Welcome to my blog interview with novelist, BMB Johnson, author of the Melody Jackson (or, It Happened on Lafayette Street) Series.
BMB Johnson lives in Portland with a family of humans, too many cats, and just enough Guinea Pigs. Thinks the only valid sports are bowling, table tennis and pinball. Reads comics, plays vintage computer games and new designer board games and is a gigantic slobbery fan of Doctor Who.
Well, I think I’ve always been a writer, especially since I’m not particular fond of speaking out loud. Writing has a way of conveying your thoughts without interruptions or that nagging voice of dissent or reprisal, It also gives one the wonderful added ability to edit and review. There is no “White-out” for physical conversations, after all.
I suppose the above makes me sound like a bit of an introvert (which I kind of am.) Just let me state for the record that I don’t have anything against conversing with other humans, I just feel more comfortable clacking out my thoughts on a keyboard than from my own tongue.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Well, I had been mulling over the loss of my childhood home ever since I was a teen-ager. The It Happened on Lafayette Street Series just sort of sprung up out of that nostalgia. And writing about it fits a budget better than trying to come up with funds for a second home.
In a way, deciding to do this, writing about my childhood, completely changed how I thought about being a writer. At first I saw myself as a straight horror or SF author, but changing to YA, and to a predominately female voice, allowed me to finally discover my “groove.”
What genre do you consider your book(s)?
Young Adult. Although, I must say that “Young Adult” is bit of a misnomer, as most of the readers of this genre tend to be women in their 40s. This is not a bad thing, and I think my characters “situation” is kind of geared for this demographic anyway. A 12 year old girl, smart but clunky, who works together with her parents to “solve” spooky mysteries, probably isn’t common in reality. I think for that target group, this is sort of wish-fulfillment, when in reality our daughters by 12 are daydreaming about packing up their bags to get the hell out of Dodge. (Or learning to drive the old Dodge, and find her own apartment.)
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
None. And I like it that way. I think writing is sort of like modern homeschooling. No bells to drive you to the next topic, no specific timing to keep you “on track”. Although, while I tend to write on the bus or during lunch breaks, I will crank something out whenever there’s no one is talking.
For this series, which was in itself based on nostalgia, I wanted to go with a sort of 50’s horror movie naming motif. I mean, is there a more common name out then The Woman in White. Next followed, of course, The Hound from Hell. From there, it was fairly easy to come up with names based, albeit rather loosely, on the subject in the book. Episode 3: The Message from Space, Ep. 4: The Creeping Terror, Ep. 5: The Tomb of Horrors, etc.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Books are like children, I suppose. They all mature at different rates. Normally a first draft of a book in this series will take a month or less. Editing is where the time-consuming is. I have found, especially, when writing a series, that I like to come up with three or more books at the first draft level, so I can sync them up a bit easier. Currently I’m working on books 3-5, which is giving me a much better understanding of what needs to happen in book 6. (This episode goes completely off the rails in terms of the previous books.)
Oh, so I guess to answer the question: about 3-4 months.
What book are you reading now?
I’m usually reading more than one. When I read for pleasure, it’s usually something political, like The Nation magazine, or a biography (I just finished Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton). I also have a comic book collection or two queued up in some part of the house (Like Wonder Woman or one of the Doctor Who books by Titan). Collections are always in progress: I’ve been in the middle of the massive Complete H.P. Lovecraft for more than a year. Also crammed with bookmarks, are various research related books, such as the annual “World Progress” updates from encyclopedia sets. I’m currently reading 1953 and 1954. (These are great resources and can be usually picked up at thrift stores on the cheap. They are invaluable for giving an author an overview on the state of a current year.) Additionally, I usually have some antique girl’s fiction going, currently Nancy Drew book 12: The Message in the Hollow Oak.
On top of that, I try read books from my fellow authors as much as I can. I just finished a short bio, Romeo, Juliet, Petie and Me by Melinda Mathews which made me cry, and The Midnight Land: Part One: The Flight, by E.P. Clark, a great and massive Russian fantasy. Also, I’m in the middle of a book by Pamela Winn, Viewings.
The problem is I’m just as unfocused a reader as I am a writer.
What are your current projects?
