Wednesday, October 7, 2009 | |

Interview with new author John Brown

0.      Ah, the ever-unappreciated question zero. This isn't really a question, more a place where you get to describe yourself, and give a brief "how I got published" story. For the record, fans, John has a fantastic "how I got published" in technicolor at his blog. Also for the record, this is a family friendly blog, but I'm allowing John one swear and one fake swear.

I swear by the Six! That’s a real swear in my novel and a fake one in Logan, Utah. So that should please everybody. I’m a city boy living up in the hinterlands of Bear Lake. As for breaking in, I won a first prize in the monster Writers of the Future contest in 1997. That was my first publication, which they paid me a total of $2,000 for. Not a bad opening. But then I failed to finish anything for many years. There was life, kids, a new career, and making the big beginner mistake of not putting in the hours. My mind is like big old boiler. You have to get it hot before it starts to work well. But I wasn’t putting in the time I needed to keep it hot. I’d write a few hours one week, none the next three. Or I’d pump out 20,000 words and then put the writing aside for four months. That just doesn’t work. It makes it impossible to finish. So after I figured out that dumb and obvious problem, I began to produce. That was in 2002. I soon sold a few shorts, finished two novels. I queried a bunch of agents on both of the novels. On the second, I snagged Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson who is a fabulous agent. The rest is history.

1.      As a new author, what was your greatest difficulty in moving from brainstorming to actual publication?

Time. TIME! As I stated before. I have to put in hours. But that’s the same with anything, playing piano, flying airplanes, running criminal organizations. I also had to learn how to deal with writer’s block and rejection. Writer’s block is actually a gift. But that’s another topic.

2. Did you learn anything new about the publishing industry from this process?

One thing I learned was that in my case the relationships some agents have with editors can make a big difference. Caitlin, for example, used to be an editor with Avon. She knows a number of people personally. And they trust her opinion. I knew such relationships were important, but didn’t realize how important until we went through the sales process.

2.      Was it difficult to get an agent, get a deal, etc? 

In my case it was fairly straight-forward. Write a book, submit, write another book, submit. The difficulty really was in making time to finish and then making sure I didn’t let distorted thinking run away with me. For example, I sometimes read a favorite author and then think: “holy crap, how can I compete with that? I should just throw in the towel.” Or I see that another author started much later than I did and got a deal more quickly. And I’d think, “maybe I just don’t have what it takes; I must have the wrong brain DNA.” But those and similar thoughts are distortions of the truth. In some cases, I had to consciously highlight the distortions and the actual truth of the matter to be able to move forward without too much anxiety or doubt. I plan on writing a series of blogs on my site dealing with these distortions because I’ve found they’re so very common among writers. And none of us should let them hinder us.

3. Who were the authors that you read growing up and even into adulthood that made you want to get out there and write the next great fantasy epic?

I actually never considered writing fantasy until very late. As a teen, the Rankin/Bass animated Christmas specials thrilled me (Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph, etc.). I wanted to become an animator to tell such tales. But those weren’t epic fantasies. And that dream was soon laid aside. So since my teens I had an urge to develop and tell stories because I enjoyed them so much. But I really never thought it was possible to do it for real. So even when I took creative writing classes, it wasn’t with an eye towards publication. However, about the time I was finishing up my English degree at BYU I attended a workshop put on by Dave Wolverton who was the coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future contest. It was transformational. I began to think I could write for publication. Real publication. Of course, ever since I was a wee lad I’d loved fantasy. The Hobbit was what got me on the road to literacy. Until I read that book in sixth grade, I don’t think I’d read more than two dozen books total. I just wasn’t a reader. But Tolkien turned that all around. So because I loved fantasy, it was only normal I follow that genre when I began to write, hoping to entertain.

4. In your opinion, who are some of the great authors putting out works right now that we need to be reading?

I’m dismayed at the number of novels that come out every year. There is NO WAY for most people to keep up with it. Now you have your Harriet Klausners who read one to three books each day, and they can keep up with a small genre like SF/Fantasy. But they’re forces of nature. I can’t do that. So I can’t say that I’ve surveyed the field and know you should watch Bob, Bill, and Pedro. Nor can I say that my taste is predictive of what’s going to redefine literature. All I can do is highlight books I’ve read that I’ve loved, which I do on my site. Recently, I read the following and enjoyed them very much: Bernard Cornwell’s AGINCOURT, Dan Well’s I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, Brandon Sanderson’s THE HERO OF AGES, and Jonathon Stroud’s BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY. I also enjoyed BROTHER ODD by Dean Koontz. There are more, of course. But I do have to say that I find I’m reading a lot of non-fiction these days as well. One of the most interesting books of late that I read was WHERE THE WILD THINGS WERE by William Stolzenburg. As for what people NEED to read, I’d say just read. Anything. Old, new, weird, popular. If it draws you in, read it.

