Today, I have had the opportunity to interview the author of the Blood Moon, John David Bethel!
Welcome John and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions for you!
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both. The prospect of getting back to a novel I’m writing (or beginning) excites and energizes me every morning. When I’m “in a zone” and the words are flowing, I float through the hours on an adrenaline rush. Then, as is the case with all adrenaline-fueled activities, I generally crash 3 or 4 hours in. Although I push away from the computer at this point, for the next few hours my mind continues racing through what I have written and where it will take the novel.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I think writers must have healthy egos to endure the rejection that comes to all of us from publishers, agents, literary critics and readers. If one has a fragile sense of self, writing is definitely going to be a destructive career choice.
That said, I try not to inject too much of my ego (my “self”) into my writing. An objective lens allows a writer to empathize with all of his/her characters and depict them believably.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
If by this you mean what is destructive or a hindrance to my writing, I'd have to say the demands that life puts on us. I'm sure we've all heard Woody Allen's observation that: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans." Too often, life gets in the way of what I'd rather be doing, which is writing.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I write what I must write. A story will come to me and I sit down and weave through it. I wouldn’t know how to “deliver what readers want.” I hope readers enjoy what I’ve written, but I can’t conceive of trying to force my writing to conform to something that isn’t an organic product of my own creative imagination.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I really don’t know any other authors. I know people whose judgment I trust. Who I respect enough to work with me to edit my writing, or who I will bounce ideas off of, but they aren’t people who have authored novels.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I have written novels that build on previous storylines with some of the same characters, but that is simply the result of having a new and original tale to tell. I suppose it could also be the result of having enjoyed writing about certain characters, or being pulled to move onto a novel that was “born” from a previous storyline, but not because of a conscious effort to connect the novels in any way.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
It didn’t. My writing process has always been the same. I have the kernel of a storyline which builds as I write. I don’t work from an outline nor do I have backstories for my characters. I have no idea where the story is going to take me, and the characters mature and develop with the storyline. Like the reader, I am drawn along as I write and am often surprised where the plot takes me.
What was an early experience where you learned that a lot like superheroes, language has power?
I spent a number of years working in politics where words and language have a great deal of power, and consequences. Legislators and/or candidates often have one opportunity to represent themselves and their vision to constituents and voters. I was so taken with the important role that words and language play in politics and government that I became a speechwriter, and it was through this profession that I came to fully appreciate the power of language.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
A number of authors I enjoy are no longer widely read. In that sense, their work is under-appreciated today. Sinclair Lewis and Aldous Huxley are two writers who have a lot to say to today’s reader. Lewis’s Babbit, in particular, is a favorite of mine. Another is Main Street. For sheer artistry of language, Huxley’s After Many a Summer Dies the Swan is delightful. And, of course, 1984, which has re-entered the best seller lists, is a must.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
The cat because of its fabled curiosity.
What does literary success look like to you?
When readers enjoy my work that to me is literary success. All the hours, days, months, and (too) often years spent hunched over my keyboard pounding away trying to find the best way to convey dialogue believably; to perfect the storyline making certain the chronology is accurate and no plot holes exist; to write and rewrite refining the various descriptive portraits of the characters; and on and on ad nauseum are worthwhile when someone says: “I just finished your book and it was great.” That, to me, is literary success.
That said, it’s also nice when you can sell a few books.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
That depends on the book. Evil Town, my first novel didn’t require a great deal of research. It is a political thriller and given my years working in politics and government, I was able to mine my own experiences for much of what I wrote. There are minor plotlines that deal with elements of the war in Vietnam, and others that borrow from factual events that required fact-checking, but didn’t call for a lot of time spent researching.
Blood Moon, on the other hand, is inspired by a true crime and required a great deal of research. I studied hundreds of pages of trial transcripts to fully understand details of the crime and to get a “feel” for the perpetrators and their victims. I also studied police crime reports. The depositions conducted by attorneys for the defense and prosecution were another source of information. Most helpful were hours of discussions with the private investigator instrumental in solving the case, and with the lone surviving victim of the crime.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Everything. “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” to borrow from the title of a popular book. I’ve noted that I have a coterie of people who read my manuscripts. Many are women. They keep me honest. Most importantly is my wife who, on more than a few occasions has remarked: “A woman would never react this way,” or “A woman would never say that.”
That said, female characters play pivotal roles – and leading roles – in my novels and I haven’t been called out for failing to depict them fully and properly. For this, I credit the women who, as I said, keep me honest.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often?
I borrow from life experience, as do all writers, but I haven’t noticed a trend in my writing that focuses on any single period.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
The novels of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald entranced me and demonstrated how brilliantly-written fiction could gobble readers up and transport them to another place and time. The storytelling ability of Stephen King showed me that a good tale could pull the reader into the story, increase their heartbeat, cause them to perspire with fear and anticipation, and come out the other end invigorated. And the aforementioned Lewis and Huxley taught me that fiction could have a social conscience while also being entertaining.
How do you select the names of your characters?
The personalities of the characters generally determine how they are named. I don’t spend a great deal of time on this chore. I do make a conscious effort to keep the names relatable. That is, I don’t use esoteric names as I think that makes it difficult for the reader to relate to the character.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I wish I could say that I don’t read reviews, but I am very interested in what readers and critics have to say about my writing. There are things that can be learned from both positive and negative reviews.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
No, I don't. I don't see the point of appealing in this way to a limited number of people. I’d rather write so that all readers can relate to the characters and the subject matter.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Any scene for which I have no relative experience is challenging. In Blood Moon, for example, writing the scenes with the psychopaths was difficult since I have had no experience with such sick, twisted individuals. I had to go to some pretty dark places to successfully “imagine” their thoughts and describe how they operated in committing the atrocities they did. It caused me to hone some skills I had not used before and served to polish my craft. But it wasn’t a lot of fun.
What do you do when you get writer's block?
Fortunately, I have never had to deal with writer’s block. There are days when the words don’t flow and I deal with that by keeping my head down and fingers moving across the keyboard.
Meet The Author!