Welcome to the one hundred and sixteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with NaNoWriMo novelist, short story author and musician (and my first ‘red pen’ podcast guinea pig – he passed with flying colors) J D Mader. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, JD. Nice to chat with you properly (outside LinkedIn discussions). Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
JD: I like fishing and don’t do nearly enough of it. I have a wonderful wife and a brilliant 3 year old daughter. I am a little over 6’1”, but I tell people I am 6’2” because I like even numbers – this minor deception shames me.
Morgen: I’m 5’9½ but say 5’10” for the same reason so I guess I’m half deceptive. 🙂
JD: I collect pocket knives – mostly old American pocket knives. I spent my early years (and learned to talk) in England, so there are old tapes of me talking about sledging in a cute British accent.
Morgen: Oh wow, I didn’t know that. Did I? How… cute. 🙂
JD: I also went to a British public school and wore shorts and a little cap and sang God Save The Queen every morning. I never go anywhere without a pocket knife and hand sanitizer.
JD: I started writing because my older sister was (and is) very good at it.
Morgen: Ooh… another potential interviewee? 🙂
JD: I always liked reading…my family is very book oriented. I wrote stories when I was little. My mom still has some of them. I started writing professionally when I was 15. Our town newspaper wanted an athlete to write a story about the school team (it was soccer, I believe…maybe football). At any rate, they liked the story and asked me to cover all the high school sports. I soon started covering other events around town, doing photography, and writing half a dozen articles a week. Summer came and I suggested they pay me. They agreed. For the rest of High School, I worked for the paper covering everything and anything from professional sports to local politics. I even convinced them to give me a weekly column where I basically ranted about whatever was on my mind. I am still not sure how I was able to pull this off.
Morgen: It must have worked if it got past week one. 🙂
JD: At this same time, I wrote a lot of music. I played in a band called The Patsies. This was in San Diego in the early 90s and the music scene was pretty cool. Back when Blink was just Blink without the 182. We played shows and practiced and wrote a ton of music and weren’t very good. Our lyrics were ahead of our musical ability. I played guitar and sang. My friend Pat Renker played Bass and was the lead singer. My friend James played drums. Our friend Kory played rhythm guitar near the end…Pat is still my best friend. More like a brother (except we don’t fight)…we have been writing songs together ever since – half my life. We call ourselves ‘The Flying Black Hats’ and you can find us on Last.fm and Bandcamp.
Morgen: and on the internet perhaps? 🙂
JD: So, I was all set to be a journalist of some sort. Or a musician. I went to college and majored in Journalism. One year was enough for me to realize that I wanted to write fiction, so I transferred schools and attended San Francisco State University – at the time (and possibly still) they had one of the best Creative Writing Departments in the country. And it was cheap. So I worked in coffee shops, played music, drank a lot, wrote a lot, and somehow managed to graduate with an English / Creative Writing degree. I stopped playing live because I have the stage presence of a rock and I chose poor techniques to get myself in ‘playing mode’. I worked for years until I felt I had a story ready that was worthy of publication. “Dinner with the Mercers” was accepted by the Berkeley Fiction Review and the Chicago Quarterly Review. It was published in the former because their letter came first.
I have written a collection of stories which can be found on my website: www.jdmader.com. There are also links to some essays and several albums worth of music. I have written three novels and self – published one: Joe Café. I am planning on self publishing the short stories as a collection and writing a book about motorcycling. Right now, I am doing everything through blogs and the Kindle platform. I may publish the two other novels I have written. I am learning.
Morgen: Uh oh that answers half a dozen questions in one. 🙂
JD: To pay the bills, I work with special needs kids. I was fortunate enough to spend six years working with low income, minority students in San Francisco – part of this included conducting writing workshops. It was an honor, and humbling, to witness kids discover their own voices while working on my own writing.
Morgen: But very rewarding I guess. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
JD: I hate to say this because it sounds terribly posh and pretentious, but I would probably define my writing as “literary”. That makes me feel dirty, but I think it is the most apt label.
JD: I write very character driven, psychological pieces. Rhythm and beautiful prose are very important to me (in what I read and write). I strive to write honest things above all else, and sometimes that takes me to some uncomfortable places. Not always.
Others usually use the word “dark” to describe my writing. Not “vampire” dark – more introspective and kind of depressive. My sister and my Mom are constantly urging me to write happy, funny stories, but I don’t see the point. Humans are flawed and ugly and broken…and that makes them beautiful. That is what I attempt to capture.
