Happy Saturday, Folks!
Today, I thought I’d give y’all a break from me and my ramblings and interview one of urban fantasies new players. John “J.A.” Pitts and I have been friends for fourteen years now. He’s the first writing friend I ever made and we muddled our way through the short fiction world to both ultimately land at Tor with our series.
KS: Your first novel, Black Blade Blues, came out about a year ago. Can you tell us a bit about how that experience has been for you? How has your perception of publishing and writing changed between now and those days when you had not yet sold a novel?
JP: Wow, tall order. Before I sold the novel, I had a solid underpinning of angst and anxiety that I may never sell a novel. Nothing debilitating, or earth-shattering, but a solid tremor below the surface.
Then, I got that call, and my world shifted. It’s pretty amazing how short a time span that “WOW” moment really lasts. The one thing I’ve learned is that this is a job. No two ways around it. There are a lot of different phases to the publishing cycle. I found my real life hadn’t changed. I still had the day job, family obligations, bills to pay, etc. I wasn’t any thinner, richer or more popular. I just had more work to do.
Now, I’m happy as can be with the whole processes, don’t get me wrong. I’m surrounded by excellent people who really love their words. But, now I have all new problems. I just recently finished book 3, and book 2, Honeyed Words, hasn’t come out yet. Book 1, Black Blade Blues, has been out a year, and the mass market just came out. Now there are expectations involved. I’ve had actual fans writing me notes telling me how much they like the book, and I have a strong desire to keep them happy. The bar is in place, and I have something to be measured against. Will book 2 exceed book 1. Will book 3 exceed book 2. Will I get picked up for another contract. Those things all play in my head. We call this, trading up for a new problems.
I snatched that brass ring, I’m clear on that. I know how amazing it is to have my books show up on the shelves of book stores and super markets. But, it’s still work. Work I love with a burning passion, but there is no time to waste, no laurels to rest on.
KS: You’ve just recently finished drafting the third novel in this series and your fourth overall novel. What is your current process for writing and revising a novel and how has it evolved from your first novel? Is working on a novel after being a published novelist any different than writing a novel prior?
JP: I wrote my first novel like I write my short stories. I had a scene in my head, a character and a tone. Then I started writing. That book meandered a bit more than I’d like, and I’ve rewritten large parts of it. It has not sold yet.
The second book I ever wrote was Black Blade Blues. With this one, I outlined in a rather loose way. I wrote anything from a single sentence to multiple paragraphs for each scene/chapter and once I had a solid outline, I began drafting the novel. I didn’t stick 100% to the outline, but went where the story needed me to go. Mostly I stayed true to the original vision, however. The writing went fairly fast once I knew the outline, and the fixes were smooth. Having an editor read your book and ask for changes is a damn sight better than guessing what may or may not be working.
As for working on a novel, after I’ve had one published. I mentioned that earlier. Safe to say the expectations are nothing to sneeze at. Of course, those are mostly in my head. Learning to manage your internal demons, or head-monkeys as we call them, is a vital skill. Things get a little louder in your head, once there are other people out there waiting for the next book.
First book has no expectations built in, as no one (or very few) have read it. It’s a different game.
KS: Black Blade Blues was placed on the American Library Association’s Over the Rainbow Reading List for its positive portrayal of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (GLBTQ) people. Sarah Beauhall is a strong female protagonist — a blacksmith working for a B-movie production company — who’s sexual orientation and relationships are as central to her development as a hero as her ability to fix and wield a magic sword. Tell us a bit about where her character comes from, where she’s going, and how a middle-aged straight guy from Kentucky ended up portraying her in such a compelling way.
JP: I was raised by a single mother, but we had the help of some other very strong women. My great-aunt and some of mom’s friends all pitched in to make our life livable. There were some tough days way back then, but we managed to survive.
I am the oldest child, so watching how the world treated my mother proved enlightening. I remember how she was treated by some folks (men and women) that was both demeaning and disheartening. But she had moxey, that woman. Full of beauty and grace. She encouraged us to be who we needed to be, and to do it with love. I learned a lot about dignity and perseverance from her that I carry with me today. Hopefully I’m passing those traits on to my own children.
My whole life has been filled with loving, caring individuals from all walks of life. From one awesome aunt who happens to prefer the company of other women, to school friends of various gender, sexual, socio-economic and racial backgrounds. I’ve learned a lot about how people live their lives, and hopefully, I’ve translated that experience into the books.
I’m a student of the human condition. I think there are some basic things we all want deep down. Some ways we all feel. No two individuals react the same way to a situation, no matter what their background. I strive to write characters who feel honest and true. Then, when I’m done, I let some other people read my work. Folks who fall outside the profile you’ve described for me. Then, I listen carefully to their reaction.
Truthfully, it’s the only way I know how to write a character. I just keep compassion in mind, and think, deep down, how I’d want to be treated, how I’d react, then work from there. That’s the job of a writer. Get into the heads of a character and try to see the world the way they’d see it. It’s not always easy, believe me. But, I believe it is well worth the effort.
KS: You and I have been friends for fourteen years now, meeting at a critique group back in the days when we were both struggling to get that first short story sale. Now, we’re Tor authors that are each three books into our respective series. What are the most important things you’ve learned about writing over that span of time? And what would you tell us if you could go back in time to those early days when we were working so hard to figure out?
JP: That’s easy. 1) Keep the faith. 2) If you put as many hours into writing as you did into Everquest, you’d sell sooner (did this in 2007). 3) Give up soda and go to the gym.
One thing writers seem to neglect is their physical health. Since I’ve started going to the gym 3-5 days a week, I feel happier, healthier, stronger. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. I talk about this at length on my web site.
KS: If readers here at Genreality want to know more about you and your work, how can they find you?