Frequently Asked Questions
For anyone who cares, a few Q's are A'd by AJM. Because we can...
Ever since I learned to read, I wanted to write. I wrote my first story when I was eight, about a boy named Zack who had ADHD (but this is before I knew it was called ADHD.) Since I grew up traveling, hours a day in a car or on a plane, a different city, a different country, for weeks on end, it exposed me to a lot of different cultures. Coupled with ample time for reading incessantly and a rather runaway imagination—it just seemed natural to want to tell stories. I couldn’t imagine NOT writing. How dreadfully boring that would be!
I have an arts degree from UNT in English Composition. It’s my opinion (and I’m right...) that nearly anyone can learn to write, and write decently, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain inborn spark within some people—a gift or a calling, even—to try writing as both a form of art expression and a livelihood. Some people have a knack. You can learn to dribble a basketball, but there’s only one Michael Jordan. I’m probably somewhere in the middle there, not to say I’m the author equivalent of Jordan or anything; but I mean, I studied to learn HOW to write while the desire, and dare I say a smidge of raw talent, was already there. Man, that comes out sounding conceited... I just mean to say it’s a bit of both: training and gifting. “I’d like to thank myself, without whose genius and innovation, drive and determination, none of this would’ve been possible.”
I’m voracious when it comes to reading. If it’s even remotely well-written (and sometimes that’s not a criterion--yes, that's a real word!) I’ll read it. My favorite genres seem to be fantasy, sci-fi, young adult and children’s, paranormal, urban fantasy, etc. But I’m cultured enough to enjoy classic literature (by that I mean authors like Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Dumas—the three D’s) and literary fiction (though a lot of it is extremely arrogant and pretentious.) And my bread-and-butter comes from nonfiction, so I’ll eat that up too. If it’s a printed word, I’ll read it. And if it’s GOOD, so much the better.
A warped sense of humor, a rampant imagination, and I plagiarize a lot. Someone once said “There’s nothing new under the sun” so I wrote a story about that... No, usually they come from an image or a single phrase or a character, and I just add to it until I have a story. There’s not really any magic to it. I bounce a lot of ideas off friends and family, see what sticks and what stinks. But there is the thrill of a new idea just coming to you when you’re in bed, about to doze off, and the neurons are all firing, subconscious is trying to take over—and BANG! it just comes to you. That happens sometimes. Though usually I’m just Batman or Link in my dreams...
A little of both. But I lean more toward plotter. Freestyle writing is awesome for getting a rush of ideas on the page, but it takes a little bit better planning to make a novel. There is a formula most writers use (whether they admit it or not) and that’s what makes a “good” story—usually. Not that “Stairway to Heaven” isn’t one of the most amazing songs ever written, but there’s a reason why 90% of songs out there are three and a half minutes long—otherwise you get “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” which would’ve been just as good if it was fourteen and a half minutes shorter. There’s something beautiful about both, I suppose, but I’m probably more of a verse-chorus-verse kind of guy. Paul McCartney instead of Robert Plant—not that I’m saying I’m as good a writer as either of them. (Boy, did I just massacre that music metaphor, or what? See, I didn’t plot these answers at all...)
I try and set a goal: 2,500 words. The beauty of being a writer is you can do it anytime, so you sit down for an hour, get a few paragraphs, get up, play with your kids, and come back later. The key is consistency, and it does take a little discipline, like anything worthwhile. It depends on the subject matter, too; the Christian nonfiction I’ve written can take a LONG time, but I wrote about 30,000 words of The Elementalists in a weekend. Again, having a plotted outline helps a bunch! Take Blue Time as an example, the plotting and outlining took two, three times longer than actually writing the novel, and the bulk of the novel was written in about three months, though the whole project was years in the making.
Wow. That’s tough. Uh, I’d say Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Dumas are my top three classic authors. Lewis and Tolkien, of course. More Tolkien than Lewis, though. Poe and Stoker and Dekker (he’d probably freak seeing his name listed with those two.) The modern “big names” like Clare, Colfer, Collins, Meyer, Paolini, Riordan, Roth, Rowling with reservations. But I steal from them all quite often enough. (I’m joking, in case my facetiousness doesn’t transfer to the Web.) I love Lawhead and Rutherfurd. And the two dudes who made up Jack McKinney. Probably won’t believe this, I just read my first Card novel last week. Good stuff; where’ve I been the past three decades?
