We have a slight departure in today’s interview to bring you my buddy Roy Burkhead, the editor in chief of the impressive 2ND & CHURCH magazine, whose readership stretches from Nashville to Paris. Roy is one of the most dynamic, dedicated writers I’ve ever known, always looking for ways to help promote other people, share stories with readers, and find ways to reach out and shape our younger readers. He co-started “The Writer’s Loft” at Middle Tennessee State University, a creative writing program, prior to launching 2ND & CHURCH (so named because he was hit by a car at that corner) and has turned 2ND & CHURCH into a stellar southern journal, focused on Tennessee writers.
Roy’s attitude and dedication to the written word have given him quite a reputation among the Nashville literati. He’s a great guy, and as you’ll see in his interview below, is working on a new novel which sounds divine. Please join me in welcoming Roy to the Tao!
Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?
ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT: PART 2 OF 4 by Stephen King. (I don’t have a lot of storage space on my phone, and I transitioned about a month ago from Christmas music to audio books.)
Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?
Today finds me in a transitional period. A couple weeks ago, I published the seventh issue of 2ND & CHURCH, a literary journal out of Nashville that celebrates writers, poets, and readers. It was our Theatre issue, featuring Denice Hicks, the artistic director of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival. (J.T. was our first In Depth / cover story interview!) We have two more issues out later this year, but I’m taking a few months off now to return to my first novel, MR. TOMORROW.
What’s your latest book about?
MR. TOMORROW takes place in London, England, and Middle Tennessee during three days in December, and it involves three childhood friends. Patricia and Jacob grew up together in rural Tennessee, and Vinod moved from India for two years to live with Jacob’s family as a foreign exchange student. Pat and Jacob are on individual physical and psychological journeys. Jacob works in the London offices of a Nashville-based company, and he returns home to auction off the family farm after the death of this last surviving parent, his mom. His journey will find him questioning the decisions that he’s made in life, those decisions that have made him the man he has become. The story follows Patricia’s journey as her company downsizes forty percent of the office in a single morning. Internally, she continues her decades-long struggle with her bipolar disorder. Vinod is the story’s moral compass. The story finds him working in London with Jacob. While still friends and active in one another’s lives, Vinod does not always agree with Jacob’s decisions and behaviors, and he’s never shy with opinions. The paths of all three characters converge at the story’s climax, where life altering decisions await.
Where do you write, and what tools do you use?
I have a writing space at home, and that’s where most of my writing happens. But time management issues and life require me to write wherever I may find myself at any given moment! For first drafts, I prefer to write at home using my old Smith Corona manual typewriter. It’s one of the old World War II models that I found at a second-hand store in Nashville over two decades ago. It’s still great! Once I take off my writer’s cap and put on the editor’s hat, I switch to my computer.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I read a lot of books like THE HARDY BOYS, THE TOWER TREASURE, and WHILE THE CLOCK TICKED! But I’m sure those were given to me. The first novel that I remember going after and loving was THE HOBBIT.
What book are you reading now?
I have dozens of unread books, each waiting its turn. Some are books I should have read long ago, but never did. Novels like TOBACCO ROAD. The one I have open now is FACTORY MAN by Beth Macy. It’s about John Bassett III of The Bassett Furniture Company. The book’s subtitle is HOW ONE FURNITURE MAKER BATTLED OFFSHORING, STAYED LOCAL - AND HELPED SAVE AN AMERICAN TOWN . I’m just getting started, but it’s a great read so far. I think Tom Hanks is turning it into a mini-series.
What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?
“It takes as long as it takes.”
What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?
I’m wordy enough to never have had this problem. I’ve been a professional writer since 1992. My problem has always been how to find the time to allow the right kind of words—the fiction—to flow. I’ve always had a day job, writing all sorts of strange word combinations for different…”industries.” The mortgage has to be paid, and the kids have gotta eat. By the time you commute to the office, write for “The Man” all day, commute home, deal with home maintenance and household chores, help the kids (at least a little bit) with homework…well, energy is finite. I’ve been forced to make some choices to force time and energy to appear for my fiction. I am jealous—and a little angry—that so much of my fresh writing energy over the years has gone to subjects like accounting software, healthcare demographics, and ovens versus to my love of storytelling and fiction.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I don’t care if I’m remembered or not. History is so long, and so few humans are ever actually remembered. As long as I am able to trick my kids into thinking I’m cool, I’m happy. Everything else is just noise.
A Kentucky native and longtime Nashvillian, Roy’s journalism and prose have appeared in local and regional newspapers, journals, and anthologies. After earning a MFA in Writing (fiction genre), he founded a creative writing program at MTSU. He’s the founder and editor of 2ND & CHURCH, a literary journal that celebrates writers, poets, and readers. Last year, he was the short story judge for the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, and he edited former astronaut Rhea Seddon’s memoir GO FOR ORBIT, out in 2015. He volunteers at local literary events and teaches English at WKU. He’s wrapping up work this year on his first novel, MR. TOMORROW.