Morgen: I think we have a dark side and mine comes out very willingly. 🙂
JD: That said, Joe Café is a noir-esque story of murder and abduction, but it is more a series of character studies, following those affected by one gruesome event. It is definitely a ‘genre’ novel in some ways. In some ways it is not. I have written in many genres. My first novel, The Clear, was a post-apocalyptic tale. My third, The Biker (a novel I wrote during national novel writing month – 50K words in one month) is a reflection on Louis L’amour style storytelling, but set in San Francisco and with motorcycles instead of horses. It turned out pretty well for one month’s worth of writing. I may publish it in the future as well.
Morgen: Ah, the lovely http://nanowrimo.org. I’ve done it three times (2008-2010) and plan to again this year. Not sure how I’ll fit it in but somehow I just do. Please, anyone who wants me to do something for them don’t say “whenever you like” give me a deadline, you’ll get it in the back of beyond otherwise. 🙂
JD: Regardless of the ‘genre lens’, however, the constant is deep character development, good description, good prose, and a little humor. At least, that is my goal.
Morgen: That’s a pretty good goal to have. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
JD: All of it. I am terrible at this part. I write a lot. But I have trouble with the act of publishing, submitting, marketing. It is something I am trying to learn about. It does not come naturally to me.
Morgen: Me neither. I have a friend, Ingrid (who married an American and now lives in Washington) could sell anything to anyone but I’m rubbish – if someone doesn’t want something I say “OK thanks very much anyway”, I guess because I don’t like the hard sell. I may feel differently when my eBooks are ready but I doubt it. I’d still do the 90% help and guidance vs. 10% “here are my books” because I’ve de-followed enough people on Twitter who have nothing to say but where their books are available from, it gets boring. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
JD: Not really. Or sort of. My name is James Daniel Mader. I am called ‘Dan’, but write under the name ‘JD Mader’.
Morgen: Yes, ‘not really / sort of’ sounds a fair description. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
JD: No. And no. I think with the trends of self-publishing and social networking being what they are, that agents are going to become extinct for most writers. I have been trying to think of this model lately as I did playing in punk rock bands. We made our own tapes to sell. We made our own stickers. We made our own patches. We set up shows. We made connections. We did not have a manager. Would I like an agent? Sure. But I don’t see it happening. It doesn’t seem relevant.
Morgen: Snap. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
JD: I do read eBooks. I have had a Kindle for years and love it. Joe Café is currently only available on Kindle. The books I am planning to publish will be on the Kindle. At least initially. I have very little time to work on my writing with work and a kid, so I’m trying to test the waters. And Kindle is the big dog right now.
Morgen: That’s what I was planning but hear such good things about Smashwords (which has various outlets) that I’ve registered with them too, but I know how the time thing goes; as long as my editor Rachel has something to be looking at I’m not too worried but know I should have something to ping back when she’s throws what she has at me.
JD: So far, my experience has been good. I have OCD and stress about the formatting and publishing process a lot, so I enlisted the help of Brian at coversareus. He was super helpful and is a really good guy. I plan to work with him again if he’ll have me and recommend him whole-heartedly. http://kindlefromword.com – you can check out a book he did to help those less neurotic than me.
Morgen: Yes, please do. And I’m sure he will have you if you’re recommending him. 🙂
JD: As far as sales…I’ve sold more than I thought I would, and I hope it continues.
Morgen: Yay! 🙂
JD: A lot of positive responses, too. That means a lot to me.
Morgen: Another yay! I’ve realised from having a blog and reading other blogs that most people just read it and move on (as I certainly used to do a lot, I’m better at hovering to say something now). I love it when I get comments on my blog especially when it’s for another author’s contribution so I can email them and tell them. 🙂
JD: Money isn’t the driving force. If you add up all the time I put into the novel I’m making .03 cents an hour…maybe.
Morgen: .03 cents more than me at the moment… but then it would help to have something for sale (shouldn’t be too long). 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
JD: Having the first story I ever submitted accepted by two literary magazines was one of the greatest days of my life – I spent a year writing it. I know how rare that is. And plenty of rejection followed. Acceptance always feels good. Literary or otherwise.
Morgen: Ditto. First submission accepted then lots of rejections. One of my Monday nighters (hi Denny) takes forever crafting her stories but she does well in competitions so it’s clearly worth it. So your rejections, how do you deal with them?
