Hello folks today I’d like to present an interview with Jonathan Woods.
Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. He is the author of the upcoming Lovecraftian urban fantasy novel, No Hero. He also writes odd little things that show up in odd little places, such as The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Chizine, and Weird Tales. Most of his short fiction is available for free on-line. Links can be found on his bibliography page.
GNOH – Hi Jonathan, how are things with you?
JW – Things are good. Thanks for having me
GNOH – I believe you are an Englishman in New York so to speak. What prompted the move over the Pond?
JW – My wife is American. So she pretty much provided the impetus in a sort of, coming-to-study-at-university-in-England-then-clubbing-me-over-the-back-of-the-head-and-dragging-me-off-by-the-hair kind of way. I mean, I paraphrase the whole experience, but… that’s pretty close.
GNOH – Is there anything that you miss about good old Blighty?
JW – I don’t get particularly tied to places, but I do miss friends that I don’t get to see much any more. That said, England is pretty much nirvana for starch products. It is nigh impossible to get good suet in this country.
GNOH – And what is your favourite thing about the US? It’s the junk food isn’t it? Have you tried a Ding Dong?
JW – This is where I’m going to get myself in trouble… Back in England there is a general perception that there is usually a “proper” way something should be done. An objective “best” way. That’s much less of a controlling cultural narrative here. Any way that works is usually acceptable here and I find that quite liberating.
That said, the junk food is phenomenal here. I have to concede, I have no idea what a Ding Dong is, but I’m going to bet that once I Google it, I’m going to drown my keyboard in drool.
GNOH – Could you give the readers a bit of your background info?
JW – Sure. As mentioned I’m an Englishman living in NY. Long Island to be specific, though I work in NYC. I’m a copywriter for a firm specializing in medical communications – a job so boring it may actually cause blindness so I won’t go into it any further. I’ve been writing since around when my memory starts, and have been a total nerd that whole time too. Roleplaying dominated my teenage years, but the time constraints of adulthood have limited me to playing on my Xbox (I’m on Xbox Live as jonathanpwood is anyone wants to co-op play Dungeon Siege III).
GNOH – Who would you say are some of your genre heroes?
JW – China Mieville and Jeff Vandermeer are the big ones, probably. Also a lot of people associated with the New Weird subgenre. Folks like M. John Harrison, Michael Cisco, and K. J. Bishop. Another recent addition is Larry Correia. His novel, Hard Magic is in the processing of totally blowing me away. Plus there are a number of thriller writers I really admire, James Rollins and Andy McDermott foremost among them.
GNOH – Can you remember what first inspired you to put pen to paper?
JW – Honestly, no. It’s just something I’ve always done. At this point it’s almost a compulsion. I get a weird mental itch if I got too long without writing. Three or four days is about as long as I can go.
GNOH – How long did it take you to get published? Was it an easy process for you?
JW – I started taking writing seriously when I was about fifteen or sixteen. A friend and I decided we were going to be sitcom writers. We got a script as far as a pitch meeting at the BBC, sometime around when I was twenty. But being wee whipper-snappers we totally screwed up the opportunity. Soon after that I moved to the US and then I started trying to publish a novel. That was about ten years ago.
The first one I wrote, I think started OK, but it rapidly became clear I didn’t know anything about what I was doing. So then I read a lot about writing novels, and wrote one slavishly devoted to the supposed rules. I think it’s probably worse than the first one. That said, I did learn and internalize a lot of those writing rules in the process, and that made it a lot easier to break them. That’s also the time I started writing short fiction, which met with a bit of success, and was educational. And that led to a third novel which netted me an agent but not a publishing deal. And then, No Hero came along, effort number four, and it sold.
GNOH – Your debut novel No Hero is a rip roaring fun filled read, and a very assured debut effort. How many rewrites did you go through before the final manuscript was handed in?
JW – Writing No Hero was a very different experience for me. The previous three novels had each taken two or more years to write. No Hero was done in six months. It totally poured out of me. I think I went over it about a total three times after the first draft was done before sending it to my agent. That, again, was very different. I think the novel that my agent picked me up on was on something like its nineteenth draft. That said, though, once my agent read No Hero, his response was, “I like it, except for the main character.” Arthur Wallace had a much more classic noir voice in that version, and was generally much angrier. So then I had a three month re-write where I totally changed his voice throughout. That was a big one. On the plus side, my publisher only had fairly minor tweaks after that.
GNOH – How would you describe No Hero?
JW – A friend and I have termed the phrase “a kitcen-sink novel.” No Hero is the repository of pretty much every half-decent idea I’d had over a three year period and not managed to fit into something else.
A more official description I’m using is, “The Lovecraftian urban fantasy that dares to ask, what would Kurt Russell do?”
GNOH – For practically the whole novel Arthur feels like a fish out of water, how much of Arthur is you, and is the fish out of water feeling a reflection of your feelings when you first moved to the US.
JW – That’s a really interesting question. I’d never really thought about those parallels before. I’m sure I drew on some of that experience, even if it was unconscious. Arthur is, inevitably, going to be the result of my experiences, so there are going to be parallels. Fortunately, though, I’ve never had to deal with an invasion of alien mind-maggots.
GNOH – There is a nice line of dark humour that flows through the narrative of the story. One which works very well, how hard was it to keep the balance between the humour and the narrative of the story?