I’m currently making good progress in completing Season One of the It Happened on Lafayette Street series. This is a 10 book series. Currently there are only two books available for readers, v. The Woman in White, and v. The Hound from Hell, but I will have three more books available almost at the same time, shortly.
I also have the first five books completed at a first draft level for Season Two. These are ready to be dumped into the book polisher once the first season is complete. Additionally, I’m developing several spin-off series, and a goofy science fiction series under a psydonym.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest (or first) book?
My first book, Melody Jackson and the House on Lafayette Street was a former masterstroke doomed for the slag heap. I learned much from writing this book, mostly that completely a book was actually possible. A friend at work drew and colored the cover, and I self-published on Amazon. The reviews I garnered ranged from raves to middling to hateful. However, just the act of writing this book seemed to open something up in my brain, like the turning on of a faucet, and completed books suddenly began to flow naturally from me. I have completed about 15 in all, so far.
The Woman in White was conceived as a prequel, and quickly I realized it was a more easy-going, free flowing and thus a more likable work. I recently have dropped “House” into moratorium after rereading the first chapter and finding it a rather “painful” experience. That book will see renewed life – slightly rewritten of course, as the first three books of Season Two.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write outside your comfort zone. Especially if you’re struggling in a genre that you love and it isn’t treating you right. Genres are like bad relationships. Bad boys are intriguing, but you will thrive in a more positive setting.
Also, don’t ever listen to someone who says “people won’t read your book if you have a female lead character.” They don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m sure this will sound like sacrilege, but If I had personally written Harry Potter books, the first one would have been entitled Hermione Granger and the Sorcerer’s Stone. People WOULD have bought it! And I think it would have been a more interesting book because of it.
If you’re struggling in a story, change the the point of view to one of the other characters instead. Change your lead character from a male to a female or vise versa – You’ll be amazed by how what at first seems like such a small change will alter your story.
Do you write with music or in silence? If you prefer music, what kind?
Silence can be golden, but often times I like to find a movie soundtrack that fits the overall mood of the book I’m working on. Sometimes I spend a great deal of time seeking this music out. For Melody Jackson, for example, I like the Harry Potter soundtracks. More recently I found that The Day the Earth Stood Still by Bernard Herrmann better fits the bill.
Do you write an outline before every book you write?
This might sound contradictory, especially coming from an author of a multi-book series, but not really. In the past, I have written structured outlines, but found these really to be a bit rigid and constraining. I do have some certain points or ideas that get me typing in the first place, but I usually find that the book has “other” ideas, and most of my great plot points are tossed out, or changed beyond recognition.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Yes. Just about everything I’ve written before the Melody Jackson books.
While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
I actually feel like, at least in part, there’s a bit of me in each of the Jackson family – which is probably why they’re so easy to write. I’m kind of a big, annoying dork like Bernie, I’m sometimes domestic and sensible like Lonnie, and I’m definitely ALWAYS OCD, combative and salty like Melody.
THIS OR THAT—The Speed Round
Which do you prefer – Reading or writing? Writing
Writing during the night or writing during the day? Day
Writing from home or someplace else? Outside is nice
Reading a ebook or print? Print
Buy books online or buy in a bookstore? Bookstore
Weather: Hot or Cold? Cold
Music or Silence? Music
Classic Fairy tales or Fairy tale retellings? Retellings
Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocalate
The Beach or The Mountains? Beach
The World being taken over my zombies or sexy blood sucking vampires? Vampires
Time travel to the future or past? Future
Facebook or twitter? Twitter
Being able to fly or being able to go invisible? Invisible
Bookmark or Dog eared? Bookmark
1st character POV or 3rd character POV? 3rd character
City or Country? City
Pen or Pencil? Pencil
Polk-a-dots or Stripes? Polka-dots
Pancakes or Waffles? Waffles
Books or Movies? Books
Coffee or Tea? Tea
Elbows the size of pumpkins or knees the size of watermelons? Elbows the size of pumpkins
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
The Woman in White
The Hound from Hell
Goodreads group: Melody Jackson’s Adventurer’s Club (Fan Page)
Author group: New Authors Talk Shoppe (open to all)
Author group: New Author Review Exchange