This series is my excuse to satisfy my curiosity about what makes writers tick. The hope is that by exploring how writers got to their craft, how they interact with books and their process, I might learn a little more about my own.
Today’s a very special day around here. I have the privilege to pick the brain of one of the most inspirational people I know: John Robin. John is the author of Blood Dawn, one of the few books to successfully gain enough ground on Inkshares to reach publishing status. More than that John is a rallying point for every writer that knows him. There are some lightning rods that just make you want to be around them, and for me John is at the top of the list.
Here’s a little about John:
About John Robin
From the time he first looked at Tolkien’s map of Wilderland as a ten year old boy, John Robin knew he was destined to make his own world and tell stories about it. So, as he grew up and read the great fantasy epics, he began to create his own world with its own stories, history, and myths.
Over twenty years, he learned the craft of storytelling, writing three novels just for practice (unpublished), and all the while his fantasy world and unique vision as a writer ripened. The evolution of the Internet and the exciting possibilities of what technology just might do for human beings further inspired John to model his magic system and epic tale to also communicate a message about how mastery over one’s environment might change the human condition.
After working for many years in academia and adult education, John left his job to pursue a career as a full-time editor, starting his own company, Story Perfect Editing Services. He has edited more than forty stories to date.
John’s work has appeared in the Tantalizing Tidbits anthology (“One Who Waits”, a prequel short story to Blood Dawn). His novel, Blood Dawn, which he has chosen to be his debut, is the first of many stories John plans to write in a series of stand-alone novels that will follow the evolution of a world undergoing magical revolution.
- What are you currently reading?
A book called “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby. In progress, but on the backburner because of the amount of editing projects I am working on, “The Way of Kings” by Brandon Sanderson
2. Ereader or Traditional?
Both. I love my ereader for writing craft books. I love hard books for epic fantasy, where I can flip to the maps frequently.
3. What is your favorite book?
That’s a tough one. I tend to have new favorites as time goes on. Of course, I’m a big fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series and the work of George R.R. Martin, I also love the Wheel of Time, up to the eleventh book when Mr. Jordan’s passing broke my heart.
4. Why do you think reading is important?
Reading is the number one way I appreciate different ways people tell stories. Most of the things I do in my writing have come from immersing myself in other authors and getting a sense of ways they’re got their groove on with different riffs of story. I’m not an academic about it – I tend to absorb concepts more intuitively. Friends have called me a sponge. When I read, I am soaked, and I find rich story ideas come out.
(I might add as a caveat that watching TV shows or movies is as enriching an experience as reading for me, because it helps me appreciate story from a structural level. I owe a great deal of my current writing vein to watching episodes of Star Trek. But I find I’m incapable of watching any TV show or movie without thinking like a storyteller and taking home a wealth of ideas.)
5. What is the one book (other than your own) that you would recommend to others?
Game of Thrones. It’s probably the book that blew me away the most of all fantasy books. Although Game of Thrones is rooted in much more historical and realism elements than my preference for fantasy, the complexity and use of tension in character and plausible background world is just amazing.
- What made you want to become a writer?
When I was about 8 my teacher told us all to write in our journal about something we did the previous night. I wrote about my experience working on my patient in my secret operating room and was sad that they didn’t make it. I even included an illustration. I didn’t understand why I was put in the hall and scolded; the teacher wanted me to write about my life – a simple assignment – but I wanted to write a story.
I started writing stories after that, and never stopped. I was always the boy in the back of the room drawing picture or writing stories. If you ask my uncle, who remembers earlier in my life than I do, I was telling stories before I could write them.
2. Why do you write?
I write to transform. Life feels like a limiting set of experiences. Writing, however, is an arena where I can take this all deeper. When I write, I feel like I’m tapping into some sort of higher mind that branches out from my own and connects me to all the collective experiences of others. I sit down and my cursor is blinking, and I’m sitting like a shaman in between this world and the next, calling forth something else. There’s nothing more exciting and thrilling that when that something else is happening, and, no matter where on earth I might happen to be, I’m in this beautiful limbo stuck between two worlds. That’s writing, and that’s why I do it: to translate and bring something much greater than life into a world that is otherwise so mundane.
3. What was the first thing you wrote?
Journal entry (above) aside, my first story was about two brothers who discover a shack haunted by an interdimensional monster. I was 10, and the story was meant to be for a competition. I came in second place, but the principal liked the story so much she typed it up and read it to the class in the library – all to my surprise.
4. Which writers inspire you?
Tolkien, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin; men who’ve managed to give their all to create an epic, to live for it. To me, these men are the gods of epic fantasy.
5. Are you a planner or a seat of the pants writer?
I’m a hybrid of both. I spend a great deal of planning before, during, and after. But when I write I am always open to go in any direction. I like to think of my method of writing much like chess. You must always plan and plan every step, but you must always reassess your plan as you proceed, to account for unexpected twists that make your game better. Stories are full of surprises, and it’s been my experience that often the best touches in a story are discovered later, during writing, when I’m stuck in the thick of everything and I know my characters desperately need something. Sometimes even it comes to me during a dream or a traffic jam, and I’ll think about my story again from the new angle, and AH! yes, suddenly I see exactly what I need to do. It involves perhaps some revision and rewriting, but if it’s the thing to do, then so be it. I am a writer because I write, not because I have written.
