Trendy Tuesday: 5-17-2016: James Noll

Welcome to another "Trendy Tuesday!" 
Today I'm joined by James Noll 
Author of "A Knife in the Back," "You Will Be Safe Here," &"Burn All The Bodies"

    10/31/13                             10/31/14                                10/31/15      

Amazon Author Central
You can also reach James on his Website:
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Thanks again for joining me today, James!

We'll get right down to the interview! 

 If you could go back and re-write a novel, or re-experience writing a novel of yours, which one would it be and why?:  I’ve actually done that with A Knife in the Back. Since that was my first attempt at self-publishing, I did a beta-release of the book and, to garner some feedback and reviews,  three rounds of Goodreads Giveaways.

The reviewers were very helpful. They pointed out aspects of the writing that didn’t work for them, some consistency flaws, some plotting that confused them. That kind of constructive criticism was invaluable. In addition, they pointed out what they liked about the stories, which, in addition to being a nice confidence booster, let me know what kinds of things I should continue or focus on.

Based on that feedback, and some tips and critiques from PitchSlam (which is done through Twitter) and the James River Writers’ Conference, I’ve re-written that book three times. It was arduous, but the end result is so much better than what I started with.

Did you always wanted to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t involved with reading and writing. I was influenced by two heavy readers: My mother and my brother.

My mother hooked me on reading at a very early age. I still remember when I figured out how to read. I think I was reading (or looking at/trying to decode) a Dr. Seuss book when something just clicked. I was so excited that I loaded up my arms with as many Dr. Seuss books I could find and ran downstairs to where my parents were watching t.v. and read a whole bunch of them aloud. I probably interrupted their enjoyment of Fantasy Island or The Carol Burnett Show.

My brother got me into Stephen King when I was in middle school. That fed my habit for a long time. When I was a freshman in high school, he gave me A Clockwork Orange, Catch-22, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—heavy stuff for a fifteen year old, but I loved it. 

So, to answer the question, it was because of my reading habit that I just sort of always wanted to be a writer. I remember writing a mystery story in sixth grade that featured all of my classmates in starring roles, but it wasn’t until I read “‘Repent Harlequin!’ said the Ticktock Man” when I was sixteen that I realized that I wanted to really write stories.

When did you first consider yourself a “writer”? 
I’ve been seriously writing since I was in my early twenties, but it wasn’t until last week when my friend Joe Hammock called me a writer that I realized that I was one.

If you were a donut, what kind of donut would you be?
Buffalo Wings.

If you could take a character from your novel on a date, where would you go and what would you both do? Oh man. I write horror, sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic fiction; my characters don’t necessarily represent the apex of humanity. Let’s see. Lily, from “Coming Home,” is tough, smart, and funny, but she’s nineteen. I don’t want to date her. I want to make sure she’s eaten and pay for her education. Isa, from Topher’s Ton, is close to my age, but she’s too intense. I don’t think she’d want to go out on a date with a dweeb like me. I’d make jokes and she wouldn’t take me seriously. The rest of the women are scary, scary. Really scary.

So I guess I’d boil it down to two men: Topher and Gertrude (his real name’s Kenneth) from the Topher Trilogy. I wouldn’t take them out on a date, but I’d hit the town with them.

Family Friendly Version: Gertrude’s an innocent, so I’d go with him to the National Zoo. He’d like the pandas and the giraffes, and hopefully he wouldn’t be attacked by a gibbon again.

21+ version: Topher’s more like me, so we’d go out to dinner, hit every bar in Fredericksburg, get gloriously loaded, then camp out next to the Rappahannock and do mushrooms.

What was the publishing process like for you? If you self-published, what obstacles have you come across in the process of publishing? I’ve played in bands since I was a teenager, and DIY production is ingrained in the culture. In music, writing, recording, and producing your own stuff isn’t just celebrated, it’s expected. So producing written material was never a problem, and I’m glad that the DIY ethos has finally caught up to the book publishing world.

However, book marketing is new to me. I don’t think I was ready to tackle it until recently. Prior to that, I was primarily interested in creating a body of work. For me, the biggest obstacle to marketing is education and time. First, I simply needed to learn how to start the process. I’ve gotten a good start from three great books: Write. Publish. Repeat by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and Dave Wright; Permission Marketing by Seth Godin; and Your First 1,000 Copies, by Tim Grahl. I have a lot more to learn, and I’m going to make mistakes, but I don’t see those as insurmountable obstacles. They’re a part of the process. I do, however, need to learn patience. I can do the work, put in the time, but I want it to work now!

