Thursday, May 19, 2011

Author interview: John Rector

Finally, another author interview. Good one too, because not only is he a fantastic storyteller but he speaks his mind. Love that.

His name is John Rector and he's a prize-winning short story writer and author of the novels THE COLD KISS (optioned for a feature film now in development), and THE GROVE. He's also the friend of a friend (thanks to author Todd Bush for the introduction) and has garnered the praise of mega-authors like Ken Bruen and Eric Van Lustbader. Yeah. Pretty cool.

By the way, I can say that I have read one of John's books, which ain't always the case with my author interviews. THE COLD KISS is really, really excellent. [Insert cliche about not being able to put it down, and note that some cliches are truisms.]

Anyway, the interview:

  • Did you always want to be a writer, or did you come to it as an adult?

I didn’t think about writing until I turned thirty and decided to give it a shot. I’d always been an avid reader, but English was always my worst subject in school. Writing a book was something other people did, definitely not me.

  • Did you have a lot of support when you began writing, or did you suffer the same raised eyebrow most of us do? In other words, what kept you motivated at the start of your career?

I had a lot of support from my wife, and that’s all that mattered. I didn’t care what other people thought, and looking back now, I’m sure a few people rolled their eyes and laughed behind my back, but who cares? Those people are irrelevant.

The sad fact is that when you decide to create something, whether it’s a novel or a painting or a song or whatever, there will always be some little prick standing safely on the sidelines trying to make you feel like shit about it. Art is intimidating to some people, especially to the ones who aren’t creative themselves, and more often than not, their response is to attack. All you can do is recognize them for what they are and dismiss them. It’s not hard to do.
As far as what kept me motivated... It’s the same thing that keeps me motivated today, an overpowering fear of failure.

  • Are you able to write full-time, or are you holding down a regular job, too?

If I was childless, I’d be able to write full time, but with two pre-school age kids running around, I need the security of a regular paycheck.

  • What is your writing schedule?

I’m a slow writer, but I try to get in at least three pages a day.

  • Do you work in a study, all alone, or do you prefer a cafe where there are people to watch (and bug you!)?

I have an office in my house where I can lock the door and block out the world. I could never work in public. I’m too easily distracted.

  • Do you actively look for story ideas (combing newspapers etc), or do they just come to you?

I’ve never actively looked for a story, and I’m not sure going out and combing the papers would work for me. Every idea I’ve had has come to me as a whisper. I’ve never had an idea explode in my head where I had to grab the nearest pen and paper and start writing. It’s always something small, and it’s usually visual. If I don’t have an idea to work on I’ll just start typing and see where it leads. I’ll let what I’m writing introduce me to the characters and setting, and if it’s good, it’ll build from there. That’s how The Cold Kiss started. I just sat down and wrote the opening scene off the top of my head. That was the first time I met any of those characters.

  • How on earth did you manage to get Ken Bruen and Eric van Lustbader to blurb The Cold Kiss (if you're allowed to reveal that info)?

Those came about through contacts my agent had, or through the publisher. When you release a book with a major publisher, they’ll usually help solicit blurbs by sending the book to people who might be interested. I’ve since met Eric and Scott Phillips and was able to thank them in person for the blurbs, but I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Ken yet. I hope to soon. I’m a big fan.

  • What are you working on, and when might we see it?

Right now I’m working on my fourth novel, and I hope to have it done by the fall. My third novel, ALREADY GONE, is coming out on October 25th in the US, and December 8th in the UK.

  • How much energy do you put into the language aspect of your novels, the “art” so to speak?

The majority of my energy goes toward the language. My goal is to make everything I write as clean and simple as I possibly can. I don’t want a single sentence in a novel that will make the reader stumble. I want the prose to be invisible, and that’s a lot harder than it looks. I’ll tinker with one line for hours.

  • What was your favorite novel of 2010?

It wasn’t a novel, rather a collection of novellas, but Stephen King’s Full Dark No Stars was fantastic.

  • If you could offer just one piece of advice to aspiring novelists, what would it be?

Get rid of your TV. Pack it up, sell it, whatever you have to do to get rid of it. Don’t just cut back on what you watch, don’t watch it at all, ever. Once you do that, read everything you can get your hands on. Read outside your genre, and read the masters who came before you. They have a lot to teach if you’re open to learn. Then write, everyday.

  • Do you outline your novels?

Yes, but I don’t consider it an outline as much as a roadmap. One thing about writing a novel is that you have to work on it everyday if you want it to be good, and if you’re like me, there are bad days when the last thing you want to do is be creative. If I had to sit down on one of those days and try to figure out what I needed to write and how it was going to fit into the novel, I’d never finish anything. What my roadmap (or outline) does is show me where I am in the book and where I need to go. I don’t care how bad of a day I’ve had, if I know what I have to write that day, I can always knock out a few words.

  • Do you recommend any specific "how-to" writing books for mystery/thriller writers?

Writing Mystery/Thriller novels is really no different than writing any novel. The basics are the same. If you’re a rank beginner who isn’t sure how to start, Stephen King’s On Writing is the best book you’ll find. If you’ve been at it for a while, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is practically required reading.

  • What is the value of writing conferences -- do you attend, or have a favorite?

I’ve been to a few conferences, and I’ve met some great people, but I’m not sold on their value. Conferences are basically a great way to make contacts and reconnect with other writers who you never see, but that’s about it. Whether that’s worth the cost of attending is the question.

  • What do you think of the e-book debate - is the trend away from paper books it good for authors, readers, publishers, anyone, everyone?

I think ebooks are great for authors because it’s making everyone take a new look at how things are done and how writers are paid. Right now there is a lot of speculation about the future, but no one really knows what’s going to happen, and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. All I can do is keep writing. The format my books are published in doesn’t matter, because in the end, it’s all about content.

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