Welcome to the three hundred and second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre novelist Joseph Devon. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Joseph. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Joseph: Well I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Atlanta, moved to New York and have lived here ever since. As for how I came to be a writer… frankly I’m not sure I’m there yet. I don’t think it’s a place you get to, I think it’s a skill you keep honing. I’m always trying new things and trying projects that are outside of my comfort zone. I have a lurking feeling that when you decide that you “know” how to write, you stop trying as hard and your work suffers. As for the less pretentious sounding answer, though, I had an assignment in Junior High English class to write a short story. It was the first time I had tried writing fiction and I fell in love with it instantly.
Morgen: You’re right. I’ve heard top authors say they’re still learning. We’re like brain surgeons; there are always new techniques. I fell in love with writing at evening class – you just do, don’t you. What genre do you write?
Joseph: I’m actually all over the place with genres. My books tend to be larger stories that encompass a few different characters’ lives and weave them together, so I think that’s the common theme. But I’ve written urban fantasy, which is Probability Angels, and YA Literary and romance and horror, and humor and suspense, and anything else I can think of. I like to try new things.
Morgen: Me too. I’m so glad that I don’t have to write to form, and it means I don’t get bored. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Joseph: Oh lord no. How much editing a piece of work needs does not seem to decrease with practice. I think how much editing and rewriting is needed is a lot more dependent on the work itself. Some things just pop out pretty much fully formed. It’s a very relaxed process at that point. Some works, though, you have to wrestle to the ground. And those need a lot of rewriting. Actually sometimes I wonder if the amount of rewriting needed is related to how unwilling I am in my first draft to just let the story be what the story needs to be. The story tends to win out in the end anyway so you’d think I’d learn not to fight it with my preconceived notions of what I want it to be, but that seems to be a difficult lesson to learn. Oh, and there’s also the fact that your rewriting skills definitely become better and more powerful the more you work at them. So actually I think maturing as a writer might mean more rewriting, more loving polish and attention to tiny details and restructuring scenes and all the stuff that I just can’t do on a first draft.
Morgen: “loving polish” absolutely, and I love the image of wrestling your writing to the ground. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Joseph: Wow. Now that’s an interesting question. The second part I mean. As for the first part, I’ve written both in first and third person and I like them both. They each have their place. Obviously in first person you get a lot more insight into the narrator, one of my favorite things I’ve ever written was a short story called Black Eyed Susan where a married couple is telling the story of how they met and it keeps switching from one of them narrating in first person to the other. That worked really well in that story. However for something like Probability Angels where you have so many different threads of story being woven together it would be really tough to use first person, unless you did it for like seven different characters. I think at that point it’s best to just use third person. Now as for second person…man what would that even be? “You walk into the room and you see a dog?” Something like that? That could be super interesting but, no, I’ve never tried it before.
Morgen: That’s it – spot on. I love it and most of my writing at the moment is coming out in that (see Tuesday Tales). It doesn’t suit everyone but if you would like to have a go you could try some of my second-person Sentence Starts). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Joseph: Of course I’ve had rejections. Do you know authors out there who don’t? I’d be pretty fascinated to meet them.
Morgen: I’ve had a handful here actually. They’ve either been very fortunate with what they’ve sent out or they’ve not submitting so that definitely helps.
Joseph: Lord, when I first moved to New York I used to hang my rejection slips on the door of my room. I papered over the whole thing a few times. When I moved I couldn’t even get them all down and managed to do a number on the door’s paint job trying to peel them all off. After that I decided not to ruin any more doors and just threw rejection slips in the trash. I don’t know of any great way to deal with rejection, but I do know that the more you write, the more stories you have out there in any form, the more fans you slowly build up, the less those rejections sting. But, yes. My rejections were so overwhelming that I ruined a door with them.
Morgen: That’s hilarious. Well, not at the time, probably but you know… Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Joseph: I strive to make my books available in as many formats as possible. I don’t really see it as a matter of one format being better than the others, I think it’s a matter of choice and I want my readers to be able to experience my work in whatever way they want. Currently that means paperback and in, I believe, every major e-book store for every major e-reading device. As for me, I only read on my phone now. Three years ago if you had told me I’d be reading books on my phone I’d have thought you were insane. But I bought a Kindle around then and it promptly sat in its box next to my couch for months. Finally I took it out, begrudgingly, and charged it up and read one book on it. I was hooked immediately. It has a lot of advantages in my mind. And then I got a new smart phone and someone pointed out that I could read on there and, again, I thought I’d hate it. But I don’t mind reading on a smaller screen at all and the ability to always have all of my books in my pocket, to never have to think, “Should I take my Kindle with me?” when I walk out the door? That’s huge. It outweighs everything else for me.
