It’s time for the next subject for my 2018 author interview series. Author interviews are posted every Friday throughout the year.
This week is a two for one special. I’m happy to be interviewing Gwen Plano and John Howell. Gwen and John have just released a book that they co-authored called The Contract. I’m happy to have them both join me in a ‘he said/she said’ type of format.
You can catch up with all of my past author interviews (nearly 200) on my Author Directory page.
If you’re an author interested in being interviewed in this series, I still have limited spots available for 2018. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, please enjoy this interview with Gwen Plano and John Howell:
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Gwen: This is an interesting question, Don. I write because I am inspired and sometimes compelled to do so. It is a spiritual process for me, which inevitably involves deep trust. I know where I am going; but, between the first and last chapter is a bewitching journey. Typically, I awaken very early in the morning with scenes running through my mind. I see the story unfolding, I hear the conversation, and then I write my experience.
John: I’m in the camp of trying to write a good story above all else. If it becomes so original that no one likes it, then to me it is not a good story. If I try to write what people want, I have a ton of research to do to find out what it is that the people want. I would instead concentrate on the story and then hopefully it will appeal to enough readers without going through the hassle of research.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Gwen: I’d tell her that she is beauty-full, and if she can focus on this beauty, a magical world will open for her. I’d also tell her to stay close to her heart and listen to its whispers. Finally, I’d share with her that every book has two stories, the one in print and the one carried silently by the author. I’d ask her to try to understand both stories, for she’ll be enriched immeasurably.
John: Please younger John, slow the hell down. There is no reason to rush toward success, happiness, or immortality. All that will come in time if it is meant to be. There is no amount of not smelling the roses that you will look back upon as being a good thing. I love the old saw about nobody on their death bed ever saying, “I wish I had worked more.”
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Gwen: I struggled with this question, Don. And, if I might, I’d like to answer it by mentioning a poet, Mary Oliver. I stumbled upon her late in life, her words finding a deep inner resonance. She’s an extraordinary poet, someone who is recognized but perhaps under-appreciated. Her famous question still grabs at my heart. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
John: I think that has to be Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut. At the time of publication, it did achieve some status as a best seller but has since gone into obscurity. It is a typical Vonnegut story taken from the headlines. This time it is the Watergate break-in, and the protagonist is an unknown White House bureaucrat who takes the fall for the whole thing. The story is masterfully drawn and has some hilarious situations that only Vonnegut could conger.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Gwen: Yes, I read every review. It’s a humbling and emotional process. When readers grasp what I am trying to convey, there’s a profound sense of gratitude and validation. And, if the reviews convey something other than what I hoped, I know that I did not express it well enough. Though I’ve been fortunate not to have had a bad review, like all writers I struggle to effectively convey human passions. We’re learners, all of us. And, the review process helps us learn and grow in our writing. I’m grateful to one and all.
John: Yes, I read every one. I think I owe it to those who have taken the time to read my books and write a review for me to understand what they have to say. This is their time to let me know what they think of my work and such time should be respected. When I read a good review, I have this feeling of being blessed. I especially like when a reader points out the message of the book and believes the news is noble. Whether the review is favorable or unfavorable, I always try to put myself in the position of the reader. Real joy and true misery take two to create. The writer and the reader conspire together to produce the value of the written word. I would like to knock on wood, but I have never received a bad review. I am defining bad as one where it is obvious the reader chooses merely to criticize the work as opposed to an honest review. I have had reviews where the reader felt improvement was necessary. In those cases, if I believe they have a point I strive to improve. I do try to thank each one of my reviewers, but due to the anonymous nature of some reviewers, it isn’t always possible. I never argue with a reviewer. I believe they are sincere in their opinion and I respect their right to say what is on their mind.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Gwen: I don’t intentionally hide secrets when I write. I may understate a belief or shroud a situation in obscurity to protect the innocent, but I don’t hide. I’m more naturally prone to revelation.
John: I do hide things in my books, but they are discoverable only by those who know me. Many times, in the descriptions of things I will take a personal item and use it as a prompt. My children and spouse always know. I also tend to use character names that have become a bit of a household joke. These would be folks that have become immortal through their colorful behavior.
Do you Google yourself?
Gwen: Because of your question, Don, I just goggled. What a surprise! So much for living a quiet unassuming life, right?
John: I have not until just now. In fact, I never thought of doing so. It was a fascinating look up. Several of my namesakes have died this year, but besides that, there is a fair amount of me and my books.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Gwen: I grew up on a working farm, and we had very few books. However, one day a kind lady brought us a box of used Nancy Drew books. I devoured them, and to this day, I have a special love for Nancy Drew.
John: Without a doubt, it was the Babar the Elephant. I could not seem to get enough of that picture book. I was entranced with the idea of the elephant becoming a king and having a life scaled to his size.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
Gwen: My teachers told me that I was a good writer, but at the time, I really didn’t hear them. Life on the farm was concrete not imaginative. If I were to do something differently, it would be to cultivate my imagination. Perhaps, I could write my dreams in a diary or practice ways of describing wind through tree branches. Simple and concrete, both of these possibilities would have fostered my starving imagination.
John: I would have begun writing a little more seriously. I remember constructing stories as a kid but did not do it too often. I wish the school system of my day had a less structured curriculum to allow more free time to devote to creative endeavors. Most of my writing was out of school at home. When homework was finished, there was little time to spend writing.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Gwen: In the abstract, I can write a book in three months. But, as you know, life can complicate a writing schedule. Hurricane Harvey hit John’s home and he and his family had to evacuate. Soon after this, I had a debilitating medical condition. While John dealt with home repairs, insurance agents and contractors, I met with doctors. Then I lost my mother. I mention this because each of us have faced notable challenges this past year and yet THE CONTRACT is now published. If we had worked alone, I’m not sure it would be.
John: When I’m working on a book, I devote myself to a minimum of one thousand words a day seven days a week. Given this schedule, I can complete a ninety-thousand-word manuscript in ninety days. Once done then I have to edit what I write. This process is agony for me and takes longer than the actual document. So, let’s say another one hundred days. Once edited then the book goes to beta readers who need at least eight weeks to do a good job. After the beta reader input is received, it is another thirty days of a rewrite. Once complete then the manuscript goes to the editor for a month. Then it comes back for three weeks of corrections and then back to the editor. So, if I add all that up, I would say from the first word to finished product takes one year.
Connect with John and Gwen:
Blog Fiction Favorites, http://johnwhowell.com/
Amazon Author’s page –https://www.amazon.com/author/johnwhowell
Amazon Author’s page: goo.gl/CMj4vq
Gwen and John’s book: