Friday, February 04, 2011

Author John Herrick ~ Interviewed

John Herrick received his B.A. in mass communication from the University of Missouri and began his career in the information technology field, where he developed a practical framework for his creative impulses. Eight years later, Herrick shifted his focus to fund development, procuring an opportunity to combine his technical, creative, and marketing instincts. Armed with a vision to impact and uplift his generation, he has written for radio and provided ghostwriting, songs, and voice-over work to local and national nonprofit organizations.

Herrick lives in St. Louis.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

From The Dead is a story about second chances. It takes an honest look at a guy whose life hits rock bottom due to years of selfish choices, then follows his journey out of the pit. It presents an honest look at the tragedies of failure and the joys of emergence from it.

I wanted the main character, Jesse, to become a friend and felt I owed it to my readers to take a realistic, no-holds-barred look at his life. While Jesse’s circumstances are different from our own, I sought to write about some of the fundamental emotions and fears that make us vulnerable and communicate hope.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Regardless of how much I’ve planned, I face a recurring fear that I’ll sit down to write and nothing will come. I’ve faced that fear since childhood, and it’s ridiculous because it proves irrelevant every time. I think many writers struggle with that, because if we try to write and nothing happens, we feel like we’ve failed. I’ve found the best way to fight that fear is to just sit down and write anyway.

It goes to show how dangerous fear can be: If we succumb to it and quit before we try, failure is guaranteed.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I love what-if questions! When I brainstorm ideas for the next book, I’ll hear a song on the radio or see a story on the news and wonder, “What if such-and-such detail were different. How would that affect the overall outcome? How would it impact one individual’s life? How would that person respond internally and externally?”

Those questions triggered the initial idea for From The Dead: On my way home from work, I flipped on an oldies station, which played Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man.” In the song, the preacher’s son walked the straight and narrow. I thought, “People always paint a preacher’s kid as near-perfect. But what if that preacher’s son fell victim to a series of self-imposed mistakes? Given his value system and his background, how would that affect him deep down, and how would he respond?” The concept grew from there.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Decide in advance that you won’t give up. Remove the option from consideration. When the journey gets tough—and about halfway through, it probably will—you’ll have that commitment already in place waiting for you. I picture a multiple-choice test like we took in school. Remember how you could eliminate one choice right away because you knew with certainty that choice wasn’t the answer? Well, I look at giving up as choice D on a multiple-choice test—then picture myself completely removing choice D from the paper with one of those big pink erasers!

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn't have to be one of your books or even published.)

For 15 years, I gave my attention to songwriting. I hope to delve into it again someday. Though I love music and always have a CD going when I write my novels, I focused on writing songs because I hadn’t developed the discipline to stick with a long-term project at the time! But I consider that songwriting season invaluable. In just four minutes, you need to introduce a character and circumstance, express the emotions with which they struggle, condense it into a few short lines through precise word selection—and establish a connection with your audience. The main difference between a novel and a song is this: With a novel, you introduce a plot and then resolve it. With a song, you don’t need resolution; rather, you stop time and take a snapshot of your character’s (or perhaps your own) soul.

Share a dream or something you'd love to accomplish through your writing career.

On rare occasion, we read a book, and beyond its entertainment value, we say to ourselves, “My life is better off because I read that book.” I hope my books will, either now or down the road, impact people that way.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

My kitchen table has become my makeshift office. Oh, that poor table is a mess. But I do know which pile to search for what!

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

The most difficult aspect was to commit to a long-term project and see it through to the end. Working in information technology (IT) for eight years helped me overcome that obstacle. IT work requires you to operate within a rigid framework—when it comes to programming, it either works or it doesn’t. The computer doesn’t strike a deal with you! But I learned many disciplines that helped harness those creative impulses. I couldn’t quit until the project was finished, which taught me how to manage a long-term project. Constant revising of the code until it was correct addressed my hatred of revision. Trial-and-error and testing taught me how to use logic to identify holes and anticipate questions before they arise. You develop a sixth sense that says, “Something is missing but I can’t put my finger on it,” which nags at you until you resolve it. IT work wasn’t up my alley, but I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

I let the concept marinate in me for weeks or months. The key scenes seem to rise to the surface—I believe they rise from the heart, which results in a heartfelt story, but that’s just my theory. When I draw up the initial outline and plug in the key scenes, they provide the framework. At that point, I fill in the gaps and troubleshoot the logic. I also tend to create a personal music soundtrack that keeps the story burning inside.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

Routine is vital for me. It helps to block out the same time period each day for writing. Drinking hot herbal tea seems to stimulate my brain, more so than coffee. I have a cupboard with about 20 boxes of different herbal tea flavors, no joke! Hey, whatever works! But for the life of me, I can’t figure why it works.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Oh, I definitely need a road map in place!

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Thank you for letting me stop by! Whatever your dream, NEVER GIVE UP. Our most valuable achievements require sacrifice and always take longer than we expect.


Kelly Klepfer said...

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, John.

Michael Ehret said...

I always love learning how other writers do this thing we do. I'm glad to hear of someone who always has a CD going -- and, presumably, since you were talking about songwriting, not just something instrumental.

I write best to familiar songs I know real well...the words dance keeping my surface mind occupied while the below the ground mind writes. Works for me.

Thanks John!

John Herrick said...

I agree. It's fascinating how many avenues we take to reach the same goal!

Jillian said...

Great advice, "Never Give Up"! Perseverance is my word for 2011. Thanks for a great interview!