Welcome back as we conclude talking with Jonathan Burgess, author of Chasing the Lantern.
Part one can be read here.
Part two can be read here.
AA: What do you do to keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?
JB: Struggle. It’s never easy, striking that balance. One of the questions I kept coming across in my own research, and which people ask me now, is “how do you find time to write?”
I make it. I compromise for it. I steal it. Need to go work out? No, you need to sit down and write. Do you have a lunch break? Then bust out that laptop, or even a pen and paper. As I write this, my wife is being violently ill. I’ll go comfort her…after I finish this paragraph.
On the other hand, you can’t write all the time. You stagnate, if nothing else. Your mind needs food just as much as your stomach does. So…read something. Play videogames. Go see a movie. Hang out with your friends. Watch a play.
Just be careful to find that balance.
AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?
JB: I do! Critique sessions are a favorite of mine. You get to see what you did wrong on a manuscript (or what someone thinks you did wrong) as well as bounce ideas around and see what comes up. I’ve had some great ideas, that way. I’ve helped people with their outlines and thorny plot problems, as well. Critique groups are a wonderful resource, and I highly recommend using them. If you can’t find one locally in real life, there are plenty online. Here, I’ll even plug a good one I know about; www.farlandswritersgroups.com.
AA: You’ve shared a bit of your literary journey with us. How would you say that you and your work grown and changed over time?
JB: Well, like almost everyone, I used to be terrible. But you practice. You learn and grow.
That’s the simple answer though. I imagine you’re after something just a little bit more complex. So if I had to be honest, the one area where I feel my work has really grown has been with character interactions. Specifically, the relationships between them that drive drama and action and all those things that we actually like to read about. Once upon a time, I moved characters around the story like pieces on a chessboard, sending them where they needed to go for the sake of plot. Now I wind them up and let them go, ready to see them smack into each other.
AA: How is the Pacific Northwest for writing? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc
JB: There is so much coffee here. It’s a great place, actually. Portland, Oregon is a haven for the arts, including literature. Every year there’s a big convention called Wordstock that’s all about celebrating the written word. Seattle, Washington is even better, with more artistic events than I can shake a stick at. Most of the bookstores carrying Chasing the Lantern are based in the Puget Sound region, including the wonderful Otherworlds and Third Place Books.
At the end of the day I don’t think location is utterly necessary for writing. I do think it can help, though. Urban areas mean potentially high exposure, with bookstores offering decent publicity and access. On the other hand, many authors live in the comparative middle of nowhere, where low cost of living means that its easier to devote more time to purely writing. I’m rather fond of the Pacific Northwest, though, and can’t see myself living anywhere else as I hone my craft.
Because seriously. There’s a Starbucks on every street corner.
AA: And in Vancouver, B.C., there are Starbucks on opposite corners! Most of the authors I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that writing is their other job. What has that situation been for you and how has it helped/hindered begin a published writer?
JB: It’s hard to make a living as a writer! Heck, it’s hard to make a profit. I’ve spent years as a network administrator for an internet service provider. Which is nice, as it means that I don’t have to take the starving artist route. It can get in the way, though. No one wants to spend 8-10 hours staring at a monitor only to commute home, sit down, and do it again, all while trying to be creative.
Remember when we talked about balance, earlier? The day job is the 1-ton gorilla in the room; hard to live with him, even harder without.
AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests fill your time?
JB: I read tons of fiction, though I’ve been a little starved for good books, lately. Any suggestions? I love to watch movies, when I can find the time. I’ve also been studying martial arts for a few decades as well, which is something of a cliché. There are two dogs and three cats in my house, and keeping up with them can be modestly time-consuming.
I also geek out, and geek out hard. Planescape was the best computer role-playing game, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. I’m currently painting and installing battery-driven LED lights into fifty chaos daemon miniatures for a Warhammer 40,000 tournament next year. Should anyone show up in the next ten minutes with Arkham Horror or Cards Against Humanity, I will be appreciably delayed in finishing this interview.
AA: Welcome back. Hope the games were fun! How do those interests influence your work?
JB: They continuously remind me that the playgrounds of the mind are damned near limitless. All the art and fiction that’s come before is barely a fraction of all that’s still to come. It seems like every day I’m finding amazing new things by talented people all over the world.
And the best part? There’s almost always a story involved. Whether it’s an evocative painting I’ve found or an amusing gaming result, I always pause to ask myself what the narrative is. Who are the characters, and what do they think about what’s happening?
AA: Who or what do you count as your influences, motivators, or role models?
JCV: My literary role models are Roger Zelazny and Jack Vance. If I can accomplish the kind of writing that those titans got up to, I will be happy. David Farland and Brandon Sanderson both have been wonderful resources for this whole “writing a book” thing. Mike Mignola’s wonderful use of brevity in his comics has always been something I aspire to, and usually fail at.
My prime motivator through all these years? There’s no mystery there. I want to tell stories that readers enjoy. That’s all. Stories that entertain. Stories that grip them tight. I want someone, one day, to read a copy of my work and feel the same way I did when I found the Dying Earth for the first time, or Lord of Light.
AA: That’s a great thing to have a strong internal motivation to do something. Three quick fire, random questions – what is your favorite plant, background sound, and appetizer?
JCV: Pampas grass, the rain, and Char Siu Bao.
AA: As we wrap up, are there any final thoughts to share with our readers
JB: Writing, like most things in life, is a skill. It can be learned with work and practice. Talent and luck are important, but without work behind them, don’t mean a thing. And yes, you’re going to fail when you try. You’re going to make mistakes. Everyone does.
Always be willing to learn, to go find answers to the things you want to know about. Sometimes that research will tell you that exactly what you’ll need to do. Sometimes it will only tell you that you’re going to need to blaze your own trail through unfamiliar territory.
Oh. And don’t pay any attention to your Amazon sales ranking. You’re going to ignore me and do it anyway, but listen: that way lies madness.
Thanks for joining us, Jonathan! It’s been great to catch up with you again!
Keep to date with Jonathan on his website.