Friday, October 23, 2009

Interview with John Brown

Prelude: First of all, I would like to thank Alex Koritz for the opportunity to interview John Brown as well as sending me his novel, which I hope the post office will drop in soon. Then I would like to thank John Brown himself for the willingness and the speed, with which he answered my questions. I have never interviewed an author before reading at least a single work they have completed and I think that it will reflect in the questions I have asked. Before we jump straight to the core of the post, here is some background info.

John Brown is a prize-winning short story writer and novelist. His epic fantasy series begins with Servant of a Dark God which will be released in October 2009. Other forthcoming novels in the series include Curse of a Dark God, and Dark God’s Glory. They are slated for release in 2010 and 2011. He currently lives with his wife and four daughters in the hinterlands of Utah where one encounters much fresh air, many good-hearted ranchers, and an occasional wolf.

"Servant of a Dark God": Young Talen lives in a world where the days of a person’s life can be harvested, bought, and stolen. Only the great Divines who rule every land and the human soul-eaters, dark ones who steal from man and beast, know the secrets of this power. In Talen’s land the Divine has gone missing, and soul-eaters are loose among the people.

The Clans muster a massive hunt, and Talen finds himself a target. Although his struggle is against both soul-eaters and their hunters, Talen actually has larger problems. A being of awesome power has arisen, one whose diet consists of the days of men. Her Mothers once ranched human subjects like cattle. She has emerged to take back what is rightfully hers.

Trapped in a web of lies and ancient secrets, Talen must struggle to identify his true enemy before the Mother finds the one whom she will transform . . . into the lord of the human harvest.

Harry Markov: Hello John and thank you for the opportunity to talk with you. Now let’s get started shall we. First I would like to explore your origin story. What sparked your interest in literature in general?

John Brown: I was never really interested too much in books until the 6th grade. At that time I had four sisters, and we all had to compete for one TV, had to reserve the time for your programs. We were in the car one day, me in the way back of the station wagon, and my oldest sister says, “I have to watch The Hobbit for school.” I didn't know anything about any hobbit. I protested. "No, way–we’re not going to watch some dumb kissing thing." I was convinced it was a romance.

“No,” she said. “It’s got dragons.”

She was lying. I knew it.

But it didn’t matter. It was for school. My parents sided with her. I was convinced I was doomed, but, lo and behold, we watched it, and it did indeed have dragons. And I loved the experience so much I wanted another hit.

Shortly thereafter my mother and father went on a business trip. I went over to my buddy’s house. So the first day we come up out of the basement to go to school and I said in a most pathetic way, “Oh, I’m feeling sick.” So my buddy went off to school and I went back down into the basement and played hookie for two days and read The Hobbit.

It was amazing. More amazing than the movie. I had to have that experience again. And so began to seek out fantasy books. I'd read before that time, but that's when I truly began to hunger.

HM: And when did you discover you had that writer spark in you?

JB: I was never one of these people destined to write. No kindergarten novels. No bookish dreams. In college I decided to study English. I had interest in creative writing so I signed up for classes. I was just following my nose. But it wasn't until I was almost done with college that I thought I'd actually try to write stories that people might want to publish. Stories I'd actually want to read. I attended at workshop put on by Dave Wolverton who was the coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future contest. He's the one who put the idea in my brain.

HM: Now that you have your first novel published how do you estimate the industry especially for debut authors? Was it hard to break through and what does it take to earn positions on today’s market?

JB: I don't have data on the size of the pool of new authors trying to break in versus the size of those that actually do. Nor how this has changed over the years. I do know that my agent and others I've talked to receive thousands of queries each year in the SF/Fantasy genre. I think there are around a dozen or so major publishers doing SF/Fantasy in the US. So if you've got 7,000 – 10,000 people competing for 12 to 24 slots, well, that's stiff.

Of course, that doesn't count the smaller presses. Nor does it count the YA lines where fantasy is huge. So there are actually a lot MORE slots open than we think. Nor does it take into account the fact that a good portion of those queries will be poorly written or the novels not quite up to snuff. So there's opportunity out there. But it's going to take work, like anything else, some connections, and being ready when opportunity strikes.

