I met Author John Robert Mack on…wait for it…Facebook! You know that part of the Internet that’s pretty much a black-hole for a creative person. Why? Well because it just sucks you in and before you know it you’ve traveled in time and it’s time to either go to bed, work or you know…feed your kids.
Meeting John was one of the pleasant experiences of that dark and dangerous land of The Web. He’s a true sweetheart and after interviewing him I found that I was smiling. You’ll see why!
John studied writing in college, published the short story “Jonny Hates Jazz” in a literary journal, wrote a column “Dancing The Rainbow” for two years in the regional Texas dance periodical The Dancer’s Guide and has written and produced five plays (one on commission). His play Talking with Jacob won statewide recognition in Wisconsin and landed John’s face on the cover of three magazines. He produced an adaptation of the Ray Bradbury story, “The Better Part of Wisdom” with the author’s input and blessing. He also self-published (before it was cool and edgy) a book called KEEP BREATHING: Zen and the Art of Social Dance. Choreographer
For the past twenty years, John as worked as a dance teacher. He has choreographed musicals like West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar and helped create and coach the original Radio Disney dance team in San Antonio, TX.
Now, John has moved to Virginia in semi-retirement to focus on his writing. He has taught workshops for the Hampton Roads Writers and is on staff at the Muse writing center in Norfolk, VA. He has a total of twelve completed novel manuscripts, six plays, and ten screenplays. As a dance teacher, he has been featured twice in the international education periodical Quality in Action.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author? When I was about nine years old and first read The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s descriptive writing enthralled me. To me, writing novels was how adults played games of make believe. Then in high school I discovered Kurt Vonnegut, who taught me that “literature” (which you have to say with a snooty accent) could also be vulgar. I was hooked.
In what genre do you write? I like the broad term “speculative fiction.” I’ve written sci fi, fantasy, supernatural, horror, paranormal, steampunk, thriller, mystery, adventure, super hero, Arthurian. I love crossing genres and trying to find a fresh spin on genre clichés. I wrote several episodes for an indie sci fi/paranormal internet series that died before it was born. I have written a number of plays actually set in the real world, and a bunch of “inspirational” stuff for dancers, including a column for a Texas dance magazine and several operational manuals for dance studios and teacher training programs.
Is there a genre you haven’t written in, but want to? You know, I’ve tried to write romance a couple of times. I have a friend who edits for a romance press who wanted to publish me, but I just couldn’t get it to work. On the business side, there’s a bit of money to be made in romance and all its various permutations. Maybe I need a writing partner for that?
What is your writing process? Such as, outlining, freehand, computer vs paper and pen? Gonna work backward on this one. I use both paper and computer. I have a tablet for when I need to get away from the house, but there are times I just need to grab a notebook and sit under a tree. To be honest, the more I try to create a professional routine, the less I use notebook and pen. Transcribing always takes longer than cutting and pasting. As for process, I don’t trust outlines for novels. I paid for college as a debate judge and graduated with an English/philosophy major. In an outline, for me, every A needs a B and a C, and that can lead to very predictable stories. I use what I call “sketches.” I brainstorm into the computer with bits of story and snippets of dialog. With all the playwriting I’ve done, scenes often find their shape in dialog. I let myself freestyle the novel this way, following the advice of Alma Katsu: whenever I find myself stuck for the next plot point, I ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to my character?” I reject that and ask, “What’s even worse?” I reject that, too. When I figure out what’s even worse than that, then I start sketching again. On a side note, a lot of my writing is done in my head on long walks or staring at a tree. Once I have a scene sketched out, I play it over and over in my head until I know exactly how I want it to run, dialog included. Of course, once I actually start writing I often surprise myself.
Who are you(r) writing inspirations, famous or not? My friends inspire me. I have been amazingly fortunate to have some of the most amazing friends on the planet, far more than anyone else I know. I consider them my family. These are people for I’d take a bullet for (and end a sentence with a preposition for). My main goal as a writer is to share these amazing relationships with the world. So, when it comes down to it, I guess I’m still playing make believe games with my besties. They just don’t always know it. Bwa ha ha.