6. What are you currently writing?
I am writing an epic fantasy novel called Blood Dawn, about a young woman who discovers she’s the long-lost daughter of a god-king, and that her inborn magical gift is the key to revolution in a darkened empire.
7. Why this particular genre?
Ever since I discovered Tolkien’s map of Wilderland, I’ve been in love with imaginary worlds. I started creating my own when I was 13, and kept at it all my life. I’ve tried writing other things, but I’m always drawn back to fantasy, back to my world that’s been developing a bit like a recycling yard. I try to leave it, but that’s a bit like diving underwater and saying I don’t need to breath anymore. I always come back.
8. From where do you glean ideas for your writing?
Everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. My mind is on my story all the time. I like to think of it like turning the dial to a certain radio station. All I have to do is get my mind there, and there are infinitely many things waiting to come out. Ideas come from experiences, but sometimes the traces are too amorphous to glean. For example, my idea for dragons in my story as a mystical rather than a physical entity is rooted in the influence of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, but I also have added in a touch of AI and Star Trek in how I define my dragons, giving me a unique approach that mixes many elements and makes them all distinct. At the end of the day, though, everything I do in my story seems to come out of this strange place where everything mixes, and I’m only aware of some ways the ideas have morphed into their current form, but the roots are so old I almost feel they vanish in the darkness of my subconscious.
9. What advice would you give a fledgling writer just starting on the path to building their own novel?
Write. Write. Write. Don’t stop, don’t worry about failure, because it’s going to happen. Just write. Love what you do. You will get better. You will always get better, as long as you keep writing. Don’t worry about writing the same thing. You won’t, because your mind is always going to be changing, and what you write is an outward reflection of what is going on inside of you.
The one caveat: kill the ego. Don’t write to be famous or don’t tote yourself as a bestselling author on Amazon, even if you get a shiny cover and the “buy now” button. This, to me, is the death of the writer. Writing is not about ego, or about proving yourself. Writing is about transformation, about giving to others a gift that just might be divine. Although we all need to eat and it’s good if we can succeed from our book sales, let that all be a milestone of success. Walk with kings and keep the common touch – if I may channel Kipling. Write, just write, and love it, more than money or anything else, because there’s going to be a lot of hardship if you want to live for writing fully and without limits.
10. A new writer is suffering with writer’s block. What advice would you give them to break through?
Sometimes I have tough writing days. I’ve been at this now for 8 years, and I can write about 6,000 words in one day, and have pulled off a big output every week for the last year. But still, there’s days where all I want to do is play computer games.
What I do to get over it is this: change your goal. Don’t think about needing to write pages or write so many words in such and such a time. Just make your goal to have your manuscript open and to sit with it. And don’t just stare at the blinking cursor (though sometime that is helpful). Move around the story. Maybe go back and read an earlier chapter. If you use Scrivener (which I would recommend to any writer!), you can move around to other files for characters or settings. In my case, I have 5 Scrivener files open which I link using a program called Window Tabs, so I can click between my file for Blood Dawn, Character, Generators (Story Arc notes), World, and Series. I have all these organized into directories and find that when I’m writing if I’m not sure what to write next, wandering around these with my story in mind quickly connects me to something. Scrivener is also great for me because it allows me to dive into earlier chapters and read over it, all while I have my present chapter open in the split pane view.
(Seriously, if you have writer’s block, switch to Scrivener. You’re on your way to killing writer’s block if you can get used to using it.)
On your Book
- Tell the readers about what makes your book unique.
My book is like a lighter Game of Thrones set in a pseudo-Victorian world, with a complex magic system blending in aspects of the paranormal and good old comic book mutants. Blood Dawn really just started as the story of a weaver who I knew was going to be thrust into a position where she had to become queen, and, though I borrowed from the same fantasy world I’d been writing in all my life, I found the act of writing this story brought out something else – the story as it is now.
2. What do you love about your protagonist? What do you hate about them?
I love that Rena is a mixture of timid and strong. Rena isn’t your typical Kill Bill hero. Her strength is within, and when we meet her, her conflict is that she doesn’t’ want to believe in that strength. She doubts herself, and the course of the story helps her discover how to overcome that doubt, and become great.
I don’t have anything about Rena [I hate]. She’s refreshing to write, and, like the other point of view characters, I learn so much each time I’m in her head.
3. Who would you want to play your protagonist in the movie adaptation of your book?
Probably Kate Winslet, if it’s possible to make her look twenty. Rena’s character strongly draws on the story of Queen Elizabeth I, and Galadriel in Lord of the Rings, so why not the same actress who played both?