What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in less than 20 words what would you say? Title: Burn All The Bodies.
20 word summary: If it weren’t for Rasheed, the tank-driving boy-god, or that vengeful despot, Topher might have saved the world.

 If you type into Google “Your Name” – what is the first thing that comes up? 
It used to be a book called Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Educational Issues. Apparently there is another James Noll who is also an educator. He wrote a book about education.
Now it’s my Goodreads profile!

Do you have any future books planned or in mind?
Three, actually. Bonesaw is in the final drafting stage. I’ve written a rough draft of a non-horror, more straight up drama tentatively titled Twitty Carson’s Third Act, and I’m starting to research the prequel to Bonesaw.

If you could be any part of a happy meal, which part would you be? (i.e hamburger? French fries? The free sundae?) I’d be the toy. Or the hamburger wrapper. Hopefully the toy. It has a better chance of surviving the longest. I know I’d end up in the crack of the back seat of a mini-van, but that’s better than spending eternity in a garbage bag at the bottom of a landfill.

Do you have a favorite character from your books? Why?: 
I used to like writing Topher (from the Topher Trilogy I mentioned before), but I’ve moved on to the unnamed narrator of my next book, Bonesaw. We share same world-weary approach to his condition (he never ages, but he can be killed), as well as what’s happened to the world (it’s set after the Singularity. Most of the Earth has been abandoned). All of this horrible stuff has happened, and all he can do is shrug, as if to say, “You expected something better?”

If we were to go to a book store together, where would I find you?: 
I like looking at all the stationary and journals. The Barnes and Noble in my area has a whole section devoted to that stuff. I love it. Maybe you’d find me there, but most likely I’d wander over to Staples or Office Depot and walk around, staring at all of the office supplies.

What is your favorite character’s “favorites”? Give us a list! 
1.  Sex.
2.  Booze.
3.  Killing

Do you have a certain routine you have for writing?
I don’t have a set routine, though I do write all my first drafts by hand. Other than that, I write when I can, for any amount of time that I can, and I keep doing it until the story is done.

Do you read all the reviews of your book/books? – Why or Why not? Can you remember your first great one and the worst one?
I did at first so I could get some constructive criticism, but as I move forward and build my career, I’m not going to read them. I think it might be really damaging. It just seems like it will be too much of a rollercoaster, too much of a distraction.

My first great review was so exaggeratedly positive that I didn’t believe it. It was from a Goodreads giveaway winner. She received the book and posted the review really soon afterward—like less than a day.

My first bad one was a two star review on Goodreads. No written review. Just the stars. Some of the criticism of the other reviews was negative, too, but like I said, they did a good job being constructive about it.

How did you feel knowing more than just yourself would be reading your work?
Outstanding. That’s the goal, right? I’m really looking forward to seeing the stories that people like. I’ve created a lot of worlds, and I’m excited about expanding them.

Who was the first person to ever read a story/poem of yours?
Other than my sixth grade class, the first person I entrusted with my first story was my girlfriend during my junior year in high school. This was the story that was inspired by “‘Repent Harlequin . . .” I remember her response to reading it was something like, “You should keep trying.”

 How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?: 
It all depends. Sometimes I choose names for a purpose or to symbolize something, like Lily and Isa (Lily is pretty and Isa is devoted). Beta is named for Elizabeth Bathory and behaves accordingly. Mistress Chainwrought from Raleigh’s Prep is as severe as her name, and Mr. Cuff from Tracker’s Travail literally holds children prisoner. I named the cities of Gabriel and Salvation (from “The Unan,” “Savages,” and “Coming Home”) to make them seem more religious. The scientific compound in those same stories is named Compound B.

If names are chosen just for names, I try to make them fit the personality of the character, like Dan from “Prey,” who is just a regular guy, or Oliver from Tracker’s Travail, who is kind of a nerd.

Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?: I plan a little bit, but too many unplanned things occur during the drafting for me to know too much about the characters ahead of time. I like to create them, get to know them a little bit, then see what happens as the plot unfolds.

What is your favorite book and Why?  Have you read it more than once?: 
I’ve read too many books for one to be my favorite, but the three books I read over and over in the past were The Lord of the Rings, A Confederacy of Dunces, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

I read The Lord of the Rings as obsessively as any geeky teenage boy who likes to read. The world building was incredible, I loved the action scenes, the complex architecture of it all.

A Confederacy of Dunces was an early-20’s read. Ignatius J. Reilly was such an amazing character, and I’d never read a book about a man completely imploding (curse you oh Fortuna!) in such a spectacular and funny way.

