Why don’t we start off by you telling us a little about yourself?
I am a Portland native who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the third oldest of six kids. Before turning to writing novels full time, I reported and edited for several newspapers in Oregon and Washington and worked as a reference librarian in Montana. I recently moved to Alabama, where my wife teaches fourth grade through Teach for America.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like to fish, cook, make homemade beer, walk my dog, and travel to interesting places, especially those that are close to home.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I picked up a pencil in the first grade. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. That said, I didn’t consider writing professionally until I was in college and didn’t (seriously) consider writing novels until just a few years ago.
What does your family think of your writing?
My wife and three grown children are supportive and are glad that I have a “hobby.”
What do you think makes a good story?
In my opinion, there are three essentials to a good story: sufficient conflict, likeable characters, and a setting that draws you in.
Is there a subject you would never write about as author? If so, what is it?
I like to think I could write about anything, but I’m not sure I could. I would have a difficult time completing a book about a child facing a life-threatening illness or a similarly dire situation. I think it would be too depressing and emotionally draining.
Do you create an outline before writing?
I create a detailed outline before writing a word.
The Northwest Passage and American Journey are two great time-travel series. How are you able to make history come to life the way you do?
I invest a lot not only in my characters but also in my settings. I research the times and places extensively and pay attention to detail. In the first of her seven rules for writing historical fiction, author Elizabeth Crook advises writers to “sweat the small stuff.” I think that’s great advice, because historical fiction is different than other genres. You have to create a world that no longer exists – and, to do that, you have to describe times and places as though you lived in them yourself.
How much research do you have to do before writing a novel?
It depends on the book. When I wrote The Journey, a novel inspired by my own experience as a teenager in Oregon in the late 1970s, I did very little research. When I wrote The Mine, The Show, and The Mirror I had to do more because the novels were set mostly in 1941, 1918, and 1964. I had to learn about those times through literature. When I wrote The Fire and September Sky, I had to do even more digging because I had to familiarize myself not only with distant eras but also with two major natural disasters: the Big Burn of 1910 and the Galveston hurricane of 1900. In most cases, the process took several weeks.
Do you have any advice for getting through the dreaded writer’s block?
Go for a long walk in a peaceful setting. It does wonders to clear a mind.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors, like myself?
Write early and often. When you finish your first book, jump into the second. The best way to sell a first book is to produce a second and a third. Enlist help where and when you can find it. Good beta readers and editors are priceless. So are illustrators. Find one who will produce a quality cover.
How is the publishing process? Any advice?
There are many decisions to make when you self-publish a book, such as how many retailers to go through and what platforms to adopt. Research your genre(s), set priorities, and go with a plan that works best for you.
What’s next for you?
I am currently outlining the second novel of the American Journey time-travel series. It will feature three women protagonists (grandma, mother, college daughter) and be set in New Jersey in 1938 and 1939.
Okay now for some lighter questions.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee. French roast. No cream or sugar.
Do you write more in the morning, afternoon or at night?
I write throughout the day, but I prefer the quiet hours of the late morning.
Are you an early bird or night owl?
What is your favorite genre to read?
I like reading thrillers and historical fiction.
Is there a book that you wish you could have written?
Yes. I wish I could have written Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. It’s a masterpiece.
What is your favorite book at the moment?
I just finished Follett’s Winter of the World. The characters are still in my head.
Is there anything else you would like for your readers to know?
I have become a fairly decent cook since moving to the South. I make a mean meatloaf and a chili that would pass scrutiny in Texas.
Thank you John for participating in this interview, it was great. You gave some good advice that I will try to follow in my writing “hobby.”