Four on the Floor with Author J. J. White
Four on the Floor with Author J. J. White
[An abbreviated version of this interview ran in my September newsletter.]
Author J . J. White has been kind enough to credit my editing with helping him land an agent and traditional publisher. Read on to learn more about the author and to see how he responded to the Four on the Floor interview.
About J. J. White: Award-winning author J. J. White has written 11 novels, including A Promise to Lena, Nisei, and Prodigious Savant, as well as more than 400 short stories. He lives in Merritt Island, Florida, with his wife, Pamela.
What was it like to move to a traditional publisher? Did this change how you viewed yourself as a writer?
I should explain how to get traditionally published before I write about what the move was like. In good fiction, the narrative follows a story arc. First an event must change the protagonist’s life. Then there’s escalating trouble to keep him or her from their goal, and, finally, you have a satisfactory resolution for the reader.
For an author to become traditionally published, you have to go through your own real-life story arc. First, you must have an event that starts you writing. In my case, it was a back injury that laid me up for two weeks.
Then, after you have been writing for a while, you must endure the escalating conflict that tries to keep you from reaching your publishing goal. This includes a mountain of rejection from agents, acquisition editors, publishers, and reviewers.
Finally, if all the stars align, a traditional publisher agrees to bring you aboard.
This separates you from the millions of self-published authors and allows your book to be placed in bookstores. You also have less trouble getting media interviews, and the local newspapers and libraries take you more seriously than they do self-published authors.
The transition from self-published to traditional is a bit disconcerting. Publishers have certain methods and traditions new authors stumble over. I had no idea what a galley was and didn’t understand the relationships between publishers and the big-chain bookstores, but eventually I learned, though it took three books to do so.
In most cases, the traditional publisher will defray publication costs such as promotion, travel, editing, and advertising. Although they will edit your book, it’s wise to have a polished manuscript to give to your agent.
“I was fortunate to have three manuscripts edited by Castle Walls Editing, which helped me acquire both an agent and publisher.”
Being traditionally published changes you personally and professionally. It has given me the confidence to submit both long and short fiction to the publishing world.
Without that confidence, I would not have continued writing novels and would not have had my short fiction published in the Saturday Evening Post anthology, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and the St. Martin’ Press novel A Divided Spy. Like my protagonist in my books, I feel I have reached a major portion of my goals.
What is your day-to-day writing routine?
Writing is a lifetime commitment. Almost every bestselling author will tell you the six most important things to do to be a successful writer are to read, read, read and write, write, write.
I read every day, whether it’s a book or audiobook. If it’s an audiobook, I try to imagine the words floating around the car in their literary order to see how the author meant to write them. Of course, this distracts me from driving, though I’ve been lucky enough not to have an accident while concentrating on Hemingway’s prose.
Writing doesn’t take up much of my day. I can live a normal life of working, golfing, surfing, reading, and cooking dinner, and yet still find time to write.
Normally, after I watch Jeopardy with my wife, I’ll spend two hours writing in my office. I write in longhand, so after I finish a chapter, I hand it over to Pam, who types it up, edits the ridiculous and the unbelievable, and then emails it back to me in my office, which is only two rooms away.
Usually, I’ll do the first edit on it that night, and then on Tuesdays, when I meet with the other three members of my writing group, we’ll go over it in detail.
“Two hours of writing a night doesn’t seem like it would add up to much, but after ten years, it has equated to 11 novels and 400 short stories.”
Which other writers working today do you admire most?
Writing beautifully is important, but if the author doesn’t give me a good story, I’ll put it down. I tend to drift toward genre writers like Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Connelly.
For a literary read, I enjoy Cormac McCarthy and Joseph O’Connor.
My favorites for historical fiction are Steven Pressfield, Edward Rutherfurd, and Bernard Cornwell.
I also enjoy the fiction of Laura Lippman and Paula Hawkins, and I try to read a variety of authors to improve my own writing.
What do you find most valuable about having someone else edit your work?
When I write, I imagine my characters on a stage in front of me acting out their parts. I dutifully jot down what they say and do. Unfortunately, this gets me so close to them I can’t see their flaws. They become my darlings and good authors will tell you, you must kill your darlings.
“An independent editor can stand back and see the entire picture and kill those darlings without sentimentality, or at least suggest that I kill them.”
They can also see my obvious punctuation, grammar, and content mistakes. The reason I miss them is because my attention as an author is on the narrative and the style instead of the construction.
It took me time to figure this out and to accept suggestions about removing anything that doesn’t belong in the story. A good editor equates to a good book and I’m smart enough to know I need a good editor.
More information about J. J. White can be found at his website.
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