5. Given the scope of Servant of a Dark God it's easy to see that we're definitely in for an epic tale. Was the story always this big, or did it increase in size and scope as the pen hit the page (or fingers hit the keyboard, as it were)?

I knew it was going to be a few books from the get go and when I took it to market I did so with a synopsis that outlined three books. But all my plans change. It’s still three books. I am not going to extend it beyond that although I may write something else in this world. But ideas I started off with morphed into something else. Characters appeared. So there’s a lot of growth and discovery that comes through the writing process.

6. For the folks from other countries around the world: Any news on foreign rights?

Nope, none yet. I understand that in most cases foreign publishers like to wait and see how a book does with its initial release. I know my agent has included my book in their catalogue for publishers overseas. But I don’t expect to hear anything for a few months.

7. My favorite character to read from your novel was probably Hunger. The question is, who is your favorite character to write, and why?

I loved them all for different reasons. In fact, I can’t really write a scene unless I’m plugged into the people and situation. But I did like Hunger quite a bit as well. I knew I needed a henchman for my main villain. I’d written a short story set in this world that wasn’t quite ready for publication. But it did give me an idea for him. His voice and character came to me surprisingly easily. The image of him awakening in the spruce glen was so strong. It was delicious to write.

8. Fans of the wonderful podcast Writing Excuses know that you're very active in the comments section, as well as making several guest appearances. You've also got an active blogThrough the interwebs, meaning blogging, social networks and microblogs like Twitter, it has become easier than ever to, follow new authors. How do you feel these relatively new means of communication are affecting the publishing industry and the authors that use them?

How do you know it’s not me stalking you? Mwuhahaha.

The two big effects I see are ways social networks affect word-of-mouth and the whole e-book revolution that’s coming. Social networks and blogs will become more and more important as newspapers and other media decline. Some will have more readership than others, but what the growth of that media does is allow a much more organic reading industry to evolve. And with ebooks the barriers to entry will diminish as will the constraints on book sizes.

It won’t be a free-for-all. Publishers and other sources of recommendation right now perform an important function—they remove unlimited choice from the consumer and point to “quality” works. In study after study it’s been proven that consumers just don’t want unlimited choice. They want unlimited availability. They want to find a few sources of recommendation that get it right for them. Nobody has the time to review all the choices. They’ll want someone to say, here, make a choice between these fifty or hundred books. We’ve narrowed it down. Isn’t that what happens with Oprah now? Of all the hundreds of thousands of books, she chooses just a handful. And it works for her viewers. We’ll continue to have mega platforms like that. But we won’t be limited to them. That function will spread out among the many blogger, sites, tweeters, etc.

9. Last, but certainly not least, here's a section for you to shamelessly plug anything related to you, the new book, the short stories, the current economic crisis, the local zoo, wombats, great places to eat, or just whatever.

Wow. Since it’s wide open, I’m going to plug the Kamin restaurant in Logan, Utah and Thai Evergreen in Orem, Utah. My wife and I both lived for a few years in the Netherlands as missionaries. We learned to love the Indonesian food there. But there aren’t many Indonesian restaurants in the US. However, there are quite a few Thai ones, and that was close enough for us. We used to live in the Bay Area in California and bemoaned our loss of Thai cuisine when we moved to Ohio. It took us two years to find a place out there. We were so happy to find these two places when we moved to Utah.

I’ll be doing a book tour with David Farland (Runelords) and Larry Correia (Monster Hunters International). You can see the schedule on my website. We’ll hit four spots in Utah. I invite folks to come out. Your readers might also want to know that X96 radio will be doing book giveaways all week long starting Monday October 19th. So tune in on the radio or internet.

Other than that I’ll just say it was great to do this interview. Thanks, Bryce.

NOTE: John will be signing books in Logan UT, for any of you other Utards that live around here, on October 22nd at 6 pm.


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