Novelspot: I know this might be a chicken and egg question, but the first thing I have to ask--especially after my own current (losing) battle with a brown recluse--why spiders?
John: As an 18 year old high school senior, I thought of the title, FEAR OF SPIDERS...just never got around to actually doing any writing. Throughout my career as a school principal, I never gave up on writing and knew I would do so when I retired from that career. Also, I kept the title in mind. Flash forward to three years ago and I took early retirement from public education in order to write fulltime. Many people have a severe fear of spiders and lots of others find spiders 'creepy' thus it seemed plausible for one of my main characters to have this intense fear of spiders.
Novelspot: What first got you started writing? Was there any reason why you delayed writing until after you retired from Education?
John: I've loved writing since six years of age. Throughout my career I intended to write the great American novel, but time never allowed. I wrote all the time but nothing serious or publication worthy. Three years ago I decided the time was right, so I took the plunge and now write full time.
Novelspot: What did you learn about yourself from writing Fear of Spiders?
John: My main character, JT, is based on my brother and me. Trying to decide what JT would do in a variety of situations allowed me to honestly look inside myself and openly assess my own responses to the dilemmas JT faces, from the mundane to the life threatening. In the end, FEAR OF SPIDERS is fiction but I think it is authentic fiction.
I learned I was able to develop patience which is one trait I've been deficient in most of my life.
Novelspot: What (if any) writing habits or quirks do you have (or that you developed in the course of your writing?
John: Like most writers, I have quirks and habits in my writing. When I have the dreaded writer's block, I stop and leave my laptop. For me, the only way to conquer a block is to leave it. Sometimes I will leave it for minutes or hours and other times it turns out to be days. I write better with music before I write and my dog, Maggie, laying on my feet most of the time I am writing. My tastes in music are eclectic and it depends on my mood of the day as to what type of music I play.
When I am not physically writing, I am writing mentally. Traveling, I use words from road signs in my writing. Sitting in a restaurant or somepublic places, overheard conversations may end up as dialogue in my books. Virtually everything I see or hear potentially could end up in my work.
Novelspot: Do you consider any particular authors your role models, and if so, why? And--congruently--what is the best writing advice you ever got? What (writing) advice do you give others?
John: Harper Lee is my favorite author and consequently, "To Kill A Mockingbird" is my favorite novel. As a high school student in the 60s, I fell in love with TKAM and read it several times prior to graduating. The depth of the characters remain with me to this day. I consider Scout, Jim and Atticus as personal friends of mine. Likewise, my characters of JT, Lesi, Julie and Aunt Lily are the same for me.
Anita Shreve is an author whose work I admire greatly. I simply love her style of writing. My favorite novel of the current crop is "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold. I read that when it first came out and I still think of it frequently. That is a sign of skillful writing to be sure.
The best writing advice I've received thus far came from an English teacher in high school. Mrs. Dee Moore told me to write what I knew and what I felt. In other words, she wanted me to be authentic inmy writing. I have held to that advice in my writing and it makes the difference.
I don't give advice unless asked to do so. When asked, I repeat Mrs. Moore's advice first of all. After that I preach persistence, consistence and dedication to your craft. If you're writing fiction, which is my thing, let your imagination know no limits.
Novelspot: What are your magic incantations when you are faced with the blank page that refuses to cooperate?
John: As stated earlier, if it is a true and stubborn block, I leave it. Otherwise, I lean my head back onto my chair, close my eyes, and watch my characters to see what they are doing. Most of the time, they lead me where we need to go.
Novelspot: Have you asked yourself the "genre" question? Are you choosing a genre and sticking to it, working on a series (based on your first book Fear of Spiders) or do you have anything else in the works you'd like to discuss?
John: I am definitely a fiction author as I have no interest in writing non-fiction. Strange perhaps, but in reading, I actually prefer to read non-fiction.
FEAR OF SPIDERS is book one of a four part series of books. I have written books two and three, although they are in rough form and unedited at this point. I am writing book four at this time. In book one, FEAR OF SPIDERS, JT is 14 and his sister, Lesi, is 15. In book two, they are 17 and 18. In book three, they are 20 and 21. The finale, book four, finds them at 79 and 80! Basically my series takes the brother sister duo of JT and Lesi from mid teens into their golden years.
Novelspot: We'd like to thank you for the interview--and I'd personally like to say that I'm very glad we didn't segue into a spider discussion.