Author on the Couch: J.C. Conway
Today I’m conducting a session with…J.C.!
Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life.
J.C.: The first moon landing. I was a young fan of NASA and its space missions. I grew up under the progression from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped from the LEM onto the moon’s surface, I was not the only one caught up in the excitement of that moment. The whole world was watching. But for me, it occurred on my thirteenth birthday. Today, I don’t place much emphasis on whether things happen on my birthday, but as a twelve-year-old turning into a teenager, it meant a great deal to me. I still love the memory of that day.Stop by Author on the Couch to read about @jcconwaywriter's young adult science fiction novel Towers of Earth. Click To Tweet
Me: What a neat thing to happen on your twelfth birthday!
What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author?
J.C.: I’m not sure, but I think tenacity ranks high up on the list of traits that make writing work for me. Stories begin with ideas, and I stick with them until I’ve uncovered them in a way that does justice to the tale that wants to be told. Sometimes I can blast out a first draft in about six weeks. Then I review and revise. That part of it can proceed smoothly or painfully. It’s hard to predict. All the while, I continue to learn about writing—mostly by reading novels in a wide variety of genres, but also through workshops and books on the craft—and I apply what I learn with as much diligence as I can muster. This process makes it difficult to know when any particular story will be “finished.” But it has served me well. Tenacity also contributes to my ability to accept criticism. I am difficult to discourage. Every time a story does not hit a reader the way I expect, it’s an indication that there might still be work to do. I consider that possibility as objectively as possible, and if I conclude it has merit, I continue to refine and sharpen the story.Tenacity also contributes to my ability to accept criticism.--@jcconwaywriter #AmWriting Click To Tweet
Me: Tenacity is a good trait to have in this industry.
What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author?
J.C.: This is related to the trait that helps me as a writer. I am analytical, and there can be a fine line between “analytical” and “overly-analytical.” That fine line can be hard to see. My wife calls it “analysis paralysis.” I don’t necessarily see it that way. I generally feel like I’m always making worthwhile progress. But I accept the possibility that there may be little or no practical difference between some of my revisions, and I may spend a little too much time on details that are not particularly material.
Me: I love that phrase “analysis paralysis”. I’m going to steal it and use it with my clients!
What was your high point as a writer?
J.C.: A number of years ago I received a personalized rejection letter from the editor of Analog Science Fiction Science Fact magazine. He told me that he liked my writing style and wanted me to submit again. I was unpublished at the time and that letter raised my spirits to new heights. I do not keep most rejection letters. But that one has a special place.
Me: Those kind, encouraging words go a long way–even if they are part of a rejection.
What was your low point as a writer—a time when you questioned your path?
J.C.: I don’t really know. There have certainly been moments when I thought almost any other activity would be a better use of my time. I don’t recall what triggered most of those moments, although one comes to mind. I pitched an almost-finished romantic suspense novel to a big five editor and she invited me to submit it. In the process of finishing the novel, I lost the thread of the plot so badly that I had to completely dismantle the project and rebuild it. It took six months to get it right. I finally submitted it, waiting months for a response, and ultimately received a rejection. It wasn’t the rejection that marked a low point; it was the disaster I created in dismantling and resurrecting the story while my requested-material invitation grew stale. I felt I failed to live up to my self-image as a professional writer. As a result, I questioned my assumptions, re-examined my commitment to writing, and redoubled my study of the craft. Fortunately, I didn’t give up. After the rejection, and some modest revisions, the novel was published.
Me: I’ve been there too. Had an editor request and then decided to do a major rewrite. Yay–for getting it published.
If you had to pick a mental disorder to have for only one day (purely for writer research purposes), which one would you choose? Why?
J.C.: For writer research purposes, I think it is a toss-up between PTSD and schizophrenia. I have researched both rather extensively and I have written protagonists struggling with each. In that context, I strive to portray the conditions realistically and avoid loose caricatures. If it were possible to live with the condition first hand for just one day, as unsettling or disorienting as it might be, I think the insight and sensitivity gained would be invaluable. I believe the conditions and experiences we presently describe as PTSD and schizophrenia are a natural part of the human condition. While only some of us are diagnosed, we probably all have experiences (whether we recognize it or not) that are classifiable as symptoms of schizophrenia or PTSD. As a writer, when I tell a story that involves the symptoms and characteristics of these disorders, I want the reader to feel the common thread with empathy and understanding.
That said, I feel these thoughts apply to any of the mental disorders listed. They are widespread, quite a bit more common than many realize, and often misunderstood. Each warrants illumination, and there are stories and themes best expressed from a point of view that includes one or more symptoms of each.
