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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bringing Intrigue to History: Author Interview with Jason Born

When did you start your first novel? Was there any particular author you read that made you think, I could write like that? What drew you to writing historical fiction?
I had written in various forms for many years. My work allowed me to write quarterly newsletters that were not the pinnacle of a literary masterpiece, but it allowed me to expel at least a part of my creative energy. I also wrote poetry (it is liberal indeed to call the trash I typed poetry) for personal consumption. Since my teens, I had thought that one day I would pen a novel.

Work stress and other events in life, at last, prompted me to commit to writing that novel in 2011. I had been reading more and more of Bernard Cornwell’s action and adventure historical novels and loved the idea of teaching history through a well-spun tale. I studied his own beginnings as an author and discovered that he like I was at the time, was in his mid-30s before he sat down to write a novel. Cornwell, in turn, had been inspired by Patrick O’Brian’s naval stories to set off on his own writing career.

How long did it take you to write your first book? How many rewrites did you do on it?
I describe myself as a digital person, not in the sense that I love technology, for I do not. However, my personality is such that I am either completely on or completely off like a digital switch. Once I had decided to sit down to write the story I had in mind, things moved quickly.

It started off rocky, to be sure. To get my first sentence took at least thirty minutes!But I
was already learning. My first full paragraph was done after another half hour. And with the passing of thirty more minutes, I had my first page. Quite honestly, from there, the characters and their stories took over. I found that I merely had to record their exploits that I saw happening in my mind.

It took about six months to write The Norseman, my first novel. When it was finally done, I 
had swept through it at least a dozen times. Frankly, my writing wasn’t as strong as I had always considered it to be. Trusted friends served as my editors on this particular work. Since that novel, I’ve hired various editors.

Who encouraged you along the way?

My wife is my biggest fan and supporter and I value her opinion. More than once she has said something in passing that was the key to unlocking a door that had blocked a story’s progress.

Are you active with any writing critique groups?
I am not involved with any local writers’ group or workshop. I recognize that such a body may improve my writing from a technical aspect. But family and work pull me in other directions. Also, I have never had difficulty in idea generation for tales. History is filled with outlandish yarns, individuals, and events – almost too many from which to pick!

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc.
The hardest part for writers, I think, is as individual as tastes in food or music. For me, I feel exhausted before, during, and after writing what I call “transitional” scenes. In crafting my tales, I sketch out a rough story arc. 

For example, some tragic event happens to our hero. That tragedy sets a series of events in motion. He or she will have to be here, here, and here along the way and end up somewhere specific at the resolution. In between those major events in life, I have to fashion the little things that readers say make my characters and stories relatable. Even though many are larger-than-life characters they all have failures and faults along the way.

Starting is usually fairly simple for me. I just start with something that will make sense to kick off everything that follows. There’s a logic to it.

Scenes and dialogue, in general, take care of themselves. As I mentioned earlier, the characters have stories that they want to share (yes, they become as real to me as real people – maybe more so).

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.
You must be born with or develop a fairly thick skin as an author. For a first-time author to be picked up on his or her first submission is a rare enough occurrence to consider it a near impossibility. Of course, the readers of this blog may not like such supposed negativity. But if a would-be author knows the odds are stacked against him or her and still proceeds, I believe the first layer of thick skin has already formed.

More than once I have been excited to learn that an agent would like to read my full manuscript, only to be turned down ultimately. 

There are at least two things that keep me writing. The first is that I feel I have stories rattling around in my skull that need to be told, regardless the opinion of two score of agents! Secondly, and this is not insignificant, the fellow authors I have met who are published through more traditional houses rather than today’s simple self-publishing marketplaces are no more, and in fact often less, happy than am I. I have total creative control. I can decide on artwork and publication dates. I don’t have folks telling me what or what not to include. I also find that except for the most successful authors, of course, I sell a greater number of copies and make a little more moolah than my traditionally published peers.

What has surprised or frustrated you the most in writing/publishing?
I have been most surprised by the speed at which the technology and marketing of the books have so rapidly changed. Even in 2012, there were still quite a lot of people still reading on Nook. I don’t know anyone who does any longer. used to be much more Indie author friendly. But now that Amazon owns them, it has shifted its emphasis to two ends of the spectrum – books for mass consumption on one end and more literary on the other end. 

Left without a home, in my opinion, are the vast multitude of books. Amazon, too, has changed how it highlights Indie authors as it strives to gather more revenue streams. I’ve found that many of my books used to slowly build and find themselves on lists which Amazon would compile and send out to readers. I don’t believe they compile some of those Indie lists any longer.

As a result, at exactly the time a marketing budget is becoming more important for Indie books, the ability to fund it through unexpected book sales has slipped.

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
Once you have success in a particular genre or series, stay there! Just when I began to build a truly sizable following with my Nor
seman Chronicles series, I felt like a change of pace and wrote about Rome’s incursion into Germania during the reign of Augustus. This series was written with the same gusto as my first and was better told overall, but it failed to capture 
my existing reader’s imaginations.

I had to learn the hard way that since I had more fuel to add to the Norseman Chronicles, I should have used it right away. I should have held off on the Wald Chronicles and Lions & Devils until a later date.

What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
Sometimes new authors, especially those in historical fiction, get caught up in research. Research is important to create authenticity, but in the end it is story, story, story. If the reader cares about the characters and is invested in the story, one or two minor errors in historical details is forgivable. No one will read a novel with perfect historical detail that surrounds a ghastly story.

Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?
Perhaps clich├ęd, but if you think you want to write, you must write and write. Eventually, through toil and tears, you might actually figure it out. I hope this happens for me someday.

Do you have another book in the works? Can you give me a short synopsis?
My most recent publication is League of the Lost Fountain. It is my first time-slip, historical fantasy book for adults and kids. All my previous works had a grittier, more grown-up tone.

League of the Lost Fountain is about Elias, an imaginative nine-year-old boy whose parents
are forced to sell off their family farm. Before the auctioneers arrive, however, Elias takes matters into his own hands and sets off to discover a legendary remedy. His adventure quickly spans both place and time. 

While traveling in the Age of Exploration, his firm belief that dreams can come true inspires a tired explorer to go on one more voyage. They, along with other unexpected visitors from the future, battle high seas, cannibals, and conquistadors. Together, they will reveal life lessons in stewardship, love, and forgiveness as well as discover an enchanting gift that will captivate generations of children and adults the world over.

Do you plan on a new series?
The first book in my newest series should be available in the fall. The book is untitled at this point, but the series is called The Long Fuse. It will follow a young runaway Quaker from Pennsylvania as he finds himself caught in the fight between two empires in the French and Indian War. I expect the series to be at least 10 books in length following the hero throughout his life serving first a King of Great Britain, and then a Continental Congress, and finally the first President of the United States.

Sounds like you have a large body of work ahead of you! If you would like to learn more about Jason's books, here are some links to get you started.

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