Interview with author J.M. Macchiavelli

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

I agree that this perception is considered to be a widespread norm. However, I disagree with the reality of this. Personally, I feel I have a natural rapport and connectivity with others. Life’s course has brought me to many places and experiences, highs and lows, involving me socially with many people from walks of all life. Race doesn’t matter to me, I find the concept itself illusory. We are all people, walking bags of sentient meat, pigmented differently. We have different eye colors, different languages, different social and genetic conditioning perhaps…but we are all people under the same blue sky. Embracing this, I have found relations with others to be quite easy. Perhaps authors embrace reclusive tendencies to focus on their craft, preferring to be an observer throughout life, soaking in social experiences and projecting their understanding of things through written word, after the fact. And of course, being a good writer, demands a certain receptiveness to the world itself to relate with readers. I find authors to be observant people.

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?

Absolutely not. I think it can be important, but the last thing I want is to come across robotic and forced. I don’t want to be an android, like Data, devoid of emotion in my delivery. What matters is that I reach my readers and make them feel something. As long as grammar doesn’t confuse that message or mission, it takes a back seat to my goal.

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

I don’t covet any other author’s work. I think authors’ voices are unique, their stories are as well. I wouldn’t want to take someone else’s work because that cheats not only them, but myself. I’m not some fan-boy, pining about this story or that story, wiling away writing fan-fiction for some already established entity. Instead, I have my own works I focus on. I have a deep, profound respect for other authors’ works. Originality must come from within, and that’s what I aim for.

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

Some of my earlier memories come from sitting in my basement at my mom’s house, playing with castle Legos. We would build castles, pick a nation, and wage war against one another. Legos were a vehicle for my imagination, I could tangibly craft thought and idea, and have them interact with other friends’ thoughts and ideas as well.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

Research can be vital in writing. I have the benefit of this genre giving me a practically clean slate in which to elaborate upon. I immerse the reader within this realm, set the stage, and ultimately the locus of control remains in my grasp for how to steer this story. A big advantage of writing fiction, for one, and epic fantasy, even more so.

What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

My outlet of choice used to be handwriting with a ball-point pen. However, the act of transcribing my scribbles onto word document proved laborious. Now, the thought alone induces night terrors. Computer, for certain. Although, I’ve entertained the thought of using Dragon software for dictation.

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always felt drawn towards this. I lacked the confidence with my own skill-set to do this story justice. The vision is grand, my writing needed to live up to it, so that took some time. I first decided to compartmentalize the urge, letting it ferment like wine in the back of my mind, while the urge persisted, growing in strength and pressuring against the barriers of this bottled-up passion. Finally, one day, it broke free, I put pen to paper, only to discover the fruit of this labor was not wine…but like stale beer. My writing skills had atrophied while my life experiences grew. With no other options at this point, I set out to write revision after painstaking revision until it was up to the task.

What inspires you to write?

What inspires me to write…? Well, at times, I feel like there’s this story inside of me that is scratching and clawing its way out from within. It needs to surface and manifest into some tangible form of some sort. Feeling this raw need from within, I encompass it within written word and jot it down on page as soon as I can. Sometimes, not even fully formed ideas come to mind, just feelings, or random thoughts. I got into the habit years ago of texting myself these jottings as to have an alert on my phone for later on. They’ve all made their way onto a spreadsheet collection I keep tucked away…who knows what will be useful later on? Specifically, what inspires me.? Well, numerous life experiences.

How often do you write?

It varies. I typically don’t write on a daily basis, but when I’m hit with something inspiring, I’ve hammered out ten thousand words a night, a few times. Sleep becomes peripherally important in that moment. What matters most is seeing this idea through and riding that momentum to the end of its track. I become singularly obsessed. Of course, that next day, my brain is a tired train-wreck. Hahah.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I sometimes will schedule time to write, and try my best to follow through with that. It can be admittedly difficult to do so when inspiration isn’t gnawing at my brain in such a pervasively starved manner. I’ve found that the content of my writing and the times of great inspirations: there is no direct correlation. There’s been times where I’ve been feeling passionately about my work, only to think what I’ve written afterwards is a haphazard mess, devoid of my aims. I’ve missed the mark, so to speak. Then, other times when I’m laboring through three pages that takes hours to complete because I’m not feeling it, I’ve written some profound stuff. And vice versa. I’m a little of both. Sometimes when I schedule time for writing, I come away with some great material. Other times, I curse towards the heavens like a raving lunatic for wasting my precious time.