Morgen: I have a BlackBerry and haven’t read anything on that yet but I do like my Kindle. I’ve only had it a month or so and whilst it’s not changed my life (I still read paperbacks at home), like you, it’s great knowing I have 400+ books with me for the size / weight of a paperback. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Joseph: Probability Angels is the first book in a trilogy. The second book, Persistent Illusions, goes on tour in a few weeks. And currently I’m doing research for the third book, which I’ll start writing as soon as I feel I’ve got enough of a grasp on my topics.
Morgen: Ah, the beloved research (can you hear the hint of sarcasm?). Do you have to do much research?
Joseph: I do as much research as I possibly can. I’m always terrified of a know-it-all out there reading a minor scene in one of my books and calling me out on using the wrong type of bird for the region the scene is in or something. So I wind up reading almost all non-fiction for months before I start writing something new. The odd thing is that I only use it as a touchstone. There’s always a moment when I know that, in order to serve my story correctly, I have to take a leap away from the research and trust my gut. So basically I do a ton of research so that tiny minor details are, hopefully, correct but then wind up making up tons of stuff. I never said it was a good system.
Morgen: I’ve heard a couple of authors say they’ve been caught out. Historical novelist Simon Scarrow said (at Oundle Lit Fest last year) that he’d proved a queryer (clearly no such word but hey, we’re allowed to make them up, aren’t we) wrong but Alexander McCall Smith (who were there last night, coincidentally) was proven wrong. So it happens to the best. At least with eBooks we can go and change our errors. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Joseph: Every author gets tired. Every author hits the middle third of their book and wonders why they should keep going. Every author has writers block. Every author sits down at their keyboard and gets filled with dread at some point. These are not problems specific to you. These are not signs that you are doing something wrong. They are, in fact, signs that you are just like every author you admire and read. We’re human and writing a book is a giant task and it’s just going to have its bad days. Don’t let them get inside your head. Treat them like bad days and move on. We’ve all been there.
Morgen: Ah yes, the saggy middle. Writing a book is a giant task and I love the fact that 300 words a day equates to a 100,000 word novel in a year (109,500 actually) so if someone thinks of it like that, it’s not so scary. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Joseph: “Chop wood; carry water.” It’s an old Zen quote… and all Zen quotes are open to all sorts of interpretations. That’s part of the fun of them. But I just like the clean quick orders of that phrase. Chop wood; carry water. As someone who spends a lot of time inside his own head overcomplicating things when I haven’t even started them it helps to have this phrase on hand to remind me to actually do some real work first and see if complications even show up. A lot of times they work themselves out. It’s best to just go chop wood and carry water. Best to do and let actual problems stop you than the ones inside your head.
Morgen: Exactly. It’s easy to worry and more difficult to tell yourself (or in my case, my mother!) not to but things do have a habit of working out, don’t they. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Joseph: I tend to sign up for every social networking site possible. Most of them I don’t find very useful. Facebook used to be very important but I find myself more confused there than anything else nowadays. Twitter, however, where I’m @josephdevon, I find invaluable. It’s a great place to network, share work, chat with fellow creatives, meet new people, have fun, tell jokes, read links. Twitter is the perfect Internet cocktail party and I love it.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. I’m sure only having 140 characters to get your point across has made some authors’ editing skills. Facebook I like too as it seems more intimate. And LinkedIn is definitely a great site for problem airing and sharing (and solving) – I’ve met some great authors on there. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Joseph: My website has all the information you could possibly want plus my blog and contests. The site itself is http://josephdevon.com. The Probability Angels page is here. And then there’s short stories and contests. There’s tons more on there. Definitely poke around.
Morgen: Ooh contests, I like the sound of that. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Joseph: Do you view yourself and your blog as an important tool for the future of publishing? Or do you just love books and writing and are following your heart? Or is it a mix of the two?
Morgen: What a great question. I think that publishing will tick along nicely if I wasn’t here (I know what you meant :)) but I do love being a part of it. It’s a really exciting time to be an author right now and I love the fact that we have more of a say (or all the say) in our books. I started this blog (because I’d heard it was a good idea) just under a year ago and it’s taken over my life (literally) and although it’s hard work, I’m loving every minute. And yes, definitely following my heart. Regular readers (and writing friends) will know how much I’m following my heart – I quit my job last October and due to a variety of misfortunes trying to find a replacement will finally be leaving this month and although part of me is still cautious as it’s been so long coming but the rest of me is wearing the biggest grin. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Joseph: I run a few contests that I’d love your readers to know about. The first is called The Great Typo Hunt. Basically any reader who spots a typo in my fiction that still exists in my master copy wins a signed book of their choice. The second is my Annual Fan Art Contest. There are some great prizes that winners can choose from by submitting art based on my books.
Morgen: I love the idea of the Great Typo Hunt. I’d like to think that anyone spotting a mistake in my writing would tell me so I can correct it quickly. Thank you, Joseph.
My interview with Joseph, and several other authors before him, was brought to you in collaboration with Nurture Your Books.
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