Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An interview with Jesse L. Cairns

Please help me welcome author Jesse L. Cairns. Just to clarify how the interview is formatted here, THK is me. Obviously. Ha. Ha. and JLC is Jesse. Anything in parentheses is my personal musings on his answers. Enjoy. 

THK -  Tell me about yourself. Anything you would like readers know about you?

JLC - It's sort of cliche to say "writing saved my life," but in my case, it pretty much did. I was a terribly unhappy teenager, and scribbling in a series of notebooks seemed to be a good way to let me get some balance and control regarding things. I loved the discovery process, the feeling of accomplishment of when I wrote something better than I had done the previous year... it was like a never-ending series of rewards, and really allowed me to have my own voice.

When I'm not working the day job or writing, I'm a roller derby referee with the Sac City Rollers women's flat-track roller derby league. It's a great calorie-burner and they're an amazing bunch of people. Their do-it-yourself ethic dovetails nicely with writing. I also play a little guitar and have too many cats. That's not very unusual for writers, though.

THK -  Tell me about your current and upcoming releases. Please include a blurb and a link to where the book can be purchased.

JLC - Right now I'm appearing as the lead-off story in the anthology Spells And Swashbucklers by Dragon Moon Press. My story "Death Tide" is about modern buccaneers, magic and a very nasty surprise for both the raiders and the victims. It serves as a good introduction to the urban fantasy universe I write in.

THK - What genre do you write in? What drew you to write in that genre? If you mix genres talk about that too.

JLC - I write for the most part in the urban fantasy genre (five books in the series and counting) because I really like the juxtaposition of magic and technology, but I also have more than a few science fiction bones in my body. Honestly, I've written in every genre except for westerns; I even wrote a baseball novel that I like just as much as anything else I've ever done.

One thing that I don't like is to have hugely evil villains as the antagonists. That's not to say that bad guys don't have their place, but I prefer my antagonists to be "heels" rather than slobbering evil-doers. A classic heel commits heinous acts, yes, but they do them for what they see as being essentially good or at the very least necessary reasons. I like my black hat-wearers to have a set of motivations that the audience can relate to just as much as those of the protagonists. I'm also pretty happy when it seems like that line between the two camps is getting a little blurry, which is a major storyline of my urban fantasy series. Hopefully that one will get accepted soon, and then everyone can enjoy!

(I like my villains to also be real people. I love the way you describe that here.)

THK - How many books have you written? How many have been published?

JLC - I have written 17 novels to completion to this date, along with about a dozen or so false-starts. Some of those were only a chapter or two, but a couple almost hit 40k before they keeled over and died. None of the previous 17 have been published as of this date, but there's only a few of them that are in the active rotation of being shopped around. There's a very large learning curve associated with learning how to write quality fictions novels, and the only way to break through that wall is to keep doing it, over and over again, until you get it right. I have fond memories associated with all those books... well, at least with parts of them, at any rate. I may re-work some of them when I am more firmly established in my writing career and offer them as minimally-priced or even free downloads for fans around the holidays in the future.

THK -  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

JLC - When I go for long walks to figure out a plot thread or a character's background or motivation, I like to talk about the subject at hand out loud as I do so. When somebody else comes walking the other way, I take my phone out and pretend as though I'm having a conversation in order to keep discussing the matter at hand. I listen to a lot of podcasts, so the long form of spoken word as applied to various subjects is something that I find very appealing.

(Oh my gosh! I do this too! I often walk around the house and talk out plots to my dog also.)

THK - What is the hardest part of writing?

JLC - I think the hardest part of the writing process is learning how to self-edit. It's really a different skill-set than you use in your day-to-day life; you've got to be able to recognize something that doesn't work, see why it is things aren't going the way they are supposed to, and then figure how how to get the air out of the pipes and make things flow smoothly again. At its base level, you have to be able to both see--and admit--when you are wrong. What sounds great inside the author's head does not always translate well to the printed page, so you've got to be able to deal with it when it pops up. I don't care how good you are, it'll rear its head sooner or later.

Once that's done with, by far the hardest part is the submission process itself. You can spend a year with a project and think that it turned out great and be pumped up about it... and once you've racked up a dozen rejections on your novel, see how much you still believe in what you wrote. This is the part of the process that washes out so many writers, and learning how to take 20+ turn-downs in the teeth and keep moving forward is absolutely essential if you're going to make it in this business. It's a brutal, brutal grind, but if you quit, you're never going to get to that winner's circle of holding a copy of your book in your hands.

(I agree about the self-editing. I believe I'm continuing to get better at this. As I re-release older books of mine whose contracts have expired, I find things I can't believe I left in there. Hopefully, that shows I'm growing as a writer.)

THK - What do you read for fun when you’re not writing?

JLC - Being a writer kind of ruins you sometimes on reading; you'll find yourself saying, "That wasn't phrased very well," or "I wouldn't have done that with my secondary character," or things like that. It's hard to put the writer hat aside when you want to relax with books, so now I generally try to read things that I don't really write myself. I'm trying to read a lot of non-fiction these days where the experiences of the authors (and their worldviews) differ wildly from my own, so I can be exposed to different ideas and therefore make my characters sound more individual. When doing fiction... I hate to sound like a fanboy, but I could re-read Jim Butcher's entire back catalog a hundred times and learn something new each time I go through. Every time he comes out with a new book, I feel slightly depressed about my own writing for the next week or so. The same holds true for the first eight books of Laurell Hamilton's "Anita Blake" series, and Rachel Caine is also an excellent writer and a very nice person as well. Go read her stuff!

(I don't think you sound like a fanboy at all. LOL You sound like someone who is serious about his craft and able to learn new things. That's amazing. Every time I read Dean Koontz I learn something new. He's quite a change from my paranormal romance also. You are so right about being a writer ruining you sometimes to the simple joy of reading. I have to make a conscious decision to take my writer hat off when I read. It's very difficult.)

THK -  Any words of encouragement for unpublished writers?

JLC - Remember why you do this; it's because you love it more than anything else. You know how you'll see those interviews with famous artists in any field--be it writing, music, acting or whatever else floats your boat--and sooner or later in the interview, the line will come out, "I love this so much, I'd do it for free?" Well, those people did exactly that for many, many years before their ship came in. They did it for free, working on their craft, only it really wasn't work because they love doing it so much. You've got to be the same way, because if you really love what you do, it makes the hard work a series of enjoyable challenges.

Also, don't ever forget how difficult is. The entire process is arranged in such a way to ensure that only those with the most determination will survive the gauntlet; for every published writer out there, hundreds cashed in before they got to the finish line. Don't be a statistic, and don't forget to celebrate like a rock star when you cross the finish line!

Well said!

You can find out more about Jesse L. Cairns at the following links.

Direct link for Spells And Swashbucklers: http://www.amazon.com/Spells-Swashbucklers-Valerie-Griswold-Ford/dp/1897492464

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jesselcairns

Twitter: @jesselcairns

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