Hello Readers and Writers! Author Jonathon Mast graciously agreed to stop by for an interview and to let me throw all sorts of questions at him. I hope you find his insights on writing and publishing as interesting (and entertaining) as I did!
SO, Jon, when did you become “a writer”? Was it something you always did? Did it become part of your life later on?
Wait… you ask this as if it’s a past tense. I’m a writer?! That’s awesome! When did that happen?
Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. I loved reading from before I can remember. My parents tell me that they would take me places as a toddler, put me in a corner with a book, and I’d stay in the same place all night. When I rode the bus to school, I told stories to the other kids.
So, yeah. I’ve always written!
The book that’s coming out next month is your second published novel. Both have fantasy elements, but one is an adult stand-alone and this one is a YA trilogy. Have you found that your writing process has changed with the shift from one type of story to the other?
First off, this is a harder question than you might realize! Second off, it’s not a trilogy… it’s a QUADRILOGY! Well, assuming the characters don’t fight back and turn this into a 5-book series…
Oh! Not the point of the question. Right!
My first novel, The Keeper of Tales, took literally decades to write and polish. It was the first long-form storytelling I had done. I completely pantsed it – in other words, I had no idea where I was going. I had no clue how to finish it.
That also meant that revisions were insanely difficult. We added a main character, chucked the first fifty pages of the story, eliminated about a half-dozen unneeded characters… the first draft was a mess.
In comparison, I fully outlined Dragons of the Ashfall and in fact the entire series before writing a single scene. That meant going in I knew the ending I was aiming toward, I knew what scenes had to be included, and who the main characters were. Now, there was still plenty of bendy situations where I strengthened one character here or added a scene there. But knowing all that in advance meant that the entire process was streamlined. Yes, it still needed editing, but not the insane overhaul that Keeper of Tales did!
That IS quite a change, and makes a good case for some outlining time pre-writing. (I should have probably done that before NaNo this year…)
You and I share a similar writing situation in that we both have kids at home and “day jobs” to juggle. Do you have any tips to share with writers who are trying to find a way to balance their craft with their life?
Aren’t writers unbalanced by nature?
I mean, um…
Here’s the best advice I could give: If you intend to write, put it in your calendar. Take it as seriously as you would any other appointment. For me, I write after the kids go to bed (or when I shove them into their bedrooms). I’ll have about an hour a day to write. That means I don’t have a lot of time for playing Zelda or watching my Youtube shows, but writing is more important for me.
If it’s a priority, make it a priority.
On the flip side, don’t feel guilty if you don’t get around to it. I don’t write every day. I can’t. There are days when I’m so exhausted it doesn’t happen. That’s okay. God did not command, “THOU SHALT WRITE.” Make it a priority, but not a necessity.
THAT sounds like a balance that makes sense. Of course, to use that writing time, we must have ideas! Do you find your writing inspiration in any particular place?
I know some writers will make inspiration boards or use writing prompts, and those things can be incredibly useful tools. For me, though, when I try to find inspiration, I often fail.
Sometimes an image will capture my imagination. For instance, I once saw a construction crane covered in falling snow. A story flowed from that image. (Alas, that one’s not published yet!)
Sometimes it’s a feeling. The Keeper of Tales came from me trying to recapture what I felt when I heard “Into the West” at the end of Return of the King.
Oooh, that’s a lovely piece of music. Are there other writers who inspire you? How?
A number of authors have inspired me, but not with their storytelling. Instead, I often see them as role models. Kendra Merritt of Mishap’s Heroes is not just a kind person, but a great storyteller. Lydia Sherrer of Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus I met first as an author, and then read her work. Her generosity and verve make me smile! I want to be as grace-filled as they are.
You’ve published short fiction in a number of venues as well as working with Dark Owl Publishing for short fiction and now novels- do you have any insights to share for people who are looking to publish? Advantages/disadvantages of different publishing routes?
Ha! You’re really asking difficult questions!
