I have been writing since 1987. I started as a journalist, went to college in my 40s, and continued to write after that. My first book, “A River of Stones” was published in 2002.
You write in multiple genres – do you start with the genre and then the story or the other way around?
The genre usually. For my most recent book, I knew what the genre was going to be pretty close to getting it going. I have written mystery, YA fiction, middle reader, nonfiction, a picture book, Christian fiction, Christian Historical Fiction and science/fantasy, so you can imagine what my mind is like.
Which do you find the most challenging to write – fiction or non-fiction?
That depends on the research. When there’s a lot of research, the time it takes to finish a book is lengthened. The easiest books for me to write are those that mostly come from my head. If the book is based on where I live or a place where I’ve vacationed, the challenge is lessened.
Where did the ideas for the Brianne James Mystery & Susan Cramer Mystery Series’ come from?
I really wanted to tackle a mystery, and so I thought how it would be if I was a detective, having no training and no experience in the field. This is Susan Cramer. She loves a great mystery but she really has no idea – especially in the beginning – how to solve the crime. I am like that. The ideas after that came from my ‘strange’ mind. I am always asking what if questions. What if someone died in an old hotel and everyone thought You were the murderer? What if you were on a cruise ship and an old man died at your feet?
Do you have a favorite character and why?
I would have to say Brianne James. She is the daughter to Susan. And she has a little more of her wits about her. She is tough, too.
Were the series planned ahead or did the character’s dictate a continuation?
The series was not planned ahead. “Scrambled” was a one book wonder in the beginning. I wrote it because I was attending college and I needed money for school. I received a $500 scholarship from Mystery Writers of America after sending in my first chapter – a chapter I wrote for one of my college classes.
What is your writing process?
Get up. Sit down. And write. I treat my writing like I would a profession because it is. Writing is NOT my hobby. Yes, I love it, but I write because I have to. I go through multiple drafts and revisions before I call something finished. A have a part-time job as an aide at an elementary school, and two businesses – we publish too over here, [Idea Creations Press] and run a non-profit [Trees For Keeps], so I keep myself pretty busy.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
Our family just returned from a vacation to Bryce Canyon, Utah. It is a beautiful place. Every morning I would sit out on the porch and write. I loved it. At home I have my office. It’s not as peaceful as an early morning in the canyon, but I love having a work space just for writing.
Does your own life experience play a part in your characterizations?
This question makes me smile. Yes. There is a lot of me in my books. The goofy girl. The question asker. The mystery maker. The searcher.
Where can readers find you?
I love it when readers find me at my blog and learn something new about writing, marketing, or publishing. http://www.ariverofstones.com. I also have a fun Author’s Amazon page here.
Kathryn is a lover of words and a bearer of mood swings. When she is feeling the need to inspire, she writes a Christian fiction book. If a mystery is waiting to be uncovered, she finds it. If something otherworldly is finding its way through her fingertips, she travels to it.
Kathryn has been a reader since she was a young child. Although she took classes in writing as a teen, it wasn’t something she really thought would become her career until she was married. And even then, it took a few more years for something worthy enough to publish to manifest itself.
Kathryn’s first book was published in 2002. Since then, many other books have found their way out of her head depending on the sort of day she is having. Kathryn is a journalist, a teacher, a mentor, an editor, a publisher, and a marketer.
Her greatest joy, other than writing her next book, is meeting with readers and authors who enjoy the craft of writing as much as she does.
You have experienced a multitude of jobs – have these experiences given you insights for the characters in your stories, within your book Rage and other writing?
Yes and no.
Yes in that I have based characters on past jobs for some of my writing. For example, two stories which appear in Rage are about archaeologists (“Deposition” and “The Edmore Snyders”) and I did work as a salvage archaeologist for about six years. Consequently, both of these stories carry elements which are very much true to life.
However, most of my stories are not based on past employment. To keep looking at the stories in Rage, I’ve never been a mountain climber, a priest, or a teenage girl (and probably never will be). To look at some of my other past jobs, I’ve never published a story about writers, software developers, or graphic designers–in fact, I find most of my past employment doesn’t excite me enough to craft share-worthy fiction from it. It’s the experiences I’ve had (which may or may not have come tangentially from those jobs) which inspire me, shock me, give me joy, disgust me, scare me, or piss me off so much I find myself mining for my fiction.
