In our latest YPC Spotlight, we learn just how real orange chair envy can be, as the talented Jake Gates shares with us some tales from the comforts of his own soup’d up model (they make them in leather?!).
We hope you enjoy the adventure of how this youngish professional found his way back to Marshall, and learning about the power Fiction holds in the here and now.
YPC: You grew up in Marshall. Can you talk a little about what your perspective of Marshall was like as a young adult and what it’s like now as an adult who’s returned here to raise a family?
Jake: Growing up I always knew Marshall was a special place, so much so that when my Mom moved down to Florida during my junior year of high school, I decided to stay behind and graduate from MHS. Although I’ve lived in a number of different places, I always envisioned myself coming back here to raise kids. I appreciate so many things about the community: the history, the beautiful homes, and especially the people. Marshall is a town that values the right things, like family, education, athletics, and the arts. People know each other and look out for one another. I always felt that if I could let my kids grow up in a place like this, it would be the best gift I could give them.
YPC: What other cities have you lived in? Which was your favorite and why?
Jake: I’ve lived in Farmington Hills; Lansing; Tallahassee, Florida; Toronto, Canada; and in several different parts of metro Los Angeles. I guess LA was my favorite place to live besides Marshall. There were a lot of challenges and disappointments there, but every day was full of possibility, too. You never knew when something might happen that could change your life. People I knew out there are doing great things now in writing and acting. Some of them are working on big studio movies with A-list talent. It’s pretty cool to live in a place where that can happen—with a decade or two of hard work.
YPC: You pursued an acting career while out in L.A. What was your favorite gig?
Jake: I did a TV commercial for Universal Studios / Coca-Cola that was like a mini-horror movie. That was really fun! It’s still on YouTube, if anyone is bored enough to look for it.
(Youngish, we know you’re not bored, but you should check out Jake’s commercial here anyway).
YPC: What would you say is the most valuable thing you gained from living in other places?
Jake: I think the biggest thing you get from going away is an appreciation of home. It’s easy to take things for granted until you’ve gained some perspective. I spent a lot of my time when I was away dreaming of coming back to Michigan. In difficult times, coming back sometimes felt like the light at the end of a tunnel.
YPC: How did you end up coming back?
Jake: I came back to Michigan in 2011 and moved around the state a bit with my wife, who was completing medical school and residency. She and I came to Marshall on our third date and she loved it, so moving back someday was always a something we kept in our minds as a possibility. When she was offered a job at Oaklawn, that sealed the deal.
YPC: You were always really involved in theatre. Growing up, did you have a particular actor that made you say, “When I grow up, I want to be like him someday!”
Jake: Leonardo DiCaprio has had an amazing career. I definitely wished I could have done something like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. I also admired Mel Gibson’s performance in Braveheart, and a lot of the stuff Brad Pitt was doing at the time.
YPC: You’re a published author. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Jake: As a kid, I often felt like the world was flat, empty, depressing. Compared to the things I could see in my imagination, reality was bogus. I still feel that way to some extent, but my view now is less escapist. I see fiction as a way to illuminate the world, to bring out the richness of reality, to cultivate empathy and envision a better future. Before we can make a better world, or even just improve our own private worlds, we must have the capacity to imagine things being different. That’s what inspires me: helping people exercise their capacity to imagine.
YPC: Is there a character from one of your books that you identify with the most? If so, which character and why?
Jake: That’s a tricky question. I identify with all my characters, even the horrible villains. Otherwise, I couldn’t write them. They are all pieces of myself, like different hues of light split through a prism.
YPC: Did you always know that you wanted to be an author or did you start out on a different path that changed direction?
Jake: When I was very young I wanted to be a paleontologist, but I’ve wanted to be an author since about third grade, when I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. That book really excited me. And my mom was constantly reading, so loving books seemed very natural to me.
YPC: What was that moment like when you published your first book?
Jake: When I first got the news of my publishing deal I was living in Canada as an illegal immigrant and just scraping by doing construction work (it’s a long story…) so the news seemed miraculous. The day I traveled to South Florida and met with my publisher was an incredible day. I got to meet with my editor and with all the marketing people. They were all so excited about my books. It was one of those rare moments in life when I was fully aware that I was experiencing a dream coming true. It was a beautiful feeling.