JD: Any writer who hasn’t had a ton of rejections is either very attractive or doing it wrong.
Morgen: Or like me, never sends anything out… well, that’s not strictly true (29 rejections since 2008).
JD: I try to enjoy them. It is a connection even if it is not the desired connection. It is proof that I am being proactive instead of retreating into my writing shell. Sometimes it hurts… most of the time I process it quickly and move on.
Morgen: Best plan. What are you working on at the moment / next?
JD: Other than managing and marketing what I’ve got going, my next big plan is the motorcycle book.
Morgen: Oh wow.
JD: It will be fiction and character based and much in the style I usually write in, but with a theme. I’m kind of doing it for my riding club, the PPMC. For my brothers. I think they will get a kick out of it and that will make me happy.
I am going to do a short movie with my brother in law, Ryan Calavano. He is extremely talented. I’ll always write music.
Morgen: Write fiction, music, teach – you didn’t miss the talent pot on the way either. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
JD: I write every day. I aim for 500 words. John Fante taught me that. The most I consistently wrote was when I was doing NANOWRIMO… my goal was to start the month with a vague idea and genuinely write and edit an entire novel in a month. I did it. 2K words a day minimum. It resulted in a much more linear novel than my others. I’m happy with the way it turned out. The most I’ve EVER written in a day? I have no idea. A lot. And it probably sucked.
Morgen: Targets like NaNo are great discipline – as is http://storyaday.org which I did for the first time this May. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
JD: I have never had that problem with fiction or music. I don’t know why. And I probably shouldn’t jinx myself. I have plenty of other blocks, but the words usually come when I want them, too. I feel very lucky about that.
Morgen: Me too, head full of ideas. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
JD: I do not plot my stories… with rare exceptions. For shorter stories, I usually ‘write’ in my head and then get the words on paper. For all the novels and longer stories, I let the characters do most of the writing. It seems to work out that way. I’m not a big ‘plan ahead’ type in any area of my life. Much to my wife’s chagrin.
Morgen: 🙂 You just mentioned characters, do you have a method for creating them, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
JD: Not really. I am terrible with names.
Morgen: Me too, I just want to call everyone Elliot at the moment (Elliot Smith or John Elliot – handy :)).
JD: Characters, I am better with. Sometimes they are inspired by a real person. Usually they grow from splinters of my own mind. I think I am definitely part of every character I create. As far as believability, I really try to study people, including myself. And I am very interested in psychology. And I never try to force the character to fit the story. The character has to behave how they should behave in the story or it rings false.
Morgen: Absolutely. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
JD: I usually send what I write to my parents, my sister, Pat (the other half of The Flying Black Hats), and show it to my wife. They all respond in their own ways and it is always helpful. I am starting a writing partnership with my friend Ryan Novack. He is a gifted writer who I went to school with and have reconnected with lately. We see things very similarly when it comes to writing. So, he will be in the group now, too.
Morgen: Ooh, another writer – would he like to do an interview… a spotlight perhaps and / or guest blog? 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
JD: Generally, it comes out pretty well formed. But that is because I do a lot of editing and arranging in my mind before actually writing. I have always had the ability to remember words… song lyrics… bits of novels.
Morgen: Oh you’re lucky, I’m useless at that but then it’s all practice and I don’t memorise so that doesn’t help (like not getting published because I don’t submit). 🙂
JD: I can recite a lot of my stories from memory probably. Grammar and typos, that’s a different story and when the OCD comes in very handy.
Morgen: How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
JD: I don’t do much research because I don’t write about things I don’t know about already. I have received feedback from lots of people. Usually it is good. It is often helpful. I like to hear that people like my writing, but from a practical standpoint, critiques are much more valuable. I have only ever encountered really mean, petty feedback once.
Morgen: Once too many. 😦 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
JD: I get a big glass of water. I open my laptop. I write. Then I go back and see how it reads. I wish I could say I had some cool ritual like lighting candles or listening to death metal, but it’s pretty straightforward.
Morgen: Candles aren’t so good for your eyes, although they can smell lovely. You mentioned your laptop, do you solely use that or do you ever write on paper?
JD: In the writing workshops that I have taught, I write with the students. By hand. Lyrics, I write by hand, usually. Otherwise, I always type. I used to use a typewriter. Now I use my laptop. My handwriting is ridiculously bad.
