Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with author J.N. Duncan to discuss writing, publishing and his new novel, Deadworld.
I see that you live and work in Ohio. Have you ever lived elsewhere, and if so, did it contribute in any way to your writing?
I’ve been in Ohio since 1999. I moved here so kids could be around extended family. Prior to that, I’ve lived in Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, and California. While I can’t say these particular places have done much to inspire my writing, growing up away from my grandparents in California, I was flown there each summer until I was about 14, and my grandmother was a mystery writer. Seeing her work, the electric typewriter and the reams of paper was a very cool thing for me. She inspired me to start writing, and her connections to other authors helped cement my goal of some day publishing a novel. Well known children’s author, Eve Bunting was in her writer’s group, and she critiqued the first chapter of my fantasy novel way back when (I was 14 at the time). Her simple words, “You have talent, keep at it,” may be the single most important six words I’ve ever heard regarding my writing journey.
As a fellow Ohioan, I wonder if anything about living in the Midwest contributed to your writing? How about your choice of genre?
Honestly, I’m a transplanted Northwester. I love the northwest part of the country, and hope to live there again some day. That said, Deadworld takes place in and around Chicago. I wanted to stay away from NYC, LA, or any other place with a glitzy image. I wanted a setting that would lend itself to a little darker feeling, and still be a place that would house an FBI agent. I wanted a place where wind, rain, and snow could be appropriately utilized for tone and mood, and I think Chicago fit that bill pretty well.
What in particular drew you to the supernatural genre? Did you enjoy ghost stories as a child, or was there something in your life that led you in this direction?
I’ve loved vampire stories since I was a teen, and supernatural elements in general with anything I read. They’ve always had a certain coolness factor for me. I’m a big Supernatural and Trueblood fan. While not big on horror, I love the creepiness one can achieve with supernatural elements, and it also allows one to play around with the limits of imagination. King’s “Dark Tower” books are one of my all time favorites. I’m also a big fan of subtler supernatural, like Koontz’s Odd Thomas stories.
What’s the hardest thing about writing for you personally? The most rewarding thing? How long have you been writing?
Well, as I said earlier, I started doing this when I was about fourteen. It was an off and on again effort for the next twenty years or so. There were a LOT of stories started and abandoned over these years. I think once 40 started approaching, I realized I really needed to get serious and more disciplined about writing if I wanted to have a shot at making writing a career. In general, I’m kind of an idea person, so one of the most rewarding things for me is the development of the story. I’m not the type of writer who can come up with a kernel of an idea or a character and just start writing to see what happens. I’m a plotter. I stew on my story ideas for a long time before actually writing them. I have a pretty good idea of how the whole thing will go before word one is on the page. I really love that moment when I get to the point I feel a story is “situated” in my head and I can sit down to put it on the page. The hardest part? After it’s done. I’m not a good editor. At all. It seriously takes me months to get to the point I have an objective view of something I’ve just completed. Which isn’t great when you’ve got deadlines to deal with. Lol.
I see on your website you have a blog, which looks like great fun. It will include haunted places around the world. How did you do your research – have you visited any of them?
I’d love to visit them! That of course would require an income I don’t have, but I think haunted places are really cool. I love the history element of them, the story behind the haunting. As for the research, Google is my friend. I pick a country, add haunted sites to it, and just start digging around to see what I find. When I come across something I think is particularly intriguing, I’ll find a good pic of the place and put a bit up about what makes it haunted. It’s the story ideas that spring to mind when looking at these places that I love so much.
I see you’re also a fellow Kensington author (that’s my publisher too.) How did you find them – or how did they find you?
Oh, you are! Well that’s cool. I am one of those writers found through the slush. Kensington, at least at the time I was submitting and looking for an agent, would take a look at submitted, unagented material. I gave them a query and partial and a few months later (think it was about four months) got a call wanting to buy Deadworld plus two more. I was needless to say, quite excited. I had not written Deadworld particularly as a series. It stands alone on it’s own, but I had left it rather open-ended so the possibility was always there for more if someone wanted it. So glad they did. The next book in the series, The Vengeful Dead, will be out in October.
What advice would you like to give to young writers struggling to get their work published? What do you wish someone had told you years ago?
The biggest thing is to keep at it. It can take a long time to find a publisher willing to take the risk on your story. Often it’s a lot of timing and luck. Tread lightly down the self-publishing road. Honestly, I don’t think it’s any easier and in some ways, more difficult than being published with a paper publisher. Don’t be lured by the success stories, because odds are you will be among the other 99% who aren’t. This isn’t to say it can’t be used to your advantage though. Getting things out there for people to see can help, just don’t make it the main thing you want published. Some will disagree with me on this, I’m sure, but still remain skeptical and trying to step out of the gates with self-publishing.
That said, keep writing. The more you write, the better you get. Connect with other writers. They are a treasure trove of good advice (not always) and support. Be willing to hear “this isn’t good” when it comes to your writing, because no matter how good you are, some people will never like your writing, which is okay. Work at getting better with your writing. You can never be good enough. Every book is a learning experience. Conferences and workshops can be good (sometimes not). The point is, you are never as good as you think you are and conversely you are likely better than you believe. Learn that rejection isn’t personal. Writing is so subjective and the market is fickle. Take those “no’s” with a grain of salt. It doesn’t mean you suck. For me, I went after representation and submissions with the mindset that it would be a “no.” I expected the rejection, and thus was not ruined by them when they came, time and again. I actually did not get an agent until I got an offer from Kensington. I had my query rejected about 60-70 times for Deadworld.
If I could have been told one thing years ago, it would have been to finish the damn book. Discipline is such an important aspect of writing. It’s so easy to see the new “shiny” story idea and think it’s better than the last. Don’t do this. Finish. Have patience. You learn so much more in completing a story.
Thanks so much for having me here. I appreciate the opportunity to tell folks a bit about myself, and hope those of you who decide to take the chance on my story, will find it an enjoyable read. Happy reading/writing everyone!
J.N. Duncan was born in California, and currently lives in Ohio with four children, a couple of dogs and cats, and is living the dream of seeing his stories out there on bookshelves. He’s a writer thanks in large part to a writer grandmother, and tends to lean heavily toward the geek side of things. He’s an avid gamer, lover of astronomy and is plugging away at becoming a teacher.