Welcome to my weekly blog series – Author Interviews.
I love Saturdays because I get to interview an inspirational author and talk about being a writer. I delve into their writing life, find out about the obstacles they have overcome and their motivations for writing their books. Sometimes we have a giggle and sometimes they leave me speechless (usually mid-biscuit dunk).
Today I am bubbling with literary excitement as author and blogger John W. Howell has agreed to let me interview him. John is the author of the John Cannon Thriller Trilogy and he occasionally pops by my blog. He always makes me smile with his comments so I am really excited to interview him.
Hi John! Welcome to my blog. Please have a seat!
Tell my readers about yourself and the book / books you have written
I was a prisoner of organized commerce for over forty years. I finally broke free and began writing full-time in 2012. Since that time, I have published three books, My GRL, His Revenge and Our Justice which cover the John J. Cannon thriller trilogy. I am putting the final edits on my fourth book titled Circumstances of Childhood.
I did write a complete manuscript several years ago titled Next Door which was so bad it now holds my laundry room door open.
What a great idea for making use of bad drafts! I could hold quite a few doors open in my house with some of my stinky drafts. Carry on John.
I live on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico off the southern coast of Texas with my wife and spoiled rescue pets.
When did you write your first book?
My first published book My GRL I began in the spring of 2012.
How long did it take to write your first book?
I finished the book in about 120 days. I had about 97,000 words, and the final editing trimmed 5000 out.
What was your motivation to write your first book?
My sister and I were visiting the Aircraft Carrier Lexington moored in Corpus Christi. Our father had served on her as a naval aviator during World War II, and we wanted to see where he served. While standing on the flight deck, I was struck by the fact that the ship was unprotected in any way. It then occurred to me that this symbol of American strength was vulnerable to terrorist attack. When I got home, I started thinking of how to attack the Lexington as well as how to defend her. The story found in My GRL is not about attacking the Lexington, but such a scenario formed the basis for the story which is about an American symbol being attacked.
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
My issues were pretty common for beginning authors. I did not know simple stuff like a manuscript has only one space after a period. On the sophisticated side, I had an idea of a plot but not any practice in timing, character development, and continuity. Finally, I had the worst dialog the world has ever seen. The way I overcame all those things was to read up on proper formatting, story design, character development, and dialog. Then I went to work writing not only the manuscript but also short stories. I made it a point (and still do) to write at least a thousand words a day.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
I did not have any bad patches. In fact, I don’t believe in some of the writer pitfalls like “writer’s block.” I do understand that the brain can become fatigued and when it happens it is a signal for a break. Most of the times when I have become stumped I generally write a short story or take a walk. The change of scene both mentally and physically resolves the problem.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
I write to see what happens. I have a general plot that I put on my iPhone notes section, but then I start the story and see where it goes.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer is the individual accomplishment that comes from doing a great job on a story.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
The worst part of being a writer is the constant self-doubt regarding the quality of one’s work. Since it is such a solitary vocation, there’s only one person to blame if the book does not meet the standard of good writing.
Have you ever considered quitting writing, and if so how have you worked through this?
I never considered quitting, but I have spent some long sleepless nights contemplating why I ever got into writing in the first place. This self-assessment usually comes just after a book is published. I think it is part of the let-down that occurs once there is no longer an opportunity to change what has been written. It is the realization that all you have to offer is now going to be judged. The only way to overcome these feelings is to trust that the dedication and hard work put into a book will be recognized by those kind enough to read it. (A deep breath helps as well.)
Lovely answer John! I love the bit about trusting the dedication and the hard work.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I get up each morning at 6:45 since my boxers have their routine. Once the dogs are fed and watered, I take a coffee and do e-mails. The next dog event is a walk on the beach and this we do rain or shine. Upon return, I begin my writing for the day. I usually work until lunch at 1:00. After lunch, I finish the e-mails and social media work and any household chores needed. At 4:00 (notice how exact the puppies have me scheduled) the dogs need their afternoon walk. We don’t do beach but do walk to the top of the boardwalk which overlooks the Gulf. After the afternoon walk, it is time shower and then to prepare dinner which I normally do. Post dinner I finalize all the e-mails and social media for the day. My wife and I watch one hour of TV which we have prerecorded. We both then begin reading until it is time to sleep.
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
I don’t suffer from procrastination but have had intermittent bouts. I usually have a daily plan on what I want to accomplish and don’t quit until I do what I have planned.
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
It is difficult to say which is more important but I will go with the radical idea that the characters if properly developed will help with the plot. I have never started a book and had the plot go exactly the way I had planned. I have had characters pretty much give plot ideas as they interact in the book. I don’t think a writer can begin a story without a firm idea of what the plot will be. I do think character design is a matter of evolution rather that strict planning. I guess I would call it a draw between the importance of the plot or characters. My reason is I can’t see one without the other.
What have been your three biggest learnings during your writing career?
- First learning – Do not be in a hurry to get published. So many alternatives are available to a writer that being published is or should be the last consideration. If a writer rushes the process, something is going to break.
- Second learning – Do not show your novel to anyone until it is finished. Well-meaning folks reading work in process can stifle the work and discourage the writer. Finish the manuscript then let everyone hack it apart if need be. At least it will be finished
- Third learning – Do not be too concerned about the quality of your work. Just keep writing and the quality will come.
How do you manage social media as a writer?
I work social media about two hours a day. I have Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter, and my blog. I try to jump on social media twice a day to keep current
Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
My biggest tip is to keep writing. Any person who wants to be a writer needs to do it every day. The concern should not be how much is written but the fact that something is written every day. I would recommend that budding writers get a blog and start communicating early what they hope to accomplish.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
Writer’s block is not something that plagues me. If I’m stuck, I do something else until unstuck.
Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
All the time. I have at least five books in my head at any one time. I only work on the current one, though. By the time I get around to the next book I have pretty much vetted what the plot structure will look like. I have had occasions where I had a very good idea for the next book, and the current book stole it. It does happen.
What do you wear to write?
I wear board shorts and a t-shirt.
If readers want to get in touch how do they contact you?
Blog: Fiction Favorites – Click here.
Facebook: Click here.
Amazon Author’s page – John Howell
Wow John – good interview! I really enjoyed that.
Some stuff I have taken from this chat today:
- I love the way the puppies have organised your writing life, this made me smile.
- 1000 words a day – I must try this! I admire your dedication to writing.
- Love your learning about not rushing. I am fighting the urge to rush my novel so this learning is useful.
- Five books in your head at one time? I think I need to start thinking about more than one book in my head.
- Loving your writer outfit!
Thank you for this wonderful interview John.
If you would like to take part in my author series please get in touch.
Next week: Cultural historian Siân Evans comes to sit in my chair to talk about her book ‘Queen Bees’.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/79577679@N00/5448848999″>the chair in the attic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>