The Story and Its Writer, I guess, though it’s REALLY long, and it’s supposed to be on short fiction, go figure... The Little, Brown Handbook for technical stuff. So many people don’t realize how terrible grammar/punctuation or just bad set-up destroys an otherwise good work, and with the proliferation of indie authors like yours truly, a decent guidebook is your best friend. (Although I do want to say the Oxford comma needs to go away... And for years, I thought Little, Brown was bad grammar—no comma for adjectives and colors—until I realized it's two names...) You know, the “For Dummies” series isn’t bad, either. I remember a book called Plot was pretty good too, and Plot and Structure as well. The Writer’s Journey. Self-Editing for Writers. I’m sure Goodreads has a definitive list. Addendum: I just read On Writing by King -- and White and Strunk's Elements of Style (which I cannot BELIEVE I'd never read... shame, for shame.) Both are worthwhile, even if King is a little pretentious in his memoirs. (I suppose he has a right to be.)
Why not? Really, I think the classification of Young Adult is misleading, as if an adult wouldn’t enjoy it as much, or a young adult couldn’t grasp something “deeper” (whatever that means.) The lines between young adult and adult are blurred; look at the top modern authors in the YA class, a SIZEABLE portion of their audience is adults, and I “are” one. While The Elementalists and Blue Time feature teenaged main characters, I think all ages of readers can enjoy the stories, and they’ll miss out if they say, “I don’t read kids’ books.” And specifically Blue Time, I believe, could stand toe-to-toe with a lot of adult fantasy fiction as far as plot depth, world creation, character development, tension and growth, even though there’s no swearing or gruesome death scenes. Sometimes I think we do books a disservice by saying they’re “only” for young adults or children. I still enjoy Alice in Wonderland and Ramona Quimby to this day and I’m forty.
When I was young (five or six) my curfew was when the sky turned super-blue as the sun started to set—I called it Blue Time, and it was always my favorite time of the day. While I don’t believe in a “magic hour,” the folktales have always intrigued me. So when I was, I don’t know, twelve or thirteen, I was sitting in a car at Blue Time, reading a new Lawhead series, The Song of Albion (go read it!), and I thought, I’d like to write a story about that, the time-between-times. So I had a boy with asthma named Griffin (renamed Nolan in the actual book) with a group of friends (Stu Dewey became Stanley Stewart) and a girl from England (who became Quinn Taylor from Wales)—and they all get stuck in the Celtic Otherworld. Flash forward twenty years, and I added a bunch of stuff about Greenmen, which are “true” myth, but I took a LOT of poetic license with the characterization. And Singing/Awakening, because I wanted to downplay the “magic” in the story as a Christian author. (Though I want to point out I don’t like allegory, and I’m far from preachy in my fiction; there’s no “point” I’m trying to get across; the story’s good enough, it doesn’t need one. Christians and non-Christians alike will enjoy the series, just as they enjoy Tolkien or Lewis or Pullman or Rowling.)
Ha ha! An inside joke. There’s a picture of a very sad looking cane toad; I mean, just imagine the saddest little creature you’ve ever seen—it’s one of those instances where you couldn’t Photoshop a sadder looking amphibian, and that’s what makes it so awesome, because it’s real. And there’s a caption that says, “It’s just... I was told there’d be pie...” And now it’s not an inside joke, but it’s still funny.
Blue Time is high fantasy epic, it’s a rather big novel for a “first-time fiction” author. I was reading books like Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson, and I wanted to write something a little more frivolous and funny than Blue Time—not that “frivolous and funny” means “not as good”—but I wanted to write something focused heavily on action and adventure, with witty teenager dialogue and pop culture references, and not so much in-depth world creation. So I tried to think of a fresh spin on the already saturated superhero YA market. Classical elements are something most of us are familiar with, probably more thanks to Pokemon than Aristotle, and I just added some twists to it, built an X-men-like school, and created two immortal brothers who hate each other, and that was it.