Friday, April 23, 2010

J.A. Pitts on writing and going long

John and I met on Facebook. We met in person at World Fantasy Convention last year, where he agreed to this interview. Subsequently, I attended his Birthday Party/Book Launch at Radcon.

I tried to find the time to interview him there, but it was a pretty full weekend. This interview is another first in that I came up with a compromise between calling him and recording the conversation, then transcribing the interview and the usual email drill. What follows is a cleaned up IM interview conducted with Yahoo Instant Messenger. We both had a ball. I think I'll do more of these. It's more organic, but saves me having to transcribe -- every journalist's most dreaded task.

John's a great writer, nice guy and a good sport (We both got roped into a skit for the opening ceremonies at Radcon).

And because I have a thing for firsts, I snapped a picture while John signed the first copy of his first book.

AW: When did you start writing?

JP: Twelve.

AW: Care to elaborate?

JP: Mainly poetry and tall tales, Jack Tales, adventure stories, WWII, mystery.

AW: Who inspired you to do something with your talent?

JP: I guess it started with my great Aunt. She was very country. She married at thirteen and never learned to drive. She worked her whole adult life at the Woolworths. She handed me Burroughs' Martian Chronicles as soon as I was reading chapter books. She would buy me notebooks and pencils when I came over to visit and encourage me to write my own stories.

When I was in 6th grade, a student-teacher took an interest in my writing aspirations. She made me a notebook filled with poetry and story concepts, a learner's guide, as it were.

AW: Nice. When you started writing for money, did you always have it in your mind that you wanted to be a novelist?

JP: Yes and no. I realized that the only way to make a living was a writer is to write novels. But I also thought it was probably too much for me then, so I stuck with short stories for the longest time. I always struggled with the short form: too many plot lines, too many characters for something little. My wife kept trying to convince me to write something that could contain the ideas I had in my head. It was good advice, even if it took me a long time to really hear it. :)

AW: Was it hard to transition from the short form to novels?

JP: Not at all. Quite the opposite. Once I started writing novels I felt like the shackles had been released for the first time. I suddenly had the breadth and freedom to flesh out the worlds I wanted to visit. It was liberating.

AW: When you wrote the story, "Black Blade Blues," had you already determined to write the novel, Black Blade Blues?

JP: No. I wrote it to spec for an anthology. It wasn't until it was reviewed by the editors, Denise Little and Dean Wesley Smith, that I saw the potential for more. I got both "this is a damn good story" and "I'd like to see the novel this will become." Beats what I usually hear, which is "Nice first chapter."

AW: That sounds really familiar. I'm still trying to make my novel ideas into stories. Will you continue to write short stories now that you have novels under contract?

JP: Yes. I have one short being considered at, and I wrote another one just recently. I'll never write shorts with the same consistency and quantity of Jay Lake, but I'll keep writing them. I love the feeling of having written. You get that much sooner with a short story. Quicker satisfaction moments.

AW: Yup. My sentiments exactly! How did you find an agent?

JP: Well, I sold the novel before I got an agent. When Tor called me (and after I told my wife), I called my friends Ken Scholes and Jay Lake. Jay called his agent and asked her if she'd be interested in reading my novel, and told her the situation at hand. She agreed, and I sent her the novel. She emailed me a few days later and said she was sorry, but that she couldn't get behind my characters, so she didn't feel like she'd be the best person to represent me. She offered me three choices in the email.

  1. There was an agent in her house that would likely love, love my novel.
  2. She knew people outside the house who would love it
  3. Or I could tell her to get bent.

I went for 1. She contacted her co-worker, who was out on maternity leave, and we connected by phone. I ended up working with her soon after. I'm very pleased with how it worked out.

AW: So you had subbed it to Tor yourself originally?

JP: Yes. I met Claire Eddy at Radcon several years ago. We talked a bit, exchanged a few emails, and I sent her my first novel, which she rejected (for very good reasons). When I had the second one ready, I emailed her if she was interested in seeing it. She said yes, she liked my writing, so I sent it over. They were looking for Urban Fantasy, and I'd sent them Urban Fantasy. Pretty good coincidence.

AW: What was your most memorable con experience?

JP: Tricky question.

AW: How about funniest and best. Is that easier?

JP: I think stepping into the elevator in Calgary to find Claire Eddy all alone, and having her greet me and ask if I wanted to chat. That was a stellar moment.
The funniest would have to be sitting in the hotel at WorldCon in Montreal.
I was with my friend Keffy Kehrli and we were waiting for our other friend, Brenda Cooper, to come down so we could go to dinner. Keffy knows Neil Gaiman and I'd mention to him how I'd love to ask Neil a question, in a far away world where I could have a real conversation with him. And who walks in, but Neil. He stopped to chat up Keffy, who turned to me and said, "Here's your chance." So, I got to have a fifteen-minute, private conversation with Neil. It was very awesome.

AW: Excellent! I'm jealous, of course. Which of the things you do when you're not writing most influence the content of your writing?

JP: Interacting with people. I think the biggest flaw I find in writing is unrealistic relationships. Not dating or sex, but typical conversations and interactions. I think meeting a diverse set of people, and learning about their lives really helps me write more believable and entertaining stories. And I read...a lot.

AW: What genres do you read?

JP: Mainly sf/f. Honestly. I will read some non-fiction from time to time, especially when I'm trying to learn stuff, but, I'll dabble in other genres from time to time: romance, horror, spy, thrillers and even some westerns. I'll pick up a book that everyone says I should read, occasionally, but I'm usually disappointed. So, I'd say 80 percent genre.

AW: What are you working on now?

JP: I just sent Honeyed Words, the second Sarah Beauhall book, over to Tor last week. I'm working on some short stories to get out before I start book three. I'm also working a lot of hours at the day job, and trying to clear the decks, so I have more time to write. I'm critiquing a novel for a friend of mine, Patrick Swenson, and will be critiquing two more in the next month. I'm tired a lot. :)

AW: What's the day job?

JP: I'm a computer consultant. Lots of brain energy in that job, lots of hours.

AW: Do you like it? Or would you rather not have to have a day job?

JP: Oh, if I could, I'd write full-time. Absolutely. But I love my job. It's challenging, makes me think and, frankly, keeps me on my toes socially and intellectually. Not so much physically, so I try to get to the YMCA to work out, and keep up with my taekwondo.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice to see novels can still be sold just by sending them in.


Zephyr -- a superhero webcomic in prose