I’ll wrap this up by saying I am a strong proponent of thorough research and writers getting their facts as correct as possible. If I can use a past job to get my facts right, I’ll do it. If I need to interview people who’ve experienced the things I’m writing about, I’ll talk to them. I find story elements which don’t ring true to life (or at least my experience of it) can bring me out of a story faster than anything else–and I try very hard to never do that to my readers.
Your path into writing was the result of an unusual message, please tell us about it and if now you are convinced or otherwise to the validity of that message?
I’m not sure if the message you’re referring to was actually my path into writing (I’ve been making stuff up for almost as long as I can remember), but that message was most certainly the catalyst which finally got my ass in gear and helped me focus on my dream of becoming an author.
The message was this: you’re on a path for destruction and unless you change your ways, you are going to die. The deliverer of that message was a tarot reader I’d met at a party in New Orleans, and when she told me this, it scared the shit out of me. At the time I was a rather unhappy software developer and I chose to interpret her message to mean I should abandon my career in information technology and give writing a real, honest, both-feet-in effort (I also remember hoping this was not a medical thing).
As a result, I completely refocused my life. I enrolled in some continuing education classes in creative writing and for the first time in a long while felt truly happy (like I was where I was supposed to be). My instructors were encouraging, my classmates were invested, and everyone took the writing thing seriously. I learned a lot. When I got enough decent material together for a portfolio, I applied to Simon Fraser University’s year-long program, The Writer’s Studio. Coincidentally enough, that was the time I got downsized from my software development job, so I was given the luxury of being able to focus on my studies full time. At SFU, I got involved in the local literary community, met many interesting people, and learned even more. Then, I took my biggest leap and applied to the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. I’ve got to say when I got my acceptance letter from UBC, I did the biggest happy dance of my life. UBC was a fantastic experience for me, where I met even more interesting people, got involved in teaching creative writing, and learned an awful lot more.
In the end, whether or not I’m convinced of the validity of that message doesn’t really matter–I acted on that message, destroyed my old life, and created a new one I’m very happy with.
In teaching creative writing is it an advantage or a disadvantage to your own creativity?
Advantageous in that I get to meet many people with creative ideas so very different from my own. As a writer I don’t get out much, and talking to other writers about stories and other creative things is something I both enjoy and constantly learn from.
The downside for my creativity I experience from teaching is that I let it pull me away from my writing time. When I’m teaching a class, I feel it’s only fair to give my students my full attention, so whether I’m critiquing homework assignments or preparing lesson plans, I find I’m not writing as much of my own material as I’d like (in fact, I find I don’t write at all while I’ve got a course in session).
What writing process is the most comfortable for you – pantser or planner?
I’d like to be able to say I’m a planner, but that’s not entirely the truth. While I outline meticulously (not only do I take comfort in an outline, I’ve also discovered outlining saves me from having to write at least a full draft or two), I almost always deviate from my outline and end up pantsing to some degree as I go along. Now that could mean I’m further refining within the scope of my outline, but it could also mean I’ve got to throw away my current outline when I come up with something better (which happens often). As I’ve discovered my own writing process, I’ve realized my first drafts don’t look very much like my second drafts, and my final drafts are very different from what I first envisioned for my story (that’s not to say I only write three drafts–my current work in progress is on draft 10.7). So, um, yeah, I’m a bit of a hybrid.
How do you find inspiration and time to write?
As for time, I’m very lucky in that aside from the occasional teaching gig, all I do professionally is write (I’m also very lucky to have an extremely patient and generously supportive wife). As for inspiration, that’s been a bit trickier for me these past two years (as I suspect it has for a lot of people). I usually find my inspiration (whether it’s from things which shock me, give me joy, disgust me, scare me, or piss me off) from meeting new people, going to new places, and doing new things. As those stimuli have been somewhat curtailed lately, being inspired has become a bit of a challenge. I’m currently relying on memory and my outlines to carry me through my work.
What determines which genre/style your write in? (Short story, play, or poetry)
I haven’t been writing for the stage lately, and I’m not doing much short fiction or poetry, either. What I’ve been focusing on is longer fiction (the word count of the latest complete draft of my current WIP is about 120,000 words).
