Sunday, September 11, 2016

Johnathan Rand Talks Writing

During Grand Rapids Comic Con 2015, we had the distinct privilege of meeting Johnathan Rand. I knew he was crazy and liked him immediately as he was insane enough to have a photo taken with the crazy authors of Booth 529. (He's the tall one to the left...with hair. Not the middle guy or the talented writer/illustrator to the far right.)

As he has been writing for a while, and has quite the collection of Youth Horror titles (my kids have all read him during their time in elementary school) that  take place in Michigan and other states of the U.S.A., I thought it might be interesting to hear what this fine gentleman has to say about the writing craft and the passion of reading and writing.

So, I give to you, Mr. Johnathan Rand.

*bows, cracks head on floor, collapses in a pile, passes out*


CREATIVES HELP BOARD: When did you start writing? I started by being obsessed with filling the blank page. My downfall was wide-ruled 5 subject notebooks back in late elementary/early middle school.

JOHNATHAN RAND: I've always loved to write, ever since I realized I could put my imaginary worlds on paper and they would become 'real.' However, growing up, I never really saw myself as an author. I began going to school/college for Natural Resources Technology. At that time, I took a part-time job at a radio station and fell in love with it. Most importantly, I fell in love with the process of creating radio commercials, writing and producing them, along with news stories, sports, whatever. Although it was a bottom-of-the-barrel-paying job, I didn't care. I loved it, and in future years made a nice career out of writing, voicing, and producing radio commercials for agencies all around the country. In 1995, I began writing an adult fiction novel, and fell in love with the process. Of course, I didn't know what I was doing (and there could be a debate as to whether I know what I'm doing today!), but my love of writing and the creative process is undisputed.

CHB: When did you realize "Hey! It's fun to create!" Me... grew up with Heston and Eastwood movies, 1977 Star Wars viewing...then many strange dreams that I could only purge and regain my sanity by writing them down and trying to make some semblance of them.

JR: Yes! I think I saw some of those same movies. It wasn't until my first few years at the radio station that I truly realized I loved the process of becoming so involved in a project that time vanishes. Years later, when I started writing books, I marveled at the clock when I realized a couple of hours had disappeared. But I think I've always loved the creative process. When I was ten years old, I earned money tying trout flies for sporting goods stores, and I did this through high school. In my twenties, I taught myself how to make willow furniture . . . another wonderful creative outlet. I love the challenge(s) that creativity invokes, and enjoy finding the focus.

CHB: Did you want to be a writer, or was it all by chance? Alien abduction? Spurned from law school?

JR: When I was young, I had a voracious appetite for books and reading anything. Comics, scary stuff, the back of a cereal box. In middle school, I would hike up to Rochette's Party Store in Grayling and use part of my lunch money to buy the Detroit News or Free Press. I think there must've been a few times when I thought of being an author, writing books for a living, but it wasn't anything I took seriously. I did wonder from time to time what it would be like to create one of those wonderful stories that I discovered in the covers of my favorite books, but the idea of writing such a volume of work, such an enormous amount of material, was very daunting. It wasn't until much later in life that I realized the creative process is a slow one, step by painstaking step. I fell in love with the creation of radio commercials, and when I started writing books, I realized there was no turning back. It was just a logical progression in the creative path.

CHB: Thoughts on getting your work 'out there' or 'recognized':

JR: First of all, why are you even doing this? Why do you want to be a writer? And don't tell me it's because you "love to write." If you love to write, then write. Case closed, you're done. Simple.

No, the fact is this: you want to earn money from your writing. Nobody wants to say it, because they don't want to be perceived as "selling out," or "greedy." Well, you'd better get your priorities straight before you embark upon this "career." And it's a tough one. Just walk in to any bookstore and look at your competition. There's more competition in the field of writing than any I've ever seen.

Another question to ask yourself: "What is it that I'm not willing to do?" Wait! Stop right there. You've already shot yourself in the foot. You've read some great science fiction or fantasy or horror or whatever when you were growing up, and you've written what you think is a pretty good book. Well, so has everyone else. Doesn't make you special, doesn't make you different. Doesn't mean you're going to earn a nickel from what you've written. You've jumped into the same ocean that everyone else has, and now you're trying to be...different?

Don't jump into that ocean. Find your own pond or lake or river, a place where you can be unique and different. Find what others aren't doing, and do it. And work your butt off. Find your own uniqueness, and find your own unique way to market it. Keep at it, and never stop. If you're going to be a successful writer, you're going to have to also be a successful marketer and successful businessperson. There is no other way around it.

CHB: When do you write? Is there a BEST TIME for you personally? What is your writing routine/ritual?

JR: There was a time when I would write wherever and whenever I could. However, over the past four years or so, I've gotten into the habit of getting up right around 3 AM or so. Of course, this requires hitting the sack around 8 PM, so I really don't have an exotic, party lifestyle. But each morning, regardless where I am in the country, I am writing by 3:30 AM. The first thing I write is my
journal, and this is done with pen and ink and a classic quill pen. I do this to slow down my thoughts and my mind, and turn the process into more of a tempered, controlled, quiet art. When I am journaling, I'm not concerned with output, and I'm certainly not concerned with plot, narrative, style, whatever. No one is going to read this stuff, anyway, and it's very liberating. Addictive, in fact. I usually write in this fashion for 90 minutes or so before getting down to stories that I'm working on. Typically, I write four or five books at a time, so I jump back and forth, perhaps focusing a little bit more on the one that's pressing, the one that will be released next. When I am writing novels, I typically use my computer, as it is much faster (obviously!) than pen and ink.

CHB: Are you a plotter or a pantster?

JR: Plotting: in most cases, I almost always know how my story is going to end. Yes, I do create outlines/story maps, especially with the books I write in the Michigan Chillers and American Chillers. I do this in a storyboard fashion, and I rewrite the outline over and over until I'm happy with it. Then, when I sit down to write, most, if not all, of the plot problems have already been resolved. It becomes a matter of connecting the dots, following the roadmap I've already created. Naturally, I'll
get some different ideas from time to time and take a few detours, but having a destination assures that I'm going to reach it. Of course, I'm aware that there are many authors who feel that outlines are not only unnecessary but detrimental to the creative process, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King among them. But for me, knowing where I'm going is a guarantee that I will get there. Sure, the story might not turn out as I had hoped, but it will at least be finished.

One more note on that: I write short stories at the proverbial drop of a hat, and in most cases these are not plotted. They are simply walks in the woods, little adventures that I embark upon. Sometimes I'm surprised, sometimes not. But was short stories, I really don't care if the story is good, or even if I finish the story. They are just little journeys, short exploratory travels. I would dare say that most of my short stories aren't very good, and that's just fine with me. I will keep the bad ones under wraps and share the ones that I like.

Johnathan Rand has authored more than 90 books since the year 2000, with nearly 6 million copies in print. His series include the incredibly popular AMERICAN CHILLERS, MICHIGAN CHILLERS, FREDDIE FERNORTNER, FEARLESS FIRST GRADER, and THE ADVENTURE CLUB. He's also co-authored a novel for teens entitled PANDEMIA. Under his pen name of Christopher Knight, he's the author of six adult novels, included the psychological thriller entitled BESTSELLER, which was made into a movie in 2014. When not traveling, Rand lives in northern Michigan with his wife and three dogs. He is also the only author in the world to have a store that sells only his works: CHILLERMANIA is located in Indian River, Michigan and is open year round and receives over 25,000 visitors annually. He loves his wife, their three dogs, and coffee. He despises the publishing industry and stays as far away from it as he can.