Ultimately, though, writing genre is the same as other writing. I’m a big believer in Faulkner’s comment that we are all writing about the heart in conflict with itself. That conflict and the challenges we face as humans exists in one of Ray Bradbury’s Martian villages as much as it does in Jay Gatsby’s mansion.
In your novelette, Old Equations, a character consider Einstein as a “minor thinker.” Why did you choose a scientist who has done so much to spawn sci-fi as someone to minimalize?
The Old Equations is an alternate history, where the core tragedy involves around a married couple realizing that their expectation on how a deep space mission will go is not at all what they expect. This is a great example of how you build science fiction: We start with an impossible “if:” If relativity existed but no one knew about it, what would happen to a couple when one of them is on a mission that suddenly experience relativity effects? The answer is a heartbreaking discovery, and how the couple deal with this deeply personal and sad situation is the core of the story. Which brings us to your question: The entire story would not exist at all if I were not able to somehow create a world where Einstein’s theories were ignored. So I killed him early in his life and created a history where his influence was quickly dismissed.
In short, to create this tragic situation that illustrates a husband and wife dealing with unexpected loss, I had to create the scenario where this loss occurred.
Your current novel, Tommy Black and the Staff of Light, is listed as a trilogy. When do you expect to release the other books? What made you decide it could be a series?Book 2 will be out in February, while book 3 will be out in April. I can say now that I’m 90% certain there will be a book 4, which I will most likely release in July or August. I love how J. K. Rowling and Rick Riordan handled their series: Single books that could be read as stand-alones with a bigger story that slowly reveals itself. With the final book being how all those pieces come together.
I know you’ve done numerous short stories, but when did you actually start writing your first book? How many re-writes do you think you did?
I'm amazed by your gigantic rewrites of 40,000, 30,000 and 50,000 words. That's like totally rewriting your book. What stopped you from just throwing in the towel and saying it's too much work?
An example of the former is a horror novelette I wrote. It is decent, and the final scene is heartbreaking, but I really couldn’t find a way to fix all the various pieces to make it a cohesive whole. I may recycle the ending in another story someday, but for now it is sitting on my hard drive.
Who encouraged you in your writing?
Along the way, the biggest encouragement came from my own family and a local critique group here in Dallas, the Writers Garret. They critiqued practically every chapter, and kept encouraging me to keep writing.
Are you active with any writer’s critique groups? If so, how have they helped you?I have two critique groups. One is an organized group in Dallas that I mentioned above—the multi-genre Tuesday night group at the Writers Garret. They could not have been more helpful at helping me hone my craft at writing. They are a treasure. The other group is a loose collection of writer friends who I can count on to critique my work. Critiques are invaluable, and they have helped me in every possible way, from grammar to character motivation to description guidance. They look at what I write and tell me where I went wrong.
I can’t find anything online about your publisher, Currents and Tangents. Is this your self-publishing imprint? Did you send your novels out to traditional publishers or agents?
Yes, Currents & Tangents is my self-publishing imprint. I created it solely to make the business side easier to manage for paperwork, but the reality is that this is Jake Kerr Press. I sent the novel out to about 50 agents, and the feedback was lukewarm. One agent felt it was too in between middle grade and young adult, while another simply didn’t love it, although he loved my writing and wanted me to send him my next novel. Two major publishers asked for the book. The first really liked it but the imprint didn’t handle middle grade. The other was still looking at it when I decided to self-publish and withdrew it.
What made you decide to go the indie route?
I decided to self-publish because I ultimately felt the risk/reward of self-publishing was worth pursuing. I tested the waters with The Old Equations, and it sold well. I also took part in an anthology series that was self-published by Hugh Howey and John Joseph Adams. That was a raging success. There are many more reasons, but the biggest one was that I had seen the potential and felt it was worth the risk.
What marketing has worked best for you?
For me, my challenge is to find ways to climb that mountain, to gain a few feet and set a new foothold, climb a few more feet and secure myself. So when I look at my sales and I see that my rank is, say, 9,000--which is quite strong when you consider there are millions of books on sale on Amazon—I know that the real battle, the tough battle, is growing from there. It is in many ways an endeavor that requires a lot of luck, so I put myself to be in the position to be lucky as much as I possibly can.
Have you done the Kindle free books promotions?
What has surprised you the most about getting published other than the excitement of seeing your books in print?
I was so busy doing all of the publishing work that I was surprised by something that I should have considered a hope all along but simply didn’t consider: That kids would actually like my book. It’s been out for a little more than a month, and I’ve had kids tell me it’s their new favorite book, create fan art for it, and been told by teachers that there is a waiting list to take the book out of classroom libraries. What an amazing, wonderful surprise.
What advice would you give someone who thinks they have the great novel in them just waiting to be told?
We all have stories to tell. We all have novels inside us. All of us. Writers are the ones that feel the overwhelming need to share those stories via the written word. So my first bit of advice is to be a writer. So write your novel down. It will suck. It won’t maybe suck. It WILL suck. But get it down. Then take it to a critique group. It can be online, in your hometown, writers you meet at a convention. However you get to know them, show them your work and examine their guidance.
What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing?
What do you wish you knew sooner about writing that you know now?
That guided practice would be as effective as it is. Once I graduated from college I tried to write, but my writing was so horrible, and I had no idea how to fix it. As a result, I stopped writing for 20 years. It was only when I had guided feedback that I truly understood where I was going wrong. And this was done with hard work. Before I completed a single story I had done dozens and dozens of writing exercises. Looking at all the pieces of writing that I had trouble with before. When I finally did start writing stories, I was able to understand not only what I was doing wrong but how to fix it.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about writing?
Momentum is often important. So many writers get lost staring at a blank page. Just remember that you can always delete the words you start with. So start writing and let your imagination carry you away.
Thank you for taking the time to share your writing story with me. If you would like to learn more about Jake and his writing, here's a couple of links to get you started.