Frequently Asked Questions

How and why did you begin writing?

I first started writing things when I was very young. I would make up characters and draw them. If I really liked the characters I would make up little stories to go along with them. It’s always been for fun but I don’t think I starting taking the process more seriously until high school when these characters started taking on a life of their own.

Who encouraged you or what made you decide to write novels and seek publication?

I’ve always liked coming up with stories and writing them. This began with my 6th grade teacher Mr. Laurie, who asked our class to do some creative writing as an assignment. My short story turned out pretty good, considering, and I was hooked after that. Writing novels is the grown-up version of the same passion I’ve had for a while and publishing them is how I get others to read what I’ve spent so much time on.

Getting started with writing is one thing but following through with it is quite another. Julia Cameron helped me carry on with it. Her book The Right to Write is full of useful tips that kept me going and helped me get around writing roadblocks. The greatest gem I pulled from her was the concept of “laying track” or giving myself “emotional permission to do rough drafts” and save the polishing for later. It sounds like common sense but the pressure of being perfect on the first attempt can be paralyzing, especially with creative projects. All of these things ultimately encouraged me to take on projects as large as novels and to seek publication.

Are your characters based on people you’ve actually met?

Not really. Instead, I use people that I’ve met as a check. There are usually one or two people I know or have met who share personality traits with the characters I made up. I watch them. They tend to help me refine details that need filling out or check how people tend to respond to one another when I don’t have firsthand experience. More often, my characters are based on exaggerated parts of my own personality. This way, I believe their core motivations and can fundamentally work with those; this is true even for villains, believe it or not. I pull a little bit from other people I’ve met but they almost never start out inspired by them.
If characters do start out inspired by people I've met, I think I do so much to them that they are probably not recognizable by the time I'm done with them. I might get superficial inspiration from someone and then go on to make all kinds of "attitude adjustments," which, let's face it, newly define the most important parts of who they are. That is, I've met plenty of would-be evil villains, if only they were organized, well-spoken and patient enough to succeed (thank goodness these real people aren't smart); great heroes, if only the stuff on their minds were the drivers of their actions instead of circumstances alone; wonderful friends, if only they weren't flakes, liars or chronically selfish when I needed or wanted them around me.
To answer the question, no, my characters are not people I've actually met.

How do you find time to write?

I add it to my agenda every day. I make time for it somewhere between other things that are important even if it’s not for very long. I don’t ever make it the last thing for the day, otherwise I won’t do it. I make an effort to write a little every day, taking into account that sometimes “writing” actually means planning, going back over something or occasionally adding volume to a work in progress.

Do you write poetry?

Not very much. The closest thing I write to poetry is very short flash fiction but that is a newer endeavor. I’ve hardly published any poetry but there is some floating out there online.

Why did you self-publish?

The main reason I self-published was because mainstream publishing was not the right vein for my stories at the time. This could quickly change and I’d embrace the mainstream if it did but until then, I’d rather not sit on good projects for so long that even I lose interest in them because I’m waiting on someone else to give me their stamp of approval or dub me the next big thing. I don’t really control when inspiration hits me and I’d like to keep moving and rolling with my ideas.

I believe that much of the lack-of-fit with certain publishers comes from the categorizing and the labeling of genres. Most of my readers could tell you that I don’t follow all of the standard conventions of the fantasy genre; namely, long descriptions, emphasis on battles, a fetish for feudal government structures or—if modern—the city itself juxtapose with vampires fighting werewolves, as in typical urban fantasy. My work is more accurately associated with “magical realism” which is a very matter-of-fact and to-the-point delivery method for storytelling. Magical realism strangely highlights fantastic elements yet goes against standard beliefs about how they should be written and delivered. I focus quite a bit on how characters are impacted by actions and places rather than the endless descriptions of the actions and places. Some readers can be put off by this and are very much into excessive descriptions of towns that the hero will never interact with but not me. I write what I like to read. Only the subject matter (magic & legends) gives my stories a “fantasy” label and that’s really the end of it. That is not what the fantasy market traditionally asks for but in my opinion, it is certainly what it needs to freshen up things a little bit and try something new. After all this labeling, my story still deserves telling. I believe that most readers of the genre, once they get past decades-old expectations, would agree.

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© 2012 by J. Johnson Higgins