JOHN: Well, I'd been making serial short fiction and running RPGs for years. And then I noticed that for several weeks in a row, the episode plots on one of my favorite shows were very similar to things I'd just done in the serial I was working on at the time. So I thought, "Huh, maybe I can play in the big leagues."
As everyone knows, the economy is awful, so I figured I had nothing to lose.
JOHN: I once heard another writer say that, when you're a writer, everything is inspiration. That's basically how I feel -- the most random things will inspire me. Like the book I released last month, Atticus for the Undead, came to me when I was reading Seanan McGuire's novel Feed, which is about the politics of a post-zombie-apocalypse world. And then I thought, "Next thing you know, they'll be putting one on trial or something… Hey! That's it!"
JOHN: The best part has been connecting with other writers. If you want to meet a group of people who will restore your faith in humanity really quickly, talk to some writers -- they really are an extraordinarily friendly, welcoming, helpful group of people. For example, when I was writing Atticus, I reached out to a couple of published (or soon-to-be-published) authors and asked if they'd read the book and say something on their websites if they liked it.
One of them, Angela Scott (author of soon-to-be-released Wanted: Dead or Undead, by the way) not only took time out of her own writing projects to read the book, but also wrote me a very long, detailed e-mail with her comments on the book (most of them were gushing, which was a huge boost to my ego), and then she did a blog post about it on release day. Pretty extraordinary stuff, and she's far from the only one.
I've even been able to talk to some of my fiction-making heroes -- for instance, Jane Espenson, a screenwriter who currently writes for Once Upon A Time. When she answered one of my Tweets for the first time, I don't think I came off of Cloud Nine for a week.
The hardest part has been building my platform. I didn't go into this with any illusions that it would be easy, but even so, I've been struck by how hard it is to get people to notice that you exist. Some days I'll have sixty or even a hundred visitors on the blog, but not sell a single book. I guess it's a good thing I have a healthy ego, or at least a hard head.
JOHN: I definitely don't -- or I do, but only in a very general way. One of my biggest flaws as a writer is that I tend to get ahead of myself -- I get caught up in whatever idea I'm excited about that day, and am in such a rush to take it to the exciting conclusion that I leave the audience behind. A lot of times, I end up leaving things like believability behind, too. The problem with detailed outlines is that it gets hard to write point six if you get to point five and realize that there's no way the main character would behave the way you thought he would when you wrote the outline.
So I come up with the broad strokes at the outset, and then write chapter by chapter. After each chapter, I have my trusty team of beta readers review what I've written and get detailed feedback on whether I'm hitting the desired emotional notes, whether the characters feel believable, stuff like that. This also makes the editing process a lot easier because, by the time I get to the end, I know I'm not going to need to re-write whole scenes -- I've already re-written them, often multiple times.
JOHN: I was inspired to write by a screenwriter, actually -- Joss Whedon. I think his work has taught me more about the craft of fiction than any other single writer. If I have even a tenth of his talent at the end of my writing career, I'll be very happy.
CHRISTINE: What is your educational background?
JOHN: I was a Bachelor's in political science, followed by a law degree. I loved fantasy the whole time. So now I write fantasy books about lawyers. Go figure.
JOHN: I started writing as soon as I got my first computer, way back in middle school.
CHRISTINE: Why did you choose to write in the fantasy genre?
JOHN: Because I think that with fantasy you have more opportunity than maybe any other genre to love the story you're telling, because literally anything is possible. You can mix gritty, serious themes with wacky, outlandish touches and make the reader believe it. I mean, really (SPOILER ALERT), what other genre would let you write about a capital murder trial and have one of the characters turn someone into a frog in the middle of the book?
CHRISTINE: Do you feel that people don't take you as seriously because you write fantasy?
JOHN: People who read fantasy take me seriously. That's what I care about.
CHRISTINE: What is your secret to finding that perfect blend between fantasy and reality?
JOHN: I'll quote Joss Whedon. "The two things that matter the most to me in the work that I do: Emotional resonance and rocket launchers." That sums it up. The fangs and the claws and the magic talismans and the steampunk pirate ships are all window dressing. If the beating heart of your story isn't something that resonates with your readers' real lives and feelings and experiences, then your story probably isn't going to get very far.
CHRISTINE: On that note, let us all take a moment to bow down to Joss Whedon before continuing on. :)
JOHN: I work out my characters first. My plot is always centered around developing the characters, so I use the backstories I've created for them and the psychological needs I've identified for them to create the plot twists.
CHRISTINE: Tell us about Atticus for the Undead. How long did it take to write? What was your inspiration for the book?
JOHN: Atticus grew out of the fact that I'd been wanting to write a legal thriller for a long time. I'm a lawyer in the day job, so it seemed like the logical thing for me to do. But I didn't have an idea that inspired me until I was reading Feed. After that, the jump from the campaign trail to the courtroom was easy to make.
Once I had the idea, I threw the whole book together in about 3 months time. There was very little research involved, believe it or not -- I've kept the most random bits of legal trivia in my head from law school and my practice experience so far, so I just found ways to throw them in.
CHRISTINE: Do you have plans to release more books in the near future? If so, tell us about what you have in the works.
JOHN: The book I can talk about is The Void, Book 2 in The Weaver Saga. (Incidentally, as I write this, book 1 is free here with coupon code BY83E.) It picks up about three months after Weaver left off, and basically deals with the psychological consequences of the first book while also advancing the overall plot. The three main characters -- Alex, Moira, and James -- all lost something in the events of Weaver. The Void is about them dealing with that while also fending off the zombie apocalypse. Pesky thing, that.
There are some other things in the works, but they're all classified at the moment.
CHRISTINE: If you could live within the pages of your book, would you? Why or why not?
JOHN: Oh, probably not. I'm a pretty mean God -- I wouldn't want my fate dictated by me.
JOHN: Both! My father is a life-long dog lover and he passed the trait on to me. Cats are the big tragedy of my life -- I'm crazy about them, but I'm also horribly allergic to them. I think they're my worst allergy.
If I could get one wish from a genie, it would be to be able to spend long periods around cats and still be able to breathe.
CHRISTINE: One final question, and this is probably the most important... Do you suffer from delusions of grandeur - I mean - are you secretly planning on taking over the world (like the rest of the writers out there)?
JOHN: Now, the question is, would I tell you if I was?
CHRISTINE: John just happens to be the first person to ever answer that question here who knows how to keep a secret! ;) Now we know who the real contender for world domination is!
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