An Interview with John E. Stith
From your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?
That’s a little like picking a favourite child except that books don’t have feelings. If I had to narrow it down a lot, I’d say two novels: MANHATTAN TRANSFER and REDSHIFT RENDEZVOUS. MT tells the story of the kidnapping of the island of Manhattan, in which it winds up aboard an enormous spaceship in a collection of alien cities. RR is set aboard a hyperspace craft where the speed of light is ten meters per second and relativistic tricks happen at observable speeds.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external hard drive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
I was actually able to sell my first novel (SCAPESCOPE), after maybe a dozen drafts and a few years. I think it’s the weakest of my novels, and I’ve sometimes wished I’d had a stronger book for my entrance to professional publication, but on the other hand one parent told me it was the first book his son ever read cover to cover. That made up for a lot of second thoughts.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
There have been a few times in my career when I could finish a novel in a bit over a year, but for me it’s a stretch. I hear the occasional stories of geniuses who’ve turned out a brilliant novel in an amazingly short time, but that’s not me. For me to do a book in six months, I would have to use the first plot outline I came up with, and go with the first ways that occurred to me to handle each scene. I’m invariably dissatisfied with what comes out onto the page first and have to do a good deal of re-plotting and re-writing before I feel comfortable showing it to anyone else. And even then I get insightful comments and helpful reactions from family, first readers, agents, and editors.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
Early on, I had the habit of writing longhand before work and during my lunch hour, and then transcribing it at night. By the time I got to novel number four or five, I had a laptop (of sorts) that let me use a keyboard from then on. Once in a while I experiment with speech-to-text, but so far I keep going back to the keyboard. I generally write in my office. I’m just not one of the people who can write on trips and at conventions.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
I’ve not hired an editor. The editors I’ve worked with have been employed by my publishers. And while some copy editing was done, the bulk of my editorial input has been related to more macro-level aspects, like characters, setting, and plot. I try to turn in a manuscript that’s as free as possible of grammatical errors and misspellings. Words are the only tool a writer really has to know how to use, so I wouldn’t comfortable sending out a novel that needed someone else to make it professional.
To get beta readers, I’ve solicited on my Facebook page, in my newsletter, and when talking to friends. And my wife has been an enormous help.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I’m torn. I love both. There’s nothing better than a beautiful hardcover book. But over the years I’ve probably discarded in the thousands of books, from paperbacks whose binding disintegrated, to book club editions that fell apart, to magazines whose pages yellowed and crumbled. And I’ve worn out a host of friends who helped me move a few times when I had well over a hundred book boxes to manhandle. So ebooks have become a new love. I love being able to store more than I’d ever need for a vacation, to be able to change the font size, etc. So gradually as I’ve discarded more physical books, my e-library has grown. But I still have a (smaller now) physical library.
When I want a physical book, Hooked on Books in Colorado Springs is a wonderful source.
I get most of my ebooks from Amazon or the local library. In Colorado Springs, the Pikes Pike Library District (PPLD) led the nation in the shift to computers. I can check out ebooks on my phone using Overdrive. PPLD also allows you to check out many e-magazines with the Zinio reader.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favorite genre, and do you have a favorite author who sticks in your mind from:
- childhood? Mostly SF and mysteries, from Hardy Boys to Nancy Drew, Ken Holt, Rick Brant, and more.
- adolescence? Predominantly SF, from Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Simak, Sheckley, Bradbury, and many more.
- young adult? Much the same pattern as for adolescence.
- adult? I’ve seen a gradual shift from SF to mysteries. There are many fine books still being written in SF, but I just found myself drawn to more and more mysteries, mostly psychological thrillers and techno-thrillers. SF is still in my love-to-read pile, though.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. How do you cope with it?
I spent a number of years in software development, so I always felt comfortable with managing first a website and now a website plus social media. For my own site, I like the power that comes with a content management system, in my case Drupal. It offers lots of convenience. As one example, I post book covers with the associated metadata, so a reader could easily find all the US and international covers for a given novel.
I probably spend on average of an hour a week posting on social media. My big three are Facebook (personal and pro), Twitter, and my website (neverend.com). I spend a lesser amount on Google+, Goodreads, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr.
All in all it’s not what I would call fun, except from the thrill of positive feedback from readers and friends, but it seems a necessary part of the business.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
Tempted, but so far I don’t think I’ve done any recycling. Except maybe electrons from the power company.