Author Interview: John Stith
John Dwaine McKenna
Our interviewee today is bestselling and award-winning author John Stith, whose newest thriller Pushback, is reviewed in MBR No 354, along with a brief account of our own serendipitous introduction by Ms. Nickless. It’s an honor to be able to speak with you, and please accept our sincere thank you for doing so. That said, here’s our first question:
Who’s your favorite author?
That’s a tough call, but at the moment, Nelson DeMille and Lee Child. Both write about intelligent, resourceful characters who go their own way, regardless of what law-enforcement officials say, and offer interesting insights into whatever location they’re in. DeMille’s Up Country has a fascinating portrayal of modern day Vietnam from the perspective of someone who was there decades ago in a much different capacity. DeMille’s The Cuban Affair offers an intriguing tour of the new Cuba. Child’s observations of various communities in America ring true and make me feel I’ve spent some time in each place.
I love DeMille’s sense of humor, which really adds to his work. Child offers little humor and often passes my violence comfort level, but his plotting is wonderful and it’s exhilarating to see Jack Reacher a step ahead of where he’s supposed to be.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
I’m an outliner, because I already have to do enough re-writing. Writing a book in which you place clues, and foreshadow where you’re going requires a level of structure that either has to be baked in or kneaded back in after the cake is baked. I want the reader to have an opportunity to get where the protagonist is before the protagonist does. Too early and the protagonist looks dim. Too late, and the reader might think the author isn’t playing fair.
That said, outlining should never preclude surprises along the way.
Do you read your reviews?
Yes, sometimes. Becoming a writer requires one to develop a thick skin or quit. Most writers get plenty of rejections along the way, and the notion that you can’t please all the people all the time is one of the things we all learn early.
The internet brings out the nastiness in some people, but it’s not too hard to distinguish a troll from a reader who just isn’t in your target audience, or an instance where I could have been more skillful. If a troll gets under my skin, the best antidote for me is to read a few negative reviews of books I love. It’s a reminder that even the most beloved works don’t please everyone. Writing a negative but helpful review is a skill that’s rare.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Make writing a habit. Read vociferously in the area you want to write in. Don’t try to keep pace with trends. Write what you love. Say only what you need to and then stop.
What makes a character endearing?
A save-the-cat moment is often a good start. By that I mean the character rescues an underdog, or takes an action that shows us he or she is a fundamentally decent person. (See Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.) A sense of humor can take the edge off a crusty character who might otherwise have less appeal. Doing the smart thing is always good, whether the character is brainy or average. (It’s the characters who go down in the basement needlessly that I lose patience with, even though I know the writer is directing the foolish behavior.)
How did your book first get published?
I will boil this down to the essentials. I wrote a first draft. Then I wrote another half-dozen drafts. I sent it out and had it rejected a few times. I joined a writers workshop where we all gave each other feedback that helped us hone our craft. I did another major draft, and then a couple more drafts, and then tried contacting agents rather than publishers. The first agent said no. The second one said yes. A year later, he called with an offer from Ace Books.
How long did it take?
Start to finish about three years. I was reading my second novel to send to the agent when he called with the good news about the first.
Do you belong to a writers group?
I’ve belonged to several over the years. I found them all extremely helpful, thanks to having a fortunate mix of members. The Colorado Springs Writing Seminar was the group I was in the longest, from the early 80s until the late 90s. I also made the trek to the Northern Colorado Writers Workshop a few years. And finally, I participated in a series of workshops we called Milford Minor, and took an entire long weekend, every 6 to 9 months.
The monthly workshops met on a Saturday or Sunday for a few hours. In all the workshops, the basic format was that people would turn in manuscripts, usually a short story or a chapter or two of a novel, and each member in the group critiqued the pages, identifying what worked for them, and what didn’t. We tried to offer insights that would help a writer tell the story, but not how we would do it. Sometimes, I would see the story in my head wasn’t the one that made it to the page, and I’d find better ways of accomplishing what I wanted to say. The process shortened my learning curve, and served as informal writing classes. Membership in all the groups was capped at around 20, and people were required to submit their own work periodically in order to stay active.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
Thx again for your insights and expertise, and for taking time to speak with our audience today. Please keep us in your contacts list and let the MBR know about your next literary project.
Link to buy: Amazon
John E. Stith is the author of nine novels, including REDSHIFT RENDEZVOUS, a Nebula Award nominee, and MANHATTAN TRANSFER, a Hugo Award Honorable Mention. Several of his works with Ace Books and Tor Books have been bought by the Science Fiction Book Club, optioned for film, and translated into numerous languages. He has optioned several feature-film screenplays, and has sold to television (Star Trek). Complete information on his works may be found at www.neverend.com. During 2016 and 2017 his backlist was re-released in trade paperback and all major ebook formats from ReAnimus Press. His latest novel is PUSHBACK, a mystery-suspense novel published in November 2018 by ReAnimus Press.