JW – Despite my early attempts to break into sitcom writing, I’d never actually mixed humour with my genre writing before. If anything I’d erred in the other direction, with very serious stories that pulled pretty heavily on horror tropes. So it was almost easier to concentrate on the darker narrative line. But then I’d remind myself that, this being a novel, I need to have characterization and that sort of stuff in it, and throw in some jokes for Arthur. And then a significant part of the first big edit was going through and correcting all the parts where I’d gone too far in one direction. More often than not I had to kill a punchline or too for the sake of pacing. Usually because I’d used three where one would do.
GNOH – Were you ever tempted to turn it into a full blown comedy novel, I can see a similar sort of humour to that of Robert Rankin?
JW – I don’t think I’m confident enough in my humour writing to attempt that at this point. Maybe at some distant point down the line, though I find my narrative sensibilities do tend to run kind of dark.
GNOH – The novel mixes, multi dimensional inter stellar creatures, alternative realities, magic and arse kicking Scottish flame haired female warriors. How much research did you have to do for the novel?
JW – I am ashamed to say, almost none. It’s really the product of a life dedicated to lowbrow entertainment. To me, bits of the novel pay obvious homage to some of my favourites, though hopefully they’re less obvious to the readers. To point at some of the bigger influences: Hellboy and BPRD really coloured how I conceived of the team. The scene in a long-lost Peruvian temple speaks to my love of Indiana Jones movies. Some of the early, more police-procedural elements come out of my love of shows like Morse, and Frost, and Prime Suspect.
In terms of real research that other writers do, I do have to say Google Maps was pretty invaluable. I’m familiar with Oxford, but other places, like Didcott Power Station, I have only visited electronically.
GNOH – Please tell me that you made up the part about metallic circuitry tattoos?
JW – I plead guilty.
GNOH – Talking about those, how did you come up with the magic system that is used in the novel?
JW – It was a very piecemeal process. I start planning my novels by writing hundred-word scraps of ideas. A lot of ideas float to the surface that way, and I think that’s where the multi-dimensional aspect came from. Moorcock’s concept of the multiverse also played a role there. The idea of a battery-powered magic system just sort of popped into my head one lunch break at work. Then it was a case of just mashing everything together into some sort of coherent whole. Admittedly, that wasn’t always successful. In an early draft I think only about a third of the magic in the book obeyed the system I’d invented. There was a lot of codifying that happened after the event.
GNOH – Arthur frequently asks the question “What would Kurt Russell Do”, I take it like me you are a huge fan of the man?
JW – Oh, the man’s a genius. And there’s something about him that seemed like a perfect fit for the novel. He’s an A-list star raising the standard of so many movies that would otherwise be such B-movie fodder. Plus there’s a big Pulp sensibility to a lot of his movies, and my love of Pulp is really the beating heart of No Hero.
Plus Kurt Russell is a stone cold badass. I don’t understand why more books don’t reference him.
GNOH – What is your favourite Kurt film, if you say Overboard, I’m going to kick a donkey.
JW – But every time you kick a donkey, a fairy dies!
Erm… OK, I have to concede that I did enjoy Overboard, but, no, it’s not in the top echelons of Russelldom. As for a personal favorite, it’s probably a toss-up between Stargate, which I love for the mad Egyptian overtones, and Tango and Cash, which is just one of the silliest movies ever made.
GNOH – Would you agree that the film The Expendables, couldn’t be the greatest action team film ever as it was marketed as it did not have Kurt in it? I mean Jason Statham instead of The Kurt, come on?
JW – I do enjoy a bit of Statham (how can anybody not after seeing Transporter 2?) but he is, in the end, no Kurt Russell. That said, if Kurt Russell had been in that movie, the overload of awesome may have been so great it would have caused audience members to spontaneously combust. I can imagine Mr Russell declining to be in it just to lower the body count.
GNOH – What would you say is the hardest part of being a writer?
JW – Time management. It’s important to write as much as possible, but it’s also important to learn storytelling by reading stories, by watching movies, and, these days, by playing video games. Traditional tabletop roleplaying is another great way to learn. But those things do get in the way of actual writing time. And then there’s these other silly things like family, and friends, and work that always seem to need attention. Working out what to do when is a big balancing act.
GNOH – How do you write, are you one of these any time any place any where authors, or do you need a office space to work?
JW – I write pretty much when I have the opportunity and am not near my Xbox. That said, with the day job and my family, the large bulk of my writing is actually done on the train to and from work. Probably over ninety percent of my writing is done on my commute. One of the joys of living an hour and a half from where you work.
GNOH – What lessons have you learned so far and do you have any advice for other authors?
JW – Write every day, or at least every week day. That’s a big one. Learn how to edit, how to cut a six thousand word story down to three thousand and still have it work. Steal like a fiend from whatever genre or medium you can. Don’t believe in genre boundaries–we made them up. If ever in doubt, do what Kurt Russell would do.
GNOH – What does the future hold for you, please tell me there is going to be a sequel to No Hero?
JW – Yes there is a sequel. The working title is Yesterday’s Hero. I’ve finished the first draft and am knee deep in edits right now. It’s due to my publisher at the end of the year, and I’m guessing it’ll be out around the same time next year. Plus I can say it will definitely deliver on the zombie dinosaur scene promised at the end of the first book.
After that… it’ll depend on the economics of it I suspect. I’ve definitely got more crap I’d like to put Arthur through, but there are other stories I have floating around in my head too.
GNOH – Thanks for popping over Jonathan, I’ve had fun chatting with a fellow aficionado of Kurt Russell.
JW – Thanks so much for having me!
Folks I really recommend getting your hands on a copy of this book, it really is a great fun read, I loved it.