This Author Spotlight
the writing team of
Bill D. Allen
Gary Jonas is the author of the Jonathan Shade fantasy series (Modern Sorcery, Acheron Highway, and Dragon Gate so far). His first novel, One-Way Ticket to Midnight made the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award, but alas, that's about like saying "I was fifteenth in line to meet Jessica Alba, and had she met me, she'd have wanted to marry me." He started a series of weird western novellas about a vampire gunslinger, and wrote the first book in that series, which is simply called Night Marshal: A Tale of the Undead West (Book Two: High Plains Moon was written by Glenn R. Sixbury, and Book Three: This Dance, These Bones was written by Rebecca Hodgkins). The best of his short fiction has been collected in Quick Shots, and yes, that includes the Hitman stories (people have been so polite after reading those tales--go figure). Gary is currently revising a novel called Guardians of the Sky while he works on the next Jonathan Shade novel.
1. How did you get into writing and why do you write?
1. How did you get into writing and why do you write?
Bill: It all started with reading, of course. I had a difficult childhood and ended up in foster care. Reading was my escape. By extension, writing became an even greater escape since I could fashion my own worlds.
The question is, why do I still do it? I ask myself that all the time. It certainly isn’t for money and fame. I am one of those writers who tell folks that if they can stop writing that they should…just stop cold turkey and give it up. It causes problems in your personal life and takes time out of more productive endeavors, like collecting lint or making birdhouses out of popsicle sticks. Bottom line is I write because I can’t stop writing. I can slow down. I can act like I’m not a writer. But sooner or later it pops up again and I am knocking out a short story or writing notes on the back of a napkin. It’s a sickness.
Gary: Originally, I wanted to be a comic book artist, but to have comics to draw, I started writing stories to go with them. Then in college, I took a writing class because I figured it would be an easy A. Knock out a couple of short stories, and it’s all good. Turns out there was a massive difference between the drawing and the writing. With an illustration, people would look at it and say, “Cool.” With a story, they had to invest of themselves a bit, and the tales could affect them emotionally. I liked that. Art can affect people too, but it’s harder to do that with comic book art. Once I caught the bug, I couldn’t not write. I tried time and again to walk away from it, but I kept coming back. Finally I gave up and decided it wasn’t a choice.
2. What do you like best (or least) about writing?
Bill: The best thing about writing is that wild feeling of elation when the plot points suddenly “click” into place. You had no idea what was going on one moment with a mess of tangled gears, springs, and random fiddly-bits, then a flash of insight and you are holding a Swiss watch. No plans, perhaps just a sore spot on your forehead where you had been beating it against a handy wall. Your subconscious writer brain has been doing the heavy lifting the whole long time.
Magic is wonderful. The beating your head part is the nightmare…you can’t count on the magic. You have to keep slogging on through the swamp, ignoring the dark demons of your self doubt.
What I like least about writing: the personal sacrifice. The writing has cost me relationships with some amazing women because I spent all day working a job then came home to spend the evening writing some silly story when my girlfriend wanted to go out. It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, but too often it felt that way.
3. What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?
Bill: I don’t formally outline short stories. I get an idea of the entirety of the story before I start the project, then I power through the first draft as quickly as possible. I think short stories are like fresh seafood. You don’t want to let them sit around too long.
I outline my novels. It’s the only way I can ensure that when I squeeze some writing time that I actually get something accomplished. I will spend more time in the early stages of the book free writing background history and random thoughts about characters and story. Although I spend a great deal of time thinking about my characters, I don't like those character profile sheets that you see everywhere. My characters are usually Frankenstein constructs of real people I know. So I don’t really need to create anyone from whole cloth.
I pick my plot points and then start filling in the scenes. I tend to have simple one-sentence explanations of each scene on a spreadsheet and I write from those. It makes it easier to shuffle scenes and group them into chapters later.
