Author Interviews: John T. Murphy

1. You are the author of the book Mission Veritas, a science-fiction novel about a teenage rebel who must survive a rugged mining outpost where the atmosphere makes people reveal their true selves. What do you think people see when they hear “science-fiction,” and how does that perception and expectation affect your story?

I think of interstellar travelers, huge space ships, aliens, and a lot of technical jargon. I wanted to write something that had those elements as a backdrop, but not get bogged down with too many technical terms, languages, and species for the reader to contend with. I focused more of the interpersonal conflict between characters. I've had feedback from several military readers who tell me they had specific people they knew that the characters reminded them of. That's what I was after.

2. How long did it take you to complete your book—first draft, editing, the publishing process?

First draft was written as a screenplay because I thought I could shoot a video, drop in graphics, and do it all myself. Of course, it would have been amateurish and horrible, so I wrote it as a novel four years ago. It went through several revisions, hired three editors, and finally got picked up a year ago. It finally hit the electronic shelves back in March.

3. What is one opinion about writing you’ve had that’s changed over your career?

I've been writing off and on for over twenty years. In the early days I felt I could just bang out a novel and the first draft would be great. I was wrong! The free flow of words onto my computer would be replaced with a great degree of meticulous learning, revising, and taking criticism (sometimes not so constructive). It's not physically hard, but a big emotional challenge wondering if it would ever see it published and sell. It has been the single most difficult thing I've ever done, more so than college, the Marine Corps, raising children, and working in the computer industry. Those were all easy. Writing is easy. Writing well is hard.

4. Is there any terrible advice you’ve received for your book or career? Bad advice you’ve overheard someone else be told? (If not, are there any common writing rules you don’t agree with?)

I know only one other published fiction writer. Beyond that, no one else I know is in a position to give me credible advice. I've gotten the most help from people I've hired on who gave it to me straight. I've gone to a few writing workshops, both paid and Meetups, but I never have learned anything of value from them as they're all rookies on the same side of the publishing fortress as me. Besides, anything they know, they're recycling from books on writing.

5. What are your biggest concerns about the current literary world?

 The volume of books on the market. There are also a lot of people who self-publish first drafts, and that muddies the waters. An author's desire to stand out and be noticed is an age old problem, even before ebooks. It's hard to do when there are millions of books, even in one genre. On the upside, anything I produce has unlimited shelf life and can be read by readers around the world. Not so with the printed market place. Shelf space is a limited commodity and book stores must pull a book if it's not selling. It's easy for printed books to go out of circulation.

6. What trends, tactics, styles, or genres would you like to see become popular, or be sustained, in modern writing?

I can't speak to other genres. But, social media is both a blessing and a curse. Word of mouth is the tried and true, and least expensive way to get book sales. Without it, people can spend a fortune trying to market and not realize a positive return on their investment. Social media expands the ability to promote and have people get eyes on your title and consider buying your book. It's a curse that it is so diverse, it's hard to know where to invest your time or how to make inroads into any given channel.

7. What trends would you like to see disappear?

Trolls. I've not been subjected to it myself, but other authors within my publisher’s community have. It's cruel and I wish that any human being would not expend so much energy to be deliberately spiteful and mean.

8. Where do you find yourself getting stuck most often—beginning, middle, or end?

In the writing part. I'm pretty good at coming up with the entire plot and structure ahead of time. I know what needs to be told in each chapter. Being cognizant of how each and every sentence affects the rest of the story can bog me down.

9. If you could hire someone to do any of the writing work for you, what jobs would you assign to him?

 I really can't imagine farming any of it out to someone else. Not even the marketing or blogging. Anything someone else writes, regardless of how well they know me, doesn't reflect me, personally. This brings up a good point that all writers should know. If novels were easy to create, a publisher could, theoretically, hire a bunch of staff writers, tell them how to structure each story, then say, "Go!" However, what makes novels unique, and, more importantly, what readers are paying for, is your unique motivation to create the story and your interpretation of the world. They don't want mass produced stories. Your uniqueness comes through in the story you create and the words and sentences you use. It's your individual life experience that make the characters say what they say. And, if we're really lucky, we say something that touches the reader emotionally and resonates.

10. What is an assumption people make about your career that bothers you?

 Not so much assumptions, but people I meet cannot relate. They don't know what it takes to write a novel so there's little that we can talk about. Many assume that anyone who is published is making a bunch of money. I've known a few bestselling authors (non-fiction) that only made seventy-five cents on a $15 book. Even though they sold several thousand copies, over several years, it doesn't add up to much.

11. Tell us a little about Mission Veritas.

There's the stuff that can be read in the blurb, but the underlying importance of the story is about acceptance. We all have a past with varying degrees of negative things that leave scars on us. For the most part, we keep those scars hidden. But when in an environment in which the truth inevitably comes out, it's difficult for us to let people see our scars for the fear of rejection. 

12. How much unpublished work do you have sitting around?

I have a novel I wrote in 1992 still on my computer(s). Another one I'd started in the mid-nineties has gotten lost. I wrote and published a non-fiction book called Success Without a College Degree, but lost a good deal of money trying to promote it. It never broke even. For my creative outlet since, I created a few short videos which are still on YouTube. At the same time I wrote Mission Veritas, I taught myself graphics and have a few dozen images depicting scenes from the story on my website.

13. How did being in the U.S. Marine Corps affect your writing? Your fight scenes? Your opinions and takes on rebellion?

 I would say that it added to the way in which people smack talk when in group settings. Reality is much harsher than what I wrote, but, it revolves around people giving each other s#*t. In a formal setting, everyone's polite - behind closed doors...not so much. In the military, everything is fair game. There's a scene where a master sergeant is on a tirade harassing the new recruits. That's just a tiny drop of what boot camp is like. I suspect readers with a military background will relate to that very much.

14. If you met people like your characters, would you get along?

Except for the antagonist, yes. I've been in numerous settings, mostly computer related training, where a small group of people are together for several days. The characters are drawn from the behaviors I have seen time and again. There are the clowns, the reasonable, the straight-laced, and the jerks. Usually, the ones who seem the most popular tend to single out a few people through sarcasm and mockery. Others laugh along but secretly hope that they don't become the target for the humor.

15. What was the hardest part in writing your book?

The not knowing what the future will bring. With nearly every other endeavor, for example, taking classes that will help your career, you have a reasonable expectation that you'll soon see success in the way of getting a job or promotion in that field. With writing, you never know if it will amount to anything. But, you plug along. The only way I've found to deal with it is to enjoy the story I'm telling. It's like living in that adventure for months and months.

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