Me: Speaking as a mental health health counselor…You’re right. At times we all do experience some of the symptoms of various disorders.
How many books have you written? How long does it typically take you to write a book? What’s the most painful part of the writing process for you?
J.C.: I’ve written four novels, two published (Towers of Earth and Hearts in Ruin), and two ready for publishing. I also have a number of first and second drafts that need revision. I don’t have a typical time. Most of my first drafts have taken 6 to 8 weeks, with revisions running anywhere from several months to more than a year, depending on the story and the number of mid-stream insights and course changes I choose to embrace. In addition, first and second drafts can sit on the shelf for a spell. I have a fairly demanding day job. So I usually don’t work on more than one story at a time. I also write short stories, and they take time away from the novels as well.
I actually enjoy the entire process, so I wouldn’t call any part of it painful. But the part that probably comes closest would be those moments when I look at a draft, knowing I felt I was on fire for a while as I wrote it, and wondering what on earth I was thinking. Almost every story feels flat at one point or another. I have an ever-growing checklist of things to consider when that feeling hits.I look at a draft, knowing I felt I was on fire as I wrote it, and wonder what on earth I was thinking. @jcconwaywriter #AmWriting Click To Tweet
Me: Wow… You hit the nail on the head with this one–>”those moments when I look at a draft, knowing I felt I was on fire for a while as I wrote it, and wondering what on earth I was thinking.” Been there. Done that. Too many times.
Tell me about your young adult science fiction, Towers of Earth.
At the brink of an impending dark age, 15-year-old Allison Taylor escapes Earth on a colony ship to the stars. But a catastrophic quark drive failure forces a desperate, near-light-speed return a millennium into Earth’s future. Allison is surprised to find humanity in a “New Renaissance” and to see the Great Geostationary Towers her father engineered still stretching majestically from ground to high orbit, now housing Earth’s billions.
When Allison learns the “New Renaissance” is a mere façade, she struggles against crushing odds to reunite with her fellow colonists. Finally gaining the opportunity to flee again, she realizes her special knowledge of the Towers may empower her to break the Tower Administrators’ tyranny—but at the cost of her means of escape. Allison is torn. Will fulfilling her father’s dream be worth abandoning her chance to finally reach the stars?
Me: Share with us a favorite paragraph or two from your newest release, Towers of Earth.
The following is an exchange between the main character, Allison, and her brother, Justin. They’ve been through a lot. They are stranded outside the tower in the midst of a revolt. A surprising announcement has been made, promising safe passage to the Peerless colonists. To me, this scene shows Allison’s growing self-reliance and determination, and Justin’s slow acceptance of that as his protective nature must yield.
“It’s a trick!” Justin shouted over the teeth-rattling roar of the repeating announcement.
There was one good way to find out. Allison leaned toward Justin. “Are the elevator platforms secure?” she shouted.
She cupped her hands around her mouth to project her voice. “I’m going to use a data console!”
Justin shook his head, as if she’d asked permission, which she had not.
“I’m going to find out!” She turned toward the tower. Justin scooted into her path, kicking up a cloud of dry dust. Allison turned her shoulder to slide by him—a technique she was good at, and that she knew irritated him.
He jumped in her path again, holding his hands out.
She cocked her hip in a “what’s-your-problem?” stance.
“They can see us in there!”
“That’s the idea! Nate’s up there!” The announcement ended abruptly as she shouted Nate’s name, leaving her feeling embarrassed.
“Who is this ‘Nate’ again?” Justin asked.
“He’s a friend and he saved my life… remember?” She faked right, and then sidestepped him to the left. Justin followed. “I don’t know what they’ve done with him. Besides, the crystal is up there. We’re going to need that. If we don’t do something now, we might not get another chance.”
With Justin keeping pace, Allison entered the large bay door of the closest tower leg. She approached a console and asked for her mother.
The net screen gave the “in progress” signal, rather than immediately displaying “Not Available.” She waited, gnawing absently on a nail. She must look like a mess. She quickly pulled a loose strand of hair from her cheek to behind her ear, and lifted her chin.
She glanced at Justin, whose eyes darted around like he thought the entire tower would pounce on them any second.
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Abbie Roads writes dark emotional novels featuring damaged characters, but always gives her hero and heroine a happy ending… after torturing them for three hundred pages. RACE THE DARKNESS and HUNT THE DAWN are available now! SAVING MERCY Book 1 in the Fatal Truth Series is now available for pre-order.