There is a free tool called “YWRITER” from Spacejock software that works pretty well as an outline tool and I have had some success with that as well. Nice bells and whistles for free. I don’t see any sense in investing in all the over-hyped software packages that claim to write for you. It’s a load of crap. Take a pen and paper and sit under a tree with a tall glass of iced tea. Works wonders for the creative process.
As to my writing schedule…well, much of it depends on my “real life.” I work four ten-hour days as a supervisor for a 911 center. This tends to suck a lot of emotional manna out of me. I try to catch at least an hour or two of solid writing time or revision time on the days I work. The best method for me is to realize that those are the days I need to outline, plan, correct and edit. If I get a brainstorm I still go with it, of course. I have had a lot of good production days that I would have never guessed could happen when I follow the current. I also tend to do research on these days.
On my days off, I try to get up early, get some coffee and work toward accomplishing the scenes I have plotted out earlier in the week. I try to avoid researching as that can be a time wasting trap and I need to make progress. If I need to look something up, I make a note for it later. Of course, there are times when I feel I just “have” to know some detail before I continue. But, in general I try to avoid research because I will go off on bunny trails.
I write for a few hours. Get up and do chores—mow the lawn, do some laundry, etc., anything to stretch my legs and let my subconscious catch up. Then I go back for another round.
I like to post word counts but some days that is deceptive. A very productive day might actually have a smaller word count. Quality and quantity are equally valuable.
Lastly, I am very big on the subconscious working on your writing conundrums. I think hard about any issues I am dealing with as I go to bed. I truly think your mind works on these things when you sleep. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten up the next day and when I get back to work the path is clearly laid out.
Gary: For anything longer than a short story, I prefer to work from an outline. A short story can be held in your head, but a novel tends to be a sprawling thing that needs to be viewed in sections. When I was writing screenplays, I found that structure was of extreme importance. So I started outlining the scripts in advance, and those scripts turned out to be my best work. Two were optioned in Hollywood, and one went into production locally, though the financing fell apart and the movie was never completed. It happens.
With novels, outlining gives me more confidence because I’ve worked things out in advance. I don’t necessarily stick to that outline because if something interesting occurs to me, I can always explore it. If it works, I can take some time to re-outline from there.
As it happens, I’m currently writing a novel using the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method, and while I’m cranking out pages, I worry that it will need more work than my other books to whip it into shape.
Discipline was a problem for me for a while, so I took to posting my daily word counts on Facebook for all to see. At first, it kept me writing because I didn’t want to post a big ol’ goose egg up there. That would suck. Once the daily writing formed into an actual habit, and I looked forward to the sessions, I planned to stop posting the counts, but I kept hearing from people that the word counts were inspiring. Sometimes they’re low, sometimes they’re high, but as long as I’m moving forward, the books will be finished.
On days where life gets in the way, I do one writing session (usually about an hour). On other days, I work in multiple sessions with breaks in between.
4. Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”
Bill: One of my early mentors was Mike McQuay, a largely underappreciated writer who has since passed. Roger Zelazny has got to be my favorite author of all time, although his style waxed a bit poetic, of course he has also shuffled off the mortal coil. Tim Powers is very inspirational to me and thank God he is still alive! Lastly, one of the hardest working writers in the world is Selina Rosen. She is a rough and tumble street writer. Not at all literary, but she writes from the heart and I truly appreciate that.
Gary: I could post a long, long list here. Bill and I were fortunate to have had Mike McQuay as an early mentor. His novel Memories was an amazing book, and after reading that, I knew I could learn from him. When I moved to Denver, I went out of my way to get into a workshop with Edward Bryant, who has written some truly amazing short fiction. Other writers I admire have to include those Bill mentioned. For an incomplete list in no particular order, some of the writers I read include Robert Crais, Joe R. Lansdale, Connie Willis, David Morrell, Lee Child, Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, and too many others to list.