That being said, I did take a break from my novel and publish a short story in Speculative North last year. It’s about a werewolf desperately trying to keep her shit together while contending with increasing provocations from sources which have no regard for her as a person whatsoever (by the way, there should be an adult content warning if anyone decides they want to read that story–which anyone can for free by following the Free Downloads link on my website [http://www.johnmavin.com/downloads.html]). I knew that story would be short (it’s only about 7,900 words, admittedly long for a short story) as what I wanted to say wouldn’t have filled a novel.
So I guess that’s my answer–it’s what I want to say about a given idea that determines which genre or style I’ll use. My current WIP is too big and has too much world building to be effective in short formats so I’ve gone long. For my stage plays, it was usually the effect on a live audience I was going for (for example, my one-act play Daguerreotype–also available on my Free Downloads page–is an intentionally uncomfortable experience which is different for each person in the audience, depending on when they figure out what is really going on). For my poetry, if what I’m looking for is the emotional equivalent of a quick punch, that’s the genre I’ll choose.
You offer writing courses – what made you decide to do this?
I like to share and I like to teach. Back when I was taking my MFA, my grad advisor looked at my proposed schedule and called me in for a meeting. She said I’d signed up for too many courses and had to limit my choices–specifically, she asked me to choose between a class on teaching creative writing and a class on journal publication. While I was disappointed I couldn’t take both, making that choice was easy (I chose the teaching class).
Do you have a current WIP? Can you tell us about it?
I’m currently working on (and have been for far too long) a dark fantasy trilogy. I’m not yet at the stage where I can publicly say much about it, but I will say it’s set in a secondary world and deals with belief, deceit, and what happens to the soul after death. Oh, and yeah, the cast is very much filled with morally questionable characters (as with most of my writing, no one is truly good and no one is truly evil–they’re all hybrids, which I find true to life, or at least my experience of it).
How important do you feel creativity is – no matter the medium?
Very, very important. I believe humans have an innate need to create in almost all situations. Whether that creativity is expressed through writing short stories, composing music, painting pictures, solving problems, completing work, or even getting dressed is immaterial–everyone is creative. I realize I’m not expressing this very well, but I do know someone who can: his name is Jim Jackson and he has a podcast called Radio Creative, in which he looks at ways to expand people’s natural creativity and tap into it when they want to in their life, work and art. Full disclosure–Jim had me on as a guest a while back–but he’s also interviewed chefs, business consultants, and lawyers besides editors and writers). I recommend giving Radio Creative a listen. [https://anchor.fm/radiocreative/]
Where can readers find you?
The best place to find me online is my website, http://www.johnmavin.com, where I’ve got links to both my Facebook page [www.facebook.com/author.john.mavin] as well as my Goodreads profile [www.goodreads.com/author/show/16623050.John_Mavin].
Do you have a message for your readers?
Um, you mean beyond “hello, thanks for reading my stuff, please read more of my stuff, and I’d really appreciate it if you gave my stuff an honest review on Goodreads and/or Amazon”?
Okay, for something much less self-serving, how about this…I came across a meme on Facebook the other day which struck me as apropos. It went something like this:
List of Books to Read Before You Die
1. Any book you want.
2. Don’t read books you don’t want to read.
3. That’s it. The meme goes on, but at its core, I really liked its message
A chilling collection of stories unraveling the consequences of longing, broken trust, and deceit.
John Mavin is the author of the dark literary collection Rage who’s taught creative writing at Capilano University, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, with New Shoots (through the Vancouver School Board), and at the Learning Exchange in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He’s a graduate of SFU’s The Writer’s Studio and also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. A past nominee for both the Aurora Award and the Journey Prize, his work has been translated, studied, and published internationally. He invites you to visit him online at http://www.johnmavin.com or follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/author.john.mavin.
Without the luxury of travel during COVID, regular writing retreats have been cancelled, but it is not all bad news. We can create our own mini retreat at home. There will be some necessary arrangements to be made, which relate to your personal circumstances but it can be done. If you have a full household ask if it is possible for your partner to take your children out for an extended walk or to a play ground or even outside yard activities? Set times that you want to write without interruptions. This may be early morning or late evening, a time of day that you can set aside for writing. If staying in the home is too difficult, maybe drive to a secluded spot and write in a notebook to type up later. There is always somewhere you can find to accommodate writing time.