How much research, if any, did you have to put into your novel(s)? Ha. Ha ha ha. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha. Oh dear gods. TONS! I’m revising an apocalyptic sci fi novel about the return of Jesus (it’s not what you think). I realized I was doing too much research when I decided to take my King James Bible with me to the coffee shop to study because it was by far the smallest book I had. I’m also working on a steampunk novel set in an alternate history where the Civil War lasted twenty years and the industrial revolution never happened. I took my nephews to the library yesterday and was browsing DVD’s. “Holy crap!” I exclaimed. “This is awesome!” Of course they wanted to know what amazing movie I’d found for us to watch. “It’s a biography of Nicolai Tesla! Oh my God, they have two!!” Sigh. The challenge is taking all that intense research and then rendering it invisible. No one cares but the author, but I like to think that it creates an authenticity the readers sense, even if they don’t know it. Also, I want to make sure I know my crap when I’m interviewed by Jon Stewart. Ha ha.
Do you listen to music while you write or edit? If so, who do you listen to? Writing and revising always. Editing not so much. Every novel has a different sound track. A Consequence of Folly favors Mumford and Sons. Third Testament likes Sneaker Pimps. Tango with a Twist worked well with Korean Pop artists like Boa.
When you’re not being an amazing author and writing away, what do you for fun? That’s a funny question. I moved out to Virginia Beach two years ago on a sort of sabbatical from teaching dance to work on my novels. I have an amazing opportunity to live out here rent free, so I’ve been trying to spend as much time as possible writing so as not to waste the generosity of the friends who invited me. I’ve gained fifty pounds as a result! So now I’m trying to find more of a balance, getting outside more, hitting the beach, running, swimming and dancing.
What has been the most exciting experience for you since starting your writing career? The phone call I received from Ray Bradbury! I’d adapted his short story “The Better Part of Wisdom” into a stage play and had written to him for permission to produce it. I corresponded with his agent a few times and sent a copy of the play. A few weeks later, the phone rang and this deep voice said, “Hello. This is Ray Bradbury.” He sounded exactly the way he’d introduced his TV show and I looked up at the row of his books lining the shelf in front of me. He liked the adaptation and offered a few suggestions, as well as asking if I’d consider a production with one of his own plays, since the script was a fairly short one. Best. day. ever. Unfortunately, the night of auditions was the worst snowstorm of the decade, so no one showed up. Then my personal life interrupted everything and the production never happened. I’ll always think of it as “the one that got away,” but that phone call was exhilarating.
Who created your amazing cover art? Me. Thanks! I do all my own design work, and most of my own photography.
Is there an artist, book blogger, editor or anyone else that you want to give a shout out to? I always need to thank Ryan and Hope Rooyakkers, who let me live here for free and make all this possible. I should also mention my editor Lauran Strait. Woot! Oh, and Rhea Gropper Petit just painted a wonderful portrait for the cover of “Consequence.” Google her and check out her stuff!
Give us a brief description of your WIP (work in progress) or your newest novel. Okay. Brief. Well, the series I’ve just started publishing is the Tango Triptych. The first novel is Tango with a Twist (available for FREE on my website ( http://johnrobertmack.com/?page_id=16) It has dancing, romance, bromance, a gay single dad, witchcraft and a devil bunny rabbit. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Glee. No. Really. Two other projects are racing to be the next published. Third Testament: The Book of John is affectionately known as the “Jesus Clone book” and is being considered by a publisher!!! (So stoked.) It’s an apocalyptic sci fi/paranormal novel set in a future where Jesus makes a comeback, but isn’t what anyone expected. A Consequence of Folly is a steampunk novel where aliens invade Earth to enslave the human race and the only ones who can save the planet are a gay pirate and the First Lady. Hold onto your goggles and pack a clockwork monkey, the dirigible leaves at dawn!