A few writers I admire for other reasons would have to include J.A. Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch for doing so much to help other writers. Lawrence Block for making me believe writing novels was even possible (and he’s written some terrific books). Mel Odom for showing me that discipline is king—the man is a machine in the best sense of the word. He can flat crank out book after book, and even with the work-for-hire books, he always brings professional competence to the work.
5. Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes?
Bill: Outside, the item in the quotes was not the question.
6. What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma?
Bill: My stance on commas in general is pretty loose. I am not a grammarian, I am a writer. That being said, I tend to avoid the use of the serial comma unless the group of items are groups of pairs. I would not use it for a sentence listing apples, oranges and grapes. I would use it in a sentence with apple and pear, orange and mango, and banana and strawberry.
Gary: I don’t have a stance on the Oxford Comma because I was taught it was optional. However, every editor I work with clearly believes they’re required, so I’m trying to include them because, if I don’t, the editors might charge me for each comma they have to add. If that ever happens, I’ll be flat broke!
Pirates of the Outrigger Rift about and how did it come to fruition?
Bill: Hey, space pirates…what else do you need to know? Fun, adventure, beer—it’s in there. The story is about a woman pursued by corporate security squads and brutal space pirates as she and her companion, a down on his luck freetrader, attempt to deliver secret information which will bring down a corrupt and power-hungry traitor.
Long ago Gary Jonas and I wrote a piece for a market called Dime Novels. It was a short-lived company which wanted to sell small, pulp type adventure books to be sold as impulse buys in the supermarket checkout line. They didn’t last long enough to send us the contract. So, we decided to revise it, beef it up and put it out on the market again. We’d always loved the story. It has a ton of laughs and some genuinely likable characters and we were thrilled when it was picked up by 47North. It was released on September 24, 2013 as an Amazon Kindle Serial. It will have six episodes, released one per week. Then it will graduate to a full novel download on Kindle and a print version. Thereafter, it will move on to become an audio book available on Audible.com.
Gary: What he said. We did get an acceptance letter from Dime Novels, so it was really disheartening when they went under. Every few years, we talked about revising and expanding it, but finally last year, we just did it. Selling the book to the awesome folks at 47North was like a dream come true.
I’ll add that we hope people have as much fun reading it as we did writing it.
8. What’s your current writing project?
Gary: I’m working on a novel called Guardians of the Sky, which I see as the first in a series of books about a UFO investigator. It has action, humor, and aliens (and I even got the Oxford comma in there—my editors would be so proud).
9. What book(s) are you currently reading?
Bill: I am rereading Joe Lansdale’s COLD IN JULY. Joe is a fantastic writer and I never get enough of that voice.
Gary: For non-fiction, I’m reading The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson, which I highly recommend.
For fiction, I’m listening to the audio book of Death Masks by Jim Butcher, which was read by James Marsters, who does a terrific job. I’d love to have him do the audio versions of my work.
10. Who or what inspires your writing?
Gary: For me it’s not a question of inspiration. Some stories or books might be inspired by a person or an event or something I read somewhere, but I treat writing as a career. That means I show up every day, put in my time to crank out the pages. Once a novel is finished, I move on to the next one. In that sense, I don’t have a Muse. I just have too many stories to tell, and not enough time to get them all written down.
Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your book, etc.
Bill: My website is billdallen.com, from there you will find links to my Facebook page and Amazon.com Author Central site which has all my currently available work.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I appreciate hearing from folks so don’t be shy, life is too short.
Gary: My website is at www.garyjonas.net
Feel free to “friend” me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/writer.garyjonas follow me on Twitter @GaryJonas1 and check out my rarely updated blog at http://www.garyjonas.blogspot.com/
You can gain extra cool points by ordering Pirates of the Outrigger Rift.
Fantastic interview. The book looks amazing. I'd be remiss if I didn't compliment the cover art by Christian McGrath. (Visit his site HERE.)
Visit us again when you each complete your next book!
Be sure to visit Bill and Gary on their websites, Twitter, Facebook, etc. And grab a copy of Pirates at the link below.