I fell in love with Chabon’s syntax and diction in Kavalier and Clay. I loved the way he mingled high and low brow literature in the story, too. The former is a little to florid for me now; I still like the strategy of the latter.

Your favorite food is?: Beer.  

Your favorite singer/group is?: 
Right now, Josh Homme tops my list. He’s a rock and roll machine. I’ll listen to anything he produces. The projects of his that I like the most are Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, and the latest Iggy Pop album.

Your favorite color is?: Transparent.

What sparked the idea for this book?
A Knife in the Back is the result of two things:

1.  I wrote a set of short stories that reflected some of my favorite horror scenarios.
2.  Raleigh’s Prep is the result of two failed novels that involved the three main characters, Topher, Zorn, and Gertrude. I always knew I was going to write a novel that delved into their backstory, and after the first two books failed, I decided to do it.

You Will Be Safe Here and Burn All The Bodies follow the same strategy: I wrote short stories to complement the genre or theme of the book, then I wrote a sequel to Raleigh’s Prep.

Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
Both and neither. When I write a first draft, I usually plan an arc and obstacles just to get going. After each day of writing, I write notes as to where the next session should lead. Sometimes it adheres to the plan, sometimes I have to create something entirely new. It’s part of the fun. (I suppose that’s a part of my process, too.)

What was the hardest part to write in this book?
Raleigh’s Prep as a whole was very difficult. It went through so many permutations that the final result is vastly different from the initial draft. I had to transform what was essentially a series of unconnected events into a solid narrative. Also, the tone of the first drafts was too wacky. It took a while to transform the novel from something that was zaniness for zaniness’s sake to a narrative with a solid arc, momentum, and humor. 

How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope they are intrigued by these worlds I’ve created, and I hope they get/like the humor. I also want them to understand the comment I’m making about horror scenarios as a whole; that as fun as they are to read, they’re kind of ridiculous exaggerations. I hope they see that, and I hope they see some of the cultural criticism.

 What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?

1.  Don’t worry about traditional publishing anymore. It’s great if you get an agent and a contract, but you’ll need to learn how to market your fiction with or without a publishing deal.
2.  Read everything you’re interested in, fiction, non-fiction. Write as much as you can. On the days when you know you should write but don’t feel like it, do this: pick up the pen, go over to your notebook, and write anyway. (If you use a computer, turn it on and write.) Even if you’re not satisfied with what you’ve written, you’ve given yourself something to work on.
3.  Take risks, don’t be afraid of failing, learn from constructive criticism, and when you’re ready, learn about marketing.

If you could have any superpower what would you choose?
The power to make anything poop in its pants. It is a very terrible thing to be able to do this. Gross but effective. I could bring down whole armies. Unless they were armies of robots, as robots don’t eat and tend not to have digestive systems.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
My most rewarding experience was winning two grants to be able to turn all of my fiction into something I called the PULP! project. Essentially I created an entire curriculum out of the fiction, wrote non-fiction, recorded audio, made DIY video, turned it all into an iBook, all to be able to teach 21st Century skills to my students. I got to present it at the College Board Convention in New York City a few years back.

Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.
The short stories in A Knife in the Back are creepy, eerie, and scary, all without drowning the reader in gore, and Raleigh’s Prep is fun and humorous and action packed.

What’s your favorite season/weather? Fall.

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about writing?
Finding typos or grammar mistakes or poorly written sections after I thought I’ve finished the final draft. I know I can’t catch it all, and I’m not a perfectionist, but they still drive me crazy.
If you could be any famous person for one day, who would you be and why?
I don’t want to be anybody famous. I have a hard enough time being myself.

If you could meet any famous person, who would it be? What would be the first thing you say to them? Famous people don’t intrigue me. There are too many non-famous people who are much more interesting. So if I met a famous person, I probably wouldn’t say anything to him or her at all. Unless they stepped on my foot or hit me with a car or tried to cut in line, in which case I would say (in all three instances), “Hey, watch it, [jerk].”

Favorite Superhero ? Or if you could be a superhero, who would you be or what super power would you have and why? Beowulf. Only because he’s such an arrogant prick. It’s one thing to defeat Grendel, but did he really have to hang his arm from the rafters? Talk about rubbing it in. Then he killed his mother! Beowulf essentially wiped out an entire family so he could brag about it to his friends. I’m glad the dragon finally got him. At least he’s not Hamlet, that whiny little sod.

Sadly, folks - That's all we have for today! 
Thanks for joining me and James, and be sure to check out all of Jame's links! 

Thank you again, James for joining me today! 

Be sure to stop by next Tuesday, for another great Author Interview! 


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