Morgen: Mine’s pretty good but slow. I hadn’t realised how slow until I started doing less of it and so much more on the computer. Every time I do one of our Monday or Tuesday night prompts I remember how slow although I still manage to hit the second A4 lined page in the 10 or 15 minutes I give / am given. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
JD: I don’t need silence, but I don’t like a lot of noise. I generally write somewhere quiet. Ambient noise from an open window is good. Coffee shops are distracting. Same with music. When I was learning how to write dialogue, I spent a lot of time sitting in coffee shops and transcribing conversations… eavesdropping… getting a feel for the way real people speak. That goes into the character thing, too. The characters can’t talk the same way. That drives me crazy as a reader. But, usually, I like it quiet-ish.
Morgen: 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
JD: I’ve done them all. Second person can work really well very rarely.
Morgen: I agree (but it’s still my favourite).
JD: I used to write a lot more first person than I do now. I think as you develop as a writer you tend to gravitate towards the third. At least I did. First is too close for most things… for me.
Morgen: I’ve heard (from agents and on the grapevine) that first person’s been done too much recently (and in present tense) and agents and readers are preferring third person but I can’t see fppt never being popular. Speaking of being unpopular, do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
JD: On Joe Café, I used an epilogue and I still question the decision. I am not a big fan of them in general. Same for prologues. Seems like a fancy name for ‘chapter’ to me.
Morgen: 🙂 I’ve done the same but not published it yet so the jury’s out. I guess I’ll see when it goes to Rachel. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
JD: Certainly. I have many songs and stories that will never be finished. That don’t deserve to be finished. But not because they are too personal or anything like that. If I think it is good, I will go with it. If I think it is crap, it stays on the computer or goes in the trash.
Morgen: Oh not the trash, even my trashiest work has got to stay… even if just to prove how far I’ve come, and believe me I’ve come a long way (baby). 🙂 Ooh, just fancy some Fatboy Slim… back in a tick… ooh that’s better. Sorry about that. You were saying…
JD: I have bared my soul and confronted some pretty intense parts of my life in my writing – but it is my life. I have made peace with it. I regret that it sometimes affects others.
Morgen: Oh. 😦 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
JD: My favourite aspect of my writing life is that it keeps me sane. When I don’t write for a while I get weird.
Morgen: I should get weird but do get frustrated. For chunks of time the only writing I do are the Monday (every) and Tuesday (monthly) nights and then I don’t carry on with them (note to self: carry on with them).
JD: And I get immense joy from creating. My least favourite is that I feel the need for recognition. I wish I didn’t. Philosophically, I believe everything I write would be best shared with a few close friends and family and then burned. I like temporal art. Sand castles. But I’m weak. I need that pat on the back sometimes.
Morgen: OK here we go… ah, that’s better. 🙂 If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
JD: I’m surprised I stuck with it. It’s been one of the few constants in my life. I can’t imagine life without it.
Morgen: Me neither, it’s all I want to do now and so I’m going to succeed… in whatever way.
JD: That’s strange to me. I would hate to never fish again. Or never ride a motorcycle. Or never play guitar. But I could do it. Never write again? The idea terrifies me.
Morgen: In theory (hopefully) it’s only going to be time that will stop you and it sounds like you find it. I’d say it’s the thing that most writers struggle with, more so than writer’s block (which it looks like neither of us suffer with). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
JD: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Becoming a good writer takes a long time. Don’t be too easy on yourself either.
Morgen: Good plan, be somewhere in between on yourself. 🙂 I’ve been writing on and off for six years (more off than on in the first three) but really only feel now that I know what I’m talking about and write well enough to inflict it on the world. 🙂 What do you like to read?
JD: I like so many different authors. I recommend that everyone read Frank Conroy’s memoir, Stop Time. That’s my easy way out of that one.
Morgen: 🙂 Not heard of him (maybe it’s a British thing). What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
JD: Aside from what I have mentioned, I try to be a good Dad. My daughter is amazing.
Morgen: And coincidentally it’s her birthday today… happy birthday… er, JD’s daughter. Hang on a tick… Francine (thank you Facebook photos). 🙂 Oh and I’ve seen one of your FB videos with her, she is so cute.
JD: She is the smartest person I know. I want to be the best Dad that I can be. I like to learn. That sounds stupid and elitist, but I really do. Whether it is about plumbing or computer programming, if I am learning, I am happy.
