RSJ: I suppose I ought to have used some clever epithet like Roger the Hermit or Mithridates Meat-Cleaver, or some such thing as that. But sorry to say, I wasn’t that inventive, and just stuck with my real name, boring as that might be. Do you think it’s too late to change it now?
CA: Scot LOL if you change it to something ending in Meat-Cleaver then I think I’ll have to ummm… not run this interview. *grin*
CA: What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
RSJ: I tend toward what I like to call “historical fantasy,” that is, fantasy fiction set in the real world of a past time period, like Homer or the Arthurian legends. The Beowulf story is a good example of this, although the mythological aspects in the original poem far outweigh the historical references. In my novelization, The Saga of Beowulf, I’ve tried to balance those out somewhat more evenly, developing the historical elements from references within the poem as well as external evidence from chronicle and archaeology. I’m fascinated with ancient and medieval history, and would like to write a work of pure historical fiction, although instead my next book will go the other route and be pure fantasy.
CA: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
RSJ: I actually woke up in the middle of the night some twenty years ago with this full-blown story running through my mind, in that utterly lucid state where it’s just as real as life and you know it like your own life story. I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote until the sun came up. Then - after a lengthy nap - I went out and bought an old manual typewriter that very day and set up a card table in my attic. That was 1988, as I recall, and that story will be my next book. After working on it every day for several months I decided that if I were going to approach writing seriously I should get a proper education in the craft. So I went to college for six years and wrote a completely different book instead, and only now am getting back to that first story.
CA: Who or what was your inspiration for writing?
RSJ: Like many fantasy authors, Tolkien is among my foremost inspirations, if for no other reason than the fact that he wrote the book he wanted to regardless of how long it took or what anyone else thought that it should be. Of course, the fact that it’s brilliantly written and immaculately conceived has been a source of wonder (and emulation) for fantasy authors ever since. But also in my ongoing study of history I am always drawn to the works of literature that define their time – from Homer to Asimov, Hamlet to Beowulf – so that it is writers who I most believe to be the foremost chroniclers of the human race. Without writing, in fact, there would be no history, and much of what we know would long ago have been forgotten.
CA: What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
RSJ: Incredibly erratic. It would be wonderful to be an author full-time and have a steady writing schedule, but I can barely imagine that, so unlike it is my real life. As it is, I write when I can, so that I will go through periods when I have no energy at all left after work and get no writing done for days and months (and sometimes years); and then I’ll get a break or find some inspiration and I’ll write in every spare moment I can manage for a string of weeks and months, barely surfacing for air. Fortunately, I do now have a job with summers off, so that’s become a major creative time for me of late. But oftentimes, when it’s down to rewrites and editing (or publishing and promoting), it’s really just a matter of putting in your time like any other job, plowing through a few hours at a stint until it’s done, whether there’s energy or not. That’s one the biggest surprises I’ve discovered about the writing process that I really didn’t anticipate: a lot of it is just plain hard work, choosing words and piecing sentences together, tedious beyond belief when you’re faced with rearranging 360,000 words as I was with this one. But, in the end you have this world where nothing was before, and that makes it all worth while. It’s like giving birth, but to something solely of your own creation, emerging from your mind and soul to live for all of time.
CA: Your book is about to be sent into the reader world, what is one word that describes how you feel?
RSJ: Trepidation. But mixed with great excitement and anticipation as you wait for the initial response. One word can’t really cover what you feel, there are so many factors involved at that point: enormous relief at being done with it, and that sense of accomplishment is very buoyant and ethereal. But then it’s like rocks being tied about your ankles to bring you back to earth when you send it out, because what you’re bound to get for quite some time – at least if you pursue traditional publishing avenues – is rejection, and lots of it, from people who won’t even read your book. And just when you thought you were done writing, you suddenly have to come up with this wealth of promotional material: queries and blurbs and outlines and letters and synopses and proposals and tons of research into agents and editors and publishers, and all for nothing for the vast majority of us. Writing the thing, it turns out, is a very small part of becoming an author. But having done it, I can say that there is really nothing to compare to it, in my experience at any rate.
CA: What was your biggest challenge in writing your book(s)?
RSJ: Overcoming my own doubts, mostly. There were a lot of challenges, not least of which was the fact that this was an adaptation, so that I felt I had a lot to live up to. And there was an enormous amount of research to be done, which took quite a few years in itself. But really, what blocked me most and caused the most grief throughout the long and grueling process that this turned into (ten years from start to finish), were nothing but my own misgivings. Unlike most authors, I had never written so much as a short story before, so I was really starting from ground zero. It was a ridiculous project to undertake, but my experience in college English Lit courses (along with a few professors) prompted me to think that I could do it. At least some of the time, that is. But it was enough.
CA: What do you like to do when you're not writing?