The length of time you have for your retreat will, of course, depend on what is possible for you. You may have two hours a day over a couple of days or a day or two. Before creating your retreat think about the following:
Why do you need a retreat? This might seem like a silly question but take the time to decide if the retreat has a direct purpose for your writing.
What is your goal? Again ask yourself, what can this retreat help you accomplish. Is it to begin or finish a project, a full edit, or a final read through?
Once you have identified these two points, you can plan by initially setting targets with measurable realistic goals, don’t overwhelm yourself. Depending on the time allotted for your retreat, create a daily writing plan. What are your objectives for each day? This can be writing or editing a certain number of pages, sequencing chapter content or revising scenes.
It is important to eliminate distractions as much as possible allowing you to concentrate. This should include switching off your cell phone, setting specific times for social media interactions, or even setting a timer!
The more you organize before hand the better your experience will be. Let’s look at some essentials.
Plan Your Retreat Time– use your preference – a simple sheet with goals for each day/hour, or a whiteboard with retreat objectives or notes in a day planner.
Tools – these can include a notebook, laptop, post-its, record cards, mood board, a print out of your manuscript, reference books or research sites bookmarked on your search engine. Everything that you need to successfully accomplish your goal.
Snacks& Water– the brain needs to be fed and watered as you delve into your project. Have plenty of water and easy nibbles handy.
Space – designate a space where you will work, where you and your tools will not be disturbed.
Rewards – how will you reward yourself for accomplishing your set goals? Decide how, it can be going for a walk, or thirty minutes on social media, or relaxing reading a book.
Remember this time is ultimately for you and your writing, a time to invest in your craft.
I’d love to hear your experiences with a home writing retreat.How did you achieve it?
This is a character interview with Evan from my speculative fiction novel, Life in Slake Patch.
1. Tell me a little about yourself (where you live, who you are, what you look like.)My name is Evan and I live in the male compound, Slake Patch, on the prairie plain. I am a Second, as my eldest brother is the First. As such I am bound to compound duties only, rather than tending to the livestock on the plain. I am twenty-two years old, muscular, blonde with blue eyes and my fellow Slake inhabitants look up to me as a champion wrestler within the patch.
2. What do you like to do in your spare time?I love wrestling and spending time with my best friend, Greg. He and I came to the compound together at the age of six, as is the custom to live with our fathers and other men.We attended lessons together and were paired for chores for some time.Is there something more you would like to do?I would love to escape the compound to ride across the plain, but currently it is not allowed. Our only trip outside the patch is to the central food store in a horse drawn cart.
3. Do you have afavorite color and why?We do not have much color in our lives apart from the designated one for our bunkhouses to identify each working group. I am not particular about colours to be honest, although I love Kate’s long auburn hair.
4. What is your favorite food? Why is it your favorite?A thick piece of steak between two large slices of fresh cornbread is perfect. The softness of the bread soaks up the steak juices.The meat helps build my muscles and strength.
5. What would you say is your biggest quirk? I’m unsure what to say about this,if you ask around you might find the other men find it odd I spend a lot of time with an elder named Jacob.He is my mentor, friend, discoverer of information and more of a father figure than my own.
6. What is it about the antagonist in the novel that irks you the most, and why?Aiden and his Tribe use violence as a way of trying to change our way of life, the order and laws of our society. There is always a more diplomatic means to resolve conflicts. He and his follows also berate young women, which I find abhorrent. Women are to be obeyed and cherished.
7. What or who means the most to you in your life? What, if anything, would you do to keep him/her/it in your life?I am deeply in love with my tryst, Kate, and would lay down my life for her. If it was in my power I would change the once a week visiting rule to spend more time with her.
8. What one thing would you like readers to know about you that may not be spelled out in the book in which you inhabit?That I am open to new ideas as long as they do not harm others. I believe the matriarchy is right to rule the way they do.
9. If you could tell your writer (creator) anything about yourself that might turn the direction of the plot, what would it be?In truth, I altered the plot several times during the creating of my narrative. Some twists to the original were by my suggestions.
10. Do you feel you accomplished what you wanted?Yes, I do. I managed to find solutions to changes that improved our way of life.
Do you have a question you would like to ask Evan?Put it in the comments.