Morgen: That’s how I got into creative writing. The short version: I moved here, knew no-one, went to evening classes; languages (German and French) and computing, then spotted creative writing in the prospectus and six years later here we are. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
JD: Some of the groups on Linkedin have been helpful to me. Some haven’t.
Morgen: We do tend to go off at a tangent don’t we (not like me at all :)) but yeah, generally they’re great – I love seeing the emails come in.
JD: Books… Stephen King’s book is great.
Morgen: ‘On writing’ has been mentioned here more than any other (note to self: you’ve had it for months, read it!).
JD: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is probably the best I have found. I have used both with students. And I refer to them often.
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
JD: I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, USA. It is a great place to be a writer. But with the internet, it doesn’t matter so much anymore.
Morgen: And where NaNoWriMo started. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
JD: Linkedin. Facebook. Twitter. They are helpful sometimes, but very time consuming.
Morgen: Tell me about it. It’s now early Sunday morning and I think I’m going to have to switch them all off to get any work (editing) done today… but I love them all. 🙂
JD: I find the motorcycle forum http://www.klrforum.com a lot more helpful sometimes. They are an amazing group of people. My handle is ‘Lockjaw’. I have written a lot of posts on there… I am the top poster, actually – and I will get massive amounts of grief for mentioning that.
JD: When I published Joe Café, the first people outside my inner circle to embrace the book were my bike buddies.
Morgen: Ah… I’m not a biker (and not a big fan of them, sorry but lost two friends on them… to be fair it was the car’s fault both times but even so…) but I do get the impression it’s a family-like community (like LinkedIn can be). Where can we find out about you and your work?
JD: http://www.jdmader.com. That links to a few blogs, music, and the novel.
Morgen: And I spotted http://theflyingblackhats.bandcamp.com in a LinkedIn comment. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
JD: Self-publishing is the future. It is a good time to be a writer in much the same way it was a good time to be a punk rocker in 1977 (the year I was born). The rules are changing and the cover charge to get into the club is getting a lot cheaper.
Morgen: And a “yay” for that. 🙂 Spring chicken (I’m 1967). Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
JD: I’m quite fond of birds. As a child I only wanted bird books as gifts. This is relevant to nothing writing related.
Morgen: Ah but you wanted books as a child. 🙂 Is there a question you’d like to ask me? 🙂
JD: You are incredibly generous to do this. Is it rewarding enough to make up for the time it takes?
Morgen: Absolutely. Worth every second. OK, so I could be spending it writing but writing isn’t all that’s about er… writing. 🙂 While I’m meeting other writers (which I love) and learning new things (mostly great websites), I’m also subtly building an audience at which to (again subtly) contact when my books are ready for sale (they’ll likely mostly be £0.99 eBooks). 🙂 Speaking of putting your writing to good use, this interview is nearly 4000 words – shame it’s not fiction or I could have red penned that too. 🙂 Which reminds me (as if I’d forget) to say a big “thank you” again for being my red pen critique fortnightly podcast guinea pig. You passed with flying colours. And yes, I’d love your other 47 stories, just in case I get no other takers in the next two years. 🙂 Thank you JD.
JD: THANKS MORGEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Morgen: 🙂 I then invited JD to include an excerpt of his writing and this is from the story ‘Time and Life’.
At times I feel as though I have lived too many lives. I have tried to be too many things. And it has left me with nothing. A wisp of smoke. A snippet of conversation. I have been the fly on too many walls. Things get mixed up. I tell lies. Sometimes I am not even aware that I’m doing it. My brother was older, and that is why I started to disappear. He was bigger. He absorbed more light and sound. I hid behind curtains. In the living room. In my mind. I made up games to play by myself. But I was happy.
JD Mader is a teacher and writer/musician based in San Francisco. He has been fortunate enough to encounter many giving and inspiring people in his life. He hopes to repay the debt. And to make enough money with his writing to buy a house.
Morgen: I love a man with a sense of humour and never-ending optimism. 🙂
Update 2012: Wow! That seems like SO long ago. A lot has happened. Let’s see, to make it current. Joe Cafe hasn’t changed (although I have 52 reviews, avg 4.5 stars). I published The Biker on Kindle and in paperback. I am a staff writer at Indies Unlimited. I started the blog BlergPop (edgy and NOT PG) with two friends. I write full time now. I co-wrote Bad Book with Stephen Hise and KS Brooks. I freelance now. Still update www.jdmader.com pretty regularly. Here are some links:
Thank you, JD. 🙂
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