RSJ: Sleep! Actually most of the time I read and listen to music. That’s pretty well how I spend my time. Never too many books, never enough time to read them all. However, I tend to spend as much time daydreaming, as I have one of those minds that likes to wander, as most writers do, I imagine. When I read it stimulates my thought processes, and suddenly hours will go by while I’m staring out the window with the book still at the same page. I get a lot of good story ideas that way, and it’s how I tend to work out my plot complications when I’m stuck.
CA: How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
RSJ: This is my first that’s finished, so I guess that narrows the choices down as to which is my favorite. I’m very excited to write this next one, though, because I think it will be a very different experience from the first. With The Saga of Beowulf, because it was an attempt at doing a thorough and accurate adaptation, I was very restricted in where the story could go, so that greatly limited my free writing, and every choice I made had to be based on a number of criteria not dealt with in pure creative writing. The next one, The Jester’s Quest, will be a very open-ended adventure tale, a hero’s quest type of road trip. And although I know the overall story arc and where it will all end up, there’s a lot of latitude (literally) that I can cover in my literary wanderings. I will also be writing this one online – or more accurately, posting my writing sessions each day on my blog (at http://authoradventures.blogspot.com/), so that readers can follow along and comment on it as it grows, and in so doing, very likely effect how it turns out. So join me there for a fun-filled adventure, and see what writing a book is like!
CA: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
RSJ: Definitely from my imagination. I’m sure there are a lot of real-life elements that I borrow from unconsciously, of course, since writing is really reenactment in a lot of ways (or “acting out” as parents like to call it). But I didn’t base them on my friends or anyone I know specifically. And again, since this was an adaptation, many of my characters came pre-made, so to speak, if very thinly sketched. The vast majority of them I had to create wholesale to populate the world. So I built my characters based on the needs of the story rather than building the story to fit characters I wanted to write about. At least for this one, anyway. That might change if I write a true historical work. But with Beowulf there is nothing at all known about the few historical characters involved, in terms of their personalities and whatnot, and even very little about their activities, so that I had to make them up almost entirely from scratch. I had a good idea what I wanted from the outset, and the story fleshed them out as they made their way through it. You hear authors often talk about characters coming to life and taking over their own story, and it’s true, and very weird when it occurs. Whole characters will emerge fully formed from nowhere just as if you turned a corner or walked through a door and there they were, like in real life. So you say hello and let them in.
CA: Do you have any advice for the aspiring writers out there?
RSJ: Good lord, no! Don’t listen to me, I don’t know what I’m doing. Honestly, though, I would say to read: read all the time, read tons of stuff, but most of all read what’s good. Read the classics. “Good stuff in, good stuff out,” I like to say. Sort of a “you are what you eat” philosophy for the mind. We are all very much the products of our environment, and if you read crap that’s what you’ll think good writing is. Be critical of everything your read, and especially your own work. Develop your ability to discern what is good writing, and adhere to it at all cost.
CA: How can a reader contact you or purchase your books?
RSJ: I have both a website and a blog, as well as MySpace and Facebook pages, so you can look me up. My blog link is http://authoradventures.blogspot.com/ and the website addy is http://www.fantasycastlebooks.com/, where you can find a vast wealth of resources for your further enjoyment of my debut novel, including free downloads of the first six chapters (the first part of which is also online) and audio readings of several pages, as well as artwork, extensive adaptation notes, a deleted sequence, and a “Norse decoder” for two bits I put into the book in Nordic Runes, but intentionally gave no translation for. You can print out your own bookmarks, too, by the way, with artwork I did for the cover. There’s a page with links to many of the places you can buy the book online, in either print or eBook form, but Amazon has always got the best price so far as I can tell.
CA: Is there anything you would like to add?
RSJ: Your blog rocks! Everyone should have a feed to Crystal’s fifteen blogs. Leave your comments and I’ll answer them as quickly as I can. And if you read my book, please tell me what you think of it, as readers are the “weighers of a writer’s soul,” as it were. Feel free to contact me at any time, either at my blog or through the contact link on my website. I look forward to hearing your responses.
CA: I interrupt lol, I don’t have 15 blogs only 3… but who knows maybe I’ll create another one just because I can… lol!
RSJ:Oh, and by the way, we’re doing a drawing here on Crystal’s killer blog for a copy of my book, drawn from among the comments left here to this interview, one week from today. Only one entry per commenter, but feel free to comment many times. Also if you leave a comment on either of my sites saying that you read the interview at Crystal’s place I’ll count that too, but still just once per entrant. And for anyone who leaves a comment, but doesn’t win the book, I will be more than happy to send you an autographed bookmark if you like, just for being a good sport and reading all this drivel.
CA: Thanks so much Scot for an awesome interview and for the great giveaway! I’ve told you why Beowulf sticks in my mind, and one of these days I’ll make sure to read your book… but from all the sites I’ve seen you on, it must be really good! Now everyone, like Scot said, he’s going to be giving a way a copy of his book, The Saga of Beowolf to those that leave a comment or question here. The winner will be announced on Monday Jan. 12, so make sure to leave a way that Scot or I can contact you. No way to contact, no win.
Happy New Year to you all, may 2009 be the best!