I started writing short stories as an attempt to “break in” to writing. I figured it would be easier to get short stories published than a novel. And that’s kind of true; there are plenty of anthologies that put out calls for submissions. On the other hand, I’ve heard that for every place for a short story, three hundred stories are submitted. That means that any story you send in has plenty of competition!
What that meant, though, is that I would be combing any open submission to see if I either had a story that matched what was asked for, or if I could write one. I also developed relationships with a number of the editors, in particular Andrea at Dark Owl. She let me know she’d be open to seeing a novel from me. So yeah, I sent it in!
Of course, none of that is self-publishing, which is a different story entirely that I may be dipping my toes into soon… then I really can answer your question much better!
But I can say this: Revise revise revise. Any place you submit to has seen so many stories, yours needs to be top-notch to stand out!
You write very unique characters with detailed backstories. Do you have any tips to share on crafting character backgrounds for writers?
For Keeper of Tales, those detailed backstories flowed from all the many massive revisions. After the first draft, my wife and I went back and wrote backstories not only for the characters, but their cultures as well. As I revised, I included those backstories more and more.
But one of the best things I think a person could do to craft unique characters is find a unique voice. Neal Shusterman is a master of this. Read The Schwa Was Here. Antsy has such a unique voice! I endeavor to be as good as he is someday!
Find a way for your character speak a way that you don’t. That might be unique vocabulary or bad grammar (or good grammar if you speak with bad grammar). And once you have a unique way to speak, everything else should fall into place. I hope, at least!
Being a fantasy writer, I’d assume that world-building is a big part of your writing process- am I right? Do you have any tips for creating unique worlds, or processes you follow?
I wish I could tell you I follow a detailed process, but… I really don’t. I simply follow a character, and if that character’s story requires something to be there, BAM! It’s there. Cause I’m the writer and I can do that!
In my upcoming novel, Dragons of the Ashfall, I knew that there had to be a corrupt leadership in the city of Londinium. It’s a steampunk setting, so as I outlined, I figured, well, it makes sense if that group was called the Gear. So there you go! Utilitarian worldbuilding!
I’d highly recommend reading Neal Shusterman for amazing worldbuilding. His Unwind and Scythe are amazing at presenting a question, and then having answers spill out from that question that simply make sense.
It’s a pleasure to have you visit, Jon! Thank you so much for stopping by, and all the best with your upcoming novel release. I’m excited to enter the world of the Gear! (From a safe, non-ashy place of course!)
Thank you for your questions! It’s been a pleasure! You can find me at https://jonathonmastauthor.com/. I have links to a number of free-to-read short stories, along with my own blog!
Free stories!!! Readers, if you’d like more information on Jon and his writing, his bio is below along with information about his first published novel, The Keeper of Tales. His new book, Dragons of the Ashfall, comes out on December 1st.
Thank YOU so much for stopping by today!
Jonathon Mast has always reveled in stories. From Thundercats to Star Trek to Prydain, he ate up any stories he could lay his eyes on. On the bus to school, other kids begged him to tell stories every day.
Now Jon lives in Kentucky with his wife and an insanity of children. (A group of children is called an insanity. Trust me.) In his “day job” he serves as a pastor of a local church.
He’s also writing… pretty much constantly. He uncovers stories, discovering them one syllable at a time. And reading books to his kids.
The Fallen Lord knows how traditional stories unfold: And unlikely hero will gather a member of every race and every nation to discover his dark secret and cause his defeat.
But the Fallen Lord has discovered a new tactic, and has made sure this group can never gather. And now, Adal, an old, world-weary man and the most unlikely of heroes, must guide those who survive. But will the stories be satisfied with the company he leads? Has the Fallen Lord at last found a way to conquer the Storied Lands by turning the very tales against them?
Jonathon Mast has woven a tale where stories come alive. Their telling narrates the world around them, giving heroism to the brave or bringing evil to power. Mast brings a distinctive and varied cast along into an unusual quest, led by an aged king who carries his doubts in the folds of his robes. This rich and epic adventure shows us the power of imagination and the influence of true friends, and how the combination enhances our courage and gives us strength.
Stories are alive. They will be told.
And coming on December 1: