Interview with Jon Guenther
Jon, you have a day job and yet have written 40 books. How do you manage work and writing? Any productivity tips to share?
It can be tricky! Foremost it takes discipline, which I’m sure I acquired from years in both military and firefighting services. Plus, it’s not really all that hard to do when you love to write. It does require setting a goal of some type, be it word count or minutes, hours, etc. The thing many don’t understand (and often the chief cause many aspiring writers fizzle out), is a writer needs to write every day. At least I do, so it’s about making time. To be productive you must have first have discipline or train yourself to be more disciplined. After that, being productive comes down to work habits. For example, for years I’ve been a “pantster” (just sit down and write) but my last few books I’ve begun to cling to the idea of structuring everything: characters, themes, plots, storyline. Especially after discovering programs like Snowflake Pro and Hiveword. Another tip I’d say is find a writing spot. Get away from the distractions. I often sit on my couch and write, or more often in my home office, but it’s usually when my wife’s reading, the animals have been fed, and the TV is off because I’m a Netflix addict.
Thirty of your books were written as part of a team for Don Pendleton’s The Executioner and Stony Man series. How did that work and what are your thoughts on writing as part of a team?
That has to be one of the funniest stories because it’s really what launched my writing career. You see, I’d long been a fan of the late Don Pendleton’s work. He’s one of my favorite writers. I grew up reading those series and others like The Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Dick Sapir. The desire to write had always been in me, from a pretty young age I think. I sent a sample to Don and a fan letter and he made a very gracious reply. I think there was more good advice packed into those two simple pages than I’ve seen across several writing books. He encouraged me to keep at it and although he didn’t critique what I sent he said “It’s good and you should keep at it.” Ironically, I’ve been friends with his wife Linda Pendleton, a completely successful writer in her own right, for the past twenty years or so.
I crashed and burned with the editor at Harlequin’s Gold Eagle imprint on my first attempt to break into the series, and he rejected the samples I submitted. But a few years later while trying to sell the paperback rights to the Chaser series, he liked what he saw in those books and offered me another shot. By that time, I’d learned a lot and had some experience and I fell into it as a natural. At last, I was writing and getting paid to do it! I also needed the part-time income because I made just enough cash in my full-time job to scratch by but literally no extras. I wanted a better life so I wrote for the money as well as the joy. Get paid for what you love to do. I mean, right?
Writing as part of a team felt pretty seamless. First off, that series probably stands as the Cadillac, if you will, of most action-adventure series of this kind. The writers I worked with are really good at their craft, not to mention I count many of them as friends still today. We also benefitted from excellent editors and they often deferred to our better judgment in the stories. It’s not really a surprise since a good many of the writers of the series were fans, first. I had personally read every book in the original 38 books written by Don Pendleton twice. I knew everything about Mack Bolan and the other characters. They were real to me (probably in part because I turned to the books for escape during my difficult adolescent years where I’d experienced a lot trauma and heartache). So insofar as writing on a team I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this highly talented group, not to mention a contributor to the mythos and legend behind Mack Bolan.
You write in multiple genres: action-adventure, Christian, and Science Fiction. How has that worked for you? Do your readers follow you across genres?
You know, I’ve not studied it so I don’t know how to answer the question about reader following. I suppose there are some readers who follow me because they enjoy my writing regardless the genre. I never realized I even had a following until I did a panel at one of the Bouchercon conferences a few years ago and several people came up and asked me to autograph their Mack Bolan or Stony Man books. One woman even asked me to sign a copy of Chaser. Who would have thought it?
As to how it works, it’s been admittedly tough. I’m not really a “marketing” person. I don’t have a lot of experience with that kind of thing and frankly, I’d rather have a root canal. So it’s been hard to gauge readership reaction or metrics. My choice to write in multiple genres is an entirely personal and individual decision, really, and not any attempt at hitting a target market. While many experts would call this a crazy way to go (unless I chose to write using various pseudonyms, a thought on which I debated a long time), it’s not all that unusual a decision for me. I’ve been breaking the “rules” of the writing business—a business for which I hold an unexplainable bit of contempt—for years and yet I’ve had a successful second career as a writer. Don’t misunderstand, I love my readers and other writers. Guess I’m just not much for accepting the norms of it. Dean Wesley Smith calls this “Killing the sacred cows of publishing” and that’s about the best way I’ve heard it for my attitude.