What author would you geek out over if you met them in real life? Terry Pratchett. You have no idea. He is the only author I can read again and again. I actually wrote the entire steampunk novel (A Consequence of Folly) just to enter an alternative history contest he sponsored, only to find out I can only enter if I’m a British citizen. Always read the fine print!
Hands down, what is your favorite book of all time and why? How about series? The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I’ve read all of them at least 3 or 4 times, and I’m not one to do that sort of thing. His language is so interesting that each and every sentence is a joy to read. Many editors claim that the goal of a writer is to keep the narrator/narration as invisible as possible, but Mr. Pratchett proves (to me anyway) that’s just silly. Why write all those words just to keep them inconspicuous? Also, he manages to write fun, fanciful tales while also creating brilliant satire. (By the way, don’t start with book 1 in the series. It took him a couple of novels to really figure out his style. I recommend Equal Rites as a good entry point. Another good place is The Wee Free Men, a recent YA novel in the same universe, but it exists as a standalone.)
What book would you like to see in film or do you believe that books should be left alone? Books should never be left alone. They get lonely. They deserve all the attention they can get. I like the new trend (especially since The Lord of the Rings) to remain as faithful as possible to the original. Other than my own books (all of which I’d love to see on the big screen or the small) I’d have to say Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling. Forrest Gump the movie should NEVER have been made. The book was brilliant, the movie appalling. Don’t even get me started.
As a reader, what about a book turns you away? Bad grammar. Get an editor people! Oh, also getting twenty pages into a novel and A) nothing has happened or B) I already know how it’s going to end.
If you find you can’t get into a book, do you put it down or be a trooper and finish it? Oh good Lord, put it down and don’t look back. There are too many novels out there who deserve our time and attention to waste it on books that need revision and editing. If you can’t grab me in 20 pages, it’s not worth my time. Isn’t that what we’re all told as writers? Novels by friends are a different story. Those I will trudge through. I often go to the library and grab ten books from the new arrivals section to keep up with what’s getting published. (There’s that research thing again.) Most of it is crap, and I can’t get through it. Mind you, there are a number of amazingly successful books (Twilight and 50 Shades come to mind) that I forced myself to finish (while cutting myself with razor blades) in my ongoing effort to understand what sells. If you ever figure it out, please tell me. No. Really.
Do you stick to one genre or do you like to read around? I’m a whore. I’ll read any style of writing. I look for characters and relationships. Give me a group of friends battling together (or against one another) to overcome adversity and I’m hooked. Doesn’t matter if “adversity” means an alien horde or paying the rent on time.
Are you a book-in-your-hands reader, e-booker, or both? Both. I’m old enough to love the smell and feel of a good book, but I’ve moved around a lot in the past several years and understand that 1,000 novels are much easier to transport across the country on my e-reader.
Favorite movie? Room with a View. Go figure.
Favorite TV show? Okay, massive guilty pleasure. Beastmaster. New Zealand scenery, constant eye candy in a loincloth, and the best bromance in TV history. I can’t help myself.
If you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be? Anything with curry.
What’s your favorite candy/dessert? Carrot cake with way too much cream cheese frosting.
What band or musician can you listen to over and over again? You can list more than one.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sneaker Pimps, Peter Gabriel, Debussy, Danny Elfman, Bitter:Sweet, Pink Martini, oh hell, I could go on and on.
What’s your hidden talent? If I tell you, it’s no longer hidden is it?
What is your dream vacation? Me and a few close friends on our own private island in the tropics. Naked.
Thank you John for taking the time to join me here on my little ‘ol blog! I really hope all of you enjoyed this funny and fantastic interview! Also, remember to get in contact with John!
Do you want to get in contact with John? Well here’s how!
Author Name: John Robert Mack
Twitter: Twitter shall be the downfall of the American Empire.
Goodreads: I suck. Still making this happen.
Book Links: http://johnrobertmack.com/?page_id=16 FREE!!