(Originally posted at Muse Hack – sharing this one with people here!)
I had the immense pleasure of meeting Jay Hartlove at Con-Volution when we sat next to each other on the Worldbuilding And Religion Panel. I was thrilled when Lillian Csernica re-introduced me so I can interview him – because this is a man that pushes himself. Let’s meet Jay!
1) Jay, you write an amazing amount of stuff. Does this pay the bills – and if it does, share your secrets with our audience.
Thank you for having me on the show, Steven. No, I make very little money writing. I write because I love it, I have to do it. I don’t have an agent, and agents are the gateways to real paying opportunities for novelists. I do write in different areas, but I don’t write enough short fiction or plays to generate a living wage. The fact that I do not need to support myself with my writing actually frees me up to try different things and explore my creative boundaries. Ironically, my readers get better stuff from me because I’m not worried about making a sale.
2) How did you get into writing?
I grew up on science fiction. As a kid I watched the moon walks and Star Trek when it first ran. I read Dune in middle school when it was still new and hot. Dungeons and Dragons came out when I was in high school. By the time I was in college and Star Wars came out, I had so many inspirations and ideas, I had to start writing them down. I started writing with Supergame in 1980, which was one of the first non-fantasy RPGs, putting comicbook superheroes in the hands of players. I wrote my first novel in that same time period. It was a sword and sandal fantasy called Horns that will never see the light of publication. It was a typical first effort, but learning what it felt like to finish a novel was a life altering event for me.
3) You’ve been writing for a long time – how has it changed over the years, and how has it remained the same?
Now that I know that I can write novels that people love, I am permanently high on the experience. My first published novel, The Chosen, was the third book I finished. It won a rack of awards and five star reviews, so there was no way I wasn’t going to keep at it. The early years of second guessing and self loathing are thankfully behind me now. Writing is now a part of my daily life, not just this experiment that I dabble at.
4) So what’s your latest work?
I just finished a fantasy romance called Mermaid Steel. After I finished Daughter Cell I needed a break to clear my head before I could do justice to the next book in the series, Isis Rising. This is series of horrific thrillers that follows the adventures of a Voodoo practicing psychiatrist named Sanantha Mauwad. I put too much pressure on myself to complete a trilogy of the Sanantha stories, so I stepped back and challenged myself to do something very different. This is part of that freedom I mentioned. So I changed genres to fantasy romance, and published Mermaid Steel as a serial online for free, one chapter at a time as I wrote it. I teach seminars to aspiring writers and I always tell them to just keep writing. Here I had to practice what I preach. I couldn’t go back and change anything, I had to push myself forward and make the story work. I do outline extensively, so I knew where I was going. It was still a refreshing exercise of the creative muscles, which is what I was hoping for. Mermaid Steel is now with my beta readers for comments. After that I will edit it for book publication. I am very pleased to report the feedback on the book has been tremendous. Now I am writing Isis Rising in earnest, and it feels good to be back in that saddle.
5) Your theme is “Dark Secrets Revealed” – how does this drive your writing?
I seem to get my greatest inspiration when I get an idea that shows the “rest of the story” behind something more obvious. Maybe I was unduly influenced as a child by my insane conspiracy theorist father. I love to read secret histories and behind the scenes explanations, so I write a lot of that. Right from the start, my first novel Horns showed the balance of power in an ongoing war between humans and invading demons was actually held in check by a race of demons disguised and hiding among humans. The musical I wrote and am producing, The Mirror’s Revenge, is the sequel to Snow White that shows what was really going on behind the scenes driving the events of the story you think you know. The Isis Rising trilogy postulates that the gods of ancient Egypt are alive and masquerading as the gods of Voodoo. Nearly all of the horrific elements in that series are taken from our real world. I am a research hound. Our world is chock full of scary stuff. By showing these things to be part of a bigger pattern and not just isolated coincidences, I show the world to be a much scarier place. Sanantha’s world is an exciting place to visit, positively dangerous with its incarnate angels and meddling gods. Needless to say, I am a huge fan of shows like The X-Files and Fringe.
6) You also like to push yourself as a writer, trying interesting protagonists. Tell us more about that.
The characters in a story have to be reverse engineered to fit the roles they play. The central characters, the protagonist and antagonist in particular, must be the best people to tell the story. They must have lived all their lives up to that point becoming the people who are best suited to tell this story. Their personalities, their hopes and fears, their childhoods, their families, everything has pushed them up to the point where this story starts. This is their story. So when I create conflicts that are loaded with secret contexts, the right character for the job will no doubt have some interesting quirks of their own. I’ll take The Chosen as an example. It is a story about revenge and redemption. The bad guy’s story is about revenge. The good guy’s story is about redemption. The good guy, Sanantha’s patient, is Charles Redmond. The story requires him to choose between personal salvation and sacrificing himself to right a tremendous wrong that has been plaguing him his whole life. So he had to have a personal history that placed him in the middle of the bad guy’s sphere of influence, and he had to have committed some horrific crime that haunts him. So the role he has to play in order to be the best man for the job makes him a complicated and interesting guy. This should be the case with every character in a story. When you learn their complexities and you see how this story is perfect for them, and they are perfect for the story, it is really easy to care for them and root for them and become immersed in their situation.
7) So here’s what our audience wants to know – what’s your advice to writing professionally, even part time?
I do write part time. I have a full time job and I am a dedicated dad to two girls. I usually do not get to start writing until the day is done and the kids are in bed. I joke that my muse is named Eleven, because that’s when she and I sit down to write. If I can’t get into it, then I get to sleep. If I get into the groove, I write until I pass out on the keyboard at 3 am. I am writing these interview questions in the middle of the night.I get up at 6 to start my day, so a good night of writing means a rough next day. Coffee is my friend. Creativity isn’t just a skill, it is more like a sport. You get better at it the more you do it. You become inefficient and error-prone if you fall out of practice. You must keep writing no matter what. Finding the time to write means choosing what else in your life you are not going to do. I do not keep up with my favorite TV shows. I do not sleep as much as I should. I do not take on hobbies that tempt me. I only go to two or three conventions a year. I choose to not do these things to create the time to write. If you love it, these choices aren’t hard, but they are choices you have to make.
8) How do you maintain your artistic vision?
Writing guru Chuck Wendig is famously quoted as answering the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” by yelling, “How do you make them stop?” Once you make creativity a part of your life, there is no lack of material to work with. I use music to lock into the mood of a story. All of my books have soundtrack playlists. My artistic vision seems to be the unsung hero, people who solve problems that the rest of us are unaware of. I like to think we are surrounded by folks who make sacrifices that protect us from troubles we don’t even know about. I love to cook up hidden explanations for things, so I write about folks who peek behind the curtain and are thrust into the heroic role.
9) And finally, any advice for our audience?
To me, writing is a drug. I can tell you all about what a great trip it gives me, but in the end you have to decide if you want to let yourself become addicted. If you have the yearning, there is no harm in trying it. If you try it and you love it, then dive in. Just don’t be surprised if it takes over a big chunk of your life. That’s how it should be if you are really going to be a writer. Make the time, get used to spending the time, and finish. You have to finish stories to be a writer. People who don’t finish are only aspiring to be writers. Good luck!
– Steven Savage
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.