Date of interview: 14 January 2019
Jim retired after a forty-four year career with the Department of Defense including duty as a carrier-based naval aviator. He holds advanced degrees from the University of Southern California and formerly served as a faculty member and National Security Affairs department chair at the Naval Postgraduate School. Dr. Tritten’s publications have won him thirty-three writing awards, including the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award from the Navy League of the U.S. He has published six books and over three hundred chapters, short stories, essays, articles, and government technical reports. Jim was a frequent speaker at many military, arms control, and international conferences and has seen his work translated into Russian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
MWSA: How long have you been associated with MWSA?
Jim Tritten: I first went to the MWSA conference in Phoenix, AZ in 2014
MWSA: What motivates you to write and how did you get started?
Jim Tritten: 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.
MWSA: What’s most rewarding about writing?
Jim Tritten: 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.
MWSA: What has writing taught you about yourself?
Jim Tritten: 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.
MWSA: How has your life experience influenced your writing?
Jim Tritten: 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.
MWSA: What encouraging advice can you offer new writers?
Jim Tritten: 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.