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

I think the most difficult thing to starting my first book was the physical act of actually starting it. By that I mean, actually typing the first line. How did I want it to start? I had these grand visions for this entire story arc for this series…but how do I get it off the ground? By far, the most difficult aspect for me was how to lay out this vast realm to readers, and give them a character who is appealing at least to some degree, but who also allows the reader to explore this realm as if seeing many things for the very first time, to seem authentic and stay true to the character. I must have played around with tweaking and editing the first chapter of book one in Paragons dozens of times. In some ways, I’m still not happy with it…but I’ve convinced myself that’s the perfectionist in me. I could revise it until they put me in the ground, and then nobody would read this remarkable series I have for people.

Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

Goodness, no. I let the flow of how things are forming dictate the pace of it all. Some days I’ll push it along with dogged determination, but usually, I must visualize each chapter or big event, and let me write my way towards that vision. Sometimes it takes several chapters, but I’ve laid solid groundwork in, planted some seeds of foreshadowing to sprout later on in the series. Other times, I become giddy at the prospect of writing certain events, and I end up pushing myself along much further ahead, and come away with some solid work, 10,000+ words later.

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

I can say yes and no. I feel like my natural energy inclines me to bouts of solitude. I do enjoy spending time with my good friends, but too much will leave me exhausted and wanting to get away. I enjoy traveling alone, where I can gush at the prospect of writing uninterruptedly while allowing the unfamiliar to inspire me. I crave understanding more of this vast world we live in, starving for it, in fact.

Do you think writers have a normal life like others?

A normal life, you ask? What IS a normal life? Are we talking the suburban dreams of yester-generations that yearned for a 9-5, a loving spouse, two kids, a dog, and the monthly grill-out with the neighbors in summertime? The TV brings the family together, a loaf of wonderbread on the counter top greeting me every time I open my door and enter my kitchen? For me, normal life is making ends meet, enjoying the fleeting good moments while they last, and trying to make a lasting positive impact in this world before my time is up because there’s plenty of lasting negativity out there. I’ll be a star in the night sky, one speck of light in the vast, endless darkness. Whether or not that qualifies as normal…that’s not for me to say, I suppose.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I’ll typically see a part of the plot, where I see the story going. From there, I’ll think critically on the characters and have them reach that point. Making that happen isn’t difficult for me, I know the exact end games for each of my characters, so I just move them along the track with this story. The endgame and pivotal plot points…I have those all in mind, too. It’s just moving from point a to point b, and telling the story in between.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

I think the hardest for me is the time commitment. I know of so many people that claim to have these ideas for a book or story or something…but never actually do it. I understand…it takes time. It’s a HUGE commitment of time. I love when someone told me that they absolutely hate writing, but they love having written. I agree with that a lot. In the trenches, my war with empty white pages not yet scored with my “alphabet machine gun”, gaining ground is difficult a lot of times. But after pouring through the pages, once blank, declaring victory…amazing.

What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

Honestly, I love brainstorming ideas. I get excited about writing when I decide on something to add to my story. A certain character trait or event that will connect this character to my audience, for instance…it gets me juiced to get at my keyboard and write it out, smooth it into the rest of the epic, and maybe add some follow-up later on in the series that touches on it once more to bring it back home.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last?

Yes. YES. The number one enemy on every writer’s hit list, writer’s block is a virus that affects the synapses of every idea inside of the brain, all at once. It causes production to halt for an unpredictable amount of time. Bouts of this have stalled my writing numerous times. Sometimes I’ve jolted ideas forth successfully with cortical stimulation to my ears, using headphones, my iPod, and good music. Other times, plunging headlong into the vast gray of brain clouds and debilitating ennui by staring at my computer screen, trying not to look up funny Youtube videos.

Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

Honestly, sometimes taking a brief break from it can help…? Finding inspiration, motivation…maybe through elevation? Automation??? Sometimes, it’s like being in a tunnel. It’s dark. It’s scary. You doubt you’ll get there and want to give up. There is no light at the end. It’s endless. Sometimes, you just need to get up off your ass and move anyway. If you’re stuck, write around it and come back to it. Write something else completely unrelated. Or keep going with what you’re doing. Dabble with what you have, play around a bit and see what works. No matter what: you will NEVER reach the end of that dark tunnel unless you move along, regardless of whether you see the light or not. It IS there, you just need to trust that. Just because you can’t perceive something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

I read sporadically, sadly. My primary reason has been that I’m singularly obsessed with getting my books out there. I have always enjoyed Stephen King, David Sedaris, C.S. Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Terry Brooks and J.K. Rowling, but honestly the writer who inspired me is Lloyd Alexander. During my more formative years, I remember reading, in class, the Chronicles of Prydain and was moved by the story. I think what stood out to me most was that our teacher was having us read it aloud, assuming the role of individual characters while doing so. I had so much fun with this, I remember thinking to myself, it would be really something to do this myself.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

As for what has improved the most of my writing, I think my ability to tell the story has come a long way, maybe through certain plot developments in relation to the characters. I was so afraid at first of doing this story justice, and after revising it several times, I found ways to articulate some things maybe better than before. Now, the character experiences are what shape the story itself, rather than my first draft of telling it all completely through the eyes of a narrator, detached from the characters completely.

Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I do both. I read through, proofread, edit, revise, over and over again. I also enlist the aid of two others that have been instrumental in their feedback to me regarding this. And lastly, I hire a professional to do this, also. I never leave it to my own input exclusively. I will miss some things if I do so because I’ll get drawn into the story and miss making corrections. It is paramount to have outside eyes looking at your work before publishing it…you never know how someone else might read something you’ve written, you may be painting the wrong mental picture for them.

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

Yes. I have some other story ideas I’ve dabbled with at times, when the inspiration to write them didn’t correlate with my current project. I have these ideas compiled but haven’t gotten back to them. Someday, I’d like to, but I must prioritize.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

For me, the most important thing is the flow of the story and character development pertaining to a strong central plot. In my first book in this series, the plot of the series is more subtle to allow the reader to take in the vast realm. The second book will bring it more to the forefront and tie in tightly with the first installment. The characters have to be interesting and relatable, and the actions and words in the book need to move the reader along this arc. If not, I feel like I’m having my time wasted and I become impatient and bored.

If you had the choice to rewrite any of your books, which one would it be and why?

I’m not at that stage yet…but perhaps someday, I’ll start kicking myself with how I wrote one of my books.

What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?

It is very important. I think the cover and title are what is going to turn the person’s head and make them decide to pick it up or not. Once the reputation for the series is established…perhaps it isn’t so important. But in today’s day and age, getting noticed is half of it. The cover and title need to stick in someone’s mind, make them curious, and decide to go for it and give it a read!

Have you designed your own book cover?

Not directly… I hired a team to do it, and they have done amazing work, don’t you think? I have the concept in my mind, and I tell artists the details involved, and them let them go to work with it. I wish I could draw…but my only art is via written word, sadly. Ebooklaunch.com. These guys do tremendous work!

Do you believe a book cover plays an important role in the selling process?

Absolutely, for all of the reasons above I mentioned. Starting out, a fan-base needs to be established. People need a visual cue to give them an idea of what the story is going to be about, and something that will grab their attention readily. This will lead to book sales, and you hope that they love it, go to Reddit and Goodreads and so forth and favorably review the hell out of it. It makes it easier if the person spouts off something like, “Paragons. It’s the one with the guy on the front with the red spear!” or “It’s the one with the guy on the horse in front of a huge castle with a bow!” Things like that.

Do you attend literary lunches or events?

Hahah. Not yet. I’m not established enough yet for anyone to care about me.

How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing?

I would be saddened; perhaps discouraged…I’m not sure. Here’s to hoping that a good guy with a solid story doesn’t experience that!

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

Honestly, the only reviews and comments I’ve had have been from a few wary friends who decided to read my book on a whim. They’ve been solidly positive, and it’s been confined to either Facebook or through private messages of texts. I’ve replied to them all, thanking them and hoping to get them excited for the next installment. I love any fans I have!

Does a bad review affect your writing?

I’m not sure. I believe in what I’m writing, and I have a grand plan for my story; the characters and plot are all planned out for several books. Hopefully, they’ll hear about the story later on as the books keep coming, and they’ll latch on again somewhere and try it again.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Advice to my younger self? Keep at it. Don’t follow the conventional path, take the road less traveled. There is no replacing these experiences with the cookie-cut life of so many others. Aim to live not for comfort, but for growing.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Basically the same advice to my younger self. If you’re passionate about your work, don’t compromise it for the sake of making it market-friendly if you don’t feel you should. Keep the integrity of your work intact. With that being said, realize there is a time and place in our market-place. Just because your book or your work wasn’t selected or published by this place or that place, don’t discount your work or your talent. Keep at it. Keep writing, and keep trying.

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

When I was the age of seven, I wanted to become a marine biologist. I love the ocean. It’s vast and mysterious, filled with wonders to tantalize the imagination, and terrors to chill anyone’s soul. Space exploration yielded similar interests to me also for the same reason. The unknown has always made me yearn to understand. My problem is, I’m an awful swimmer. I get anxiety that to this day plagues me. I’d never become an ocean explorer.