My break-in story is fairly straight forward. I finished novels, submitted, accepted rejection as life, made contacts in the field, finished, submitted, etc. I sold a few short stories along the way. I think a good novel has very good chances of getting picked up. But you'll have to recognize that there will be rejection. I submitted Servant of a Dark God to fifty agents. Eight never responded. A little over thirty passed on it. But a number wanted to see more.

HM: I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your novel yet and for me as well as all the other people still not introduced to your novel, can you share what “Servant of a Dark God” is about? Hook me.

JB: The story is set in a world where humans are ranched by beings of immense power. But not for their flesh. I thought if souls exist, they’re physical. And so what would happen if there was a food chain based on that? Furthermore, if you were ranching intelligent beings, you wouldn’t want them to know it. You’d want them to think they were governing themselves. So the truth is buried deep, and the human overseers mercilessly hunt anyone who show any sign of discovering what’s going on. The book focuses on a teenage boy and girl. The problems in this book start when one of these hunts targets the teenage girl’s family.

HM: From the small summary of the novel I see that you write about one of the ageless tropes in fantasy about a young protagonist caught in an epic conflict. What are the qualities in your novel that will separate it from other novels in the same vein?

JB: There's no quest. The hero doesn't leave his family to battle the monster. It's all tied up with family. You're going to end up rooting for one of the villains. And then there are all the details of the characters and world. There's new magic, new monsters, new situations, new people. And where, please tell me, does any character in any modern fantasy call someone a "whoreson's greasy bladder rag" or a "stinking tanner's pot"? Huh?

HM: Now that you have a novel published what are the future plans in your career? How many novels are to follow in the world of “Servant of a Dark God” and what other projects do you have on the backburner?

JB: There will be three novels in this series. The publisher wanted to avoid using "trilogy" so we could continue with more, but I'm plotting the third book, and I'm telling you: it ends there. I love the world, but I also love it when stories end. Other projects I'm interested in are another epic fantasy series, a thriller based on a guy I knew who was a reformed bank robber, and some YA stuff. But that's all out in the future. I'm focused right now on book two and three, making them as good as I can.

HM: These days having a novel out and leaving everything to the publisher is not enough. An author has to have a media platform and establish contact with his readers. What online media outlets are you using?

JB: I've got a Wordpress blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account. I enjoy the interactions I have there. But I still think the best thing an author can do is write consistently good product.

HM: Have you had the chance to meet all your favorite writers yet?

JB: Oh, good grief, no. I'm a troglodyte, and so much of this business is done remotely. I didn't even see my editor for six months. Still haven't met my agent in person. But it has been a wonderful part of this to be able to chat with authors at events and meet people whose work I love.

HM: Have you gotten any fan mail after the release of your novel, especially after being covered by so many book reviewers?

JB: I actually have received a number of emails and comments. It's been wonderful seeing the response. One interesting email was from a boy in fifth grade. My target was teens and above. But he's slightly autistic with a high verbal ability. It's been interesting seeing who he loves best and which scenes.

HM: Do you have any advice to budding writers that want to establish a career in writing?

JB: I do have advice. I've written it up on my site: Beyond that I'd say, don't let writing become a Molech. You can be happy and not write. Don't sacrifice the things that matter most up to this thing. Keep it in its place. And then just have a blast.

HM: What is the hardest part in having writing as a profession and what makes it worthwhile?

JB: Right now the hardest part is managing time. I have a day job and a writing job and a family. I want to do well at all three, but sometimes those are very hard balls to juggle. What makes it worthwhile is the joy of story and the joy of sharing that with others. I think if I didn't enjoy following these characters around in their predicaments, developing complications for them, finding cool things--if I didn't have that, I couldn't do it. It's just too much work otherwise.

HM: Okay, this is my last question. Writers are known to be filled with ideas from everywhere, so it would be pointless to ask where you draw your ideas from, but what is your method for deciding what ideas get to be developed and what gets tossed away.

JB: My gut. There can't be any other gauge for me. I have to write from passion. I've found I cannot write any other way. If an idea jazzes me, if it sparks the "ooh" effect in me, then I'll consider it. It also has to fit with the story. So I'll generate ideas until I find one that does both. And the story has to fit with my career and genre, what my career goals are. But it all starts with a little zap, a zing. It starts with emotion. I talk a lot about this on my site. It's one of the things that eluded me in the beginning. Creative process was my bugbear. Figuring it out has made all the difference in the world to my writing.

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