4. Are you planning on continuing the story with a sequel and/or series?
Several, and I have them quite planned out. However, just like I said with planning, above, the plan is malleable. I only keep the series notes so that everything I set in motion will have a resolution. However, I plan to write each book as a standalone, so that if something unfortunate should happen to me, I won’t leave readers hanging. I always want to leave each book with a feeling that there is so much potential to do more, but that the story itself isn’t left hanging. Blood Dawn, for example, will end with links to a sequel – screaming links – but as a book and for all that I’ve set up with the character arcs, when it’s over, it’s over. If I never write a book again, the intrigue, and the “what lies beyond the walls?” effect will make it more intriguing – kind of like how one feels when reading Lord of the Rings.
5. Is there anything else you want readers to know?
Blood Dawn is actually my fourth novel. I’ve written three, and like to think of them like the first pancakes. You know: the frying pan is still getting heated up, and those first few pancakes don’t quite turn out. They’re yummy to the cook, but you wouldn’t serve them. With Blood Dawn, I’ve debut. I might be wrong, but I can certainly say that those first three novels, which are hidden away in my computer, helped me get to where I am now. I just learned so much!
Blood Dawn has just gone into production, but if you want to get your hands on a copy you can preorder it on Inkshares. Here’s an excerpt:
As soon as the green-eyed noble arrived at her audition, Rena focused on the threads before her. Would he recognize her, after all these years? Rena convinced herself he wouldn’t — no one here would. The secrets of her past would remain hidden. She ignored the bead of sweat on her temple and the painful ache of her shoulder lump, thinking only about the imaginary colors she saw, colors that told her which treadle to step on next. Red, green, black, white, red, green, green, white …. Pride in her work, in the endless call of the patterns, created the perfect escape for her. The blur of shifting warp threads soon hypnotized her as she deftly passed the shuttle back and forth between them, forgetting the room once more.
She blurred her eyes, the imaginary guiding colors glowing like little fires, fires of seven different hues. This Valian loom she wove on was an intricate device, regarded by most as useless because it was hopelessly complex. It was made by a technology now forgotten, a relic in collectors’ homes, and this machine had belonged to Rena’s mother. Yet when Rena came before it, she knew what to do. She merely set the warp threads into the harness spools, then opened her mind to the colors. The colors were always there, begging to be expressed. There was no planning involved. It always worked.
Her gift had been secret until she’d allowed herself to get drunk with Uncle. The fire of liquor burning in her veins, her usual restraint she felt around him vanished and she thought it about time to show him she was more than just a quiet, timid girl. Foolish — to think that greedy, conspiring Uncle Kurt would keep her secret when he saw a possibility of gain for House Arwelle. Now, it was too late; unlike a weft thread, there was no reversing the mistake that had brought her here, now, in this crowded room where she crouched before her loom, reluctantly showing off her skill before the Keldarian officials.
They’d hauled her Valian device here, into the Rector’s Hall, a few buildings from Rena’s shop. The officials had driven the Orn Monks out; ever since the occupation began, the Monks’ safe houses had become their most popular meeting places, mockery of the former god-king’s empire. Uncle had promised Rena this was only an audition to show off her skill — to reveal a useful opportunity to develop Gholheim’s textile industry — but now, in this bare room with its sparse lighting and black-and-gray tapestries that stunk of oil, with more than forty royal spectators crowded close together, scrutinizing Rena in silence, it felt like a trial. The worst part was that half of them wore obsidian robes, marking them as the tyrannical troupe of King’s men known as the elite guard.
That was the true source of Rena’s underlying fear, and the reason she did everything she could now to focus only on her work, to pretend that she was elsewhere. In Gholheim, it was illegal to be an artist. King Fyrian’s ruthless reforms, which only got worse with each moonspan, saw artists hauled away every day. The elite guard came to do inspections of shops at random, and many of them ended up with boarded-up doors and windows. Never once did they come to Rena, but even if they did, she had gone to great lengths to keep her secret.
Was she truly a criminal? Late at night, while she wove cloth secretly in her shop, it was easy to forget the danger when her passion came to life, as patterns transformed from mind to cloth. For more than a year she basked in this secret pleasure, every day coming home well after first moon. There was fear—a sliver, easy to ignore—but she was never caught. No, she hid her tracks well, and she truly believed that the one thing she loved above all—that thing considered to be wrong—was not wrong. This did not hurt people, not like the drawings had.
Rena glanced briefly to where Uncle stood next to his three noble friends. Francas was the hawk-nosed southerner, Mikas, the head of House Dulvar, was stone-faced, squinting around his monocle. And the third noble… He had joined last, his emerald eyes like glass, his face unreadable—exactly how Rena remembered him from her years of imprisonment years ago. He still had the same anchor tattoo on his left cheek and half a missing ear. Rena did not stare long enough, but even in her quick glance she saw that he was looking at her with uncanny fascination. Does he recognize me? I was still a child, and I look nothing now like I did then. Maybe he won’t remember me.
Looking for more information about John Robin or Blood Dawn, you can learn more at the following sources:
Facebook lpage for Blood Dawn: http://www.facebook.com/blooddawnproject