YPC: Do you have a book that’s currently in the works? If so, are you willing to give up any details on what we can expect?
Jake: I ALWAYS have a book in the works – if not two! For my current work in progress, I’m returning to the young adult contemporary fantasy genre. These books are about a young female scientist who finds herself caught up in a war between four factions of gods that almost no one knows about, but who influence many of the miracles and tragedies of our daily lives. It’s an entirely new mythology. I’m very excited about it.
YPC: What would be the ultimate professional achievement that you could attain?
Jake: I’d love to win a National Book Award. It’s fun to dream, right?
YPC: Favorite book of all time?
Jake: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
YPC: Wikipedia tells us (note – we’re pretty sure you’re the first youngish we’ve featured that shows up in Wikipedia) that you started writing after you put out a Craigslist ad for a mentor. Why do you think having a mentor, regardless of what profession you’re in, is important?
Jake: Mentorship is crucial. It’s an opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes, so you don’t have to make them yourself. A little understanding can save you years of frustration and failure. Whatever you’re trying to do, find a mentor!
YPC: What’s the best advice, whether personal or professional, that you’ve been given thus far?
Jake: In terms of writing, the best advice is from Stephen King in his book On Writing, and that is simply to write every day. If you want to be great at something, you have to work at it. Whatever you’re doing, if you don’t take yourself and your work seriously, no one else is going to either.
YPC: What advice would you give to Marshall’s future youngish?
Jake: Life is extremely short. Every day that passes is a day you’ll never get back, so don’t waste time doing something you’re not passionate about. Find your calling, then find a way to make money doing it.
YPC: You’re a proud dad of twins. What’s that like?
Jake: Ha. Wonderful! Horrible! Seriously, there’s no way to overstate how difficult it is to raise two babies— or toddlers, or three-year-olds– at once. But fortunately, my kids are two incredible people, and they make it all worthwhile. I tell them that they’re the kids of my dreams, and they really are.
YPC: If you had to pick one word to describe your daughter and son, what would it be and why?
Jake: Vibrant. They’re very different, but they’re both just brimming with intelligence, curiosity, personality and vitality. And noise. Lots and lots of noise.
YPC: For all of those guys out there who might be panicking because they’re on the brink of being a first-time dad, what advice would you give to them?
Jake: Ha. Go ahead and panic; your panicking is warranted! Seriously, being a parent is intense, but everyone has the tools to do it. Just be present. Be there. Try not to get angry. Get down on eye level with them and listen. Listening and loving is 95% of the battle.
YPC: What’s your favorite thing about being back in Marshall?
Jake: It has been fun to see my wife getting to know the community. I’m happy to say, I think she’s loving it as much as I do.
YPC: We have to mention; we might have a little bit of orange chair envy. Usually, we have our subjects sit in the YPC orange chair, but come to find out, you have an orange chair of your own that we just had to feature! Is there an interesting story behind this inspiring piece of furniture that you write in?
Jake: My mother-in-law has been on a quest for the last couple of years to find the perfect chair. My writing chair was one of her rejects. It wasn’t perfect for her, apparently, but it works great for me!
YPC: Thank you, Jake, for your time, your words, and for keeping the energy level in town at eleven with twin toddlers bouncing around! The extra boost is warmly welcomed, and we’re happy to learn you and your family love calling Marshall home as much as we do!
J. Gabriel Gates is the author of five novels, including YA fantasy series The Tracks (Dark Territory, Ghost Crown, and Shadow Train), YA horror novel The Sleepwalkers, and adult dystopian sci-fi novel Blood Zero Sky. He recently won The Moth StorySLAM competition in Ann Arbor and was invited to participate in The Moth’s Ann Arbor GrandSLAM. He currently teaches writing at Olivet College and Kellogg Community College. For more information, visit his website www.jgabrielgates.com or find him on twitter: @jgabrielgates
As always, a special YPC thanks goes to those that made this piece possible. To Erica Eash, thank you for once again lending your interview skills, and to Tylere Presley of Tag Along Media, for sharing your photography magic.