Basically, I’m doing what I promised myself I would do when I got into this: writing what I want to write and telling good stories. That’s more or less why I’ve adopted the phrase: “I’m merely a storyteller.” That’s my way of saying, “Hey, I’m out here doing what I want to do and I hope you enjoy it.” It takes the pressure off—not in making sure I put my best foot forward with each new project I tackle, of course. I value my readers much more than that! Look, it comes down to this: I have something to say and I’m going to find the best way to say it that serves the needs of the story while entertaining readers.
It looks like you're planning big things for your next series, Dreadfall, which you are releasing serially. It almost seems like you are making a platform of sorts from it. What’s the story behind that?
Up to this point, all my science fiction has been short stories or unpublished novellas. DREADFALL™ was one of those things I’ve spent years creating and imagining in my mind, trying to envision exactly what it is and what I’m trying to say. It has some very deep themes running beneath it, and I knew very early on I wanted to use science fiction to explore some of those things, those deeper questions I have about myself and my relationship to other people and, it may surprise others to know, some ongoing personal struggles with my fallible humanity vs. my moral Christian compass. I’m also a big console gamer (love my Xbox 360) and some of those games have some really great storylines behind them.
So I finally put the two ideas together and asked myself, What if I wrote a serialized version of this instead of a straightforward novel or a series of books, and then eventually open that up to a few other writers? So yes, definitely looking to make a platform out of it where it becomes almost like a series with a team of writers contributing short stories (which will be called “episodes”) once I’ve fully fleshed out the series guide. Ironically, I’m doing that fully using the power of Hiveword! Hiveword has made it so easy for me to transition to novel organization and it has been invaluable to my work for this series. And with the Writer Knowledge Base backing it, plus access to Jim Bell’s excellent Knockout Novel program on structure, how can a writer go wrong? Going back to our question about productivity, I’d say a writer could far improve their work using Hiveword.
What I’ve not yet found is an easy platform to open up DREADFALL™ to other writers while still being able to review the content before it gets published, etc. I admittedly haven’t looked really hard but so far I don’t see any place that would really allow me to do that. Recently I discovered Channillo and felt that would be an excellent venue on which to get things started, but I don’t know about the future yet. Last week I published Episode I: Stranded and readers can subscribe to that for $4.99 a month, as well as up to nine other serialized works. I’ve been reading some of the other work up there and it’s really good, so it’s totally worth the few bucks. As is your recent offer for Hiveword, by the way, for any who may be reading and are looking for a way to be convinced. The one-time $25.00 is worth it for the journaling feature alone, and with the 14-day no frills trial there’s really no risk!
I will keep those interested in DREADFALL™ apprised in my blog as things develop. There are still quite a few logistics tied up with a trademark attorney, right now, to make sure I protect the intellectual property as a whole. But more is definitely coming soon and I’m eventually thinking about approaching a renowned literary agent and owner of a publishing company with the idea to see if he has any interest in helping me expand it—a suggestion, incidentally, made by good friend and award-winning author, Jack Cavanaugh.
What’s next for you?
Well outside of DREADFALL™, I’ve also begun an original action-adventure serial line at Channillo called Dagger. The first two chapters of book one, Bad Influence, are up and available for anyone who wants to subscribe.
I’ve also started a newsletter called Jon Guenther Direct for those who would prefer to have updates pushed to them rather than subscribe to my blog or go searching. Also, signing up for my newsletter is a way to enter for free autographed books!
Where can we find you online?
That’s the best place, as it contains links to all of my other online venues, blogs, etc. And let me take this great opportunity to thank you, Mike, for allowing me to answer questions and for creating Hiveword. I hope readers will explore the many things we’ve discussed. Happy writing and reading. And God bless us, every one!