly what was going on inside an individual when faced with a variety of circumstances. When I learned I could do that, I felt good.
How has your life experience influenced your writing?
Again it depends upon what part of my life. As an academic, your writing is totally influenced by work. As a pilot, I was able to write down what happened so that others might learn. Most of that was telling and not showing. When I switched to fiction and post-work memoir, I used all of my life experiences, my diagnosis of PTSD, flying, etc. and blended that knowledge with what I had to learn about writing in new genres for different audiences. I have learned that writing about what you know does not just mean about things that you did. More importantly it means feelings that you have experienced and can describe so that someone else can experience them as well.
What encouraging advice can you offer new writers?
Take every opportunity to write, even if it is not an article or book or something that can be published. Be a recording secretary for a volunteer organization – it will teach you good skills about summarizing what happened. Write experimental pieces that stretch your skills and abilities – my recent experiment in horror was an eye opener. And above all, don’t stop writing until someone pries the pen from your cold, dead hands.